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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. Her. Cool. You are. Your posts are miles past indie music critic of The New York World. Journal Tribune. And noton cross.
The activities taking place behind the scenes during the Metropolitan's 934 season. Well every bit as interesting as those on stage selecting a new general manager for a major opera company is no easy job under any circumstances and the task was further complicated now because the transition was to take place at a time when the company's financial resources were far from abundant. The man chosen for the job had to be capable and he had to keep things running smoothly with no interim period of adjustment before the depression got to his socks or had accumulated more than one million dollars in cash reserves. By the time his final season was over however the Metropolitan's deficit amounted to more than one million and seven hundred thousand dollars. This entire loss had been sustained during the five seasons from 1930 to 1935. While the situation was improving it was now evident that opera at the
Metropolitan or anyplace else in this country could not be financed as it had been in the past. One of the steps taken to keep the Metropolitan solvent during the early thirties was the establishment of a committee for saving Metropolitan Opera. This group launched a campaign for contributions and also set up a number of benefits and surprise parties. None of these measures could have provided any long term relief and their effectiveness as short term solutions was diminished by the fact that the New York Philharmonic was also struggling to keep alive at the same time. It was obvious that New York's music lovers couldn't adequately subsidize both ventures simultaneously. This situation led quite naturally to the suggestion that the two organisations should merge the only theater large enough to house both groups however it was the Metropolitan and Toscanini then musical director of the Philharmonic flatly refused to
work in the old opera house again. The merger was promptly abandoned with the announcement of got a guess at his departure at the end of the 1934 season. The directors of the Metropolitan began to look for a new general manager and they also took a look back at the way Gotti had run the company while he was implicity old. Perhaps they would be able to one cover some mistakes he had made which could be avoided by his successor. A firm was retained to go over the Metropolitan's books in an effort to SS Which operators had been most popular and how long an average season should run. The Julliard Foundation whose offer of assistance had been refused during the prosperous nine hundred twenty four season now figured prominently in the search for a new general manager and additional funds. The foundation itself provided the badly needed cash. Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and some of the foundations members were influential in the negotiations which finally
resulted in the appointment of Herbert Witherspoon as impresario where the sport had served the Metropolitan as a fine Basso ever since one thousand eight. But as things turned out his career as a singer was of considerably longer duration than his tenure as a general manager. He assumed the position when Gary left at the end of the 1934 season but died of a heart attack on May 10 thousand nine hundred thirty five. His successor was another performing artist tenor Edward Johnson one of the notable musical events of Gandhi's final season was the debut of a young American soprano Helen Jepson as can be imagined. The scramble to find a new impresario created some confusion among the company singers and Madame Jepsen told about many of the incidents which occurred during their first metropolitan season when she reviewed her career there with our producer Richard Calhoun. Madam Jepson you came to the Metropolitan 1935 which was the. Final season of the regime and made your debut there.
What has been called one of the novelties of his last season namely John Lawrence Seymour's opera and a passion is gardening. The work itself. Did not survive too long or they was given only twice to your view when and how did you feel about making a debut in what later turned up to be a disaster. Well if the OPer itself was more or less of a disaster although there were some beautiful moments from it but they never and large do you know I mean they'd start of Lawrence with the same I would start a beautiful phrase for instance there was an aria which was the Pandora's box but it never seemed to get any place but it was a marvelous day of the view for me and my name in it was a lane narrative it was a pasha Fred Yeager with a lover. That was hidden in Pandora's box. I was able to go into the mat as a debut as myself no way exact
had my own platinum blond hair and a beautiful necklace I made by Saks Fifth Avenue it was a very glamorous debut so that although the OP was not a success it did not seem to hurt me in any way in fact I had very good views and was. Cp. I did mention that younger RITTA had come to the Metropolitan Opera which was very thrilling for me because I had adore it all through my student days and but it was too bad that the opera talk was not a success. Did you perform it then in the subsequent performances. Yes yes they. I was the only one that was doing the part and after the third performance I just felt that it wasn't going to carry on any longer. It was the same thing also with the comp and Saki of Richard Hartman And this was a new opera in which Tippit was in I was in the palm PDA and it and this was a very beautiful score but it was
it gave me another chance for a debut that had not. In a role that had not been done but it was. You refused to cut a lot of the choruses in some of the ballet and around until after 12 o'clock and so this only lasted for five performances and I always felt badly because this was a really beautiful score. Well now you're beginning at the murder your arrival at the map goes through a somewhat unconventional. Channels I believe you were discovered by a radio performer Yes I was I met Paul Whiteman for well almost two years and. I was studying with I had left Curtis Institute after five years and I was studying with Queena Mario and some of the officials on the Met had heard me doing a couple of arias and things and it called Miss Mario and ask her if she thought I was ready for a debut and or for an audition and she said well I don't think there's any American that has as many rowers prepared as Mr.
