Opera News's 80th Anniversary
Celebrating the 80th Anniversary of Opera News with seminal articles and excerpts from our archives that have never before appeared on our website.
OVER THE COURSE OF 2016, you can visit this page to view seminal articles and excerpts from our archives that have never appeared on our website before. It’s our plan to post eighty of these during the year, from our first four-page “news sheet” in May 1936 to the magazine’s first review of Maria Callas to our first reports on opera in Salzburg (in 1937), Dallas (in 1940) and Santa Fe (in 1957). The magazine’s pages speak of history, as well as opera; the world’s darkening atmosphere flavored the Opera News coverage of opera in Europe in the late 1930s, just as the rapidly shifting cultural landscape of the 1960s charged our stories about the opening of the Met’s second home at Lincoln Center.
It was the magazine’s stated intention in 1936 to be “useful, instructive and factual.” We promise to continue that mission—leavened with generous doses of wit and humor—as we begin our ninth decade.
#40. Proof of the Pudding | February 3, 1990
#39. Live from the Met | September 1, 1979
#38. We Introduce: Rudolf Bing | October 10, 1949
#37. Great Opera Houses: The Metropolitan | April 16, 1966
#36. Schoenberg's Odyssey | March 13, 1965
#35. The Stars at Home: Régine Crespin | April 17, 1965
#34. Eternal Youth...The Age of the Castrati | December 1, 1958
#33. What Makes Placido Run | March 27, 1982
#32. Rysanek on Strauss | January 16, 1971
#31. The Role of the Orchestra in Opera | November 27, 1939
FOR SOMEONE WHO aimed to avoid the histrionics of the music-making of his era, Erich Leinsdorf caused quite a bit of drama on the opera scene. The Austrian-American conductor had a sharp, frank personality, and, in turn, was the beneficiary of harsh criticism leveled at his his repertory choices, his interpretations and his demands for more preparation. Leinsdorf’s performances—while successful for their close adherence to the score and attention to period style—were often deemed inhibited, impersonal and, occasionally, simplistic. His demanding personality made his tenures at the Metropolitan Opera and the Cleveland Orchestra brief. In addition to being a world-class conductor, Leinsdorf was also the author of three books on his craft—The Composer’s Advocate, Erich Leinsdorf on Music, and his autobiography, Cadenza: A Musical Career. These late 1970’s-early 1980’s writings offer the same precision and forthright opinions that are so vividly on display in his music.
In late 1939, Leinsdorf wrote a series of articles for Opera News that appeared over three consecutive weeks in the magazine. The maestro detailed the role of the orchestra in opera, beginning with the evolution of the conductor, followed by the purpose of the orchestra and ending with how the conductor should best utilize the orchestra in performance. This series was published just after Leinsdorf’s appointment to the podium as the overseer of Met’s German repertory and after he made had made his Met debut leading Die Walküre. If it wasn’t already clear that Leinsdorf was a consistent, focused man, these articles seal the deal. His logical and thoroughly supported commentary reflects the personality, technique and rigor that audiences saw for the entirety of his fifty-year-long career.
Click the cover below to read Leinsdorf's complete series, "The Role of the Orchestra in Opera."
#30. Singer vs. Public | January 14, 1967
OPERA NEWS HAS RARELY covered legal affairs, but those concerning American baritone Cornell MacNeil’s 1964 appearance at the Teatro Regio in Parma proved too astonishing to resist. Ann M. Lingg’s 1967 article chronicles the fallout from the fiasco that ensued when an incensed MacNeil shouted “Basta, cretini!” at a bellicose Parmesan audience and then stormed off stage during the third act of Verdi’s Ballo in Maschera. The audience, which had already been more vocal than usual throughout the performance, became particularly noisy when MacNeil’s costar Luisa Maragliano’s rendition of Morrò, ma, prima in grazia” did not meet their expectations. Their insolence, as Ann M. Lingg notes, raised MacNeil’s “Irish dander,” and a backstage scuffle between MacNeil and intendant Giuseppe Negri occurred, resulting in “the biggest opera scandal since Callas had walked out on the Rome Opera, making world-wide headlines.”
MacNeil, still under contract at the theater, was replaced in subsequent Ballo performances by Mario Zanasi. The American baritone sued the theater for lost wages; the theater, in turn, sued MacNeil seeking a 4 million-lire penalty as well as the refund of a 1 million-lire performance fee. So absurd was the resultant trial that one wonders why Fellini didn't have his camera trained on the courtroom. While it may seem as though Lingg’s 1967 article was comically overdue, it was published when the Parmesan courts had—after two years—just reached a verdict on the case. Spoiler alert: no one won—including the public.
