In 1991 the Evening Division needed an additional voice teacher, a person with a strong classical and musical-theater background. Joyce McLean, who has taught voice classes for us since 1989, recommended her colleague and friend, Dodi Protero. I’ll never forget my first meeting with Dodi, a petite, well-dressed, sparkling smile of a person who looked so much like Debbie Reynolds! Her teaching résumé was quite impressive, too; she had a thriving private studio, had been a faculty member at Banff and the University of Illinois, and served as director of voice at Opera Music Theater Institute of Newark, N.J. But she never mentioned that she’d had a fine career as a coloratura in opera houses throughout Europe, the U.S., and Canada, and that she sang the role of Mrs. Bedwin in the musical Oliver on Broadway. We hired her, of course—and for 16 years, many Evening Division students reaped the rewards of her fine teaching.
Dodi was an extremely private person—yet she was outgoing and fun-loving. If you asked her how she was doing, she would excitedly tell you how her students were progressing rather than talk about herself. And she never boasted about her students as if she were responsible for their progress, but rather, she spoke about how hard they worked. I remember, a few years back, when she was thrilled to have a professional dancer taking her class. She told me that she asked the dancer to help the other students with some movement to free their bodies for singing. Recently I spoke with that dancer, Elizabeth Fernandez, and she told me how scared of singing and intimidated by singers she had been before she took Dodi’s class. Elizabeth didn’t realize it at the time, but understands now that Dodi called upon her dancing skills to help her feel more comfortable in class. And although Dodi rarely spoke about her own professional career as a singer, several of her students remarked that if someone was struggling with a specific technical issue that seemed impossible to overcome, Dodi would share her similar struggles as a singer, which gave everyone hope and made them more comfortable with making mistakes.
I will certainly miss her bright smile and her sweet, lilting voice. Whenever I ran into her, she would light up as if I were a long-lost friend and, after a few glowing words about her students, we would part—and she always said, “It’s so nice to see you, dear” (which made me feel as if I had just been given a big bear hug). The last few weeks that she taught at Juilliard, I would see her sitting in the lobby waiting for her class to begin, and we would chat and giggle. (I didn’t know until later that she hadn’t been waiting for her classes, but had been catching her breath from walking the two blocks to school.) Then she would head up to her classroom and teach with great joy.
It was most fitting that her Evening Division students honored her memory with a recital at the end of the semester last spring. On the printed program, a tribute written by one of her students, Sandra Wiskari, best describes Dodi’s indelible mark on so many lives:
“A brilliant light has gone out with the passing of Dodi Protero. And yet, her fire and passion will forever burn brightly in all of us who were privileged to know and be taught by her. But we must not despair. She will be wherever there is music—and most especially wherever voices are raised in song.”