Episode 85. George Shirley @ 87

Episode 85. George Shirley @ 87



George Shirley as Pelléas

Today I finally get to pay tribute to one of the singers who was a formative influence on me as a budding opera and vocal aficionado. George Shirley, born on April 18, 1934 in Indianapolis, Indiana, was one of the most versatile tenors of the second half of the twentieth century, and a pathbreaker as the first African American tenor to sing at the Metropolitan Opera. I first encountered him through his matchless portrayal of Pelléas in Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande opposite Elisabeth Söderström. But his Mozart is equally celebrated: the podcast also features live and studio recordings of George Shirley as Tamino (opposite Judith Raskin), Don Ottavio, Ferrando (opposite Leontyne Price),  as well as his extraordinary Idomeneo. Extant live performances of George Shirley including assumptions of roles as diverse as Don José (opposite Shirley Verrett), David in Die Meistersinger, Pinkerton (opposite an incandescent young Renata Scotto), Mephistopheles in Busoni’s Doktor Faust, and even Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos. All of these are included in the episode, as are rare song recordings from throughout his career. Raise a glass to the great George Shirley, and join me in thanking him for having shared his extraordinary artistic gift with us for all these years!


Josephine McGill, Marjorie Pickthall: Duna. George Shirley; Wayne Sanders [ca. 1973]

Claude Debussy, Maurice Maeterlinck: Je ne puis pas monter plus haut [excerpt from Tower Scene] (Pelléas et Mélisande). George Shirley, Elisabeth Söderström, Pierre Boulez, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden [1970]

Richard Strauss, Hugo von Hoffmansthal: Durch deine Schmerzen bin ich reich (Ariadne auf Naxos). George Shirley, Joanna Neal, Paul Calloway, Washington Opera Society Orchestra [live Washington 09 March 1962]

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Lorenzo da Ponte: Volgi a me pietoso il ciglio (Così fan tutte). George Shirley, Leontyne Price, Erich Leinsdorf, New Philharmonia Orchestra [1968]

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Emanuel Schickaneder: Tamino mein! O welch ein Glück (Die Zauberflöte). George Shirley, Judith Raskin, Paul Franke, Raymond Michalski, Josef Krips [live New York 04 March 1967]

With Arlene Saunders in Die Zauberflöte, Glyndebourne 1966

Giacomo Puccini, Giuseppe Giacosa, Luigi Illica: Vogliatemi bene (Madama Butterfly). George Shirley, Renata Scotto, Pedro Ignacio Calderón, Orchestra of the Teatro Colón [live Buenos Aires 15 May 1964

Renata Scotto as Madama Butterfly, Teatro Colón, 1964

Georges Bizet, Henri Meilhac, Ludovic Halévy: Tu ne m’aimes donc plus? (Carmen). George Shirley, Shirley Verrett, Thomas Schippers, Orchestra Filarmonica di Trieste [live Spoleto July 1962]

With Shirley Verrett

Igor Stravinsky, André Gide: Perséphone, un peuple t’attend (Perséphone). George Shirley, Paul Vorwerk, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra [live Hollywood Bowl 13 August 1968]

Ferruccio Busoni: Lasst euch nicht stören (Doktor Faust). George Shirley, Jascha Horenstein, American Opera Society Orchestra and Chorus [live Carnegie Hall 01 December 1964]

With Leontyne Price and Karl Böhm

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Lorenzo da Ponte: Il mio tesoro (Don Giovanni). George Shirley, Colin Davis, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden [live 08 July 1967]

Richard Wagner: Mein Herr, der Singer Meisterschlag (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg). George Shirley, Jess Thomas, Georg Solti, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden [live 03 Feb 1969]

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Giambattista Varesco after Antoine Danchet: Qual mi conturba… Fuor del mar (Idomeneo). George Shirley. Recitativo: John Pritchard, London Philharmonic Orchestra [live Glyndebourne Jun 1974]; Aria: Colin Davis, BBC Symphony Orchestra [1968]

Jacques Offenbach, Hector Crémieux, Ludovic Halévy: Heureuses divinités qui folâtrez (Orphée aux Enfers). George Shirley, Jesus Lopez-Cobos, Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin [Berlin 01 Jan 1984]

Karl Weigl, Gustav Falke: Seele, Op. 23/4. George Shirley, David Garvey [1973]

Alessandro Scarlatti, Anonymous text: Sono unite a tormentarmi. George Shirley, Wayne Sanders [ca. 1973]

Howard Swanson, Langston Hughes: Joy. George Shirley, Wayne Sanders [ca. 1973]

Howard Swanson (1907 – 1978)

Benjamin Britten, Wilfred Owen: Move him into the sun (War Requiem). George Shirley, Ilva Ligabue, Fernando Previtali, Coro e Orchestra sinfonica della RAI, Milano [live Milano 1976]

Ilva Ligabue (1932 – 1998)
Sylvia Olden Lee (1917 – 2004)

Traditional Spiritual, arr. Roland Hayes: L’il Boy. George Shirley, Sylvia Olden Lee [live 17 January 1998]

2 thoughts on “Episode 85. George Shirley @ 87”

  1. What a lovely birthday tribute to George Shirley. Thanks for all the good memories. I worked for George for most of those heady successful years. He is truly a noble person, still giving of himself in his ‘retirement’ . Ann Summers Dossena

    1. Thank you for the very kind comment. Mr. Shirley is an example for all of us of the best possible way to use one’s talent, as an expression of shared humanity. Sincerely yours, Daniel

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