Click the cover below to read, “Singer vs. Public.”
#29. Menotti's The Island God | February 16, 1942
ITALIAN-AMERICAN COMPOSER and librettist Gian Carlo Menotti penned nearly thirty operas over the course of his career. And while he was awarded two Pulitzer Prizes during the 1950s for The Consul and The Saint of Bleecker Street—and his Amahl and the Night Visitors has become something of a Christmastime staple—most of the composer’s works either failed to find their audiences at the times of their premieres or have aged poorly since taking the stage.
This profile, written on the eve of the 1942 Metropolitan Opera premiere of Menotti’s third opera, The Island God, finds the thirty-one-year-old composer being interviewed by Last Prima Donnas author Lanfranco Rasponi, and illustrates the hype surrounding the composer's early promise. The one-act Island God premiered at the Met as part of a double bill, alternating with Pagliacci or La Bohème, yet in spite of its famous bedfellows, the work was not well received and played for just three more performances following the premiere. Like a number of Menotti’s other operas, The Island God has never been revived and the composer subsequently withdrew the piece calling the opera “a big bore” in a 1996 interview.
As cruel as it may seem, it’s hard not to augur the work’s foundering when reading Menotti's portentous quotes in this interview: “As you can see,” the composer tells Lanfranco, “the philosophical implications are quite daring. And yet the story attempts to demonstrate that God lives only in the heart and will of men. It also symbolizes the narrow-mindedness of religions which are never willing to compromise, and shows that when religions do not meet the demands of the times they are done for.” Nearly seventy-five years after this interview, "new operas" remain a tough proposition for companies and audiences alike. In discussing the inception of The Island God, Menotti seemed all too aware of the challenges that his own operas would encounter.
Click the cover below to read about Menotti's The Island God.
#28. Birth of a Landmark | October 31, 1959
LINCOLN CENTER'S STATUS as one of the world’s great landmarks to performing arts is so secure that it’s hard to imagine New York City’s cultural scene before its inauguration. This feature in Opera News backtracks to October 1959—six months after President Eisenhower turned the first shovelful of soil that marked the commencement of Lincoln Center’s construction, and more than six years before the new Metropolitan Opera House would open its doors—and reveals some of the planning that went into the creation of the nascent arts complex. The feature highlights the immense fundraising that was necessary to get the project to its groundbreaking day, and provides an early sketch of the proposed plan for the main plaza. Some details of the graphic are instantly familiar to the eye (née Avery Fisher Hall), and others elements are strikingly different: gone is the State Theater, and the roof of the Metropolitan Opera House seems to be missing its neoclassical lintel.
Most tellingly, the article evokes a time and place when the west side of Manhattan was better known as the grimy, crime-ridden setting for West Side Story than as an epicenter for performing arts. “Looking at the site that stretches east and west from Columbus to Amsterdam Avenues, north and south from Sixty-second to Sixty-sixth Streets,” the author writes, “it is difficult to visualize the dank, dark-halled dwellings of the poor, which so recently stood there. New Yorkers, inured to overnight change and the everlasting drilling in the jaws of the city, are now able to hear in their mind’s ear the ‘concord of sweet sounds’ that will soon issue from the city’s long-awaited home for the performing arts.”
Click the cover below to read, "Birth of a Landmark."
#27. Taking Issue | July 1985
IN THIS 1985 FEATURE, Thor Eckert, Jr. writes, “Peter Sellars himself is twenty-seven, and he is trying things, lots of things—including some people’s patience. There are those who will never warm up to the Mikado entering on a motorcycle, to a drinking fountain popping up out of nowhere in Orlando, to green leatherette banquettes in Così or to twentieth-century garb in a seventeenth-century opera or oratorio.” With the perspective of more than a quarter-century having passed since this profile was published, Sellars’s out-of-the-box interpretations and modernizing approach to opera don’t rankle so much as astonish with their ingenuity, originality and musical fidelity.
Yet at the time of this article, which appeared a month before Sellars’ staging of Giulio Cesare played at SUNY-Purchase, words like enfant terrible andwunderkind still seemed to be go-to descriptors for journalists covering the director. Not-yet-thirty, Sellars shows himself to be, unmistakably, a genius grappling with his material and uttering typically Sellars-esque virtuosic lines like: “Verdi, almost without exception, like Hitchcock, gives you the organ-grinder tune, then suddenly turns the tables and gets serious. That is not incompetence […] it is very intentional use of irony.” And less than two years before the premiere of Nixon in China at Houston Grand Opera, it’s almost eerie to read the director quoted as saying, “Opera is able to be the only important form of political theater to my mind. [A]ll the great operas are really aggressive, alarming, very precise political diatribes.”
