Excerpt number two: 

Riot

                                                                                  Black Marias at the Opera

Author’s Note: This excerpt details events surrounding Zinka’s first appearances in staged opera when she returned to Yugoslavia (following an eight-year absence) after World War II—Tosca in Zagreb on 17 September 1947, and the same opera in Belgrade exactly one week later. She was a newlywed of not quite six months at the time of these performances. Her husband, Gen. Ljubomir Ilic (“Ljubo”), an architect by training, was one of Marshal Tito’s intimates and in charge of the rebuilding of Belgrade, which had been heavily damaged in the war. It is understood that some names encountered here will be unfamiliar to the reader because their introduction takes place earlier in the biographical text—those of certain singers, for instance; those of Zinka’s brother, Bozidar Kunc, distinguished pianist and composer (nicknamed Bozo, the ‘z’ pronounced as in the ‘zs’ of Zsa Zsa); Karla, his wife; Lav Vrbanic, lifelong friend and chairman of voice at the Academy of Music in Zagreb; his wife Dara; their daughter Mirjana; and so forth. Caveat: the program available for this document did not include the possibility of putting certain diacritical marks in place on names of Yugoslav origin. There should be an acute accent on the final ‘c’ (signifying a sound roughly the equivalent of the ‘ch’ in church) in the names Baranovic, Cvejic [Tsvaitch], Ilic [Ee-leech], Jovanovic [Yoh-vahn-oh-veech], Petkovic, Petrovic, and Vrbanic. A hacek belongs on the ‘z’ in Bozidar/Bozo, on the ‘c’ of Gostic (this signals the difference between a Croatian and a Slovenian ‘ic’ ending) [Gaw-steech] and that of Oslobodilacka [Awz-loh-boh-dee-lahtch-kah], and on the ‘s’ in Kresimir [Kreh-shee-meer] and Puskinova [Poosh-kin-ova]. The name Jaksic [Yahk-sheech] requires both a hacek on the ‘s’ and an acute accent on the ‘c.’ None of these diacriticals is possible with the currently operative program.

The excerpt:

The May 1947 crossing over the northern border and entry into her homeland for the first time in so long proved to be very moving for Zinka. “I had such big feelings, riding through and seeing once again the beautiful forests of Slovenia,” she said. Though the train pulled in at several other important stations along the way, the couple’s first stop was Zagreb, where they made the best of a brief but meaningful "pass-through" on the way to the new residence in Belgrade. The greetings were deeply emotional and the readily flowing tears those of joy because, of course, Zinka and her dear ones—Bozidar, Karla, cousins, friends, colleagues—hadn’t seen each other since 1939. Her radiant new-bride happiness was contagious. Her wonderful smile had never before been on display quite so consistently. Had postwar circumstances not been so uniformly straitened, Bozo insisted, the city fathers would have raided the municipal coffers and there would really have been a "Welcome home, Zinka!" parade. (1)

She took pains to see that Ljubo was introduced to those she loved most, though not enough time was available to embrace and be with everyone because his presence was essential in Belgrade and Zinka was not about to send him on alone. Nonetheless, Mirjana Vrbanic, younger daughter of Lav and Dara, vividly recalled the visit the now world-famous soprano (“whom everyone called very possessively at this time ‘Our Zinka’”) and her exceedingly handsome diplomat husband paid to the Vrbanic household at Preradoviceva 28. “I was just nearing adolescence, and of course I was fascinated by this ‘love,’ what it meant. Zinka’s attention was completely on Ljubo no matter what the conversation was. They were sitting next to each other, his shirt was open and she had her hand inside, she was caressing him there. She could not take her eyes off of him. This made a deep impression on me, I never have forgotten it.” (2)

Zinka kept her promise to return often—in fact, she was back in June for a homecoming concert with the Zagreb Radio Symphony Orchestra, a broadcast arranged so that everyone could hear her, not just those who fit into the small hall where the performance was given. The real return of Zinka the great opera singer didn't take place until 17 September, however. Faithful Tosca was the vehicle. Puccini’s score figured more prominently than any other music in Zinka's existence during the extended period that, to her own great surprise, she found herself remaining in Yugoslavia: "My beloved Tosca, she was my theme song."

Ivan Francl, over whose debut as Cavaradossi she had presided in Ljubljana years before, was this time her tormentor rather than her lover. Following throat surgery, the erstwhile tenor returned to the stage as a dramatic baritone. All accounts credit him with being as fine in the lower fach as he had been in the higher. One by one, he took on the villains (or fathers) in virtually all the operas in which he had originally played the hero.

