C1681. ARTUR RODZINSKI Cond. NYPO: Mefisto Waltz (Liszt), Live Performance, 11 Feb., 1945, Carnegie Hall; In Memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Bernard Rogers [World Premiere]); Leonore Overture III (Beethoven); w. Dorothy Kirsten, Nan Merriman, Donald Dame & Todd Duncan: 'Choral' Symphony #9 in d (Beethoven), Live Performance, 4 April, 1946, Carnegie Hall. [Bernard Rogers is remembered for his opera THE WARRIOR which premiered at the Met Opera in 1947, just after 'In Memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt' the year before.] (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL 78-589. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Todd Duncan, the baritone who created the role of Porgy in Gershwin's PORGY AND BESS and was the first black singer to join the New York City Opera, whose stage credits beyond Porgy include the Lord's General in Vernon Duke's CABIN IN THE SKY and Stephen Kumalo in the first production of Kurt Weill's LOST IN THE STARS, was known for his elegant phrasing and burnished tone, as well as his dramatic persuasiveness. Those qualities won him his debut role at the New York City Opera in 1945, when he sang Tonio in Leoncavallo's PAGLIACCI.
Although he had appeared in New York with black opera companies, starting with a 1934 production of Mascagni's CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA, with the Aeolian Opera, his City Opera debut made him the first black singer to perform opera with a white cast. That debut occurred 10 years before Marian Anderson made her celebrated debut at the Metropolitan Opera. By then he had also appeared at City Opera as Escamillo in Bizet's CARMEN and in the title role of Verdi's RIGOLETTO.
Mr. Duncan was also a much sought-after recitalist, and often said that recitals interested him more than opera and the theater. In a career that lasted 25 years, he sang 2,000 recitals in 56 countries. He also appeared in two films, SYNCOPATION in 1942 and UNCHAINED in 1955.
When Gershwin was casting Porgy, and was unenthusiastic about the 100 baritones he had already auditioned, Olin Downes, the music critic for THE NEW YORK TIMES, suggested that he get in touch with Mr. Duncan, whose debut with the Aeolian Opera he had recently heard. Mr. Duncan said that Gershwin offered him the role after hearing him sing 12 bars of an Italian aria, accompanying himself at the piano. He added that he had doubts about accepting the role. ‘I didn't have sense enough to know that here was the most successful man on Broadway who had never had a failure’, Mr. Duncan told THE NEW YORK TIMES in 1978. ‘I thought he was Tin Pan Alley - and I always sang Schubert and Schumann and Brahms. And I said, 'Well, I don't know whether I could or not, I'd have to hear your music.' Mr. Duncan accepted the role, and appeared in 124 performances during the premiere run at the Alvin Theater in 1935. He also sang Porgy in revivals in 1937 and 1942, and recorded some of the music, along with songs from LOST IN THE STARS. Porgy, he said, presented some daunting technical challenges, mainly because the character, with one leg horribly twisted, is confined to a cart. ‘In PORGY it is especially difficult’, he said in 1942, ‘because I am on my knees all the time, and I'm thrown about the stage in all sorts of postures. But I studied the problem very scientifically. The audience hardly knows it, but no matter what position I'm in I always keep the torso completely straight so that I breathe perfectly’.
With his opera and recital career at full throttle, Mr. Duncan later returned to teaching, both privately in Washington and at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. He taught into his 90's and had hundreds of students.”
- Allan Kozinn, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 2 March, 1998
“Donald Dame, the young tenor recently acquired by the Metropolitan Opera, gave an interesting recital Monday at Town Hall….performances throughout the evening were marked by a high degree of musical sensitivity and dramatic imagination…an exceedingly fine voice.”
- Paul Bowles, THE NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE, 25 April, 1944
"Once again, Toscanini provided the initial boost to propel a young singer on her way. [Toscanini] simply liked her warm musical manner and the appealing smoky sound of [Merriman's] mezzo-soprano. In fact, Toscanini used Merriman in more NBC broadcasts than any American singer other than Jan Peerce. The incisive attack, throbbing vibrancy, and wide expressive range of her voice were probably heard to best advantage in the song literature. EMI recorded her in two LP discs of French and Spanish music during the mid-fifties, records that never lasted long in the commercial catalogues but soon became collectors' items among vocal connoisseurs. Presumably satisfied with a quiet yet fulfilling career, Merriman retired in 1965, her voice and artistry still in peak condition."
- Peter G. Davis, THE AMERICAN OPERA SINGER, p.453
"Dorothy Kirsten made her professional concert debut in a stage show at the New York World's Fair. She was also reunited with Miss Moore, who recommended her to the Chicago Grand Opera, where Miss Kirsten made her operatic début as Pousette in Massenet's MANON in 1940. Miss Kirsten sang 15 minor rôles during her first season, and the following year shared the stage with Miss Moore in a Chicago performance of LA BOHEME, singing Musetta to Miss Moore's Mimi. In 1942, Miss Kirsten began to sing leading roles with the San Carlo Opera Company, in Washington and New York City. She made her New York City Opera debut in 1943, and by 1945 had performed with the San Francisco Opera, the New York Philharmonic and other major orchestras. Starting in September 1943, she had her own radio program, 'Keepsakes’, which ran for a year. Miss Kirsten's Metropolitan Opera debut, as Mimi in LA BOHEME on 1 Dec., 1945, was a critical success, and was the start of a 30-year association with that house. In 1971, when she celebrated her 25th anniversary with the company, she reminisced about that debut, and recalled that Miss Moore sat in the first box, at the side of the stage, and threw roses to her. When Miss Moore died in a plane crash in Denmark in 1947, Miss Kirsten sang Schubert's 'Ave Maria' at her funeral. Miss Kirsten's career was centered in the United States, but she did tour Europe and, in 1962, the Soviet Union. There, besides giving recitals, she sang Violetta in a Bolshoi Opera performance of LA TRAVIATA, to considerable acclaim, even though, as she said later, she had to go on without the benefit of a stage rehearsal. During her years at the Met, Miss Kirsten sang most of the important Puccini roles, including the title roles in MANON LESCAUT, TOSCA and MADAMA BUTTERFLY, and she starred as Minnie in a revival of LA FANCIULLA DEL WEST that helped restore the work to the repertory. She prepared for the title role in LOUISE by going to France to study it with the composer. She also worked with the composer Italo Montemezzi on L'AMORE DEI TRE RE before she performed it in San Francisco and at the Met. In addition to the Puccini heroines, her repertory included the female leads in Gounod's ROMEO ET JULIETTE and FAUST, Leoncavallo's PAGLIACCI and Verdi's LA TRAVIATA. She sang in the American premieres of Walton's TROILUS AND CRESSIDA and Poulenc's DIALOGUES DES CARMÉLITES, both in San Francisco. Miss Kirsten's voice was not huge, but she used it gracefully throughout her long career. When she gave her farewell performance at the Met, on 31 Dec., 1976, Allen Hughes wrote in THE NEW YORK TIMES that 'she sang and acted the part of Tosca with the vocal control and dramatic acuity of a prima donna in mid-career’."
-Zillah D. Akron