OP3151. OTELLO, Live Performance, 15 April, 1965, w.Schippers Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Dimiter Uzunov, Zinka Milanov, Cornell MacNeil, Joann Grillo, etc. (Canada) 2-HTM 65-001. Transfers by Yves St Laurent. [Not to be confused with an earlier aborted 'pirate' performance, portions of which are available online, this recording of Milanov's final Desdemona was made from a most advantageous in-house location in somewhat distant, but in very clear sound with no surrounding audience noise. Worthy of note is that Milanov never did a broadcast performance of Desdemona.]
"There are some things about a live operatic performance that a studio-made recording just can't duplicate. All the possibilities - inspiration, subtlety, revelation of a composer's work, seizure of a great moment, athleticism with its risk of disaster, simple music-making - are in play before an audience of flesh and blood, in one particular moment. The stakes are high and immediate."
- Will Crutchfield, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 15 July, 1990
"Uzunov...owns a steely voice, with cutting high notes and dramatic fervour, and one is in no way unaware of [Otello's obsession."
- JTH, THE RECORD COLLECTOR, 2017
"It was obvious that Miss Milanov had given much thought to preparing the role though, of course, she had previously sung it elsewhere. In expressive potential, Desdemona's music, with its bewilderment at Otello's persecution and distress at his accusations, is excellently suited to Miss Milanov's voice, and one wonders why she has not sung the part here before. The fourth act of OTELLO, including the 'Salce' and the 'Ave Maria', needs especially the kind of silken soft tones of which the soprano is mistress, and for which she is justly famous in the top register. Throughout the opera, she sang 'sotte voce' with the utmost beauty. Even during the high portions where climatic impact is required, Mme. Milanov was also at her best, singing for the most part with ease and with an effulgent quality. In fact this is the most consistently impressive singing and interpretation of a part I remember from Mme. Milanov in some time, even more so than her Leonora in LA FORZA DEL DESTINO."
- Harriett Johnson, NEW YORK POST, 18 March, 1958
“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
"Dimiter Uzunov's vocal studies began at the Sofia Music Academy in 1946, first as a baritone but switching to the dramatic tenor repertoire at the advice of his teacher, Christo Brumbarov. His debut was in the title role of WERTHER in a 1947 production by the Sofia National Opera. After an appearance with the Bolshoi Opera in 1952, there were performances with the Paris Opéra in 1958, the Arena di Verona in 1960, La Scala in 1960 and 1961, and at the Salzburg Festival in 1965. Additional engagements included Covent Garden, Barcelona and the Vienna State Opera. Following a Metropolitan Opera debut as Don José in 1958, additional major roles there included Radames, Otello, Canio and Samson. After an unsuccessful throat operation he served as director of the Sofia National Opera. In 1976 he traveled to Vienna working for the Vienna State Opera as a director and then in 1980 performing character roles. While his voice was not truly heroic, a strong presence and good diction allowed him to triumph as Otello, his favorite role. He died in Vienna on the 11 December 1985."
- Ned Ludd
"The season's first performance of Verdi's OTELLO at the Metropolitan Opera took place Saturday night, with Dimiter Uzunov in the title role. While he doesn't project the frenzied, cumulative madness which the American tenor, James McCracken, gives the part, he is immensely impressive on his own and, altogether, came out first of the major participants. His excellent voice was freely resonant, he was handsome and convincingly swarthy, and as the acts progressed, developed a frightening mood of tension as he became increasingly brainwashed by Iago. His final death scene was superb. This was an actor's, not a singer's achievement, high praise for a tenor."
- Harriet Johnson, THE NEW YORK POST, 8 Nov., 1964
"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 debut, 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 debut 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 debut there on 21 March, 1959 - barely two weeks after his La Scala debut - 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 debut 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