Chocked full of such breathtaking quotes, Eckert’s profile makes clear that, while the director may have been in the salad days of his career, the Peter Sellars of 1985 is very much the same Peter Sellers audiences know today. “In music, space and time are able to transmogrify in ways that finally do get to profounder truths,” Sellars said. “Unless you’re tackling the biggest issues, you’re wasting everyone’s time.” Fortunately for both audiences and Opera News readers Sellars seems to have wasted no time at all in the intervening years.
#26. Vancouver's First Festival | October 27, 1958
KNOWN FOR THE STAGGERING beauty of her tone and a thrilling bel canto technique, Joan Sutherland’s route to becoming one of the twentieth century’s great voices took her through all manner of operatic repertoire before she found her wheelhouse in the heroines of Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini. This review from 1958 documents the soprano’s North American debut at Vancouver Festival Society, for which she sang Donna Anna in Giovanni. Gallons of newsprint may have ultimately been spilled in an effort to describe Sutherland’s voice when the soprano reached her prime, but her first mention in the pages of Opera News generated only a single sentence.
While Sutherland’s performances at the Royal Opera House had included a grab-bag of roles such as Aida, Micaela, Pamina, and Olympia, Giulietta and Antonia in Hoffmann, it wasn’t until 1957 that the soprano made her first foray into bel canto repertoire when she took on the title role in Donizetti’s Emilia di Liverpool. By the time Sutherland made her North American debut in the Giovanni performance documented (barely) in this review, it was still early in in the soprano’s artistic maturation. Despite the brevity of the author’s assessment, Sutherland’s astonishing promise is noted. Seven months after singing this Donna Anna in Vancouver, Sutherland took on the title role in Royal Opera performances of Lucia di Lammermoor. The rest, as they say, is history.
Click the cover below to read Joan Sutherland’s first mention in Opera News
#25. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau | January 28, 1961
IT IS HARD TO BELIEVE that a singer whom Elisabeth Schwarzkopf once described as “a born god who has it all” could ever question his own image as a musician. Yet baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau does just that in this 1961 interview—the singer’s first with Opera News—in which he expresses concern that American audiences might only know him as a lieder singer. While Fischer-Dieskau received his greatest plaudits singing lieder and on the concert hall stage, this article finds him asserting his position as both an engaged opera performer and a lieder singer enriched by the drama of opera. “The two forms are not so far apart as many people think,” he tells Martin Bernheimer. “What song, for instance, is more intimate or poetic than Wolfram’s ‘Evening Star,’ and what aria has more dramatic passion than Wolf’s ‘Prometheus’?” Fischer-Dieskau’s considered approach to his art leaves him disinclined to rest purely on the charm of his instrument: “A beautiful voice isn’t enough, regardless of what you’re singing,” he says. “But it helps!”
Click below to read Martin Bernheimer's profile on Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.
#24. We Present Robert McFerrin | February 20, 1956
AN HISTORIC FIGURE in the history of American opera, baritone Robert McFerrin was first featured in the pages of Opera News in 1956. This brief profile was published more than a year after the baritone had made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Amonasro in a performance of Aida on January 27, 1955—the same month of Marian Anderson's legendary debut. What McFerrin's profile does not mention is that his Amonasro also marked the first time that an African-American man had sung on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera; in fact, McFerrin had already been contracted by Rudolf Bing to appear at the Met when Marian Anderson was presented a contract. Just one month after this profile of McFerrin ran in the pages of Opera News, the baritone became the first singer of color to take on a title role at the Met when he sang Rigoletto under the baton of Kurt Adler.
McFerrin's successful Met debut did not materialize out of thin air. In 1949, the baritone sang a small role in Kurt Weill's Lost in the Stars on Broadway, and, the same year, went on to perform the title role in Rigoletto at the Tanglewood Music Festival under the baton of Boris Goldovsky. It was under Goldovsky's tutelage that McFerrin would also sing Valentin in Faust and Oreste in performances of Iphigénie en Tauride with New England Opera Theater. McFerrin went on to make his New York City Opera debut as Popaloi, a voodoo doctor, in the world premiere of William Grant Still's Troubled Island, and performed in both opera and on Broadway throughout the early-'50s. In 1953, McFerrin become the first African-American to win the Met's "Auditions of the Air," and went on to receive thirteen months of training subsidized by the company.
While McFerrin's Met career was distinguished, his time with the company proved to be brief: the baritone only sang ten performances at the house over the course of two seasons. Following his last performance as Amonasro in January of 1957, McFerrin moved to California to work on the Otto Preminger film adaptation of Porgy and Bess, for which the baritone provided the singing voice for Sidney Poitier's Porgy. Despite the brevity of his career, McFerrin's artistic legacy was a lasting one, embodied through his own music-making as well as that of his son, Bobby McFerrin.
