Greek-American Spiro Malas, Opera Star and Actor, Was 86

(Photo by Eurokinissi/Yorgos Kondarinis, FILE)

NEW YORK – Greek-American opera star and actor Spiro Malas passed away at the age of 86 on June 23.

The son of Greek immigrants Sam and Lillian Malas, he was born in Baltimore, MD January 28, 1933. The family owned Duffy’s, a restaurant in Baltimore’s Southwest neighborhood.

According to his online obituary, Malas told his father he did not want to go into the family business, the elder Malas paid for his 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.

When his mother passed away at the age of 95 in 1999, Mala told The Baltimore Sun that “his mother didn’t understand why he took up singing as a career when he could work at Duffy’s.”

“She said, ‘Come home and get a job in the restaurant and stop all this running around,'” he said, The Baltimore Sun reported, adding that “later, when her son became famous, Mrs. Malas traveled to London and other cities to hear him sing and to cook Greek dishes of lamb and moussaka for Luciano Pavarotti and her son’s other friends. And when opera stars like Beverly Sills performed in Baltimore, they ate at Duffy’s.”

Malas told The Baltimore Sun, ”Mama Malas was never in awe of these stars because she never knew the opera scene,” adding that “to her, even Mr. Pavarotti was just ‘a very nice boy.’”

He made his City Opera debut as Spinelloccio in Gianni Schicchi in 1960 and over the next 20 years 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 Gerolstein, Don Magnifico in Cenerentola and King Dodon in Le Coq d’Or.

Malas 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?

Though based mostly 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 playing Frank in Die Fledermaus, Capulet in Romeo et Juliette, Zuniga in Carmen, the Police Commissioner in Der Rosenkavalier, and the Innkeeper in both Manon and Manon Lescaut, among his many roles.

A high point in Malas’ career came later in life when in 1991, at age 58, he starred in a revival of Frank Loesser’s 1956 musical/opera hybrid The Most Happy Fella at Connecticut’s Goodspeed Opera House. The production earned rave reviews, especially for Malas. The New York Times’ theater critic, Frank Rich, 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 and ran for 229 performances. Later on, Malas appeared in episodes of Law and Order and Sex and the City, among other television shows. He also 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. They had two sons, Alexis and Nicol.

The service was held on June 27 at the Riverside Memorial Chapel on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Donations may be made to the American Cancer Society in memory of Spiro Malas. May his memory be eternal.

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