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Klaus Sperber (Immenstadt im Allgäu, January 24, 1944 – New York, August 6, 1983) artistically known as Klaus Nomi , was a countertenor of origin German. He has been widely recognized for his unique and unusual vocal performances and for merging opera with rock and pop, he is also remembered for his extravagant theatrical performances, his ornate makeup, his futuristic wardrobe and his unique and stylized hairstyle that exaggerated the tickets of his hair. He especially sought to give the image that he was an alien who fell from a more glamorous galaxy to sing through his falsetto condition, his musical compositions were unique and ranged from classical opera synthesizer performances to several versions of pop songs like “The Twist” by Chubby Checker and “Lightning Strikes” by Lou Christie.
Klaus Nomi was born on January 24, 1944 in the city of Immenstadt im Allgäu, in the state of Bavaria, in Germany, under the name of Klaus Sperber. “He came from a family of artists, and from an early age he demonstrated passion for opera. Sponsored by the small coins given to him by his grandmother, little Klaus, unlike the rest of the post-war children, instead of buying sweets, he collected each coin to buy records of his great passion, the opera. “
In the 1960s, during his youth he worked as an assistant at the German Opera in Berlin, located in the west of the city. After each opera performance, Klaus stayed on stage and sang to the music maintenance staff of Maria Callas and Elvis Presley, during which he also performed opera arias at a gay nightclub in Berlin called Kleist Casino.
Nomi described in an interview one of the causes that inspired her the desire to dedicate herself to singing:
Once I saw María Callas and I always had the dream of meeting her. In Germany, there is a custom on New Year’s Eve that involves melting some metal on a candle, and when it becomes liquid you put it in cold water. Something very strange happens. The idea is that you analyze it and judge for yourself what it may mean to you. This way it looked like two people were face to face, and of course it was Maria and me. Well, three months later it was announced that he was coming to give a concert in the small town where he lived. It was perfect, in fact, I was present and I jumped on stage, I faced it as close as I could. I managed to get a fleeting glimpse of his eyes and it was like a fire inside me. I almost fainted. The next day I went to find a singing teacher and started singing professionally, and every time I succeed in anything, in honor of her I play one of her songs.
In the mid-1970s he moved to New York City and became involved in the artistic environment of the East Village neighborhood. He decided to change his stage name to Nomi, an anagram from the word “Omni”, which was the title of his favorite magazine dealing with aliens, according to a documentary titled The Nomi Song (2004), produced by producer Andrew Horn, Nomi enrolled in singing lessons with the artist Ira Siff and during her period of studies she continued to work as a pastry chef, Ira Siff, her teacher, declared in an interview:
He was a sweet man, very sincere and shy. He is the only person who gave meaning to the mixture of opera and pop, and who understood both styles and made them work together. He took his voice to distant places and sounds that people had never heard before.
In 1972 he joined the theater company of Charles Ludlam and appeared in a satirical production of effeminate type based on the opera entitled The gold of the Rhine (in German: Das Rheingold) belonging to the composer Richard Wagner. In this presentation, Nomi developed the scenic image of an alien for the first time.
However, Nomi drew attention to the New York stage in 1978, with her participation in the new wave Vodevil, a four-night event, organized by the artist David McDermott and where about thirty acts were performed interpreted by different characters of the artistic environment, dressed in a tight space suit and with a layer of transparent plastic, Klaus sang the aria “Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix” (“My heart opens to your voice”) the opera Samson et Dalila of 1877 composed by Camille Saint-Saëns. The presentation ended with chaotic strobe lighting, smoke bombs and raucous electronic effects sounds as Nomi walked away from the stage. Joey Arias remembers, “my skin still bristles when I think about it … It was as if I were from a different planet and his parents were calling him to come home. When the smoke cleared, Nomi disappeared. “The reaction was irresistibly positive and she received numerous invitations to be presented in clubs around the entire city of New York.
Nomi was gaining confidence in their presentations and joined a group of promising artists to collaborate as dancers and choristers in their various roles, and included personalities such as Joey Arias, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, John McLaughlin (who also he used the pseudonym “Johnny Sex”), Madonna and Kenny Sharf.
David Bowie heard about Nomi’s performances in New York and became interested. During one night in the night club Mudd Club had the opportunity to finally meet the young singer, who at that time was with Joey Arias, and after dialogue decided to hire the two artists as choristers for his appearance on the television show Saturday Night Live. The show premiered on December 15, 1979 and performed the song “The Man Who Sold the World.” Although Bowie never took them into account again, this presentation opened the doors to Nomi. Thus, in 1981 he received the support of the RCA label and produced his first album entitled Klaus Nomi, which includes his first hits: “Total eclipse”, “The Cold Song” and “Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix” , among other. Nomi achieved great popularity and made a musical tour through various European countries and North America. He also made several videos like the documentary, Urgh! A Music War (1981), which deals with rock and where Nomi’s live presentation of the song “Total Eclipse” is shown, according to Kristian Hoffman, much of the audience reminds Nomi of her interpretation of the song «The Cold Song» or «The cold aria», by Henry Purcell, belonging to the play King Arthur, third act.
In the lyrics of the song “Total eclipse” Nomi makes numerous references to the work of Handel Samson. According to Handel’s oratory, Samson is a prisoner of the Philistines and Nomi in his song replaces his own destiny with that of Samson. More clearly, for Nomi the philistines are equivalent to the heterosexual society that rejects homosexuals.
Nomi also collaborated with producer Man Parrish, where she appeared as a showgirl on the track “Six Simple Synthesizers” belonging to the album Hip Hop Bee Bop. In 1982 she released her second album titled Simple Man, which contains a mix of pop and opera songs. Among the most important songs are songs composed by John Dowland, excerpts from the opera Dido and Eneas (Purcell), “Falling in Love Again” from the movie The blue angel that is a classic sung by Marlene Dietrich, and «Ding Dong the Witch is Dead »from the film The Wizard of Oz, among others Unfortunately in 1983 he had to abruptly move away from the scenarios because his health began to decline.
He had a short musical career which ended with his death on August 6, 1983 as a result of AIDS, becoming one of the first celebrities to die because of the disease, at a time when it was believed to be the plague of the gay community and very little information was known about it. Nomi died at age 39, abandoned during his last days of life by most of his close friends and associates.Their ashes were scattered in New York , according to his express wish. Joey Arias related the last days of Nomi:
The doctors forced me to wear a plastic suit when I visited. I was forbidden to touch him. After a few weeks it seemed to have improved. He had the strength to walk. Then he left the hospital and went home. His manager made him sign all the papers, as if his life was worth five hundred dollars. He developed kaposis (a type of injury associated with kaposi’s sarcoma, which is a strange form of skin cancer related to AIDS), and he started taking interferon. That affected him terribly. He had marks all over his body and his eyes had purple indentations. It was as if someone was destroying him. He used to be funny about that and said, ‘Now call me the Nomi of points.’ Then he really got weak and we took him to the hospital urgently. I could not eat for days because I had stomach cancer. Then herpes broke out all over her body. He became a monster. It hurt so much to see it. I talked to him the night of August 5 and he said, ‘Joey, and now what do I do? They do not want me anymore in the hospital. I was disconnected from all machines. I have to stop all this because I’m not improving. ‘ I had a dream that Klaus got better and sang again, only this time a little warped, so now I had to be behind a screen or something. I said, ‘Now you will be the phantom of the opera.’ We will make presentations together and he replied, ‘Yes, possibly’. But Klaus died that night while he slept. ”
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