Josip Gostic, her co-star in this same opera the last time she trod European boards, was still singing beautifully, to Zinka's relief and pleasure, with wider celebrity still in his future. The twenty-three-year-old Berislav Klobucar proved to be a more sympathetic, able conductor than might have been anticipated. He, too, was destined for broader recognition. The fact that the performance was done in Italian for her benefit turned it into the gala affair that Zinka’s return merited. The security and poise, the aspect of "experienced world diva" that now informed her every movement and phrase, somewhat overwhelmed her hearers, especially those whose memories encompassed the preceding twenty years in this opera company—the years of her meteoric rise and steady ascendancy, followed by the years when she was gone and they missed her.

The ovations were heartfelt, as were the regrets that she had not, actually, "returned" to them as a permanent artist-in-residence. Disappointment was tempered with understanding and congratulations. She had sprung from Zagreb's soil and there were, for the moment, no references to "abandonment." Critical notices proved, well, uncritical. This is not necessarily synonymous with untruthful, for the voice probably was indeed "bigger, more powerful, more beautiful," and the artist "more imposing, unrestrained, and 'emotionalistic' than ever," or, anyway, than they remembered her. (3) For sure, at one hundred thirty-five pounds, she was slimmer than they had ever seen her, which must have made her seem even more statuesque, for she was nearly 5’10” in high heels. Puccini's opera serves as perfect metaphor for Zinka's return to her roots. The first act—Zagreb—was a complete success. However, "All Toscas live or die in the torture chamber." (4) Act two was set in Belgrade.

On 27 June word arrived from Sarajevo that Predrag had died there on the fifteenth, aged just forty-seven. If Zinka had been made privy to the various versions of this bulletin (Ljubo saw to it that she wasn't), especially the one preferred among the working class in Belgrade, she would have had a much better idea of what she was up against in her new home. She might also have been lastingly unnerved. Depending upon the spin put on the report, the cause of death was either a heart attack—"Absolutely! He was a big fatty!" said Vlasta Dryak, who had considerable interaction with him following his return from the States (5)—or his piteous suicide for love of Zinka (almost everyone in Zagreb to this day fervently believes and insists upon this version, though the method of self-destruction is never, ever specified) or that, in fact, he was murdered by Zinka in order to remove any sort of conspicuous impediment to her new sinecure. This was the Belgrade variant; its codicil postulated that there had been no divorce, meaning that Predrag had to be silenced.

It could only have been an exceptionally long-acting, Ponchiellian potion that did not work its way upon him until twenty months after their last contact (which had been in New York), but Zinka’s maligners had no need for logic or facts when innuendo was so delicious. The timing was so very suspect: surely, they posited, in the one-month period between her reentry into the country and his death, she lured him to a clandestine meeting somewhere, and there she "did it," administered whatever it was that took him off shortly thereafter. Where did such hostility come from? Why should there have been any detractors, any objections to her presence in the city or on its stage at all?

Much of the fault lay with the deceased. Back home for a year and a half prior to his death, the embittered Predrag had hardly been circumspect in his utterances. Having been cast aside (in his view), his commentary tended to be very much in the "after-all-I-did-for-her" vein, making it quite personal (but never bad-mouthing her gifts or accomplishments—association with those remained forever a good thing). As a leading member of two national theatrical companies (first Zagreb, then Sarajevo) that were contributing to postwar restoration by touring and bringing round to the beleaguered the pleasures of the spoken drama, he was enabled to vent his feelings all over the country in a short period of time. The concept of Zinka the Heartless User therefore received widespread exposure. (6)

Neither the heartwarming homecoming in Zagreb nor the initial months in the capital, living as part of what amounted to the elite (removed from the general population's near penury), were any kind of preparation at all for the reception awaiting Zinka when she actually set foot on the operatic stage in Belgrade for the first time in eight years. She was given by Ljubo and Marshal Tito to believe that she was returning as a great heroine, that she would find the level of gratitude and respect imminently to be bestowed upon her impossible to imagine let alone measure. This would result from her being internationally the most visible and famous of their fellow countrymen save Tito himself, and from overflowing feelings of thanks for her exceptional patriotic and fundraising labors during the war, for the degree to which she had used her gifts and put herself out for her people while, essentially, in exile. Inside, she was almost bursting with happiness; madly in love with Ljubo, returning with her arms figuratively opened to embrace her people, she was secure in the understanding that she and her husband were exactly what they needed right now. Her duty was clear. The Metropolitan Opera and all else could be put on hold until the great destiny was fulfilled: Ljubo would rebuild the city physically and she would rebuild the peoples' spirits. Her combined idealism, pride, and naiveté reinforced the kind of disingenuousness unique to artists, an emotional construct that could only suffer a grievous wound if abraded by any forceful demonstration of disrespect.