Click the cover below to read, "We Present Robert McFerrin."
#23. Ladies of the East | January 12, 1959
ERNEST DE WEERTH'S REVIEW of the December 7, 1958, performance of Turandot at La Scala recounts one of the momentous performances in twentieth-century operatic history. Featuring Birgit Nilsson in the title role of Puccini’s opera, the performance markedthe season opening at the Milanese theater and the first time a non-Italian held the title role in an opening night performance. Nilsson later declared the evening to be the single biggest event in her life. While the Swedish soprano had been slowly rising to fame, this role effectively catapulted her into the spotlight and secured her place in operatic history.
Making no efforts to avoid superlatives, De Weerth’s review fully captures the magnitude of Nilsson’s icy princess, describing the soprano as the “main sensation of the evening” and declaring her the “most powerful voice in the present operatic world; the astounding ease with which she took those piercing, glacial high notes, resounding throughout the immense house, left everybody breathless and the foyers buzzing during the second intermission. No one talked of anything else.” It was certainly not the last time that Nilsson would have that effect on audiences or critics during the course of her career. The following year, Nilsson would make her Met debut as Isolde: an event that that went on to garner front-page coverage in the New York Times.
Click the cover below to read De Weerth's review, "Ladies of the East."
#22. American from Italy | March 4, 1961
GERRY FITZGERALD, longtime editor of Opera News, hit the nail right on the head when he deemed Anna Moffo, “one of America’s brightest new prima donnas” at the close of this piece. He sat down with Moffo at at the height of a blizzard in the winter of 1961, as the soprano was preparing to sing Liù to Birgit Nilsson's Turadot and Franco Corelli's Calàf at the Met. The interview took place just a few years after Moffo's Met debut, while she continued to perform opera at distinguished international houses and on Italian television. One can feel the infectious energy and youthful spirit that would define Moffo's career straight from beginning of this interview; Moffo’s husband, stage director Mario Lanfranchi, sat close by to lend his charismatic insight. "Opera can really be rather silly," said Moffo. "That is, if it falls into old-fashioned clichés. I think singers should keep up with the times and bring as much of today's taste and feeling to their work as possible." The sentiment would hold true throughout Moffo's career, which arguably set the standard for what it meant to be a thoroughly-modern opera singer.
Click the cover below to read Gerry Fitzgerald's interview with Anna Moffo, "American from Italy."
#21. A Mélisande Notebook | March 4, 1978
THE MOST FRENCH OF AMERICAN composers, Ned Rorem's 1978 essay on a lifetime of loving Debussy's opera is both densely erudite and charming; his fervor for Pélleas et Melisande could only be described as Proustian. "When Debussy's magic first charmed myself, musical children were still more geared to yesterday’s Europeans than to current landsmen. Debussy had been dead only five years at my birth (the same span that Schumann had been dead at Debussy’s birth), and his influence by 1936 washed over Illinois like LSD," Rorem writes. "Artistically he was the most important man of my childhood, hence of my life. Meantime, while my poet friends rewrote Yeats, their painter friends repainted Dali. Alas! it required a vast and real war during the next decade for America to perfect an identifiable signature. For me it was too late: I'd been branded by Paris, and brands don't rub out. I was French in Chicago long before I went to live in France."
Rorem brings the reader along with him during his first and subsequent visits to the Met, and dissects Debussy's opera with an ear towards character, psychology and no small amount of musical insight. Somehow, Rorem manages to make perfect sense of Debussy's oft inscrutable masterpiece. "One can detest opera yet love Pelléas. One can love opera yet detest Pelléas. And one can love both, so long as one does not search through Pelléas for mad airs and mob scenes. Yes, it is my favorite piece, but my wisest friends loathe it; wisdom does not reside in the ear, and I can only conclude that they are not hearing what I hear. For them the roles come over as undifferentiated, monochrome. For me Debussy's vocality is not a series of soldered fragments but a concentrated melody (the "spun-out line" reduced to lowest terms, as opposed to Verdi's stretching of the line to highest terms, or to Webern's ultimate dismissal of such terms), which also often fulfill harmonic chords by replacing a 'missing' instrument. If the score never blossoms in the usual sense, it does so in reverse, like a galaxy expanding under a microscope."
A near perfect combination of writer and subject, Rorem further solidified his reputation as one of the twentieth century's most compelling writers of and about music in exploring the wellspring of his own operatic passions. "A Mélisande Notebook" may need to be read twice to be fully appreciated; read it three times.
