OP2208. LA TRAVIATA, Live Performance, 29 Nov., 1941, w.Panizza Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Jarmila Novotná, Jan Peerce (début), Lawrence Tibbett, etc.; JAN PEERCE, w.Levin, Weissmann, Leinsdorf, Morel & Pelletier Cond.: Arias & Duets (w.Leonard Warren) from Il Trovatore, Ballo, La Bohčme, La Gioconda, Pagliacci, La Juive, Tosca, Lucia & L’Africane. (E.U.) 2-Walhall 0343. - 4035122653434
“Verdi is better served in the TRAVIATA which opens the 1941-42 broadcast season on 29 November, an occasion notable for the début of a tenor who would remain active on the American musical scene for the next three decades….Peerce owned a full complement of assurance which never deserted him, even in the trying circumstances of his début. Gennaro Papi, with whom he had rehearsed, died a few hours before the matinee; Peerce went on stage to find Panizza in the pit – his colleagues, fearing to upset him, did not tell him of Papi’s death until the second act. Assurance proves to be the hallmark of the Peerce artistic persona, and it is most welcome in the tonal and musical security of his portrayal….Heard with Peerce is the aristocratic Violetta of Jarmila Novotná in her single broadcast TRAVIATA….Short-lived though [Novotná’s Violetta] was for the American public, on this occasion it is a well-sung, dramatically cogent Violetta. Though denied her glamorous stage person, the radio audience could not doubt her elegance as she introduces the ‘Brindisi’.”
- Paul Jackson, SATURDAY AFTERNOONS AT THE OLD MET, p.243-44
“Jarmila Novotná…was a legendary beauty with an uncanny gift for the stage….She brought a radiance to every role she undertook: her every entrance was like a burst of sunshine.”
- Lanfranco Rasponi, THE LAST PRIMA DONNAS, p.296
“Jarmila Novotná was widely considered one of the finest singing actresses of her time. Her interpretations of such roles as Donna Elvira, Euridice, Manon, Mélisande, Antonia and Marenka were praised for their intelligence and lyrical grace. She also excelled in trouser roles, particularly Orlofsky in DIE FLEDERMAUS, Cherubino in LE NOZZE DI FIGARO and Octavian in DER ROSENKAVALIER. On hearing her American début in San Francisco in MADAMA BUTTERFLY in 1939, Olin Downes wrote in The New York Times: ‘There is grace, warmth, communicative feeling in all that she does’.
She made her Metropolitan début in LA BOHEME in 1940, singing with Jussi Björling. That year Downes also praised her ‘great’ Violetta at the Met: ‘She conceived the music, from first note to last, dramatically, and portrayed the character with an aristocratic sensibility and simplicity. The word and the tone were indissoluble; the phrasing was that of the finest musician’. In her years at the Metropolitan Opera, Miss Novotna sang 193 performances and won consistent praise for her expressiveness and musicianship.
Miss Novotná studied with Emmy Destinn and made her début at the age of 17 with the Prague National Opera. She continued her studies in Milan and became a member of the Vienna State Opera from 1933 to 1938, eventually singing opera and concerts in most of the major houses of Europe. Toscanini brought her to the attention of the Met after she sang Pamina under his direction in Salzburg in 1937. She came to New York in 1940, arriving, she noted years later, the day Hitler marched into Prague. During the war years she recorded ‘Songs of Lidice’, in memory of the victims of the Nazi massacre. The recording presents folk songs of her native land; the piano accompaniments are by Jan Masaryk, the son of the former president of Czechoslovakia.”
- Edward Rothstein, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 10 Feb., 1994
"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
“Lawrence Tibbett, to my taste the greatest operatic baritone America has ever produced. His enormous charm is complemented by fabulous diction - he's one of the very few ‘classical’ singers whose every word is clearly understandable.”
- Jeffrey Lipscomb