Despite the outward appearances of a proud, rising-from-the-ashes Yugoslavia, unified and single-minded in the face of reconstruction, beneath the surface in the designated postwar capital of the new, conjoined "South Slavic States," there was by no means full agreement on any particular issue, up to and including even the sovereignty of the triumphant Marshal. Some cultured residents were thrilled by the prospect of hearing again in the opera house the woman who had long since joined the legendary Milka Ternina in a unique, two-icon pantheon—membership restricted (by undeniable historical significance and their Met affiliations) to just the two sopranos, neither one a Serb. This anticipatory group was countered by two others with entirely different frames of reference, ignorant of or unconcerned with artistic matters. Those mindsets were either political or survivalist rather than aesthetic. Could any one camp legitimately claim to be the real vox populi?

Opera, in the immediate postwar period, was (in Belgrade) regarded as quasi-degenerate, something primarily enjoyed by the bourgeois social classes. Tito loved it—indeed, was very supportive of all the arts—but he was raised in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, where such things had mattered. This was not a plus to his non-Croat constituents. He was a proficient pianist, and his attendance at the theater, opera, and ballet was an exercise of his own devotion and interests. The official position of the Communist party leadership—that every aspect of life had to be controlled—extended to the theater and opera house as well. In Zagreb, the cry had been, in effect, "Our [difficult but much-loved] Zinka is home! Hurrah!" No anticipation had to be drummed up; it was right there waiting for her, and growing by the minute.

In Belgrade, where Tito's proud propaganda about the return of the Yugoslavian queen of song (whose earlier triumphs there were ancient, irrelevant history) seemed to include the new government's strong suggestion that she was now the "official" prima donna of the nation, dissenters were ready with their jeers. Here she comes, Mrs. Zinka, Mrs. Kunc, Mrs. Milanov, Mrs. Whatever-she-calls-herself now, the great singer, consort of a puppet general in a "front" marriage to disguise the fact that she is being brought back to take up her position as Tito's courtesan. Oh, yes, here she is, the arrogant American prima donna with her lipstick and rouge and false eyelashes, her nylon stockings and all her hats, the very definition of decadence (the famous millinery collection, thirty of those large, cylindrical hatboxes, had indeed traveled with her), come to flaunt her success and her western ways. Why should we be excited? We have our own singers who stayed here with us, who suffered with us the privations and wretchedness of the war and went on the stage almost for nothing, without food in their bellies, having barely enough nourishment to keep them alive, just as we who listened barely had it, while she sang like a canary for exorbitant fees and ate what she wanted in posh surroundings as her servants fawned over her. Now so many of these great people who tried to keep us going, to perform for us and hold up our spirits, have been taken away, branded as collaborators. We need no imported examples of "native" excellence in art; to hell with her! Derisively, she was referred to as "the Zagrebian prima donna from New York." (7)

Great misery prevailed in Belgrade after the war. American aid packages of canned food, cereal, and an occasional piece of chocolate (so rare it was treated like gold) were grudgingly received but ravenously consumed. When just obtaining adequate food continued to be a major problem, the local women, who had no access to makeup or stockings, let alone haute couture headgear, were particularly hostile. There was no material available to make clothing; dresses were being created out of old curtains, coats out of rugs and faded upholstery. With such conditions prevailing, the mere sight of the well-dressed Zinka on the street, looking wonderful, incited profound animosity.

