Spiro Malas, 86, Bass Who Became a New York City Opera and Metropolitan Opera Stalwart, has Died
From Development server
23 June 2019

Spiro Malas, 86, Bass Who Became a New York City Opera and Metropolitan Opera Stalwart, has Died

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THE BASS, a stalwart at New York City Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, was celebrated for his acting ability. His voice was modestly scaled, but he used it cannily, always finding ways for voice and gesture to illuminate character. 

Malas’s family owned Duffy’s, a restaurant in Baltimore’s Southwest neighborhood. When he told his father he did not plan to join the business, the elder Malas staked him to four years of singing lessons. Malas attended Towson State College in Maryland and taught geography for a year after graduation while continuing his vocal training at Peabody Conservatory, where he caught the attention of Rosa Ponselle. In 1960, he was a winner at both the American Opera Auditions and the Met National Council Auditions. 

He made his City Opera debut as Spinelloccio in Gianni Schicchi that year and over the next two decades appeared in hundreds of performances with the company, in roles ranging from Mozart’s Figaro and Daland in Der Fliegende Holländer to General Boom in The Grand Duchess of GerolsteinDon Magnifico in Cenerentola and King Dodon in Le Coq d’Or. He first worked with Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge in 1964, as Giorgio in I Puritani with Sarah Caldwell’s Boston Opera Group. His collaboration with the soprano–conductor team lasted many years and included a tour of Australia in 1965, the Decca recordings of Semiramide, La Fille du Régiment and L’Elisir d’Amore and the children's television series Who's Afraid of Opera?  

Although his career was largely based in the U.S., Malas appeared at the Edinburgh Festival, Florence’s Maggio Musicale and the Salzburg Festival. His Met debut came in 1983, when he joined Sutherland and Bonynge for a Fille revival, as Sergeant Sulpice. He went on to appear with the company 155 times over seven seasons in such roles as Frank in Die Fledermaus, Capulet in Roméo et Juliette, Zuniga in Carmen, the Police Commissioner in Der Rosenkavalier and the Innkeeper in both Manon and Manon Lescaut.  

Malas’s career took a surprising turn in 1991, when, at age fifty-eight, he starred in a revival of The Most Happy Fella at Connecticut’s Goodspeed Opera House. The production of Frank Loesser’s 1956 musical/opera hybrid earned raves, especially for Malas. Frank Rich, The New York Times’s notoriously exacting theater critic, wrote, “The scrupulously truthful Mr. Malas … makes Tony enormously appealing without shortchanging the character’s obtuseness…. [He] surely fulfills Loesser’s highest intentions when, in his final aria, he seems to be thinking in song while sorting out what remains of his life.” The production moved to Broadway the following season, where it ran for 229 performances. Malas later acted in episodes of Law and Order and Sex and the City, among other television series. He served on the faculties of the Manhattan School of Music and Curtis Institute of Music. 

Malas married mezzo-soprano Marlena Kleinman, a City Opera colleague, on September 30, 1963, in a City Hall wedding that took place between opera rehearsals. As Marlena Malas, she is now a celebrated voice teacher. —Fred Cohn 

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