~ Author: Oberon
I have a small cardboard box that I have kept with me since my teens. It's full of autographed photos, programs, and letters from some of the great opera singers I have admired over the years. Every once in a while I go thru them, and recently I have started to scan them so I can share them on my blog.
One letter that I had quite forgotten about was written to me in 1962 by the renowned baritone Robert Merrill. Most likely I had sent him a fan letter after hearing him on one of the Texaco Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. Apparently, at the time I wrote to him, I had aspirations of becoming a singer; that dream is long since forgotten. But unlike some of the singers I wrote to, Mr. Merrill actually took the time to respond to the things I had written.
Robert Merrill was of course one of the best (and most popular) singers of the 20th century. Beloved by Arturo Toscanini, Merrill was chosen by the Maestro for his recordings of TRAVIATA and BALLO IN MASCHERA; Robert Merrill in fact left behind a rich treasure trove of recordings, many of which I cut my operatic teeth on.
Giorgio Germont in LA TRAVIATA was Merrill's signature role. It was the role of his 1945 Met debut, and he sang it over 100 times with The Met in New York City and on tour, and more than 500 times worldwide. He recorded it commercially three times, first with Licia Albanese for Toscanini, and later with Anna Moffo and Joan Sutherland as his Violettas.
Above: Robert Merrill as Giorgio Germont
In 1970, to celebrate his 25th anniversary at The Met, a gala performance of LA TRAVIATA was mounted in which Merrill sang Germont, with Joan Sutherland as Violetta and Carlo Bergonzi as Alfredo. During intermission, Sir Rudolf Bing honored the beloved baritone, and seven other sopranos who had sung Violetta opposite Merrill over the years came out to greet him.
Above, at Mr. Merrill's 25th anniversary Met gala in 1970: Carlo Bergonzi, Sir Rudolf Bing, Dame Joan Sutherland, Gabriella Tucci, Robert Merrill, Renata Tebaldi, and Renata Scotto. Other Violettas who were present onstage were Licia Albanese, Anna Moffo, Delia Rigal, and Phyllis Curtin.
Though known as a "Verdi baritone", Robert Merrill also sang Scarpia in TOSCA, Escamillo in CARMEN, Barnaba in LA GIOCONDA, Tonio in PAGLIACCI, Carlo Gerard in ANDREA CHENIER, and Valentin in FAUST. He made some beautiful recordings of arias and scenes from operas he never sang onstage; here are execrpts from two Massenet works: HERODIADE and THAIS, the latter with the inimitable Dorothy Kirsten.
Robert Merrill appeared often on radio and television, and was frequently called upon to sing the National Anthem at sporting events here in Gotham. He was part of a tradition of great American baritones which included Lawrence Tibbett, Leonard Warren, Cornell MacNeil, and Sherrill Milnes.