The ironies were great. So, she had thirty hats, perhaps an eccentric personal indulgence; the collection was not one of excessive value. (It was in Belgrade, where everyone else went bareheaded or under a scarf, that she got out of the habit of wearing them regularly.) Relative to her late friend Grace Moore, for instance, she simply was not a woman of exceptional means: for a prima donna, her wardrobe was modest in size; she owned just a few pieces of costly jewelry and one full-length fur, but no property (whereas Grace left a townhouse in Manhattan, a farm in Connecticut, and a villa in France). Only in South America had her fees ever been properly high; "exorbitant" never entered into the picture. Zinka and Predrag had gone to New York on borrowed money. In the early years the Met didn't pay her nearly a living wage. In the new world she was a perennial renter. In the old, she and Ljubo were put up by the government at Belgrade's very nice Hotel Majestic, a stone's throw from the opera house, while in the city's loveliest areas, homes that were confiscated from wealthy Jews and other "undesirables" during the German occupation were taken over by the new ruling class (not, alas, returned to any surviving legitimate owners) and gradually apportioned out to party V.I.P.'s. A house—half house, actually—at Puskinova 6 would be given to Zinka and Ljubo, and no one else would live there until the latter's death in 1994 "released" the premises. However, at the time of Zinka's "return" to the local stage in 1947, the hotel was still home, as it would be for nearly seven months. Ample cause for deepest anger and resentment against the governing class by the governed clearly existed. What Zinka could have done to make any of these arrangements, none of which she sanctioned or even really understood, more equitable, is moot. She was simply one of the most convenient targets for scapegoating that could possibly have materialized.

Women stood in lines in the market half the day to get something to eat for their families, using government-issue food coupons. The new regime was still in the process of establishing the rules for living under its unfamiliar system. People in newly created menial and service jobs had to be "instructed" how to think, feel, and act. There were "briefings," long one-on-one conversations that workers had to endure ("brainwashing" was their word for them). On the other hand, those who were part of or allied with the diplomatic or military classes or were card-carrying members of the Party, had no problems with food, no attitudinal adjustments to make. From these vastly divergent groups was drawn the audience for Tosca.

Zinka wasn't standing in lines or attending briefings. She carried herself quite naturally as a prima donna, as was her custom, but the truth is that she was protected only by her marriage. It was nothing else, not her voice, not her fame, not any potential good she might do that shielded her from postwar reality, only Ljubo. He, in turn, felt uncomfortable and edgy because he was perceived (outside his own circles, of course) to be pimping special treatment for her. Popular mythology maintains that when she was excused from the universal requirement of postwar reconstruction manual labor, a complaint was lodged within the Party: “This comrade does not want to work, but is singing all the time instead.” Tito's brash assurances, through Ljubo, that she would be prima donna assoluta of the revitalized Opera in Belgrade for as long as she chose to remain, certainly counted as "special treatment." Though she herself had no cause whatever to doubt the veracity of the guarantee, there were no forces in place that could be moved to implement it.

The timing was terrible. Belgrade had its own sopranos, whatever their artistic level. (Irony of ironies, the most well known of these was Zinka’s first professional rival, Zdenka Zika, who had resided in the capital throughout the war.) Certainly none of the female artists, and least of all the former Mrs. Rukavina (she divorced the maestro long before his death in 1940), was secure enough to feel that it was wonderful to have Zinka Kunc back among them. The opera company had barely managed to hang together during the war (the Nazis didn't shut it down), and bad conditions lingered: the tightest possible budget, a sparse performance schedule, bare-bones repertory, and too many people to find places for on the stage so that each could earn a meager wage. Zinka was therefore most unlikely to be treated as the combination national treasure and heroine Tito considered her to be. That hers was one of the most significant voices of the century fell into the category of matters swallowed up in the covert battle over just who would be in charge of "who and what" the people loved and didn't love. Sympathetic witnesses on the scene believe that for Zinka it would have been infinitely better had her relocation been to Zagreb rather than Belgrade.

Zinka's old off-and-on nemesis, Kresimir Baranovic, now director of both the struggling Belgrade Opera and the city's Philharmonic, had no great enthusiasm for the very real problems her presence caused him, though he fully recognized her value and stature. He could not bring himself to disrupt his schedule in order to fit her into more performances, most particularly not as the "Star of Stars" of Tito's express intent. (8) Even the head of state was not going to dictate his artistic policies or tell him whom to put on his stage, that leader's known preference notwithstanding. Baranovic and Zinka soon enough reminded each other, by word and deed, of how volatile their relationship had been in the "old days." (9) Several disagreements preceded the much-publicized "event of the decade," Zinka's return to the Opera as Tosca on 24 September—nothing that would not have been handled rather easily and without untoward consequence in most any well-run opera house elsewhere, but which here took on cataclysmic implications. (10)

In 1947 there was no free press in Yugoslavia. What happened the evening of 24 September and in the days that followed in Belgrade never received mention in any newspaper coverage until it had been history for forty years. Events must be reconstructed from eyewitness accounts, the memories (including those of both Zinka and Ljubo) of direct participants, and an article that appeared decades after the famous situation developed. The published account makes no real attempt at objectivity, and is fascinating precisely because its obvious bias gives the genuine flavor of the lopsided circumstances that Zinka found herself up against at that time in that place.

