Hall of song: The 'Met,' 1883-1966; 1941 Through 1945
The following program was produced for national educational radio under a grant from the National Home Library Foundation by W. B U R Boston. With. Boston University radio presents Hall of song the story of the Metropolitan Opera from 1893 to 1966. You are the loon. You're the lawyer. You're. With. Our Miles cast and take a critical view of the world.
And across. This given to fresh vital young American talent at the Metropolitan during the war years was one unhappy consequence only dismal period in modern history. From the very beginning it had been obvious that American saying is what had to be called upon to fill the void left by those European artists who for one reason or another were unable to appear at the Metropolitan. It is doubtful though that anyone really imagined what a wealth of American saying is would be brought to the roster between 1940 and 1945 such notable performance as Jan Peerce modern hotshot James mounts and Walter Castle Regina Resnick Blanche and Richard Tucker all launched career is what you do add greatly to the luster of the old metropolitans history. It had been vividly demonstrated that what he had once described as a distinctly great American institution could
indeed be supported by American talent. The 1942 season alone was a perfect example of this as 51 American singers appeared on the roster only slightly less than 50 percent of all those performing at the house. Helen Colville became the first American to sing is sold since the days of Lily a Nordica and an honesty but added the role of the Countess and the baggage of Figaro to her rapidly expanding repertoire. As it happened in the past however not every American artist featured by the Metropolitan those years had been engaged solely on the basis of artistic merit. The simple fact was that Americans were available whereas Europeans were not. The addition of native dancing is was also stimulated by a stipulation in the contract negotiated between the Metropolitan management and the American Guild of musical artists according to the terms of the agreement. Three American artists were to be engaged for each one from abroad. While this gesture may have been seen
as patriotism in time of war it certainly was not one designed to create artistic stability. The greatest influx of Americans came during the 1944 season. Fourteen native balancing is were added to the roster. Not one European. The greatest difficulty these new authors face was an almost total lack of stage experience. And so the Metropolitan became a training ground for them rather than a theater in which they performed only after having reached a higher level of artistic development. The next problem was that the young singers were frequently pushed beyond their vocal resources simply because the management needed them to fill certain roles whether or not they were prepared to do so in this way an unknown soprano by the name of Gene Palmer made her debut in the one thousand forty four seasons as one of the Val Curies and then a few weeks later appealed his Brunhilde there in that same opera miss Palma celebrity lasted for two seasons and she wasn't heard from after that.
On the whole Virgil Thompson noted that the most that could be said for the Metropolitan's 944 season was that it had been dependably second rate. All this once again pointed up the willful lack of operatic training available in the United States. Where was the singer to gain experience in this country. Fortunately there was at least one place and it was located right in New York City in 1934. Maire if you're out on the Guardia and operatives he asked himself urged the formation of a city center an opera company to be housed in the old Mecca Masonic Temple on West Fifty fifth Street. The new company had an understandably difficult time in getting organized but by 1944 it was providing a substantial season of high quality and varied operatic fare. Some artists such as Jenny Terrelle appeared at both the city center and the Metropolitan. The value of the city center as a proving ground for a new operatic talent became recognised as more and more singers left
there to arrive at the Metropolitan with a sound musical and dramatic preparation. Today have cost the city opera as established as a first rate company in its own right and frequently mount splendid productions which even rival those of the Metropolitan. One of the first and certainly one of the very finest singers to come to the Metropolitan from the city center was Dorothy Kirsten. Throughout our long career Madame Kristen has always kept in mind some of the very important things she learned during the early years as an operatic artist. Let's hear about this now. And she talked with our producer Richard Calhoun. Madam Kristin you started singing in New York before you actually got to the Metropolitan and did a lot of work with the city center when it was just about getting underway I believe. Yes I was very fortunate to be one of the first people to sing at the city center when it was growing. And I shall remember it very well because I made a few debuts there I made my debut in Traviata in Manon