Click the cover below to read Ned Rorem's "A Mélisande Notebook."
#20. Open Doors for Opera | November 15, 1954
ON JANUARY 7, 1955, American contralto Marian Anderson became the first African-American singer to perform in a principal role at the Metropolitan Opera when she took the stage as Ulrica in Un ballo en Maschera. Anderson's debut, her first time performing on the opera stage, marked a watershed moment for singers of color at the largest performing arts institution in the United States. African-American performers and composers had already made appearances at other theaters and concert halls, and the Met had previously hired Janet Collins as its prima ballerina. Yet the color barrier still stood when it came to principal singers at the company, and Anderson's arrival proved to be a particularly historic moment in a career full of them. While she had famously performed on in front of an audience of more than 75,000 people on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939—and arguably launched the civil rights movement in the process—her Met debut gave her no small measure of trepidation: "I was there onstage, mixing the witch's brew," she wrote of singing Verdi's sorceress. "I trembled, and when the audience applauded and applauded before I could sing a note, I felt myself tightening into a knot."
This 1954 Opera News cover, featuring Metropolitan Opera general manager Rudolf Bing giving a tour of the Met stage to Anderson, augured the contralto's debut with the company just a few months later. Inside the magazine, Bing wrote a letter to members of the Metropolitan Opera Guild that makes no direct mention of Anderson or her impending debut, but his message of egalitarianism on the opera stage was clear enough: "Some conventions are indispensable to opera," he wrote. "The human voice, for example, communicates in everyday life by speech, in opera by song. Other conventions have persisted as outworn accretions of habit or prejudice and should be dismissed. The choice of our roster indicates that we are not interested in the color of the human epidermis, only in the color of the vocal timbre or the talent of the dancer. One more convention has been eliminated. For management and public alike new doors are constantly accessible: new approaches to familiar works, new interpreters, new roles, when the mean are available—new scores."
Click the cover below to read Rudolf Bing's "Open Doors for Opera."
#19. Milton Glaser's Aida Cover | February 12, 1966
FAMED GRAPHIC DESIGNER Milton Glaser—a cofounder of New York Magazine and creator of the “I ♥ NY” logo—created a series of Opera News covers in the late '60s that drew on classic operatic iconography while evincing the era's psychedelic aesthetic. This cover illustration alluded to the February 12, 1966 Metropolitan Opera Saturday Afternoon Radio Broadcast of Aida, which featured Leontyne Price in the title role. Just a few months later, Price would make history singing the title role in Samuel Barber's Antony and Cleopatra, which was commissioned to open the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center. Glaser's cover illustration for La Traviata can be seen below in entry #4 in the 80th Anniversary Archives.
Click the issue cover below to see Glaser's design.
#18. A Visit to Richard Strauss | December 3, 1945
A FASCINATING SNAPSHOT of a famous German composer in the aftermath of World War II, this letter from Joseph Robinson, a Scientific Consultant in the U.S. Army, reports on a cloistered, frail Richard Strauss, essentially a prisoner in his own home in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Following the war, the Bavarian town was used by the U.S. military as a recreation center, and, though inundated with G.I.s, Strauss's presence was ostensibly unknown.
In November 1933, Strauss became president of Hitler’s Reichsmusikkammer. Two years later, he was dismissed from the post when a sympathetic letter to writer Stefan Zweig—the Jewish librettist for Die Schweigsame Frau—was intercepted by Gestapo and passed on to Hitler. Strauss would never throw off the blemish of having fraternized with the Nazi regime. Still, Michael Kennedy’s biography of the composer, Richard Strauss: Man, Musician, Enigma, makes clear the composer’s ambivalence and his naive belief that he might be able to keep his artistic efforts immune from Nazi influence. “I made music under the Kaiser,” Strauss is quoted as telling his family. “I’ll survive under this lot, as well. […] I just sit here in Garmisch and compose. Everything else is irrelevant to me.”
Robinson’s letter finds Strauss at the end of the war, surely disabused of the notion that a devotion to music might have kept him a purely impartial observer. Strauss’s Jewish daughter-in-law, Alice, is mentioned and pictured, though Robinson is oblivious to her and her children’s arrest and imprisonment by the Gestapo—and the decimation of her family in the Theresienstadt concentration camp—writing that “the Nazis did not molest her or them.” Instead, we find Franz Strauss, Richard’s son, begging an American G.I. for cigarettes, and the great composer, “otherwise untroubled,” merely existing in the twilight of his life and at the end of an epoch.
Click the cover below to read "A Visit to Richard Strauss."
