I’m using the same criterion to define a Met house baritone as I did for the company’s tenors; ie, more than 500 performances in leading roles. This rule yields 11 baritones over the life of the Met – almost twice as many as for the tenors. They’re presented below by the number of shows they appeared in, from highest down. Thus, they are not in chronological order. I will only give examples of the singing of those baritones about whom I haven’t previously written. Unlike the tenors, not all of these singers were big stars – three were competent journeyman. Unlike the tenor list which contained just one American (Richard Tucker), six of the 11 baritones here are American.
Antonio Scotti (1866-1936) appeared at the Met 1213 times between between 1899 and 1933. He holds the record for most performances by a singer in leading roles. He was the Met’s first Scarpia in Tosca. He virtually owned the role for the next 30 years, singing it an astounding 217 times. This is another Met record for the most performances by a singer of a major role. Scotti was not know for vocal heft or ringing high notes. It was his depth of characterization which kept him in the highest demand at all the world’s great opera houses. He was also a renowned Falstaff. It was in one of his performances of Verdi’s final opera that Lawrence Tibbett stole the show with his portrayal of Ford. Nevertheless, Scotti kept singing the opera with Tibbett and remained on the best of terms with the then young American singer. The photo below show Scotti with Tibbett after the former’s farewell performance at the Met. The cigarette in his mouth likely explains why his retirement was short. He died three years after leaving the Met. Here is Scotti singing the Honor Monologue at the end of Act 1 of Falstaff.
Giuseppe De Luca (1876-1950) was born in Rome. He achieved renown in Europe, but moved to the US in 1915. He spent the remainder of his career at the Met giving 926 performances with the company almost all between 1915 and 1935. He appeared in a few productions in 1940. His last appearance at the house was at a gala in 1946 which also marked the farewell of Giovanni Martinelli. During his retirement he taught voice at the Juilliard School. He died in New York City where he had lived for the last half of his life. He sang all the standard Italian roles. His Rigoletto was among his most successful parts. He sang Verdi’s deformed and sorrowful jester 96 times at the Met. He gave only a single performance of Don Carlo in Ernani in New York. The part is perfect for his voice which, though not large, was perfectly emitted and projected. He had all the notes a Verdi baritone needs. O sommo Carlo is from Act 3. The soprano and tenor are Grace Anthony and Alfio Tedesco. Giulio Setti led the Met Orchestra and Chorus. De Luca made many recording most of which are still available.
Robert Merrill (1917-2004) sang 789 times with the Met between 1945 and 1976. He returned for a duet with Anna Moffo at the Met’s Centennial Gala in 1983. While he sang all the major roles in the Italian and French repertory, the elder Germont in La Traviata was his most frequent part – 132 times. His voice had a unique and instantly recognizable quality.
Frank Guarrera (1923-2007) was born in Philadelphia. He gave 680 performances between 1948 and 1976. I heard him many times. He was the operatic equivalent of a utility infielder. He was always available and always competent. But nobody ever went to the Met just to hear him. He sang Rossini’s Barber 29 times at the Met. Figaro’s famous aria shows him to good effect, though a little more personality would have helped. Guarrera Largo al factotum
Leonard Warren (1911-60) was the best baritone I ever heard. His death onstage during a performance of La Forza Del Destino was a crushing blow to the Met. An artist of his caliber comes along only once or twice a century. Had he lived he would have given many more than the 657 with which he graced the company.
Sherrill Milnes (b 1935) was the last of the series of great American baritones. In his prime he was a wonderful Verdi baritone. He sang 653 times with the Met. His tenure was 1968 to 92.
Cornell MacNeil was a phenom in the 1960s. His volcanic high notes drove audiences out of their seats. He appeared 641 times with the Met between 1959 and 1987. He debuted as Rigoletto, a role he sang 104 times.
Pasquale Amato (1878-1942) appeared 633 times at the Met between 1908 and 1921. That was a lot of singing over a comparatively brief period. Initially he sang both leading baritone parts in Cav and Pag, on the same evening. He was Jack Rance in the Met’s 1910 world premiere of Puccini’s La Fanciulla Del West. In 1921 he was vocally exhausted and returned to Italy to recuperate. In 1935 he returned to the US to teach at LSU. He died in Queens, NY. He sang all the leading Italian roles and regularly appeared as Kurwenal in Tristan und Isolde. The following two Verdi excerpts show him at his best. They were recorded in 1911 and 1914 respectively. His elegant phrasing and lyrical line set him near the top of the baritone heap at a time when there were a lot of outstanding baritones. If the Rigoletto aria sounds a little strange, it’s because Amato sings it as Verdi wrote it. His singing of the Ballo aria is about as good as it can be done. Povero Rigoletto…Cortigiani – Eri tu
Lawrence Tibbett (1896-1960) was a singer whose fame went beyond the opera house. As mentioned above, he became a star when he appeared with Scotti as Ford in Verdi’s Falstaff. Later, when he was singing the opera’s title role he refused to let Leonard Warren appear with him as Ford. He said, “I will not let Warren do to me what I did to Scotti.” He was right. Warren would have sung him off the stage. This not to take anything away from Tibbett who was a great singer; it’s just that Warren was without equal. Tibbett logged 603 shows at the Met until alcohol and heavy living caught up with him.
Mario Sereni sang at the Met between 1957 and 1984. I heard him there a number of time during the first part of his New York career. He was another journeyman who could be relied on for a professional if not exceptional performance. He appeared with company 553 times. His recording of Di Provenza (1959) gives a reliable impression of what he sounded like when at his best.
The Australian baritone John Brownlee (1900-69) was a protege of Nellie Melba. After studying in Paris, he eventually found his way to the Met where he debuted in the title role of Rigoletto. He sang the role with the company only one more time. He was most noted for his Mozart roles. He appeared 526 times at the Met. His last show was in 1957. He had a lyrical and light voice that was highly thought of by the Met’s audience as long as he stayed within the bounds that defined his comfort zone. His recording of The Drinking Song from Don Giovanni is filled with verve and spirit. After his retirement he became a stage director at the Met. He died in New York City.
The frenetic pace of modern operatic life makes it problematic as to whether another Met house baritone will emerge. The closest leading baritone still active with the company, Mariusz Kwiecien, has had only 214 outings.