Jepson and vocally I feel she is ready for an audition and it's very funny because you know the famous clock at the Met when I made my debut we didn't need any clock we had the whole Whiteman half just hanging over the balcony and they practically tore the place apart from us to please do it with my fist. So I came in through and this meant a tremendous amount of publicity strangely enough coming in through the radio. You know Martini had about a year before I had come into the metropolitan through radio also so I was a person woman and this gave it an enormous amount of publicity. Did your other colleagues fund the stranger or to excerpt. I don't believe so I've always had that on very friendly terms I have met very few temperamental artists that they talk about all the time and it was very gratifying because I came into the Met doing in the Pasha's garden furs and I had had very little experience with the exception of the Philadelphia opera company
being on the stage I had done a few small parts there but then my next role was Traviata. And then I did all the leading roles. The 12 years I was there. And this is unusual because I had no European background. And for an American girl to command the Met surely and to lead a normal row because it still was the old Italian regime you say I was there the last year I've got it because Asad regime and you know I've been lecturing all over the country and I've often said that when I was a student you'd hear of the golden era and it got to be sort of bothersome you kept thinking well there aren't very good singers in this area too. But as I got older I felt very good about the idea that I felt a little bit of the gold dust had brushed off on my shoulders having been there in the last year of that old Italian joy. We would have to then during that transitional period where Herbert Witherspoon was. Yeah it was quite a surprise because the
day that with this boom. Day before. I'm not just sure what time the death was but I was traveling I was out in Detroit singing performance of fast enough but Johnson was a tenor and Richard but I was also in a doing the valentine and Eddie had a telegram saying that he should come immediately to the Metropolitan Opera that he was to take over for this bill. So they flew me out to do the fast performance. So I felt very close to this regime and of course it was a very difficult transition because we were not telling tickets as you are now and fact. I know I had all the tickets I could possibly give away. We were practically papering the house it was. Well it looked many times if they were going to make it was a very difficult transition. And of course they kept the same regime for a while but then gradually some of the old course was not completely Italian They brought in younger people and so forth and so on.
Well this was typical of Johnson's approach in developing new works and new singers particularly Americans and I know that's right. He did a great deal for the American one course in the war. We I just missed going to Europe. I was not one of the fortunate ones because I married God and was very interested in me and wanted me in fact I was in Paris with her for six weeks working with her. And was to go back and do some French things with the opera and the opera Kmiec but to work came along of course I had no opportunity to go to Europe to sing this to of course was what prevented a number of the European singers from coming to America which I suppose opened. That's right maybe Americans more of a chance I would take to that particular time. But you did a number of the roles that Mary Gordon saying and managed to be compared very favorably to or notably in tell you said yes well the main one of course was tell us I was asked to do it in Chicago and I had never sung the role and I said well I will not do it I heard Gargan was living at the Blackstone in Chicago and let's I can work the role with her because she
was so loved in Chicago and I felt that. If I had a chance to go over well it it was a marvelous friendship and remained for many many years. And I went out and stayed at the Blackstone Hotel and worked with her every day. And when it came time for the performance she introduced me to the press. Our pictures were in the paper and well it gave me a place in Chicago that I never had really at the Metropolitan I was Box Office in. Practically anything I would do in Chicago and had a chance to do many things. For instance Louisa loved Three Kings although I did do the love through Kings at the Met but I did not have a chance to do it the Metropolitan. We want another room good break so to speak. Touring with the Metropolitan court and you managed to step in I believe for grace more yes. I had really not sang at the Met I had been engaged I was to sing in January the 25th and this was in the fall and they had a
Metropolitan Opera quartet which consisted of out of it Johnson the tenor Rose Bampton was the contralto Richard but now I have a baritone and Grace Moore was a soprano Well of course she had made a picture and name out it was so successful that she was absolutely fed up with the quartet and finally managed to get out with the doctors. Some sort of a doctor's written letter saying that she shouldn't continue on and I had a telegram and asking me to meet them. Oh I don't remember where it was. Kansas City go someplace and take over so we her first and I stepped in. It really gave me a tremendous boost because stepping in for Grace Moore was rather difficult because she was so famous overnight again and after her picture and I travelled with them until I came into the megaphone in January and then coming in with it to your credit must have helped a great deal in New York. And of course these are some of the breaks that help us as we
go along in our career. I don't want to keep dwelling on the oddities of your career but in fact the years in which you were singing were kind of on there were a number of strange things going on you and Louis poems and boom. Bloodless war that appeared in one of the you know I'm going to call a surprise party asked him I gave him a sort of gave the surprise parties really for the depression to help out with some of the cost. And this the song Minnie the Moocher had just come out and I don't know whose idea it was but it was really marvelous because we rehearsed the song and came out in the evening clothes but over the MKO just put on. Oh fashion pinafores and singing each a verse and of course Lily was adorable she had just come to this country and her Minnie the Moocher was something to hear. And it made such a success that we had to repeat it several times during it and during that year. And because Gratus
was at the Met doing many many things and I had just joined them. I know a number of your colleagues were. Up and coming Americans as well as some of the older singers who have been around for a while you saw a great deal Lawrence to that yes. LAWRENCE It was marvelous to me because he had been at the Met many for several years and as a young artist coming in I remember particularly we were doing a performance of Archie and he said to me you know I want you really to pick up the whip and beat me and then he said he come up and he said bite my ear and really bite it and make this realistic. When I came off the first performance with his ear bleeding I sang Traviata with him and Otello and I could go on and on he was a wonderful person to work with for a young artist he would do everything to help you out in your performance.
