OP2154. NABUCCO, Live Performance, 3 Dec., 1960, w.Schippers Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Cornell MacNeil, Cesare Siepi, Leonie Rysanek, Eugenio Fernandi, Bonaldo Giaiotti, Rosalind Elias, etc. (E.U.) 2-Myto 00235. - 0801439902350
“Over the next decade or so it is MacNeil who picks up the mantle of Warren and wears it, for a time, ably. Of the other baritone claimants, death too soon claimed Bastianini, while Merrill, though the on-the-scene rightful heir and owner of a prime organ, lacked a command of mezza voce, was deficient in dramatic insight, and too often displayed a rudimentary grasp of style….[MacNeil] dominates [the rôle] to the end. Now the voice rings out in commanding fashion. Interpretively, he proves not only a sound, but a natural, musician – his phrases seem to have a life of their own….MacNeil’s heartfelt way with Italian cantilena is winning. More than once, the sound of the voice, both in mezza voce (exemplary) and full voice, calls to mind Warren’s timbre.”
- Paul Jackson, SIGN-OFF FOR THE OLD MET, p.255
“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 1 March, 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
“Eugenio Fernandi was born in Pisa and raised in Turin, where he began his vocal studies with Aureliano Pertile. He later entered the opera school at La Scala in Milan, and began appearing there in small roles. His first major role was as Giovanni Battista in Virgilio Mortari's LA FIGLIA DI DIAVOLO in 1954, followed by the Duke in RIGOLETTO and Pinkerton in MADAMA BUTTERFLY. He also sang with success at La Fenice in Venice, the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence, and the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. In 1957, he made his début at the Vienna State Opera as Cavaradossi in TOSCA, later singing Alfredo Germont, Rodolfo, Riccardo, and Radames. He appeared as Don Carlos at the Salzburg Festival, in 1958 and 1960. He sang at all the major Italian houses and made many guest appearances abroad, especially in France, Switzerland, South America and the United States. His principal roles included Pinkerton, Cavaradossi, Calaf, Rodolfo, Alfredo Germont, Don Carlos, Radames, Gounod's Faust and Saint-Saëns' Samson. He joined the Metropolitan Opera as a leading tenor on 19 February, 1958, débuting there as Pinkerton. Of that performance, a 3 March, 1958, TIME MAGAZINE review noted that Fernandi ‘belted out thundering, on-target salvos of sound that rocked the house’, further praising that ‘physically and vocally it is surely the handsomest BUTTERFLY ever mounted on a U.S. stage’. From 1958 to 1971, Fernandi sang eight seasons with the Met in thirteen roles, including Mario Cavaradossi, Edgardo, Enzo, Ismaele, Arrigo, etc.”
- Echoes-Sentinel, 15 August, 1991