"The Zagrebian prima donna from New York," wrote columnist Vinko Sale long after the fact, "barked orders and issued many demands." She wanted several rehearsals. The director could not promise any at all. In that case, she wanted Josip Gostic to be invited as a guest for Cavaradossi because they would just have sung the opera together, in Italian, with adequate rehearsal, in Zagreb. Baranovic objected strenuously. Rehearsals or no, the tenor would be Lazar Jovanovic, a fine singer and valued company member. Well, then, would Jovanovic sing in Italian with her, or would he sing in Serbian? This question was unresolved. "Jovanovic kept a low profile" during the somehow much gossiped-about "discussions" while "in the depth of his soul he wasn't pleased and was a bit embittered by the idea that he, a Serb, was, in the soprano's eyes, a substitute for the Slovene Gostic. (Naturally, he sang anyway; like it or not, the return of Zinka Kunc was an historical event.) The prima donna then gave some further orders commanding that all dust should be wiped off the scenery."

The sets were seldom tended to cosmetically and were exceptionally dirty, there was no consistent policy in place regarding number of rehearsals for "guests" (Zinka's decreed status) and the question of what language the tenor would employ was hardly negligible where such a special occasion was concerned. Baranovic erred seriously in not disclosing at once that the man would indeed perform in Italian, as his Tosca wanted. Belgrade's ideas of "orders" and "demands" actually seem much closer to "reasonable requests," though faced with Baranovic's obduracy, Zinka very likely did not phrase those requests in the most genteel manner.

Word got out, and all at once it became a matter of Serbian honor that the tenor not be slighted in any respect, that the public let him know how wrong it was of this "foreign" soprano to disrespect him in such a manner (she had merely asked to have a tenor with whom she had done the opera previously). This was, at any rate, the “cover story.” Suddenly not only was Jovanovic proclaimed "the Serb Caruso," but he had a rather suspicious number of "fans" clamoring for tickets that were no longer available. "It was very difficult to get a ticket to the performance. Everyone was expecting an exclusive triumph by the queen from the Metropolitan Opera. Getting a ticket was equal to winning the lottery." Tickets were indeed at a premium. Tito planned this Tosca as a grand occasion for his staff, ministers, assistants, everyone in the government. On the outside, a day or two prior to the performance, Srdja Petrovic, a university student, noticed a group of rather excited young people, male and female, gathered around a man in a park who was

in a sense, haranguing them. I approached and found that he says there is a very important performance of an opera to take place, that the full complement of government officials will be present, and that it is in honor of some Croatian woman singer. There is a great criminality occurring here, he avers, because the important man singer is one very great Serbian tenor singer who should be indeed the honored one. He has a big speech about it, and he has some tickets for this opera that he would like to present to interested audience members, that is, potential audience members, who will come into this opera and grant appropriate honor for the Serbian singer. I accepted to take one of these tickets and I went to the performance. (11)

"There were many important guests in the audience, from Zagreb, Ljubljana, Vienna, and New York. And of course there were members of the Yugoslav government and diplomatic corps, and the Central Committee of the Communist party," continued columnist Sale. Ljubo was seated with Tito and the Committee, prominent in a center box.

"Jovanovic had made a particular effort to prepare himself well. He had listened to Caruso's recordings as he had never done before. He learned it in Italian, which enabled him to be a capable and equal partner to the famous prima donna, for they could sing the original text as Puccini and his librettists wanted."

It was obvious something was afoot when Cavaradossi made his first entrance. Ljubo was astonished: "The tenor enters and the public begins an ovation. Unbelievable! In one row, a large group of young people stood right up as he sang just two little words ["Che fai?"] They are applauding so loudly that he cannot hear the orchestra and he cannot be heard. Maestro [Baranovic] is not certain what to do." (12) The ovation repeated itself to a more exaggerated extent after "Recondita armonia." Before the performance, the tenor ("Laza" to his admirers) spoke to several people in his dressing room. He had apparently gotten wind that there would be some kind of demonstration because—"almost as if he sensed a scandal would happen"—he earnestly requested of his pre-curtain visitors that they greet his colleague, Mme Kunc, as graciously as possible at her entrance and that they not applaud for him. "They thought he was making a joke with them. After all, what tenor asks his fans not to applaud for him?"

