(all photos courtesy Charles Mintzer)


The opera-loving community lost one of its most knowledgeable members with the death of Andy Karzas on 11 April 2011 at his home in Chicago. He recently celebrated his 35th anniversary as host of the popular radio program “From the Recording Horn” devoted to opera singers (mostly of the past) on Chicago’s classical music station WFMT.

I first met Andy almost thirty years ago; a few of my opera contacts in New York knew him, and on one of his visits to New York we met. I was already a student of the great operatic history of Chicago and had a want list of information, recordings, and photographs of the old Chicago Opera; Andy promised to help. We became immediate friends, and although I did not see him often in person in the early years of our friendship, we corresponded frequently. And when I visited Chicago I was a guest at his home on West Diversey Parkway. His collections of recordings and memorabilia was staggering. I remember the evenings that I did not go to a Lyric Opera performance spent with Andy and his partner Jim. Andy was eager to play records and tapes of extreme rarity, performances that he personally recorded or owned the only known copy. He was a devoted fan, much more than that (is there a better word?) of Licia Albanese and owned many tapes of her performances, including her post-Met performances around the country, often in repertoire she did not sing in New York. He also had all the interviews that WFMT’s Studs Terkel conducted with opera singers, past and present. I treasure the Terkel interviews Andy copied: Rosa Raisa, Edith Mason, Maria Hussa, and Sonia Sharnova. Andy had good working relationships with his more famous WFMT colleague Terkel and frequent radio commentator, critic Claudia Cassidy. It was Andy who recommended me to Ward Marston when Ward was planning projects for his new Marston label, and thought it was about time to restore the complete Raisa 78-rpm output. This led to a close relationship with Ward, and thirteen years later I occasionally help out on selected projects.

At Andy’s West Diversey Parkway home there was a huge wall with an amazing collection of framed autographed photos of most of the great operatic personalities who sang in America, many of the more recent ones inscribed to him, but Andy had many years earlier acquired the collection of the German baritone Adolph Muhlmann, who in his later years taught singing, first in Milwaukee, then in Chicago. (Muhlmann sang at the Met from 1898-1910 776 times in both leading and secondary roles; he can be heard albeit barely, in 1903 Mapleson Cylinders in “Aida,” (the King), “Les Huguenots” (St. Bris) and in “Manru.” There would be a Lilli Lehmann photo inscribed to Muhlmann next to a Renata Scotto inscribed to Andy. That wall was a veritable history of operatic Chicago. I believe that wall and its contents did not survive the fire a few years ago that sent Andy and Jim’s home up in flames. Luckily his basement studio where he kept his recordings survived.

Andy was an early subscriber and advocate of Lyric Theater of Chicago (the official name of Lyric Opera for its first two seasons). He knew Maria Meneghini Callas those early Lyric years and told me that he conversed with her in Greek. As a fellow collector, I envied him his program of Lyric’s famous “Trovatore,” his program signed by Callas. Stignani, Bjoerling and Bastianini. Much as he adored Callas, he felt that Stignani walked off with first honors that evening, an estimate I have heard over the years from other persons who attended that fabled performance.

Andy was a friend of May Higgins, the Chicago personality who was Claudia Muzio’s close assistant (she was not Muzio’s secretary, as has sometimes been described, she was more than that, she travelled with the diva all over the operatic world). May had organized Muzio’s schedules, correspondence, her press clippings and photos and made a wonderful collection of scrap books with this material, which she passed on to Andy, as worthy as anyone in Chicago to be their custodian. I fondly remember the hours spent turning the pages of these rare scrapbooks and soaking in Claudia Muzio, by osmosis. Three years ago on one of his visits to New York Andy handed me, as a gift, a large package containing one of Muzio’s Loreley costumes. I do not collect costumes and have no facility to house such a unique and valuable item. Since we were already on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, not far from Lincoln Center, I brought Andy to the Met Archives and “on the spot” donated the costume to the Met which not only has a huge collection of historic costumes, but the proper temperature-controlled storage facilities. This is not inappropriate as Muzio performed Loreley at the Met as well as at the Chicago Civic Opera. It turns out that this gift to me was all along really intended for the Met Archives. Andy despaired that in Chicago there was nothing comparable to the Met Archives; indeed he often lamented that aside from a handful of old-timers, there was no forceful group especially interested in the storied operatic history of their city. While at the opera house I took Andy to Founder’s Hall with the amazing 125th anniversary exhibits, and photographed him looking at the section with photographs of twelve historic Butterflys and photographed Andy looking lovingly at his adored Albanese.