Lesko and I believe even in fast and it was here that Mr. Johnson came to hear me and engaged me for the Metropolitan even without audition. So I was very fortunate. We've always had a ready made audition I guess with the company singing right you know in the same city and of course your reviews were quite good at that time was the city center always in the shadow of the mat. I know now it's developed on its own but in the beginning was a sort of a. I don't usually read too many of us it was sort of a jumping off place you know I don't think they ever like to feel that they were in the shadow of there were many more young people young singers I think it was a marvelous thing because it was a chance for the management to come and hear a singer if they were interested in tall. And then of course at that same time you know the auditions were going on but this was a much more wonderful way to get into the Metropolitan for me because it was
actually a lot of experience as well and probably being auditioned in that way a lot less taxing perhaps than the formal I should say so I have never in my entire career sung a good audition and I shudder thinking of auditioning I how these people can sing a tall I don't know they must have an ego enormous to be able to do well at all. Well of course you did make your metropolitan debut. First of December in 1945 That's right. And of course first of December 1964 marked your 20th season that's a very long time to be with a company isn't it. Yes it's actually the anniversary of my debut night at the Metropolitan and brought back many many wonderful memories. Did you hear the story about that very wonderful night at the Metropolitan when Grace Moore sat in Box Number three I believe it was and through sweetheart
bouquets at me on the stage and the fellows in the head and the orchestra and they threw them back up on the stage and it was a fabulous night. When I mention Grace MOORE You were her protege moralize weren't you. Yes I was her protege Grace was. I had faith in me and and it was a wonderful help to me. You know I could not afford my to go to Europe and she wanted me to go to Europe my family didn't have any money left after spending it all on my musician brother and I therefore took Grace's help to go to Europe and came back an opera singer and then she got my my first audition for me for the Chicago Opera and that's where I began my career. Mentioning your work at the Chicago and thinking too. What Virgil Thompson said of your voice your job you describe you as a naturally powerful stage personality you should go for and you have.
But in Chicago Helen Jepson was working out there. And in talking with her she mentioned you in the wings with your score carefully noting down all that she was doing because she was more or less ending her career at the time you were just beginning. And then said something that I thought was quite interesting she said that you had a very beautiful voice a voice she liked very much but that she never thought it would develop into such a large voice. And she is quite or you know now is quite a amazed that it did develop so it was a something you worked out or just happened naturally. Yeah well I was very lucky in the first place I had only two teachers ever and I was very fortunate also because. It's a very poor thing to study with many different people with many different ideas but as I say one is fortunate to get the right teachers in the beginning of one's career because that is the foundation and I had
I will of course wasted a lot of time in the beginning until I found this man and he gave me the correct foundation. Never pushed my voice never ever developed and I think that probably the reason why I let it develop naturally I let it mature naturally. But I think the special reason why I'm still singing as I am today is because I have always known how to say no to roles that I knew were wonderful to do but very much against my voice. And I think this is many many times the reason why I see them come and go at the Metropolitan because they have to know themselves what is good for them. And just because they're eager to do a wonderful role there are many I would love to sing but I don't. I don't do them and I have done. For instance I would never have thought of singing the girl of the Golden West by Puccini any time before I had at least sung.
10 years 11 12 years and sung opera up to that point we started. I sort of make a specialty of Puccini roles. I started with Mimi which is one of the most lyric roles of me to Genie and worked my way up. But the girl of the Golden West must be sung by a mature singer one who knows how to save and all the tricks of the trade must be awfully hard at the beginning especially when you want to do as much as you can and as you say these wonderful roles you have to turn. That's I believe the most difficult part of the of having a career of going along this road straight and not taking those side roads that might really get you into trouble and so many of them do and over and you know you can't go back immediately. You have to then stop and study all over again. The voice is such a very tender thing.
