Episode 155. Barely Sang at the Met I

Episode 155. Barely Sang at the Met



Today’s brain teaser: What do world-class singers Irmgard Seefried, Virginia Zeani, Piero Cappuccilli, birthday girl Gundula Janowitz, Galina Vishnevskaya, Giangiacomo Guelfi, Felicia Weathers, Elisabeth Grümmer, Wolfgang Windgassen, Pavel Lisitsian, and Arlene Saunders, have in common? If you need a hint, it’s in the title of today’s episode: each of them sang at least one and not more than ten performances at that venerable institution, the Metropolitan Opera. These and a number of other artists will be featured on this week’s episode, to be followed by more world-class artists who, for one reason or another (though certainly not talent, skill, or ability) “barely sang at the Met.” We hear music of Mozart, Strauss, Verdi, Stravinsky, Wagner, Puccini, and Weber, led by conductors who either were fixtures at the Met (Thomas Schippers, Nello Santi, Dimitri Mitropoulos), appeared occasionally at the Met (Leopold Ludwig, Charles Mackerras), or never appeared there (Wolfgang Sawallisch, Ferdinand Leitner, Joseph Keilberth) or appeared there only once (John Barbirolli, who led a single gala concert there in 1940).


Giuseppe Verdi, Francesco Maria Piave: Ah, fors’è lui (La traviata). Virginia Zeani, Nello Santi, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden [live 13.I.60]

Zeani sang two performances of Violetta, her signature role, at the Met in 1966. She also sang in a concert performance of I vespri siciliani at Newport, RI under the aegis of the Metropolitan Opera in 1967, more than six years before the opera received its stage premiere at the Met during the 1973-74 season.

Nello Santi conducted hundreds upon hundreds of performances at the Met between 1962 and 2000.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Pietro Metastasio: L’amerò, sarò costante (Il re pastore). Irmgard Seefried, Wolfgang Schneiderhan, Ferdinand Leitner, Wiener Symphoniker [1952]

Irmgard Seefried sang five performances of Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro at the Met in November and December 1953.

Ferdinand Leitner never conducted at the Met.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Giambattista Varesco [after Antoine Danchet]: Quanto mi siete intorno… Padre, germani, addio (Idomeneo). Gundula Janowitz, John Pritchard, Wiener Symphoniker [1970]

Gundula Janowitz sang six performances at the Met during the 1967-68 season, all of Sieglinde in Die Walküre, a role which (I believe) she only sang under the baton of Herbert von Karajan. She was much more successful in other Wagner roles, particularly Eva and Elsa, not to mention her supreme Mozart and Strauss incarnations, none of which she ever sang at the Met. She was scheduled to sing Agathe in the Met’s new production of Der Freischütz in the 1969-70 season, but the production was delayed by two years because of “prolonged labor-management negoations” that also delayed the opening of the 1969-70 season. When the opera was finally produced, Met stalwart Pilar Lorengar portrayed Agathe rather than Janowitz.

John Pritchard conducted 81 performances at the Metropolitan Opera between 1971 and 1984.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Giambattista Varesco [after Antoine Danchet]: Chi mai del mio provo… Idol mio se ritroso (Idomeneo) Julia Varady, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Bayerisches Staatsorchester [live München 25.VII.75]

Julia Varady sang only seven performances at the Met, all of Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, one of her signature roles, in a production that also starred Joan Sutherland, James Morris, and Gabriel Bacquier. She was announced for the role of Senta at the Met in the spring of 1997, but withdrew from the production in protest of the director.

Wolfgang Sawallisch never conducted at the Met.

Carl Maria von Weber, Friedrich Kind [after Johann August Apel, Friedrich Laun]: Und ob die Wolke sie verhülle (Der Freischütz) Elisabeth Grümmer, Joseph Keilberth, Berliner Philharmoniker [1959]

Elisabeth Grümmer sang only nine performances under the aegis of the Metropolitan Opera, all of Elsa in Lohengrin, replacing the previous scheduled Leonie Rysanek. Seven of those performances were on the Met’s spring tour; only two took place in the actual house.

Joseph Keilberth never conducted at the Met.

Richard Wagner: Soll der Tag noch Tristan wecken? (Tristan und Isolde). Martha Mödl, Wolfgang Windgassen, John Barbirolli, Hallé Orchestra [live London 26.08.54]

Wolfgang Windgassen sang a total of seven performances at the Met in three of his signature Wagner roles: Siegmund in Die Walküre (his debut), three in the title part of Siegfried, and two as the same character in Götterdämmerung. At his first performance in Siegfried, the role of Brünnhilde was sung by Martha Mödl in her debut performance with the company. In her first season with the company, she sang five performances in total of all three Brünnhildes (in Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung. The following season she returned for three performances of Isolde as well as one Walküre Brünnhilde and one Kundry. She appeared in March 1960 for the final time at the Met in one performance each of Brünnhilde and Kundry, for ten times at the Met.