Andy was a great friend in so many ways. In 2001 when my Rosa Raisa biography was published he invited me to Chicago and devoted his program that week to an interview about the book and played recordings of the great Chicago Opera soprano. His program that week was expanded to an hour and WFMT promoted signed copies of the Raisa book as a gift for people making a contribution to the radio station’s membership campaign. Andy later told me that the station told him that the campaign was very successful. Through Andy’s friend Patrick Casali I was invited in 2002 to give a talk about Raisa at a suburban college where Patrick taught an adult education course on opera; this was especially meaningful to me as several of the attendees had at an earlier time studied singing with Raisa.

For the past fifteen years Andy visited New York late October for the Albanese Puccini Foundation concert at Lincoln Center. Andy was on the board of directors of this organization. We would meet on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for a Saturday pre-concert brunch. Andy and his friends Alton and Bob would join Richard Miller and David Stein and myself at these brunches. This season (October 2010) Andy did not make the trip to New York. I had a chilling sense that something was amiss.

(from let to right Charles Mintzer, Andy Karzas, Patrick Casali, ??, Richard Miller, David Stein)

(from L to R : Richard Miller, Bob, Andy, Charles Mintzer, David Stein and Alton)

Andy, we will miss you!

For more on Andy Karzas read to this tribute by ANDREW PATNER in the Chicago SunTimes


WFMT-FM host Andy Karzas started From the Recording Horn, a "weekly gift” to opera fans, 54 years ago.
Andy Karzas, WFMT host and opera enthusiast, dies, 77


Andy Karzas was a gentle man with a light voice that would shoot up when he spoke with excitement. The South Side native’s great passion was for opera singers from an earlier era, and the 78 rpm discs and wax cylinders that these performers made in the days of acoustic records.

But Mr. Karzas had great determination and an infectious enthusiasm that led him to become an internationally renowned radio broadcaster and opera and vocal expert.  The second incarnation of his weekly WFMT radio program, which he had long ago titled From the Recording Horn as a salute to the period before electronic recordings became the norm in the late 1920s, celebrated its 35th anniversary in February.  Just weeks later, Mr. Karzas, 77, died Monday at his Edgewater home from recently diagnosed stomach cancer.

Earlier in his career, Mr. Karzas had a long association with the Chicago entertainment business founded by his father and uncle, William and Andrew Karzas. The Karzas brothers, Greek immigrants who had their first success operating a nickelodeon and then building and owning the “deluxe” Woodlawn movie theatre, established the city’s leading luxury ballrooms, investing more than $3 million in 1920s dollars (the equivalent of some $38 million today) in the Trianon, at 62nd and Cottage Grove in 1922, and the Aragon, in Uptown at Lawrence and Broadway in 1926.  The ballrooms were hugely popular, defining themselves in contrast to cheaper dance halls as strictly maintained, usher-monitored, atmospheric places where young women could safely attend unescorted.

The younger Andy Karzas had idolized many of the popular acts booked at his father’s venues, but while in high school at the now-defunct Harvard School for Boys in the South Side Kenwood neighborhood, he and some friends became smitten with opera.  Graduating in 1951 at 17, Mr. Karzas headed east to Harvard University for college.  When asked later what he had studied there, Mr. Karzas, who had a degree in history and literature, replied with his customary twinkle, “Gilbert and Sullivan [which he accompanied at the piano], singing in the Glee Club, and trips down to performances at the old Met in New York.”

