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The following program was produced for national educational radio under a grant from the National Home Library Foundation by W. B U R Boston. Boston University radio presents Hall of song the story of the Metropolitan Opera from 1893 to 1966. It was the wrong war who all was or. It'll. Be. Your hosts are miles past indie
music critic of The New York World Journal Tribune. And noton cross. 1938 was a year that saw the Metropolitan Opera in a much more stable position than it had enjoyed for a long time. The 1937 season had produced a profit of more than one and a half million dollars a mark that hadn't been passed since 1931. Moreover the company's deficit had been reduced by more than $10000 even though the season had run two weeks longer than the preceding one. It was clear that Edward Johnson had learned something from the mistakes made by God because when Gandhi had been faced with a financial crisis he drastically reduced the playing time of the season but not the expenses of the season despite the fact that Gotti pledged to reduce expenditures to the lowest possible point during the Depression years. He still mounted expensive new productions off his
dubious novelties and revivals the 1930 and 1931 seasons for example who are hardly the right moment to experiment with such wakes as from space because Joe and Donna one eat their moves on skis the fan it sort instanced for each a lapdog is let's put CEOs there today Callie Muskaan use Iris and Vineberg funda on Monday met sees all of these productions required large amounts of money at a time when money in large amounts or small was scarce. Worst of all are returns from this investment and novelties were pitifully small. The majority of the new operas failed and were never Hood after their initial season as a result of the bright new sets which Fonda lay moldering in a way house while a bruised and battered ones for Aida were displayed before the footlights year after year after year. Johnson had also gained some interesting information about salaries when he looked back on the
way Gotti had run the company during the years the Metropolitan began to lose money. The 10 percent salary cut was on the surface impressive as was got his announcement that he would be willing to save without any salary at all. Somewhat less impressive though was the subsequent discovery that in the first deficit season conducted Toyo Cetaphil million and fifty eight thousand dollars. And that in 1933 he received thirty four thousand one tenth of the entire budget for a 14 week season and got himself even after his offer to work without compensation never Jule less than forty three thousand during the Depression years. Even more surprising was the discovery that in one thousand thirty when the company lost $300000 Gati salary was sixty seven thousand. But now all that was changed. They maximum autists fee was firmly fixed at $1000 a performance and the 138 season was to
have only one new production. In an effort to counteract the impression created by some of the mediocre talent so what appeared at the house the past few years Johnson use whatever extra funds he had to strengthen the roster with such well-established artists as American India UCB Arling Herman Easton and Herbert Johnson. There are also two outstanding new American Singh is added to the company two who are of an unquestionably higher caliber than the ones who had made their metropolitan debut as largely through the efforts of the foundation to promote young native talent. The first appearance of the baritone Leonard Warren on January 13th marked the beginning of an operatic career that was to reach the very heights of artistic accomplishment the zenith of Warren's achievement still had not been reached when in March 960 he collapsed and died on the Metropolitan stage. A tragic loss for the operatic world. The other American to have an
impressive debut during the 1938 season was the soprano reason. Stevens unlike many of her colleagues at the school Madam Stevens resisted the temptation to rush headlong into the metropolitan without adequate preparation. She explained the cost of study she followed in her conversation with the producer of these programs Richard Calhoun. Madam Stevens your career with the Metropolitan must have been a great pleasure for you especially being an American a native of New York. You got your start by all the auditions of the year I believe is a correct. Well the first time that probably. I was recognized by the public was through the auditions the air. Before that. I was. JULIE. Then Prior to that I was with the Opera Comique which was a light opera company.
Actually I started when I was 17. Yes it is true that I went into more serious things later on which was around the time of those auditions. Just prior to that was when I started with Hampshire and Rene and was a member of. Graduate school with Julie on. Now after winning the auditions you did not go straight to the mat but I believe you went back to Europe for some work there. Well I didn't really go back to actually I went to there to to study and try to get a position. I did not want to start as a winner of the auditions although I did participate in them with that idea. This was under Johnson's regime. But I was told by a very wonderful woman who had a great influence on my career by the name of an assurance day. She was ahead of the vocal Department of the
Juilliard graduate school and it was through her actually that I became interested in a more serious career because when I was with the Opera Comique between the ages of 17 and 19 she heard me several times with the company and then offered me a scholarship to study privately with her. And for one year and within that first year that I started with a she thought that I should have more extensive vocal training as well as music training sight reading. All the things naturally that one should know to be a fine artist. And I then joined and won a scholarship with the Juilliard where I was. Pupil for three years. After my second year it was then that Mr. Johnson asked me to sing for the auditions of the air. This was not a good idea although as I say I was recognized for the first time.