You cannot treat the voice as you might be able to even treat and thence treatment of some kind because it's it's human. It's not a piece of wood. We're talking about roads. None of these. Occurred when I was in the 1946 season when you found yourself very suddenly being Madame Butterfly for the evening when we became the author I must have been an awful strain. Well because it was the first time I believe that you did the part at the Met at the Met Yes at the Met. But I had done the role before you see most of the roles that I had done. I had done before I can I came to them and I think that's very important also because the Met should not be a proving ground it should be a place that one displays one's art and not a from the pupil angle you've got to. Otherwise you just don't last you can't
possibly last. And I believe that many singers come to the Met much before they should. I think they should have a every possible chance and now when we're having all of these opera companies springing up all over our country there are so many opportunities if people will work and if they will be satisfied to start at the beginning. You don't put the roof on a house before you build the basement. Then in 1947 48 season there was a great revival of support. Grace Moore was particularly well noted for. He answered quickly you and I believe that you work directly with Jacques on Tuesday. Yes. And did you know that I was asked to do Louise at the Metropolitan while Grace was still here and I refused to do it because of my love and devotion for Grace and her wonderful help to me because she was Louise. And then the year after I
was asked by the Metropolitan to go over and to study the role in France with sharpened and this was a very wonderful experience and came back and did Louise and I hope we do it again sometime soon. We met last year through last season. I had to go to New Orleans to do it because we have and there are so few companies can put it on. It's rather an expensive opera to put on simply because there are many many parts in it. And but we had a very good production and new ones we use the city center sets which are just fine just great. And Norman trade also with me who's a fine singer and actor which it takes to do the father who so I hope we have we're able to bring it back to New York soon. Well another revival that you figured very prominently in was only nine hundred forty eight season one. Are you saying Fiore Purpura in one of the Tuzla more or
did you know that I was the last one to sing Fiora while Monta Mitty was alive. And I'm the last I was the last one to sing Louise wash up and change live. I mean I'm as an American and I think this is a very great honor I was I was very fortunate also to sing it with the composer to sing with the composer. We are hoping very much that we will be able to do this opera in San Francisco this coming season. One of the reasons that modern military was there for the revival was that Julio was doing the part of the King which he had done for the first time thirty two years before that. Oh my goodness I didn't know that but lots of it was one of the most wonderful of all of the people that did the king and you know Koreans are saying that the role of the king also when they were there were very many wonderful bases that this is a wonderful bass role you know. Did you work much with PMS or you know.
Yes we worked very hard. He also sang with father and Louise with at least two roles I remember him very well for. Another of your colleagues in one of your greatest Puccini roles was one of Warren playing Scorpio against yours. Yeah Scott Leonard and I did a Tosca together and when I began to do it doing it I guess he was too at that time doing it for the first first time at the Metropolitan. And he was a very fine skier Appiah. How was he to work with. As far as the dramatic interpretation too he worked I believe quite hard. Yes he did he was as conscientious as I was and we both know we of course at that time were beginning to mold our roles and learning lots of new things together then moving into more recent times in the 49 50 season you to do first minimalist with the billing. Oh yeah and the building go because I don't want to for comics they were really wonderful
colleagues and I can still see you see in that first act of my analyst go when he sings gone to far in the first part in the first act of and it always brings no matter when I sing or where I sing this role. I am reminded of you see and of course I believe that the closest anyone can come to you see is is is Tucker who sings this role very early. You worked of course with him and yes we just did this role the other night together. Well now of course but point being 1949 1950 season the Met was in something of an uproar that we always knew the imminent departure of Mr. Johnson and the arrival of most of being. A few conflicts were you in on any of these or did you more or less ride them out. Well I remember very well my introduction if you'd like to hear about this to Mr. Bing we happened to be doing mine unless go and.