In 1957, Mr. Karzas persuaded the original owner of WFMT, Bernard Jacobs, and the station’s then young program director Norman Pellegrini to let him try a “scratchy record program,” and From the Recording Horn began its first run, lasting for five years until Mr. Karzas’s father became ill and he had to devote himself to the Aragon. (William Karzas, who, with his brother had run his ballrooms as racially restricted, “no jazz” businesses with all-white bands, had closed the Trianon in 1952 as Woodlawn underwent racial change. It reopened under new management in 1954 catering to a Black clientele.  William Karzas died in 1963.)

“I ran the Aragon as best I could in the period of rock ’n’ roll and the decline of social dancing,” Mr. Karzas would recall, “though some said I ran it into the ground.”  He sold the business and property “for much less than it was worth and a fraction of what it was built for” in the late 1960s.  Now a popular concert venue, the Aragon specializes in Latin music and rock events.  The Trianon closed and was torn down in the mid-1960s.

Selling the business allowed Mr. Karzas to focus on his great love of opera and his equal commitment to sharing his knowledge and collection with the listening public, especially with listeners new to the art form or to the great singers of the past.

Taking jobs in advertising sales first at the Chicago Sun-Times, then at Chicago magazine when it was owned by WFMT and then at WFMT itself, Mr. Karzas essentially gave his program to the radio station for change beginning again in 1976.  “I always thought that if I asked for too much money, they’d pull the plug,” he said. He displayed strengths as a salesman, especially with liquor and restaurant accounts, that made him indispensable to the company until his retirement from his “day job” several years ago.

The program took off and eventually moved from a late weeknight spot to coveted radio “real estate” on Saturday afternoons at 4 p.m. following the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. Via syndication, a period of satellite “superstation” broadcasting, and then Internet streaming, listenership expanded well beyond Chicago. The special compilation recordings that Mr. Karzas would assemble from his vast collection as premiums for WFMT’s on-air membership drives achieved tremendous popularity.  For many years Mr. Karzas also lectured and wrote recording guides for Lyric Opera of Chicago and led international and New York opera tours.

On April 4, WFMT’s general manager Steve Robinson and program director Peter Whorf created a 12-hour “Andy Karzas Day” featuring rebroadcasts of profile programs of favorite singers of Mr. Karzas, including tenors Giuseppe di Stefano and Joseph Schmidt and his “personal diva,” soprano Licia Albanese, whom Andy and his late life partner of 42 years, actor Jim Deuter, came to know as a close friend.

That broadcast and news of Mr. Karzas’s death generated hundreds of email, voicemail, and Facebook testimonials from lifelong friends as well as listeners who had never met Mr. Karzas but, from his programs, considered him a teacher and friend.  WFMT named the studio where From the Recording Horn was produced in his honor.

In recent years, Mr. Karzas suffered numerous setbacks, including periodic health problems, a fire that destroyed the vintage Diversey Parkway house he had shared with Deuter and much of his collection of photographs and autographs of opera stars, and Deuter’s physical incapacity and then death from heart failure at 71 last year.  But he rarely seemed down and remained devoted to preparing his weekly broadcast.

Chicago actor and opera expert Lawrence McCauley knew Mr. Karzas from their earliest days of being enthralled with the art form, including the first seasons of what became Lyric Opera. Echoing words of many friends and colleagues, McCauley said, “He was the best of us.  The most knowledgeable, the kindest, the most generous.  Who touches people like that and gives them such a weekly gift that stays with them for the rest of their lives?  He first heard Licia on radio broadcasts in 1951, and here he was, still introducing her to people via the radio 60 years later.”

WFMT’s Robinson said that the station would, at Mr. Karzas’s request, play at least one recording by Albanese every month, “forever, as a tribute to this unique man.”  WFMT also will broadcast a special two-hour memorial edition of From the Recording Horn at 4 p.m. this Saturday.

Survivors include a sister, Lois Kempton; nieces Kathy Kempton, Eleni Benedikt, and Diane Haskins, and members of Deuter’s family.  No services are planned.