John Barbirolli conducted but a single performance at the Met, a gala concert in 1940 while he was acting as the music director of the New York Philharmonic.

Richard Strauss, Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Luft da!… Herr Kavalier (Der Rosenkavalier). Oskar Czerwenka, Nancy Evans, Leopold Ludwig, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra [live Glyndebourne 07.VI.59]

Oskar Czerwenka performed his signature role of Baron Ochs at the Met for the first time on 26 December 1959. He returned for four further performances of Ochs in the winter of 1960 plus three performances of Rocco in Fidelio. These eight performances comprised his entire career at the Metropolitan Opera.

Nancy Evans never sang at the Met, while Leopold Ludwig conducted a scant 21 performances at the Met between 1970 and 1972, including 12 performances of Parsifal and nine performances of a new production of Der Freischütz, the last time that opera has been seen at the Met.

Igor Stravinsky, W.H. Auden, Chester Kallman: No word from Tom… Quietly, night, oh find him (The Rake’s Progress). Arlene Saunders, Charles Mackerras, Orchestra of the Hamburgische Staatsoper [live NYC 29.VI.67]

In addition to this 1967 guest performance on the Met stage under the aegis of the Staatsoper Hamburg, Arlene Saunders made three additional appearances at the Met as Eva in Die Meistersinger in March 1976.

Between 1972 and 2002, Charles Mackerras conducted 60 performances at the Met, including operas by Gluck, Meyerbeer, Janáček, Britten Mozart, Donizetti, and Humperdinck.

Giuseppe Verdi, Joseph Méry, Camille du Locle (after Friedrich Schiller) [Italian translation by Antonio Ghislanzoni]: Non pianger, mia compagna (Don Carlo). Felicia Weathers, Argeo Quadri, Wiener Staatsopernorchester [1967]

Between October 1965 and March 1967, Felicia Weathers appeared a total of six times at the Met, each time in the role of Lisa in a new English-language version of Tchaikovsky’s Pique-Dame.

Argeo Quadri also never conducted at the Met.

Giuseppe Verdi, Antonio Ghislanzoni: Ciel! mio padre (Aida) [sung in Russian]. Galina Vishnevskaya, Pavel Lisitsian, Alexander Melik-Pashaev, Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre [live Moscow 1961]

During the 1961-62 season, Galina Vishnevskaya appeared four times in the title role of Aida (singing in Italian) and once as the title role of Madama Butterfly (in this case singing in Russian while the rest of the cast sang in Italian. In March 1975, now exiled from her Russian homeland, she appeared one final time at the Met, as Floria Tosca. Pavel Lisitsian appeared exactly once at the Metropolitan Opera, in March 1960, singing Amonasro in Aida in Russian, while his colleagues Antonietta Stella, Giulietta Simionato, Kurt Baum, and Nicola Moscona all sang in Italian.

Needless to say, Alexander Melik-Pashaev never conducted at the Met.

Whadda ya mean, blackface? It’s just body makeup!

Giuseppe Verdi, Joseph Méry, Camille du Locle (after Friedrich Schiller) [Italian translation by Antonio Ghislanzoni]: O Carlo, ascolta…  Io morrò, ma lieto in core (Don Carlo). Piero Cappuccilli, Thomas Schippers, Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma della RAI [live Roma 30.IV.69]

Cappuccilli sang exactly one performance at the Met, as Germont to Licia Albanese’s Traviata on 26 March 1960. He was replacing the previously scheduled Leonard Warren, who had died tragically on 4 March 1960 while performing the role of Don Carlo de Vargas in La forza del destino. After this performance, Cappuccilli never returned to the Met.

On the other hand, between 1955 and 1975 Thomas Schippers conducted a wide range of operas at the Met, from Barber and Menotti through Massenet and Rossini, more than 300 performances in total.

Giacomo Puccini, Carlo Zangarini, Guelfo Civinini (after David Belasco): Minnie, dalla mia casa son partita… S’amavan tanto (La fanciulla del West). Giangiacomo Guelfi, Eleanor Steber, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Firenze [live Firenze 15,VI.54]

Guelfi sang two performances at the Met in the spring of 1970: as Scarpia opposite Dorothy Kirsten and as Jack Rance opposite aging Met favorite Renata Tebaldi. Eleanor Steber, of course, sang hundreds of perfirmances at the Met between 1940 and 1966, including the Met stage premieres of Arabella, Wozzeck, and Die Entführung aus dem Serail (all three in English), and in the world premiere of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa, even though she was in increasing enmity with Rudolf Bing, the General Manager of the Met.

Dimitri Mitropoulos was a stalwart at the Met, conducting more than 200 performances there between his debut in 1954 and his untimely death in 1960.

Giuseppe Verdi, Francesco Maria Piave: Follie! Follie!… Sempre libera (La traviata). Virginia Zeani, William McAlpine, Nello Santi, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden [live 13.I.60]

The Scottish tenor William McAlpine never sang at the Metropolitan Opera.

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