You may remember my telling you about my husband Carl’s unique voice, in which I wrote:
The child was in great demand as a boy soprano, having a voice “as clear as a bell.” He found himself singing solos not only at church, but at ball games and for Elks and Lions Clubs. Cousin Marie Seastrom often accompanied him on the piano. However, when Carl’s voice changed, he simply stopped singing and focused on his keyboard skills instead. It wasn’t until he moved to Hawaii and landed at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu, that he had to sing again. He used to tell me that it was difficult for him at first — he was so used to playing intervals on the piano, that when it came time to sing he was sometimes off the mark when singing in his natural baritone voice. He was a fairly good sightreader when it came to piano music, but making his throat sing the intervals was a whole new ballgame…
It was in the early 80s, that Carl went to voice teacher, Neva Rego, for several years of lessons. She had just returned from a long sojourn in Italy. She had never trained a countertenor before, but decided she would treat it like any other voice.
That was the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship, which included many dinners together and Carl even doing Neva’s yearly taxes, and that of her housemate and business partner, Betty Grierson, which Carl did until the very last.
In 2008, local television personality Leslie Wilcox taped an interview with Neva for her program, Long Story Short, in which Neva described her childhood passion about beautiful singing, begun when she was just seven years old.
Well, I wanted to something in music. I wanted singing; I loved it. And you know, here’s this little kid from Kaimuki, wanting singing. And you know, I don’t know why, but I felt it. As I recall, when I was seven years old, I heard this beautiful aria on the radio with this Italian singer. And I remember telling my mother that was the most beautiful thing I ever heard in my whole life. All of seven years, yes? And Mother said, You really loved it? I said, Oh, I love it, I just love it. Well, that did it. Mother went down to House of Music, at that time in Waikiki, and she kept buying all these records of Italian singers. And well, that whetted my appetite for opera.
After 26 years in Italy, Neva came home to Hawaii to take care of her ill father. She started the Bel Canto School of Singing in her Kaimuki home, where she became known as Hawaii’s voice coach to the stars: Robert Cazimero, Tony Conjugacion, Jimmy Borges, Jasmine Trias and Jordan Segundo, and a waiting list with more than a hundred names.
She ended the interview with this:
My name is not really Neva; it’s Aggreneva. And everybody gets all twisted ‘cause they don’t know who she is. But my mother named me after a Russian opera singer, and her name was Aggreneva Schlovanskaya. I’m kinda happy Mother stopped after Aggreneva. Mother never told me that I had this name. I knew it was a kooky name; at school, they called me Aggrevacious. You know how school kids are. Anyway, all of a sudden, I said to Mother that I was in love with music and I wanted to do music. So Mother said, Well, you know, I think I’ll tell you about your name. And she told me about Aggreneva Schlovanska, who had come here years ago with some Russian group. And they sang at Hawaii Theatre. Isn’t that interesting?
And your mother obviously had a love for opera.
Yeah. But I was the one that was gonna make it my life.
And this week, we got the sad news that our dear Neva Rego has joined the choirs of angels on Wednesday, Valentine’s Day and also Ash Wednesday (Carl Crosier’s mother also died on Ash Wednesday—it makes it all the more poignant.) You can read the announcement here. Here are some of the comments which have been posted to Facebook:
… how do I say thank you enough… I am the singer I am because of yours and Betty’s love, support, guidance… I will always be grateful. Rest in Love and Peace…(Malia Kaai-Barrett)
What a loss! She was such an important part of the vocal community and mentored so many. (Phyllis Haines)
I’m so saddened by this news. May she rest in love & peace. (Karli Tario)
She has left an incredible legacy! (Ryan Souza)
She was brilliant and a wonderful inspiration to everyone. Absolutely the best voice teacher I ever had! I am so sad to hear that she is gone from this world. Surely, she will soon be teaching the angels in heaven to sing Bel Canto! (Mary Strong Spaid)
Wow, this is so sad. Neva was a gem. I took lessons with her for a bit. I loved her studio and all her memories on the walls. I was so happy when she recovered earlier, but now I guess was the appointed time. Aloha Neva! (Beth Barry)
I learned so much from her… I wish I had been able to study with her longer. She was and is truly a musical gem. 😔 (Taylor Ishida)
I think of her often and how she inspired me to work hard and fight for my goals. Rest in peace, Neva, and thank you. (Jennifer Wadley)
Oh, this is so sad. Neva was an incredible and generous and kind force of nature. (Timothy Carney)
I cannot even imagine how many voices and hearts she shaped during her time on earth. My deepest condolences to Auntie Betty and to all those that loved Mama Neva Rego. There are some folks that are so larger than life that you cannot imagine their presence no longer being here. There will never be another Neva! (Anita Hall)