A native of Syracuse, N.Y., Michael Maione earned a B.A. from St. Lawrence University, an M.A. in Italian language and literature from Middlebury College, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in French language and literature from the University of Connecticut. Before coming to Juilliard, he was on the faculty at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn. He is currently a member of the foreign languages department at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and has taught Italian and French at Juilliard since 1986.
Who was the teacher or mentor who most inspired you when you were growing up and what did you learn from that person?
Through her teaching and by her example, my now-deceased sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Margaret Touhey, inspired in me a curiosity about people and places far from the U.S. Every time I visit a new place, I think of her and wish I could thank her for her interest in me.
Do you have a background in music, dance, or drama? Are you actively pursuing it?
I took piano lessons for 10 years as a child and realized that an activity requiring that much practice was not for me. But I have a lifelong interest in music and drama. I discovered opera quite by accident when an uncle gave me a recording of Strauss’s Salome. I moved on—or rather back—to something more traditional, and was hooked. My interest coincided with the rise of the then-young soprano Leontyne Price. I bought everything she recorded and made my father drive me to New York to see her perform at the old Met the year she made her debut. It was an experience I will always remember. I have been in love with that voice for almost 50 years!
What other pursuits are you passionate about?
I visited friends in Turkey in 1983 and purchased what was the first of many ethnographic textiles. I love the patterns and the colors and they are everywhere in my apartment. Should the heat ever go off for an extended period of time, I will never freeze; there are enough garments, shawls, and floor coverings to accommodate everyone in my building.
If you suddenly had an hour of free time, how would you spend it?
I would most likely do my Spanish homework. For the last few years, I have been renewing my knowledge of Spanish, most recently at the Instituto Cervantes here in New York, a kind of Alliance Française without the attitude. I love it and think it is important as a language teacher to be reminded from time to time of how difficult and frustrating an endeavor learning a language can be. And believe me, it doesn’t get any easier as you get older!
If you could have your students visit any place in the world, where would it be and why?
India. I love the chaos and color and feel compelled to return every few years. It is immensely moving for someone like myself, who was raised and who lives in a relatively young country, to contemplate an ancient culture that still sustains a billion people. There is little, if anything, in contemporary Greek or Italian life, other than their magnificent monuments, that reminds me of life in ancient Greece or Rome. But in the millions of villages and small towns where most Indians live, their ancient culture is still alive and still sustains them: they pray to the same gods, sing the same hymns, tell the same stories their ancestors have been telling for thousands of years. It is an awesome sight.
If your students could only remember one thing from your teaching, what would you want it to be?
Knowing a foreign language has taken me to places I never would have gone to, and to performances I probably never would have attended or enjoyed as much as I did, without that knowledge.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
A photo of soprano Karita Mattila as Elsa in Lohengrin sits on my desk at home.
What is your favorite thing about New York City?
It is a place where (almost) every desire can be satisfied with no more than a short subway ride. (I still haven’t found an authentic French baguette here, but I am still looking.)
If you weren’t in the career you are in, what would you be doing?
If I were no longer teaching at Juilliard, I think I would like to be in the Peace Corps, either as a volunteer or an administrator. I have lived abroad for extended periods and the prospect continues to appeal to me. I am grateful for the many educational and professional opportunities I have had and would like to provide them for those less fortunate than I.