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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Next we'll report on a singer whose work might well be pirated, though few people could really imitate it. His name is Samuel Ramey. He's an opera singer, a bass, and his deep, resonate voice and muscular physique landed him famous roles playing demons in the story of Faust, the man who makes a pact with the devil. Samuel Ramey is now in his 60s, and in the latest edition of Musicians in Their Own Words, he says it took him many years to reach a wide audience on Sesame Street.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SAMUEL RAMEY (Opera Singer, Bass): I was the L man. L is the letter that I love the most.

(Singing) L is the letter that I love the most. L helps me go, low, low, low, low. L can also help me la, la, la. L, I think you are swell.

(Talking) I have a 6-year-old son so I was like, oh, I wish I could have that 'cause I think he really would enjoy it. And then it showed up on YouTube, so he gets to watch it now.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RAMEY: In Boito's "Mefistofele," I play Mefistofele - who is the devil, basically.

(Soundbite of opera singing)

Mr. RAMEY: Or a messenger of the devil, and my son seems to like those things the best. I'm in a red costume, and my hair is red, and when he sees that, he calls me Red Daddy.

(Soundbite of opera singing)

Mr. RAMEY: For some reason, composers seem to feel that the bass voice is very much suited to evil or villainous parts. And I certainly had a lot of time over my career playing bad guys.

(Soundbite of opera singing)

Mr. RAMEY: But I just loved singing Mozart.

(Soundbite of opera singing)

Mr. RAMEY: Don Giovanni, the title part in the opera, he does not have the greatest music to sing. For being this legendary Don Juan, Mozart really didn't give him the greatest of arias.

(Soundbite of opera singing)

Mr. RAMEY: What I always loved were all the recitative that Giovanni has. You know, the recitatives, that's where the story is. They're sung, you know, but it's conversation, sung dialogue.

(Soundbite of opera singing)

Mr. RAMEY: When I began, Don Giovanni was a role that I dreamed of doing. The singers that I admired, my idols, were famous Don Giovannis — Ezio Pinza…

(Soundbite of opera singing)

Mr. RAMEY: Cesare Sieppi…

(Soundbite of opera singing)

Mr. RAMEY: I think one of my favorite scenes in Don Giovanni is the Champagne Aria. In my good days, I really felt that I sang that aria as well as anybody.

(Soundbite of opera singing)

Mr. RAMEY: Lots of singers, when they get busy and their career's on the move, they just stop studying, they stop seeing a teacher. And I've always felt that would be a big mistake. Singers can't really hear themselves that well. A singer's voice is sort of like your automobile; you have to have somebody to take it in for a 20,000-mile check-up.

My teacher and I, when I see him now, we just try to work on things to try to keep the voice from sounding the age that it is.

(Soundbite of opera singing)

Mr. RAMEY: The first thing that goes as you get older is the lightness and flexibility in your voice. I'm certainly the first to admit that my voice, you know, now is - I'm in the twilight of my career, shall we say?

(Soundbite of opera singing)

Mr. RAMEY: I've given up a lot of my standard repertoire. Nobody wants to see a 67-year-old Don Giovanni, so I just try to bring out what's left of the youth in the voice.

(Soundbite of opera singing)

INSKEEP: It still sounds pretty good to me. That's bass Samuel Ramey. We heard from him as part of Musicians in Their Own Words, produced by David Schulman. And you can hear more of Samuel Ramey's singing at nprmusic.org.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

(Soundbite of opera singing)

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