And there are so many things to learn if you haven't been on the stage for instance one of the most amusing I didn't realize how important it was to be in the right light. And you know with the spotlights and things. And I remember one of the tenors was always pushing me back and he was always shown in all his glory and I found out very very quickly that you find out where these places are and you get there. And also the thing that I found out when I first went there I thought duty was they make when they come out of the great beautiful golden curtain the first one that came out was the most important but I found out very soon that was about the third or fourth because by that time. The audience was well warmed up. And of course you probably know that Grace Moore and young Kapoor were the ones that used to have absolute battles back of the garden. Oh yes it was really amusing because as to which one would get the right spot to be presented before the curtain there must have been very glad to have
you in the dark and willing to come out first. Your Pimms was another of your I did Chorus foulest with him practically every performance that met Nat that. And Traviata I'd perhaps sang more than anything else. The Metropolitan and things it was wonderful to work with too and I did a performance of boy when. And I remember I had on this beautiful black wig and he kept saying But oh you should always have black hair you always want me to go out and dye my hair black you know I was a platinum blonde. And we the last scene of course is always the crazy things going on and the audience has no idea about but in the last scene where Colleen goes out and brings in a fish you know in the big seeing they have nothing to eat he brings his fish and what course as a rule it's a wooden fish. But he went down in the works and got the oldest decayed smelly herring that he could get and waving it
around the stage in front of my nose waiting to come in for the last scene. And then also I did love Three Kings with being two and this was a very difficult part at the end. The arc about oh who was blind strangled in the wood his daughter his wife and of course then he has to pick the body and the small of my back would go on his shoulder and he had to walk across the stage and all the way up. The steps and with my arms hanging back and I was always so dizzy I was not able to take a curtain call after that. That was quite a handful to carry in. Two of the folios at least that I know of were conducted by clones door Yes and apparently aroused a bit of controversy. Yes I would say that frankly that I did not want to do the millers. And I did not feel I was ready for it I knew the role I had coached it
with many different people and knew it musically but I didn't feel I was still ready for it but Ziegler who was then at the Met and several of the officials there practically insisted on my doing it because they wanted to bring it back to the Met and there was no one else at that time to do it. So I would say that my reviews were not very exciting they said it was adequate which I think is about the worst thing you can say. And yet I had one of the conductors who used to conduct what is known as the rock block o who conducted gardening at many times and he had seen it before and he said don't let them do anything to you you just do it the way you have been doing it and you'll grow in it well cause I never had an opportunity to do it again. But it was perhaps not the best. Pelley asked the military. There are many different things that were criticized. I had heard Dorian Johnson do it of course before and he was going to work with me but she was so
tied up and I really did not feel it certainly was not one of my better roles at that time in 1942 than you were in with Beecham. Yes most of them some play as well. He was wonderful but one thing I must say after you do a role many times. He took every little bit and made a jam out of every little phrase and took it all apart and it was marvelous because it sort of brings the whole thing when you see it all anew again. Barbara Lee was excellent as an English conductor for this too and strangely enough. The last performance of August I did was with Beecham in Cleveland you see I am an Ohio girl so I was six months pregnant at the time and no one knew it. And. Beecham conducted that performance and then the next day I announced to the press that I was retiring to have my second child who is now 22 in college.