When the tall, arresting Tosca came on, in her striking blue dress, with the walking stick, bouquet of flowers, and hat, there was polite applause (those there from the government specifically to see her were neither demonstrative types nor, in most cases, opera lovers). Jovanovic was cheered nearly every time he uttered a reasonably climactic sound, regardless of the appropriateness of the place in the score, proving that a certain number of the noisemakers didn't know the opera—probably any opera. The situation strayed seriously out of hand in act 2, as those carrying on most vociferously for the tenor deliberately observed silence when it was Zinka's turn for recognition, revealing that the demonstrations were as much against her as for him. The anomaly of a Milanov "Vissi d'arte" that received applause from only a portion of an audience and even got a few stifled catcalls (the demonstrators thus indulging in very risky behavior), occurred on this occasion, and she was mightily disaffected. Her old friend Nikola Cvejic (Scarpia) must have been deeply grateful the murder weapon wasn't real. Following the act, Ljubo rushed back to implore her to continue (his own honor with his confreres, to some extent, may well have been at stake), assuring her that an investigation would take place. Smoothing the ruffled feathers and keeping the singing bird on the stage until the end of the opera was not easy at all this night, but she stayed the course. After the dismal reception accorded the aria, Sale claims, "She lost her nerve."

"That special evening, Lazar Jovanovic sang better than ever and sang even better than or was at least equaling Zinka Kunc in this performance. How did he do that? His voluptuous and passionate tones were crystal clear and penetrating as a meteor. In the arias, duets, and recitatives, his dramatic voice was shining throughout the three acts. Reportedly he sang better than ever in his entire career and the reaction from the audience was wild. Especially the aria before the shooting in the third act was popular with the public, and the public was chanting to him, 'Bravo Laza! Bravo Laza!' and demanding an encore. The curtain then fell and was raised more than thirty times. The tension grew from moment to moment." (13)

The yelling of the tenor's name continued post performance, when various confrontations took place backstage. Jovanovic insisted he couldn't tell what the shouters were shouting, a sham response that caused Zinka to bolt into her dressing room and slam the door—"Proving," according to our commentator, "that operatic goddesses are not always divine." When one Laza Jaksic, an opera company functionary, arrived to try his hand at restoring calm, she exploded, "Why did you invite me to sing here? [i.e., to be treated in this fashion] I did not come from Maribor, I came from the Metropolitan Opera in New York!"

The Party men in their boxes were dismayed and angry. Unquestionably, in the minds of the boisterous portion of the "public," Zinka, the most apolitical of beings, was an appropriate object of attack. She represented not only the established regime, through her husband, but also the intolerable taint of Croatian background and American bourgeoisie. Jovanovic stood as symbol of protest against all this. Once it was officially decided that the demonstration was not only against Zinka and the ruling party but against the NOB (the National Liberation Resistance Movement), the secret police—UDBA, more or less the FBI of postwar Yugoslavia—were summoned. (14) The agents arrived quickly, with a fleet of Black Marias. At least fifty demonstrators were arrested (twice as many got away) and taken to a police station near Kalemegdan Park, where they went through the hasty equivalent of an arraignment and were then transported to the prison in Zmaj Jovina Street. Some were released after eight days, some after ten (in these two groups were those whose status as students was proven legitimate), but others were made examples of and convicted of serious offenses against the government (inciting, fomenting, rioting) and were sentenced to two months at hard labor. Regardless of how many were anti-Communist activists and how many hapless dupes, this variegated claque has been remembered in history by sympathizers like Sale as "Laza's fans! They were completely innocent, only Laza's fans, just music lovers cheering the Serbian Caruso!" (15)

As the paddy wagons hauled the demonstrators away, Zinka, beside herself, and Ljubo, too angry to speak, were surrounded by medal- and ribbon-bedecked government and military officials and escorted back to the hotel. "I took the dress off but I didn't even remove my makeup,” she recalled. “I wanted to go out from there so bad, I decide I will remove in hotel. The lady from theater comes carrying one dress, Ljubo also I think has one, and somebody else. And so we go." It was all beyond her comprehension. Nothing like this had ever happened before. Nothing remotely like it. What had she done to deserve it? What had she done but fall in love? What had she done but with a full heart come to sing for her countrymen and inspire them with her beautiful voice? It was not for this that she sacrificed and forsook her world-soprano existence for an indefinite time—to be slighted, mistreated, denigrated, disrespected, mocked, ignored, made an artistic laughingstock. Had she known, “to be accused of unthinkable crimes” could have been added to that list.