#17. In Search of Pavarotti | November 1998
“HOW DO YOU GET an interview with Luciano Pavarotti, and what can you possibly say about him that hasn’t been said already?” For Anne Midgette, who penned this 1998 profile on the thirtieth anniversary of the tenor’s Met debut, finding—and speaking with—Pavarotti proved to be a Sisyphean task that took her on a tour of Europe. After several weeks of postponements, it seemed likely that Midgette would end up penning the Opera News equivalent of Gay Talese’s "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold”—writing an article about the challenge of writing an article about the singer. “I suspected that being in the same town as Pavarotti and talking to him on the phone was as close as I was going to get to an interview,” she wrote. “I began framing in my head drafts of an article or short story—‘Pavarotti and Me,’ perhaps—about a woman traveling around Europe who conspicuously fails to meet Luciano Pavarotti.”
After much suspense, Midgette finally connected with Luciano at his summer home in Pesaro, and an interview with the World’s Greatest Tenor took place at “ten o’clock on a beautiful sunny morning.” The result is a colorful feature where the Maestro reveals insecurities, artistic prerogatives and technical insights into the craft of singing. “I had come to Europe with Pavarotti on my agenda, and by God I was going to talk to Pavarotti,” Midgette wrote. Fortunately, for Opera News readers, she did talk to Pavarotti, and, better yet, wrote a profile about him that managed to say something entirely new.
Click the cover below to read "In Search of Pavarotti."
#16. On Waiting for a Libretto | January 3, 1958
“FOR ALMOST TWENTY-FIVE YEARS I have had a calm, often happy—in any case anonymous—existence composing symphonies, concerti, sonatas and songs, and I have never had to write a word about them. But now that I have composed an opera, things seem to be quite different!” In this compelling 1958 essay for Opera News, Samuel Barber, in language suffused with wit and self deprecation, made clear his ambivalence about writing his first opera, Vanessa. Barber’s challenge proved to be finding—and keeping—a suitable librettist. On the eve of the work's world premiere, the American composer recounted for Opera News readers the process of waiting for the story to take shape so that he might cut its musical cloth. Ultimately, the composer did not have to look far for a writer: Barber’s professional and (unmentioned) personal partnership with Gian Carlo Menotti provided the impetus for the creation of Vanessa. Barber would later say that the work was inspired by Isak Dinesen's Seven Gothic Tales. "I felt that the atmosphere ... would make a wonderful opera,” Barber noted. Fortunately, for Opera News readers in 1958, the story of Vanessa’s arrival on the stage also proved a tale worth telling.
Click the cover below to read Barber’s essay.
#15. Reflections on The Rake | February 9, 1953
"I BELIEVE 'MUSIC DRAMA' and 'opera' to be two very, very different things. My life work is a devotion to the latter," wrote Igor Stravinsky in this fascinating issue of Opera News, published on the eve of the Met debut of the Hogarth-inspired The Rake's Progress. Joining Stravinsky's note were essays by Rake librettist W.H. Auden and director/choreographer George Balanchine. Stravinsky's matter-of-fact recounting of the process of writing Rake is offset by Auden's philosophizing about the creation and adaptation of art: "If music in general is an imitation of history, opera in particular is an imitation of human willfulness; it is rooted in the fact that we not only have feelings but insist upon having them at whatever cost to ourselves." Balanchine, in his "Theory of the Staging," gives a few statements that are as notable for their aesthetic certainty as their terseness: "I like Stravinsky's music,” he said. “It is so strict, so solid. It never comes apart. You cannot improve upon it. It is built like mathematics.”
Click the cover below to read "Reflections on The Rake."
#14. A Matter of National Concern | June 13, 1970
“WHEN THE METROPOLITAN OPERA embarked on the longest, bitterest and most expensive dispute in the history of the performing arts—some 800 people were out of work for five months, caught between an inflexible management and the demands of three powerful labor unions—the conflict became a matter of national concern,” wrote Jane Boutwell in the June 13, 1973 issue of Opera News. “Not merely the survival of a major cultural institution was at stake but the survival of similar institutions across the country, all of whom would feel the ‘ripple effect’ of any wage agreement made in New York.”
A staff writer for the New Yorker, Boutwell’s chronicle of the Met’s contentious 1969 labor negotiations and work stoppage amounts to a touchstone piece of reporting in the history of Opera News. Recounting the article’s publication in 1986, then editor Frank Merkling noted that the piece, “took an impartial position and presented both sides. [It] was the sort of thing I believe we owed to our readers.” Full of telling details and deftly crafted characterizations of the players involved, Boutwell’s article still reads as a thoroughly compelling piece of journalism. Five decades may have elapsed since the Metropolitan Opera House went dark on the date scheduled to open its 1969-70 season, September 15, 1969, but the issues surrounding labor negotiations between artists and performing arts institutions in the U.S. remain strikingly relevant.
