Back in 1957, when La Selva was 28, he founded the all-volunteer Xavier Symphony Society, which regaled New Yorkers first with free symphonic concerts, then with opera. Those were heady times. The legendary Arturo Toscanini had died that year, and according to the buzz in certain quarters, this young American was his spiritual heir. La Selva and his band played at St. Francis Xavier High School on West 16th Street, which had an auditorium that was the replica of an elegant Italian opera house. (It has since been tom down.)

One evening, the composer Gian Carlo Menotti, whose TV opera Amahl and the Night Visitors had secured his reputation in the early fifties, went downtown to check out the Xavier revival of his opera The Saint of Bleecker Street. The melodrama had scored a hit on Broadway several years before. In the packed house, Menotti followed his stigmatic heroine's fate with mounting emotion and eventually tears. When the curtain fell, he rushed backstage to throw his arms around La Selva. He was also curious to know, pro to pro, what La Selva had spent on the production. About $1,100, La Selva told him.

"Gian Carlo flipped out,' recalls the tenor Enrico DiGiuseppe, who sang the hotheaded Michele that evening and rejoined La Selva in Central Park this July in I Due Foscari ("The Two Foscaris"). 'He said, 'What?! Eleven hundred dollars?!'

"Vincent said, 'Yeah, well, considering the wood and the canvas and the paint . . .' And Gian Carlo said, 'Eleven hundred dollars?! My production cost $100,000, and it didn't look this good.'"

In 1965, when the urbane Austrian-born conductor Julius Rudely, general director of the New York City Opera, decided to revive Menthe's Saint, the composer remembered the Xavier performance and insisted that Rudely bring in La Selva, along with key members of his cast. Rudely complied, then kept La Selva around for bread-and-butter assignments around the house.

The results were at times astonishing. The percussionist Howard van Hyning remembers a Tosca that La Selva conducted without a single orchestra rehearsal. "The performance started to take on its own life. I just got carried away, even though I was having to pay attention to my part. I was listening to the broad meaning in the music that hadn't been there before. The intensity just carried you away. At a certain point, I just started to cry from being so moved by what was going on. It didn't have to do with what was happening in the dramatic moment. It was the rightness of what Vincent was doing, the sort of deep knowledge he had of the score and the love of it." (From NY Magazine, Summer 1996 )