I remember so well being told that the new director would be coming to meet us and would we all come after the third act to the green room where we would be presented. And I remember so well that it was such an unglamorous costume for me because in that I'm in the tattered rags of the last act and I I was trying to think of something appropriate to say and I couldn't very well and I only thought to say oh I'm so sorry to meet you Mr. Bangs and such an unglamorous costume. And with that he gave me a very odd look and do you remember at those times that he was trying very hard to take the glamour away a bit. And my darling friend you see helped me helping me a great deal leaned over and said OK well she just came back from Hollywood where she just made a picture. And I shall never forget this because I just could have killed him right there.
Whether any noticeable changes in metropolitan policy or before that. I suppose we should point out a few Hell Irian some of the difficulties that some other singers notably lowered Smokie with time. I think when Mr being first came here he wanted very much to have a repertory company and a company where the stars wouldn't count that he could have ensemble count more than I think that I think this is long gone now and I think he realizes that the public comes to hear their favorites and they always will for ever and I think he's he's learned that especially in America but I think it goes every everywhere in the world like this. There's one thing that I'm very sorry though that that has been taken away from us. I think it's a very exciting thing when people present. The singers on the stage with flowers and throw them over the footlights. This goes on in Europe ever and everywhere
else and I think it's something we miss at the Metropolitan. It's certainly has taken something out of it for me. If you should have programmes come down oh well it's if not other things. Let's hope not. Let's hope they will never see anything like this. I understand this happens and in certain other suitors I have now. I've been fortunate enough not to ever have experienced such a thing. Of course than in very recent years you had an unfortunate experience in girl of the Golden West involving the horse you were running nearly landed in the orchestra pit and well there was a reason for that too I guess because this happened in San Francisco. The director was very worried about the fact that I wanted him to be rather spirited and therefore gave orders that for the dress rehearsal the horse would have a little pill and would not be as spirited as he was in one of the other rehearsals that he was there for I
came as far as the curtain and put his head around the bend and didn't move. I kicked so loudly and strongly that I'm afraid the next time they gave me another kind of pill and he almost took me right to the conductor in the conductor's pit. Well despite trying not to touch your voice I can recall one seeing from the Metropolitan Plus the billboards on just about everyone for every performance that we code your name on it. Well that was rather of an exciting week I must say. You see I even stutter when I talk about it. Well that happened to be the week that I was called in to do the girls the Golden West when Miss Price became ill that day that very day I was supposed to take the role over from her. But I had been rehearsing for six hours that day doing this very opera and I got
to my hotel rather late route 6:00 o'clock and said to my secretary now let's have somebody please put me there otherwise I'm not going to be able to. The next day was another rehearsal you see. And I went to bed quite early after having something to eat and not only went to bed but took a sleeping pill because I was so tired I was afraid I wouldn't sleep. And at about 9:30 the telephone rang and it happened also to be Halloween night and the telephone rang and my secretary answered it and said Oh Miss Kiersten is sound asleep in bed I can't wake her up now it was the it was the boss calling from the Met and he said but you have to get her up she's got to come over there's an emergency. And I heard the the talking. The other room finally got on the phone and I said Oh stop kidding now it's a Halloween night I know you're pulling a fast one on me and they said oh no home is yours and it's very serious new must come over immediately. Then I realised that they were not fooling and I got up and I'm making this story very short because
it was rather a dramatic night. But I got quickly out of my bed and then had to take a pill to wake me up. And then and we quickly called a taxi and as we came around the corner we saw the audience out on the street and we flew to the back and I realised then that I had to go on but I had we had never gotten to this act and I had no idea where I was going to stand or what. And this was the act where she rides the horse to save her. Her sweetheart from the gallows. And I have walked out on stage and I said Well would you please allow me at least to meet these gentlemen that I'm supposed to sing to because I'm I say Harry and Joel and I certainly couldn't say it to the wrong people. So I did this and met them and everyone was very cooperative and we got through the performance. But it was rather a change for the public. They had been kept out and I flew in on the horse and that night
