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A 70th birthday surprise for the ages — opera legend style

A 70th birthday surprise for the ages — opera legend style

Samuel Ramey had no idea a mob of his colleagues were taking cover behind closed doors waiting to belt out "Happy Birthday" in four-part harmony when he was asked to autograph photos for an upcoming Houston Grand Opera dedication at Wortham Theater Center.

At least that's what artistic director Patrick Summers told Ramey. Ramey couldn't imagine a better way to spend his 70th birthday than rehearsing for Verdi's Don Carlos and preparing for his debut as The Grand Inquisitor in the French setting of the Italian castle opera.

But HGO had other plans.

No sooner than the door opened to a large unassuming rehearsal hall — one that was unusually quiet for an army of opera celebs — a speechless, surprised and beaming Ramey was serenaded in the company of hugs, laughs, kisses and warm birthday wishes.

Among them was a loving message from close friend Frederica von Stade, with whom Ramey performed so extensively, the duo is practically joined at the hip. Joyce DiDonato read the message:

Hi dear Sam, 

There's no way to imagine this world or my life without your presence in it. And what presence! A magnificent voice unlike any that has ever been, and a magnificent heart to match — the magnificent hair and cowboy boots are just a bonus. I love you madly and wish you the happiest of days.

Much love, Flicka

And then there was soprano Christine Goerke — Princess Eboli in Don Carlos — who wasn't restrained, even on camera, when showing her fondness for Ramey alongside cast members Scott Hendricks, Mark Diamond, Brandon Jovanovich, Tamara Wilson, Andrea Silvestrelli, Oren Gradus, Lauren Snouffer, Brittany Wheeler, Boris Dyakov, director John Caird, Houston Grand Opera general manager Perryn Leech and HGOco's Sandra Bernhard and many, many more. CultureMap was on hand to capture exclusive footage of the joyful festivities (watch the video above).

 "I finally have the chance to use my French score, for which I paid a lot of money," Ramey says.

It's been quite a career for the American bass-baritone, who appeared for the first time with HGO in 1975 as Argante in Handel's Rinaldo. Most recently, Ramey was cast as Mephistopheles in Gounod's Faust in Francesca Zambello's 1985 production performed in 2007 and the title role of Mussorgsky' Boris Godunov in 2005. His Don Carlos is set to open April 13 at Wortham.

"The Grand Inquisitor is not a great challenge," Ramey tells CultureMap. "Of course learning a new role is a bit of a challenge, but I always love singing in French."

One of Ramey's hobbies is to acquire vintage opera scores. When singing in Paris 20 years ago, he stumbled upon a first edition Don Carlos in a quaint, historic music shop.

"I finally have the chance to use my French score, for which I paid a lot of money," Ramey says.

Ramey keeps his voice in relatively good shape, but he intends to wind down in the next couple of years.

After Houston, he will party up this milestone with his wife Lindsey, who he met while singing at Lyric Opera of Chicago's Boris Godunov in 1994. They were married in 2002.

In her Facebook status she wrote, "Happy Birthday, love of my life!"

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Joyce DiDonato , Perryn Leech , Samuel Ramey , Patrick Summers Courtesy of Houston Grand Opera
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Tamara Wilson , Christine Goerke , Brandon Jovanovich , John Caird , Samuel Ramey Courtesy of Houston Grand Opera
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