OP1736. RIGOLETTO, Live Performance, 24 June, 1961, w.Quadri Cond. Teatro Colón Ensemble; Cornell MacNeil,
Leyla Gencer, Gianni Raimondi, Jorge Algorta, etc.; I Puritani – Act III, Live Performance, 30 June, 1961, w.Quadri Cond. Teatro Colón Ensemble; Leyla Gencer, Gianni Raimondi & Manuel Ausensi. (E.U.) 2-Myto 0004. - 3830257900047
“A pure baritone with power from low to high notes, Cornell MacNeil was considered the equal of Leonard Warren and Robert Merrill, the other stellar American Verdi baritones during the second half of the 20th century. From 1959 to 1987, he sang 26 roles in more than 600 appearances at the Metropolitan Opera alone. But he reached his peak in his Verdi performances. ‘The larger and more complex the part, the better he was’, James Levine, the Met’s longtime conductor, said of Mr. MacNeil’s Verdi roles in a 2007 interview with Opera News. ‘Boccanegra, Rigoletto, Macbeth, Nabucco, Falstaff, Iago — a lot of these parts could be said to be the most challenging and varied….He sang lots of Amonasros and Scarpias marvelously well, but those more complex ones were where he was at his best’.
Though not known as a temperamental artist, Mr. MacNeil was remembered for a spectacular public outburst when he stormed off the Parma Opera stage in Italy on 26 Dec., 1964. It happened during UN BALLO IN MASCHERA, when the Parma audience, notorious for rude displays of disapproval, hissed at the soprano Luisa Maragliano just as Mr. MacNeil was about to sing the aria ‘Eri tu’. ‘I was getting more and more angry as the rumbling and noise got worse’, he told The New York Times the following day. ‘I couldn’t stand it any longer. ‘Basta, cretini!’ I shouted and walked off the stage’. The situation grew worse in his dressing room, where the stage director warned him to return to the performance because he had his family’s safety to consider. Refusing to go back onstage, Mr. MacNeil sent his wife and children to their hotel. But when he made his way to the back entrance, he was assaulted by theater employees. ‘During the scuffle, I got socked on the jaw’, Mr. MacNeil said, displaying a bruised chin during his Times interview. The following day the MacNeils fled Parma.
Cornell MacNeil …on his mother’s advice, studied with the retired baritone Friedrich Schorr at the Hartt School of Music in Hartford. Before WW II ended, Mr. MacNeil joined the Radio City Music Hall Glee Club and also did backstage announcements. It was his sonorous baritone that announced the news to Radio City audiences of both the German and Japanese surrenders.
Mr. MacNeil made his opera debut when, after a brief vocal audition, the composer and director Gian Carlo Menotti immediately decided to cast him as the male lead in THE CONSUL, which opened on 1March, 1950, at the Shubert Theater in Philadelphia. THE CONSUL, the first full-length opera composed by Menotti, won the Pulitzer Prize in music that year. Still a raw talent, Mr. MacNeil took voice lessons over the next two years while working nights at the Bulova Watch factory in Queens. In 1953 Mr. MacNeil made his New York City Opera début, as Germont in LA TRAVIATA. Though acclaimed for his sumptuous singing in that performance, he also committed a memorable faux pas that began the occasional carping by critics about his acting abilities. In a 2007 interview with Rudolph Rauch for Opera News, Mr. MacNeil recalled making hand gestures in the aria ‘Di Provenza’ that didn’t agree with the music, and he acknowledged he had been unaware of the meaning of the words he was singing. ‘It seemed like the hand was out there for about half an hour, and it began to shake’, he said. ‘I finally got it back in, and I decided then I was not going to sing any more Italian operas until I really knew the language’. His Italian improved, though his acting continued to draw sporadic barbs from critics. Commenting on his performance as the villain Scarpia, the villain in a 1985 performance of TOSCA at the Metropolitan Opera, Donal Henahan of The Times wrote, ‘Cornell MacNeil, the Scarpia, sang mellifluously, but his wooden acting could fool nobody into believing him a sadistic tyrant’.
In 1959 Mr. MacNeil made his début at La Scala in Milan as Carlo in Verdi’s ERNANI. ‘His rich, flexible baritone soared and swelled with enormous power’, Time magazine wrote. He impressed La Scala’s manager, Antonio Ghiringhelli, enough that he offered him a contract. But Mr. MacNeil signed instead with the Met after making his début there on 21 March, 1959 — barely two weeks after his La Scala début — as the lead in Verdi’s RIGOLETTO. He would go on to sing that role at the Met more than 100 times.
Mr. MacNeil scored numerous successes in other roles as well. Commenting on his first Met appearance as Renato in Verdi’s UN BALLO IN MASCHERA on 7 March, 1962, Alan Rich wrote in The Times, ‘This superb American baritone may very possibly have had his finest hour’. He sang Scarpia more than 90 times at the Metropolitan following his début in the role on 2 Nov., 1959. His final performance at the Met was in that role, on 5 Dec., 1987. He retired from the opera a year later after medical tests showed he had a possible blockage of the carotid artery.
A few years before leaving the stage, Mr. MacNeil gave a straightforward assessment of the opera world to his friend and Met colleague Jerome Hines, the well-known bass, who interviewed him for a 1982 book GREAT SINGERS ON GREAT SINGING. ‘Opera is an excessive art form populated by excessive people’, Mr. MacNeil said. ‘We make it more excessive than necessary. Singing is really a very simple thing’.”
- Jonathan Kandell, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 17 July, 2011
“The Italian tenor Gianni Raimondi had a prestigious career lasting three decades. From 1956 to 1976 he sang frequently at La Scala, where his partner a number of times during the early years was Maria Callas. His voice, smooth and warm in tone with a good coloratura facility and very strong top notes, was ideal for 19th-century Italian opera from Rossini and Donizetti to Verdi and Puccini and he rarely sang anything outside that repertory, apart from a few French rôles and a couple of modern operas.”
- Lizbeth Forbes, THE INDEPENDENT (London), 27 Oct., 2008
"When you sing, you have to feel what you are saying.... I actually cried on stage. Once in a while a note would issue forth that was not orthodox. That's why the American critics don't like me. But I don't care. They want music with water and soap."
- Leyla Gencer