Click the cover below to read "A Matter of National Concern."
#13. Tosca for Tomorrow | April 18, 1955
THE FIRST MENTION of soprano Leontyne Price in the pages of Opera News occurred in our April 18, 1955 issue, which featured an extraordinary report on NBC-TV Opera Theatre's broadcast of Tosca from four months earlier. The broadcast, carried by sixty-eight NBC stations across the country, was an historic one for reasons beyond Price's appearance—yet no one reading the report today is likely to ascertain precisely why. "Tosca for Tomorrow" mentions the twenty-seven-year-old Price, "a soprano from Laurel, Mississippi," exactly twice and says nothing about the quality of her performance as Puccini's heroine; any glints of the legendary artist that she would become go completely unmentioned. What also went unreported was the fact that Price's performance marked an indelible intersection for both civil rights and the performing arts in the United States: in singing Puccini's heroine, Price became the first African American to appear in a leading role in a televised opera. Her appearance on NBC proved so contentious that dozens of the station's affiliates across the country canceled the broadcast in protest of her appearance. "When all the shouting was over, few could deny that NBC's Opera Theatre had opened the public's eyes," Mary Jane Matz wrote, in the only intimation of what had transpired.
The month before Opera News's report, Price auditioned for Herbert von Karajan at Carnegie Hall, and the conductor was so moved by her performance of "Pace, pace, mio Dio," that he declared her "an artist of the future." The soprano went on to make subsequent appearances in NBC Opera broadcasts of Die Zauberflöte, Dialogues of the Carmelites and Don Giovanni, but there can be no doubt that it was the NBC Opera Theatre performance of Tosca that first brought the soprano into the homes and hearts of the American opera-going public.
Click the cover below to read "Tosca for Tomorrow," the first mention of Leontyne Price in the pages of Opera News.
#12. A Mad Look at Trovatore | February 1967
"FOR TOO MANY YEARS the only complaint heard from opera-lovers about Il Trovatore concerns the plot. Verdi it seems, kept his great melodies flowing onstage—but left his confusing story line to advance offstage. We herewith rectify this oversight by presenting a capsule version of what might have happened if Verdi had had acts to grind," read this February 17, 1967 humor piece, which attempted to supplement the beloved barnstormer's melodramatic plot twists with gags out of Mad magazine. Legendary cartoonist and caricaturist Mort Drucker, who contributed to Mad for over five decades, also happened to be a fervent opera-lover, and here he turned his satirical eye and tussled aesthetic to one of opera's most convoluted plots, with predictably absurdist results.
Click the cover below to view A Mad Look at Trovatore.
#11. Collard Greens and Caviar | July 1985
LEONTYNE PRICE HAD JUST RETIRED from the opera stage when she gave Robert Jacobson this wide-ranging, career-capping interview, published over two issues. This is Part I.
Click the cover below to read Jacobson's interview with Leontyne Price.
#10. Mangia, Mangia | March 19, 1977
WHAT BETTER WAY TO CELEBRATE the Met's new production of La Bohème than with Mimì and Rodolfo cooking a delectable meal in food-authority George Lang's apartment? Renata Scotto and Luciano Pavarotti stepped off the rehearsal stage and into the kitchen for Opera News, and what followed was a story of food, wine and Italian recipes from two of opera's most formidable stars.
Click the cover below to read the the article and discover Scotto's and Pavarotti's recipes.
#9. Sarah Caldwell/Women in the Arts | February 14, 1976
ONE OF THE LAST BARRIERS AT THE MET—to women conductors—came tumbling down when Opera Company of Boston impresaria/conductor Sarah Caldwell took the podium for a January 13, 1976 performance of La Traviata featuring Beverly Sills as Verdi's fallen woman. Still, much of the magazine’s mostly supportive coverage, which followed her triumph with a cover story a month later, devoted several paragraphs to discussing her body—in this case, its imposing size, which the author compares to a tank. "If she'd been a babe,” one musician told him, "we'd have walked right over her.”
Click the issue below to read the profile of Caldwell.
#8. Bohemians at Home and Onstage | December 20, 1948
WHEN HENRI MURGER SKETCHED his first wistful romance of Parisian attics in 1847, he did not even trouble to disguise his friends. For fifteen francs, the poverty stricken novelist gathered together a few episodes in the artistic life of his quartier and set them down in Le Corsaire, a trade journal of the hat business. In this issue of Opera News, June Chamberlain catalogues Murger's Bohèmian friends, who provided Puccini, Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica with archetypes to populate their familiar Parisian garret.