"I was so mad I cannot speak. Tito, too, I assure you, Tito was furious. He didn't come to see me, but later, day or two, in hotel he came. I did a good thing. I didn't quit, I sang last act, too. You cannot quit. You have to do your job. But you like to beat up somebody for it." Ljubo and Tito and their circle could fume and be upset on her behalf all they wanted, and certainly she needed their support. But the people...if they act like this, how could she sing, how could she survive? She was Zinka—all that had ever been necessary before, anywhere she went, was that they listen. That always took care of everything. The future in Belgrade, on the night of 24 September 1947, had suddenly acquired a surreal aspect. This was now supposed to be a place she could call, if not, indeed, “home,” certainly her new headquarters, however off the beaten track for an international operatic career. A repeat performance of Tosca was scheduled in just five days. But in such a climate, could she live here, could she sing here again, ever? Answers to such rhetorical questions, unavailable in a night of tears and recriminations, might present themselves in the calmer atmosphere of renewed daylight.

 

Notes

Quotations from Zinka Milanov herself are not individually cited because (as explained at the beginning of the Notes section in the complete biography) unless otherwise indicated, all of them date from many hours of taped conversations between author and subject that took place during the last month of her life, May 1989, in New York City.

. 1. DeElda (Mrs. Bozidar) Kunc, interview by the author, 4 June 1989.
. 2. Mirjana Vrbanic Lewis, interview by the author, 10 June 1989.
. 3. Jutarnji list, 18 September 1947.
. 4. Paul Jackson, Sign-Off for the Old Met (Portland, Ore.: Amadeus Press, 1997), p. 432.
. 5. Vlasta Dryak Kankel, interview by the author, 22 April 1998.
. 6. Ibid. Predrag went first, for a brief time, to Zagreb, where Vlasta was once again a star of the National Theater. He didn’t stay long before moving on to Sarajevo when a permanent position became available there.
. 7. Vinko Sale, TV Review, Belgrade, August 1989.
. 8. “Étoile parmi les étoiles,” Ljubo Ilic quoting Josip Broz Tito, conversation with the author, May 1989.
. 9. Prior to the 24 September 1947 Tosca, ZM had actually sung three concerts with the Belgrade Philharmonic conducted by Baranovic (1, 4, and 7 July). There were no problems between soloist and maestro, and no problems in the public on any of those occasions.
10. Sale, TV Review, August 1989. Unless otherwise indicated, the subsequent quoted material in the narrative of the 24 September 1947 events comes from this article.
11. Srdja Petrovic, letter to the author, 16 May 1994. He was among those who escaped arrest. Because the UDBA agents did not enter the opera house from every possible door at once, egress was available to the quick-witted.
12. Ljubo Ilic, May 1989.
13. The reference to the curtain being raised and lowered more than thirty times right after "E lucevan le stelle" is at the very least misleading, and almost surely altogether incorrect. Opera Quarterly contributor and Belgrade native Milan Petkovic states that though it is not unheard of for a tenor to encore Cavaradossi's last-act aria in Belgrade (he witnessed such encores there by Nicolai Gedda in 1980 and Plácido Domingo in 1987), the curtain was not lowered for any reason at that moment—not even once—nor did either tenor step out of character. The circumstances in 1947 were so unusual that anything could have happened, of course, but no eyewitness known to the author has recalled or verified any mid-scene curtain business.
14. NOB is Narodno Oslobodilacka Borba, or National Liberation Movement of Resistance, popularly known as "National Liberation Fight."
15. Only a balkanologist—and this American musician/writer is a far cry from that—could possibly parse events and factions in that area of the world in a way to satisfy rather than offend its historically volatile, at-each-other’s-throats residents and expatriates. It therefore seems at least fair to reveal that when Zinka requested that I be her biographer and I asked for the record why she did not want to have a Yugoslav write her book, she replied emphatically, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no! [I counted seven ‘nos’] Not a Yugoslav!! He will never be able to tell the truth, and you will.”

 

Copyright © 2017 Bruce Burroughs
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© Bruce Burroughs 2017