But it was very fortunate for me that I was not a winner. I was a what were they called a semifinalist I won the semifinals but I lost the final Yes. Luckily I say because it was through this that Madame Shane and I then had a tremendous influence as I said before the word I used before because she then advised me to go to Europe and study at the Mozart him in softball. And that's exactly what idea. And I've never regretted that because I worked with one before in her time. Madame Maria good shorter. Who was the octal. And needless to say I learned a great deal from her and have her to thank for probably much of the success of my old hobby and we will avoid it then I guess. The difficulty that so many young singers seem to get themselves into by finding themselves on the stage at the Met or elsewhere with insufficient background really to carry.
The roles. This is unfortunate yes. I guess yes I was fortunate in this. I felt though very strongly about this dick. I felt that a singer even then I can remember. I felt that I was not ready and that to compete with those people who were on the top and who I had great respect for. And I've found myself in a position where I was supposed to compete with the kind of performance they were doing. I certainly was not ready. This takes years of experience this takes a great deal of singing. This takes also a tremendous kind of knowledge which I did not possess at that time I think the advice from am sure Renee that I do go abroad even after that first year and start in Europe was a good one. Well then after returning from Europe you did make your debut as Menon on the 17th of December 1938 and I had to debut.
Oh really. Yes and I guess I was very lucky in that Mr. Johnson who was the head of the Metropolitan Opera. At that time had me first before I appeared in New York singing with the Philadelphia season used to go to Philadelphia you know again on Tuesday. So that my first debut with the Metropolitan Opera was in Philadelphia as Octavian. And then my second debut another what I had today was my second day at the big house. So I was one of those very fortunate people that I was exposed to important roles in my life has been something of a double strain then especially doing two different parts. I loved it. Well and subsequently in that same season you did your act early on. At the New York house with two colleagues with whom we were associated in the park for many years a lot of women and a man who will listen and I love them both. How are they to work with. My goodness I you know I told you about studying in Salzburg when
I was a student in Salzburg. It was like a layman who was singing the national and at the Salzburg Festival and she was the model and my dream actually was to one day sing this role with this magnificent woman. Well you work too with other martial arts was there any difficulty in. You know after building up I imagine a real. Rapport performance with these other two. Was there any difficulty in shifting and working with others. Not really dick because you you sort of twist your performance accordingly. You estimate certain things according to whoever it is that you play. I I don't think there were any Martians with whom I did not sing in rows and cavalier. In all the years that I sang. The role. And I must say that with each marshland it was a new experience for me because as I say you kind of
react to that that person who's on the stage although I must truthfully admit that one of the most magnificent was a lot of women. You know also in that first season of yours you were cast as frick and aired a couple of times and then tried as much as possible to do those roles as little as possible in subsequent years what was your reason for that. They are great metal parts and yes they are I never wanted to be a Wagnerian singer. First of all I didn't think I had that kind of a voice. I didn't have a gigantic kind of brand self kind of voice I mean I did not have a Wagnerian voice I thought at any rate Mr. Johnson and Mr. Budowsky who was the chef of the orchestra at that time under Mr. Johnson wanted very much for me to go into the brunt of the Venuses and all the rest. And I worked on them I learned them. But I had to have the experience of doing for several figures at the Metropolitan with with Black Star and everyone
and I. I was devastated really in these worlds. I I never quite could. See myself as. A flicker ever or an Arab. And this this was a troublesome area for me. And I did not want to pursue it and I went to Mr.. Johnson I can remember it very clearly. And he came to me and he said Well now the next thing we want you to do recess is sing The Venus and I said please Mr. JOHNSON This is one role I will never sing. I feel very strongly about this and I would prefer very much that you remove me from the whole Wagnerian repertoire and which he did and I had this out with Mr. Butt on skates and I thought in a way because a number of the other singers I've been talking to have principly a lot of the Wagnerian ones have been one and wanted very much to have the versatility of roles offered to them that you had offered and turned down while they were beginning to feel almost a little trapped in the Wagnerian.
