OP1131. UN BALLO IN MASCHERA – Excerpts, recorded 1955, w.Mitropoulos Cond. Metropolitan Opera Orch.; Zinka Milanov, Jan Peerce, Leonard Warren, Roberta Peters & Marian Anderson; Zinka Milanov, Jan Peerce, Leonard Warren & Nicola Moscona: Arias & Ensembles from Forza & Il Trovatore, recorded 1951 & 1955. (Austria) Preiser 90695. - 717281906951
“Bing…heightened the significance of his intent [of removing the color barrier] by inviting America’s greatest black artist to appear as Ulrica….a memento of that historic occasion.”
- Paul Jackson, SIGN-OFF FOR THE OLD MET, pp.194-95
“Milanov came like a bolt out of heaven - the voice and the young woman, both so vibrant and exciting. We knew something great had come into [the Met’s] Italian wing. What was not obvious at the beginning was that she would have such a staying power, for she gave so much in her singing.…I was present years later on her great anniversaries and she sang at mine [the fiftieth anniversary of [my] Met début, 1963]. She was incomparable. She was like a vocal sorceress singing the OTELLO arias that night. Such a roar went up from the public, I can never forget it.”
- Giovanni Martinelli
"The basic tonal quality [of Peerce’s voice] is bright, ringing, and firmly focused on the note….The superior diction that Toscanini so admired is abundantly audible, as is the elegant musicianship and fervent declamation. Most striking of all [Peerce] exudes an infectious self-confidence and absolute security in his vocal personality, virtues that cannot be taught."
- Peter G. Davis, THE AMERICAN OPERA SINGER, p.421
“Jan Peerce was known as ‘Toscanini's tenor’, with his clean, incisive singing, exceptional breath support, and immediately distinctive timbre. After his New York song recital in 1964, Theodore Strongin wrote in The New York Times: ‘He is a phenomenon, a master professional, a tenor of impeccable poise and control. His enunciation is completely clear, no matter what the language. His fortissimos fill the hall. His pianissimos, though remarkably soft, come through as clearly as many singers' fortissimos, so solid is the basic quality of his voice’. Mr. Peerce participated in Toscanini's broadcasts of LA BOHEME, LA TRAVIATA, FIDELIO, UN BALLO IN MASCHERA and the last act of RIGOLETTO. Many of these were released by Victor as commercial recordings. On 14 May, 1941, Mr. Peerce made his stage début as the Duke in RIGOLETTO in Philadelphia. He made his Metropolitan Opera début on 29 Nov., 1941, as Alfredo in LA TRAVIATA. In his Metropolitan Opera years, Mr. Peerce concentrated on the Italian repertory. From 1941 to 1968 at the Met, Mr. Peerce sang 205 performances in 11 operas, plus 119 performances on tour. His last complete stage performance at the Metropolitan Opera took place on 21 Feb, 1966, in DON GIOVANNI. On 16 April, 1966, he was one of the participants in the Metropolitan's farewell gala, the last performance in the old opera house.
‘Basically’, Robert Merrill said, ‘Jan was a lyric tenor with a heavier voice than most lyrics’. Mr. Merrill, the baritone who sang many times with Mr. Peerce, said that the tenor kept his voice to the very end because he never forced. ‘He never went out of his repertory’, Mr. Merrill said. ‘The Met offered him many roles that he refused to accept because he thought they were too heavy for him. Jan stuck to what he knew he could do. He produced a beautiful sound and had a perfect legato. He also had high notes, and who can forget the C he used to take at the end of the first act of BOHEME? Everybody at the Met loved Jan. He had temperament, sure, but never a bothersome ego’.
James Levine, who first heard Mr. Peerce in Cincinnati many years ago and later worked with him professionally, described Mr. Peerce as ‘one of the most extraordinary singers and human beings I have ever known’. He paid tribute to the tenor's ‘stylistic versatility, rhythmic élan, communicative ability and wide repertory’.
When he was not singing at the Metropolitan Opera, Mr. Peerce was giving concerts. He never could stand still. But the basic condition of his voice never changed, and he thrived on a schedule that would have killed most other singers. He also appeared in European opera houses, and in 1956 was the first American ever to sing at the Bolshoi Opera in Moscow since the war.
His films included appearances in CARNEGIE HALL, TONIGHT WE SING and GOODBYE, COLUMBUS. He recorded for many companies. For many years Mr. Peerce was one of the steadiest, most reliable singers before the public. He attributed his vocal longevity to a secure technique.”
- Harold C. Schonberg, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 17 Dec., 1984
"Leonard Warren emerged as the principal baritone of the Met’s Italian wing in the early 1940s and remained so until his untimely death on the Met’s stage, 4 March, 1960, at the peak of his career. His smooth, velvety, and beautiful voice was powerful and had an unusually large range in its high register. It was easily and evenly produced, whether he sang softly or roared like a lion….Warren acted his roles primarily by vocal coloring, expressivity, and his excellent diction….his singing was unusually consistent….Warren’s legacy should be of interest to all lovers of great singing."
- Kurt Moses, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, Nov./Dec., 2006
"[Warren's] remarkable voice had a dramatic intensity which did not come naturally to him. As with everything else in his life, he worked at that until he got it right. Fortunately, his incomparable voice and dramatic power are still available to us on recordings of some of his most famous roles....[He] became one of the most famous and beloved operatic baritones in the world....Warren's flawless technique, seamless flow of sound, and brilliant top voice were his vocal trademarks and these qualities became the standard by which others would be measured, including me."
- Sherrill Milnes, AMERICAN ARIA, pp.76-77