I was singing right off what we call the top of my head. It was sort of by rote something happened I I I loved an emergency and these I think anyone who was a true artist and something special happens to them when in a real emergency happens like that. And it was a very exciting night even though it was a one act that I had never sung there before. Then of course that week I couldn't cancel a damn thing and I was singing Tosca and butterfly all in that week and well this we don't we don't do. We try never to do this was as I say only in an emergency. Do many singers these days are taking too many performances and not giving themselves enough rest in between. I mean there isn't one year that I don't completely stop uttering a note of singing for one solid month. I do not allow myself even to think that of who I am or what I'm doing. Get away from it completely and the mental emotional
vocal rest is the greatest thing in the world. Too many people go right over to Europe continually. Everybody's flying back and forth throughout. Of course I can't talk because I live on the coast and I fly back and forth a great deal in order to do my work. I have to but. I try to give myself enough time in between sections of singing where I have a little rest. Well now of course there are no indications that your career is ending at this point so you're probably looking forward to going into the new house. Yes I I am hoping that it can just be half as good as this old house that we love so much. If it can be half as good I think we will be very happy. We're all worried about the acoustics because of the experiences we've had here in New York and I especially am worried about it because we have a simply wonderful theater in Los Angeles where I live and the acoustics are fine there. We have sort of
something on New York so far but I do hope for the sake of this great and wonderful public in the east. I do hope we have great acoustics because there are many wonderful voices to be heard. How do you feel about losing the old man. I'm going to weep buckets of tears just as anyone who has had the great experiences and wonderful success that I have had in this house. And when we close it I'm sure it'll be a very very unhappy night. That was Dorothy Kirsten who came to the Metropolitan 1045 remained there until a final performance in the old house and has now gone on to continue her outstanding career at the new Metropolitan in Lincoln Center. In several ways the end of World War 2 marked something of a turning point in the metropolitan history a changing of the guard so to speak. A number of the remaining great names from the Gothic is that he were banished from the roster. You know our Pappy died in 1041. Elizabeth read and Friedrich Shaw
retired in 1982 and Karen Brown's old withdrew in 1943. From then on the Opera Company performing at Broadway and 31st was an almost brand new one built around said singers as Dorothy Kirsten Eleanor Steber Robert Merrill Richard Tucker Leonard Warren and Regina Resnik was a very fresh and vital group of artists that proved without a doubt that great voices are not confined to any one generation. One might for a while have looked back wistfully to the days of Gothic as that and wish that some of the voices of that period could be heard again. Still if anyone lingered too long with these thoughts of the past he would certainly have missed some of the fine sounds of our own golden age of opera. On our program next week we'll be hearing all about the career of one of the great names of all golden age as we talk with the Metropolitan's leading data tome. Robert merong I'm sure you'll want to join us for what will be a most entertaining visit
- 1941 Through 1945
- Producing Organization
- WBUR (Radio station : Boston, Mass.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- 1941 -1945. The war years and their effect on the Met. Dorothy Kirsten is interviewed about behind-the-scenes complications which take place during every opera season.
- Other Description
- Documentary series on history of the Metropolitan Opera Company ("The Met") in its original home at Broadway and 39th Street in New York. "The Met" closed its old location on April 16, 1966. Series includes interviews and rare recordings of noted performers.
- Broadcast Date
- Media type
Host: Cross, Milton, 1897-1975
Host: Kastendieck, Miles
Interviewee: Kirsten, Dorothy, 1910-1992
Producer: Calhoun, Richard
Producing Organization: WBUR (Radio station : Boston, Mass.)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 66-41-30 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Hall of song: The 'Met,' 1883-1966; 1941 Through 1945,” 1967-03-31, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 12, 2022, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-c824g671.
- MLA: “Hall of song: The 'Met,' 1883-1966; 1941 Through 1945.” 1967-03-31. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 12, 2022. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-c824g671>.
- APA: Hall of song: The 'Met,' 1883-1966; 1941 Through 1945. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-c824g671