Yes that's possible but don't forget that that my repertoire the way it was Dick gave me a kind of versatility that few meds I was ever face I mean today perhaps the more so and perhaps I started a trend. I hope I'm one of the reasons for starting that trend but at my time. The Meadows did not do the carabiner. These were done always by Sopranos. I think I was one of the one of the few Meadows who started in to the Caribbean islands and the and even the OC top IANS. In many cases I think it was one of the two metals that did otherwise all of them were Sopranos. There were other roles and I think in order to get that kind of end the minion of course which is not a myth or role in the Delilahs and things like that all these parts I felt that I had a chance to be versatile in order to be able to cope with them and not only that but I I always felt very strongly about acting. And the
static things. Not ever very. Favorable to me I felt very. Certain in them. I didn't like just getting up and singing beautiful town. I wanted to do something about it too and I think that's why I chose this record. Well it definitely is one of the problems with the Wagnerian metal part two moralizers have to stand there and statuesque and saying there's not much you can do with that kind of music that you have to sing. It's quite demanding when other parts of chords that you have done many wonderful things with have been your Carmen's and Delilah's and was on a roll. A particular favorite it's very often asked question probably Well I I have no. First favorite I would say several are on a par. I adored Dr M but later on I did quite a few or Fayose
and I adored books often but especially with. I thought this was one of the most exciting performances I've ever done in my life. That. It had a great deal to do with him. He adored this opera and he had a feeling for the few conductors that I know have ever had outside of perhaps area but with whom I also sang it in South America and Europe. But he had a wonderful wonderful touching quality with this dynamic something that the few conductors have had with the song. Perhaps one of us. Had this also but I never sang with him. And your career of course to disband the Warriors and this must have given you as well as a number of your other American colleagues a great many opportunities and some artistes were unable to return from Europe and found difficulties there you know what's true except don't forget my career started a good deal both for the well for yourself. But then I'd already had it and it didn't augment my repertoire any.
Some of the singers perhaps have much more advantage than I did. I'd already established myself by that time. Don't forget because that was 1941 too and I had been at the Met in 1038. So I had all those years to establish myself and that's exactly what happened. By that time I was travelling all over the world and I used to stop by in Europe and. Go to South America and then up on the west coast of San Francisco and then into New York and along with Chicago and this used to happen for three years prior to the war. So that this was a constable with blinders on and everything because I am not particularly mentioning all the places I sang but this went on for three years and then the war broke out and I was I found myself in. Just in America. But. The advantages the big advantages were for those people who were. Rather trapped. Here who were given the chances who perhaps never would have gotten those chances. It had it not been for the war but have proven
themselves with the years and with the performing that they were faced with. And. I think that probably Dick Tuck is one of those. I was going to add there were quite a few and Ellen a steeple for instance was one of those. Eleanor did roll and she was absolutely magnificent I just hear to her. Sophie No I never heard I heard her other rose tossers and think that we're the most beautiful selfie of all time. Really the most. But these people you see had that chance. To. To get ahead at a time where the other European singers were not coming out. Well you mentioning on a steamer you worked an awful lot with her in. The Rosenkavalier and Figaro as well in this Figaro cast with pins and some of these other people again became one of these established cast. Did you ever find the performances running the risk of becoming routine.
Having done them so often with the same people that something that could never happen with NATO and with a back alone department and I could go on down the line and at that time dont forget the first Marshall and first Marshall the first Contessa that we had was a record. That you know I did that was about the end of her career I guess where I was right toward the end before she stopped and she was a beautiful Countess. And that was the original cast any repartee who was just extraordinarily good. She was really fabulous. Yes it was quite a cast. It never really got routine as I said because we didn't do it although it was done often. We didn't do it that often that we that we felt we get that they were getting into a groove. It had always spontaneity. Now two of the somewhat less well-known opposite you appeared in something of a novelty was an English version of hands on Gretel in
nineteen forty nine o forty seven I said. Do you enjoy that operate it so I don't think too many people are familiar with it. Of course it. Had a rather illustrious career there for a while being the first of the broadcast operas but since then I don't think we hear too often. It's a shame Dick. Well I don't think Mr being particularly cares about the things that I have and that's a shame you know it's it's really quite heavy music it's like Barry's affright like Wagner. It's a very heavy singing and overweight as a light story and it and it should be had a lightly. You really must say that orchestra is very heavy and it's. I don't know whether you know that Nadine Khanna. With whom I sang it many many many times and we were the original cast. Was an absolutely adorable great aunt. And sang it magnificently. And it was quite a cast as a matter fact I understand they still playing it and on the radio
the old recording that we did. And then the other was in the 1949 season the Met premiere of convention are. Done in English with good heart and soul of a number of. Other great colleagues but apparently didn't do too well. No it didn't I. I don't think much of this opera although I had a marvelous part. I think that is not the kind of thing although it might be revived again and. Be more accepted today. That's possible of course now your. Career as a singer has been considerably curtailed as a director now with the Metropolitan Opera national company which I'm completely occupied with to get I this is from morning until night and late at night. I'm at most of the performances in every city that we visit. I watch the company very carefully. I watch their progress if there's any digress.