Click the issue below to read Chamberlain's article.
#7. Expressing the American Spirit | January 24, 1970
RICHARD NIXON'S LEGACY on the Presidency may have been deeply tarnished by the time he left office in 1974, but before them he spearheaded a robust domestic agenda. Surprisingly, Nixon actually secured more funding for the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities (then the umbrella organization for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities) than any other president that came before him. In 1969, Nixon's special counsel Leonard Garment wrote a memorandum suggesting that he rally Congress to renew the legislation that created the Foundation on the Arts and Humanities and effectively double the agency's budget. On December 10, 1969, Nixon delivered the message to Congress, urging them to expand the federal agency's budget and scope, and, in July of 1970, Congress approved Senate Bill #3215, which President Nixon promptly signed into law. Shortly after Nixon made his case for expanding the NFAH, Opera News saw fit to cover the then-President's report by reprinting his "trailblazing message to Congress."
Click the issue below to read Nixon's message to Congress.
#6. Andy Warhol's Die Zauberflöte Cover | December 1, 1958
BY THE LATE 1950s, Andy Warhol had already established his career as a commercial artist, and had gained particular attention for his whimsical ink and silkscreen illustrations of shoe advertisements. In the mid-'50s, Warhol was hired by RCA Records to design album art, which included illustrations for vinyl records featuring Vladimir Horowitz, Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, Count Basie and Hugo Winterhalter and his Orchestra. Warhol's 1958 Opera News cover illustration, the issue notes, depicts the Queen of the Night and Papgeno, "under a lambrequin redolent of the 1890s—a period no further from Egypt than the setting of The Magic Flute itself." While Warhol was known as an adept illustrator and draftsman, both his commercial efforts and his fine-art from the period illustrates an embrace and embellishment of imperfection—a sprezzatura that was well suited to the design of Opera News at the time. In his 1980 memoir chronicling the '60s, Warhol writes: "When you do something exactly wrong, you always turn up something." We're of the opinion that the idiosyncrasies on view in Warhol's Opera News cover remain well-nigh perfect.
Click the issue cover below to see Warhol's cover design.
#5. Opera Pilgrimage | November 7, 1938
EDWARD DOWNES, New York Post writer and host-quizmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Quiz, takes a remarkable operatic tour of Europe only fifty-five years after Wagner's death, and finds a pre-War continent dotted with remarkable personalities, legendary singers and illustrious conductors. From a Meistersinger conducted by Furtwängler, to Ezio Pinza's Don Giovanni, to Così fan Tutte conducted by Strauss in Vienna, Downes documented an unparalleled era of musical efflorescence that would soon be lost to the turmoil of history.
Click the issue cover below to read Downes's article.
#4. Milton Glaser's Traviata Cover | March 25, 1967
BEFORE HE COFOUNDED NEW YORK MAGAZINE—and many years before he became a graphic-design superstar for “I ♥ NY” and the DC Comics and Brooklyn Brewery logos—Milton Glaser illustrated several covers for Opera News, including this one, for the March 25, 1967, issue, featuring his interpretation of Marie Duplessis, the fallen courtesan that inspired Verdi’s Violetta in La Traviata.
Click the issue cover below to see Glaser's design.
#3. The Mexican Scene | October 27, 1952
THE VERY FIRST MENTION of Maria Meneghini Callas in the pages of Opera News arrived in the form of a review from Mexico City's Opera Nacional, where, over the course of a season, the soprano sang I Puritani, La Traviata, Lucia di Lammermoor, Rigoletto and Tosca alongside Giuseppe Di Stefano. "Not in a long time has any one singer stirred so much controversy as Miss Callas," wrote Robert Lawrence. "One faction—the management of the Opera Nacional—hails her as a kind of deity. 'La Callas,' wrote one newspaper this summer, 'is the diva of the century. She is a phenomenon to be compared with the aurora borealis.' Another group, whose opinions are more prevalent in the lobby of the Bellas Artes than in the press, finds the lady overrated. There seems to be no middle ground."
Click the issue cover below to read Robert Lawrence's review.
#2. Bus and Truck Bohème | November 1997
BRIAN KELLOW FOLLOWS the defunct New York City Opera's National Company as it tours through the Lone Star State.
Click the issue cover below to read the article.
#1. The First Issue of Opera News | May 1936
IN 1936, the Metropolitan Opera Guild launched The Met Bulletin, the “factual weekly newspaper of Opera in New York." There were no reviews in the first pages of Opera News; instead, the Bulletin provided opera listings, season information and behind-the-scenes photos of artists and productions.
Click the graphics below to see pages from the first issue of Opera News.