When you did announce your retirement it came as something of a surprise to many people since you were still yet out of your career. Well this is something that's never been said. I was beginning to have quite a bit of throat trouble and I was to do the last performance it was the Tales of Hoffmann great. And in Cleveland and I really didn't want to do it and I went to Johnson and said I am having so much trouble. I feel I should not leave Cleveland. You know not singing well. But he insisted on my going I had a contract naturally but fortunately it was one of my good nights and I did not leave a bad impression. But very few people realize that sometimes in life we have these this these troubles mine strangely enough with the 935 when I first went into the Met and the fall and just before it 40 to 34 I went out to a Cincinnati festival to do the verities Requiem with Richard cooks and so forth and so on. And I was having a little trouble and I thought it was
tonsils and Dick said Well that was the most famous throat doctor in the whole world is here in Cincinnati documented offer and I went to him. And he examined my throat and he said I have very very. Tragic news for you he said you have a slight swelling on the vocal cords along the edge of the vocal chords and he said you may last six weeks six months or if you're very careful you may last. You may have a career of a few years. And of course this is a horrible thing. I hadn't even my first apartment at the Met but I hadn't had the accident noise production which I had. From Curtis Institute and working with him I would never have lasted but my career. Very few people knew it but I was wrapped in cotton batton for 12 years. I was not able to talk in a car with a mind a very few exceptions. So that's why people saw me very little around outside of the Met at social affairs.
It would strike me in strange ways I could do. For instance I did a fast one evening and on Saturday afternoon and had no trouble at all. And yet I could get up and sing the Star Spangled Banner and I wouldn't be able to sing for maybe two weeks it was absolutely like laryngitis. Now this continued as I say I know of course I did a tremendous amount of singing 60 concerts all the debate radio shows besides the Met and I lasted. But towards the end I would even have friends call me. What is happening to you. I had an audition with Bruno involved here and I flew out. I had had a concert in Texas and flew in to California and sang for him very early in the morning and he said Darling something is happening to you. This was beginning then the day never it never got to that the records of nodes which Morrie had were you know and also Marian Anderson but it continued to progress a little and I would go flat and I could hear myself. So I decided that
I wanted to leave and retire and I was still very young when I was still thinking well because I couldn't stand to have people say well my goodness why isn't it a shame she's still singing. So I retired and did a concert for several years after that and then when I lecture tour all over the country. But this is something you do not say you do not publicize when you're having a career. But I was very fortunate in having 12 very good years at the Met the worst of them most of them not knowing exactly what it is yet were but always trying to do enough I had to cancel very few Performances concert or otherwise because I took such good care of myself. You know I went back to college in college about eight years ago became very interested in working with the handicapped cerebral palsy children in speech. And it took me two and a half years to get my speech credits and I've been working here at the cerebral palsy we have dilatation Institute for six years teaching speech to the cerebral palsy and handicapped and also
to regular children. Cleft palates stuttering and normal children also. And it's been a very rewarding challenging. Fascinating career I think I've worked harder than five days a week you know and I live at the shore and drive a hundred miles. But it's been a completely new life and probably psychologically I never played the piano very well. I sold my piano. I gave my entire music library which was quite extensive to Newark State College where I took my speech work. I gave my entire costume collection which was really fabulous in those days I was making a great deal of money and spent it on costumes and I gave those to my protege Beverly Bauer who has just been signed with the met just this last year. And I have no music in my house at all believing that I never know I have a one little book of the old songs
and one little Christmas carols and I don't miss it. I am so engrossed in my speech work working with a handicap. It's wonderful that you can phone. I have to soldier a glamorous career and I mean how do you it's made life worthwhile for me and I think that many of the my colleagues who have probably I have two children were one is a college the other is married I have a grandchild 10 and I never think of the past if somebody says something I think of the glamorous time I had. And it's been marvelous but. I don't have time to mystic and think about it and I'm sure that we must fill our lives with something as we go along. This is kept me from going on helping the poor and quite interested in which I have been most happy youngsters in the world with all of their handicaps and have been very very worthwhile.
That was Helen Jepson one of the very last metropolitan artists to make a debut during the managerial regime of Julio got because on our program next week we'll have the great pleasure of hearing from Kiersten called a book with a marvelous Mitsos soprano who arrived at the Metropolitan during the second year of Edward Johnson's administration. For now though this is Milton Cross on behalf of miles cast indeed hoping that you'll be with us. Boston University Radio has presented Hall of song the story of the Metropolitan Opera from 1883 to 1966. The series is created and produced by Richard Calhoun a grant
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Hall of song: The 'Met,' 1883-1966
1934 Through 1935
Producing Organization
WBUR (Radio station : Boston, Mass.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
1934 -1935. Helen Jepson, soprana, makes her debut. She is interviewed.
Series 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: Jepson, Helen, 1904-1997
Producer: Calhoun, Richard
Producing Organization: WBUR (Radio station : Boston, Mass.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 66-41-23 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:20
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Chicago: “Hall of song: The 'Met,' 1883-1966; 1934 Through 1935,” 1967-02-03, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 25, 2024,
MLA: “Hall of song: The 'Met,' 1883-1966; 1934 Through 1935.” 1967-02-03. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 25, 2024. <>.
APA: Hall of song: The 'Met,' 1883-1966; 1934 Through 1935. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from