I certainly am right there to say this this and this has to be rehearsed and it must be on its toes. I think perhaps that this is a great help to this company because with the kind of experience that I have had. It keeps them on their toes really. It makes them realize that I am a writer and that I am watching and that I do know. And they don't get away with anything. Well I was. A. Type of company really that is completely new to the United States. Yes it is. And. I imagine too that you are playing to audiences in areas that just maybe have never heard opera at all. That is true Dick we have this is this experience naturally for us is tremendous. Big has come. In all of these areas where as you say there have been they have never had an opera performance or any visiting opera company.
Our houses are so sold out that we could again stay there for that many performances. And this is the most gratifying part of the tour to see these people who have never experienced. The sensation of listening to an opera. And watching the kind of reaction that you get from these people. They they are so overwhelmed that opera is. That way. I don't know how they expected it to be you say. But whatever they expected there they are really as I said overwhelmed and and and work out of that theater absolutely invigorated. With the performance. And this is for me the greatest thrill with so many different things are being done with a company first of all you're taking a mixed repertoire of well known work such as the Carmen and the butterfly and then others like
these and Cinderella which aren't as known. And then in addition some of these you are doing both in the original language and English translation yes. How is this working out extremely well naturally in the spots where we have to do it in the in the foreign language as well as the English language like here in Los Angeles we doing them in all the languages because we're here long enough not to take care of that but there are areas where we will only do it in English and not in the foreign language because we have found out in those areas that these people who have not heard opera or even in the areas where they have had opera they refused to go to it. If it's going to be in a foreign tongue they do not understand it. They don't want to be sung to in a language that they are not comprehending. And I can well understand that because if we're going to win these masses which we hope we will and we are
doing that we have to bring it to them in a language they're going to understand naturally when you're speaking of a sophisticated audience that have been exposed to opera. They are more apt to want it in the original language because not that they particularly understand it mind you Dick and I would say that I would probably nine tenths of the audiences do not speak the languages and do not understand it but they're so accustomed to hearing it in a foreign tongue whether they understand it or not. That somehow the fact that it's in a language that they have to listen to that they have to comprehend. Disturbs their feeling of the enjoyment of the music of course to me this is this is somehow a little farfetched because I find this an excuse. I have to I don't see any reason why our operas should not be done in English. Lord knows in Europe no matter
what Opera House I sang in in Europe I had to do them in the original that language of the country it wasn't the original language you do that in America but in Europe if you sing in Italy you sing everything in Italian if you sing in. In France they're all done in French. In Germany everything in every opera house is done in German. Yes in festivals they they are more apt to do them in the original languages but not all the festivals or looks. Finally as if. American artist will have a vehicle and show place for them right here in the United States and having to go over to Europe. Yes it does I wish we could take care of the tremendous flow of abundance of talent that we have here in the US in the States. But naturally we can't take care of it all I only hope that this will start a kind of impetus. In the different sections or regions of this country country to start companies of this kind that can give
young American singers these opportunities that they can engage them for year long contracts for instance and give them enough for her soul time to prepare them before they have to perform and knees and really do magnificent performances and I think this eventually will happen. That was recent Stevens one of America's finest contributions to the Metropolitan roster talking with our producer Richard Calhoun. Well on next week's program we'll be hearing all about the exciting career of another great American artist Helen trouble and the damn child will have many intriguing stories to tell and I'm sure that you'll want to join us again then. For now all of this is Milton Cross. On behalf of Myles cast and Dick saying goodbye until next week.
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Hall of song: The 'Met,' 1883-1966
1938 Through 1939
Producing Organization
WBUR (Radio station : Boston, Mass.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
1938 -1939. Rise Stevens' first appearance. In an interview she recalls her long career.
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
Performing Arts
Media type
Host: Cross, Milton, 1897-1975
Host: Kastendieck, Miles
Interviewee: Stevens, Rise_, 1913-2013
Producer: Calhoun, Richard
Producing Organization: WBUR (Radio station : Boston, Mass.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 66-41-26 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:26
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Chicago: “Hall of song: The 'Met,' 1883-1966; 1938 Through 1939,” 1967-02-28, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 13, 2022,
MLA: “Hall of song: The 'Met,' 1883-1966; 1938 Through 1939.” 1967-02-28. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 13, 2022. <>.
APA: Hall of song: The 'Met,' 1883-1966; 1938 Through 1939. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from