Richard Crooks (1900-72) was an American tenor. Born in New Jersey he started his singing career as an oratorio specialist. He studied with baritone Leon Rothier and vocal coach Frank La Forge.
In 1927 he went to Germany where he made his operatic debut as Cavaradossi in Tosca. In 1930 he made his American operatic debut in Philadelphia. He first appeared at the Met in 1933 as Des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon. Over the next 11 years he sang 88 times with the company almost all in lyric roles such as Wilhelm Meister in Thomas’ Mignon and Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni. He did give two performances in Tosca – one on tour and the other in the big house.
He was best known as the host of the radio program The Voice of Firestone from 1928-45. If I could Tell You was the program’s theme song. It was written by Harvey Firestone’s wife Idabelle and Madeleine Marshall. Composed in 1940 it opened every program from then on until the show’s demise in 1963 – it had arrived on TV in 1949. Crooks also was a regular guest on Bing Crosby’s radio show.
He was forced to retire because of illness in 1945, though he occasionally sang thereafter. I don’t know what was wrong with his health; he lived for another 27 years succumbing to cancer at age 72.
Crooks had a light voice that was occasionally open at its highest notes. He greatly admired John McCormack whose vocal style was similar to that of Crooks. His sound sometimes came from the throat though he could produce a full chest tone. Nevertheless, his singing was elegant and lovely especially in music that did not require a powerful output. Ah, Lève-toi Soleil from Roméo et Juliette shows both his strengths and limitations. This role was in his Met repertoire. His middle range was particularly appealing, though his high notes lacked ping which likely explains the roles the Met offered him.
Una furtiva lagrima from Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, a role he didn’t sing at the Met, receives a fine and sensitive reading. He was very comfortable in operetta. The Merry Widow Waltz (in English) shows his facility with the genre. Yours is my heart alone from The Land of Smiles, also by Franz Lehar, is equally well done.
Because (Guy d’Hardelot and Edward Teschemacher, 1902) gets an outstanding rendition by Crooks that shows his voice at its best. Schubert’s Ave Maria is simply and directly sung to great effect.
Crooks made many recording for RCA Victor, most of which are still available. When he was active he was very well known, mostly because of his frequent radio appearances. Today, though not forgotten, he’s known mostly to vocal aficionados. His art is well worth further investigation which these days, due to the ubiquity of streaming services, is easy to do. That his career was stopped by illness at an age when he should have been at his vocal best is a great loss to singing. His basically sound technique should have allowed him to perform successfully for more than a decade more. His voice was greatly admired by both critics and knowledgeable listeners.
Nice but boring voice. Listen to Lanza sing Because. Passion in every note making it so exciting.
Here’s a live one of Lanza even better.
Lanza’s was essentially a spinto voice which was equalized from top to bottom, whereas Crooks’ voice was emphatically a lyric tenor with a modest low range but considerable “drive” in the upper register. Lanza was at his best in Italian, whereas Crooks was a master of French, Italian, and German, and his lieder singing received considerable praise from the critics.
I disagree. Lanza was good in French, and fantastic in English. He made every song his own with his great interpretive power. Passion in every word, soft or loud.
I’m not sure we disagree if I take you literally that Lanza was “good in French.” He neither spoke nor read the language, and sang what few French arias phonetically. Wilfrid Pelletier, who was recommended to Lanza by Kussevitsky, said Lanza’s French was “passable,” in much the same sense that Caruso’s was (Pelletier coached Caruso in “Samson,” and later coached Tucker in French roles.). Crooks spoke French fluently, as he did German and Italian.
Lanza sounded great in Spanish too. I don’t care for German, except the Forging Song and lieder is a total bore. Just because you speak a language doesn’t make you a good singer in it. And vice versa. Its the vocal suitability to the music which is most important to me.
Operafilly: Lanza’s Spanish was passable but not idiomatic—and unless one speaks Spanish (not necessarily Castilian but erudite Spanish), the Italian tinge in Lanza’s Spanish may elude you. As far as your comment that lieder is a bore, you’re entitled to your opinion—and if the Forging Song is your only Wagnerian preference, have you not listened to “Tannhauser” among other Wagnerian works other than the Ring? So much of this is not binary, and some of the greatest Wagnerian tenors—Leo Slezak, capital among them—sang all the major Wagnerian roles, plus the Italian and French major roles, and was considered one of the finest lieder singers ever. That was not Mario Lanza’s niche. But in everything Lanza did, he was to me vocal perfection coupled with passionate interpretation.
Let me add that with the exception of Caruso and perhaps Del Monaco, no other tenors prior to Mario Lanza could equal the passion he infused in every phrase. Just one example among many is his “Song of India,” which to me remains unequalled. As Milton Cross said after being in the studio at Lanza’s invitation while he was recording, the voice was much larger than he (Cross) had expected from hearing him on radio.
I love Leo Slezak singing “Viens gentille dame.” Mesmerizing! None of the lyrics come close to his incredible feeling. Hard to believe he was 6′ 8″ dramatic tenor. I even got a movie he was in……he was so big!!
Yes, I listened to Tannhauser. Nice here and there, but doesn’t draw me back.
From The New York Times review of Slezak’s Met debut as Otello in the new production: “Much has been written of the gigantic physical proportions of the Czech tenor, but it is doubtful if anyone expected the colossus that appeared. The audience fairly gasped when Herr Slezak made his entrance. It seemed as if a section of the proscenium arch had suddenly stepped upon the stage.”
@operafilly: Excerpts from another review of Slezak’s debut in the 1909 “Otello” production: “Out of the aggregation of singers, his gigantic figure looming high like a giant of mythology, emerged victoriously Leo Slezak, the most impressive dramatic tenor New Yorkers have heard since the days of Tamagno. There was no question what the audience thought of Slezak. In the intermissions his name was on every lip, and his appearance before the curtain at the close of each act was signal for tumultuous applause. After the third act, indeed, when the great tenor stepped out to the footlights, Toscanini at his side [!], the crowd broke into vociferous acclamation, such as no singer except Caruso has aroused since the days of Jean de Reszke. Slezak has enormous advantages over most tenors. His heroic proportions and exceptional skill in acting unquestionably were strong points [but] there was something immensely impressive in Slezak’s downright expression of feeling. Otello’s passion had nothing of exaggeration, even when both his feet left the floor as he pounced upon the cowering Iago. It burst out furiously at times, but it carried the conviction of reality.”
Long-time Metropolitan Opera radio announcer Milton Cross described Richard Crooks’ voice as “a perfectly crafted cameo” who could “sing almost anything and do it wonderfully.”
Cross repeated a humorous story that Crooks had told him about his and Tibbett’s recording of Faure’s “Crucifix,” and Crooks’ fear of their recording being compared to the Caruso-Journet one in which, on the tenor’s optional high note in the last phrase, Caruso merely opened his mouth and produced a fortissimo high-B. Crooks told Cross that to avoid any such comparison, he “slid into that high note like Ty Cobb stealing a base!”
When Cross mentioned that Crooks’ Victor Red Seal recording of the Berceuse from “Jocelyn” would “bring tears to your eyes, especially in the last few measures,” I learned why: when his only child, Lillian Gale Cross, died during childhood, Richard Crooks sang the Berceuse at her funeral service.
Thank you so much for more information on Slezak. Really exciting.
Poor Iago getting pounced upon. An Toscanini at his side Did he even come up to his side??
At 5’ 6” in street shoes, I don’t think so …!
I meant to add “poor Iago,” Antonio Scotti, who was barely 5’ 8”. Imagine being “pounced on” by the Paul Bunyan of tenors …!