OP3338. ESCLARMONDE (Massenet), Live Performance, 11 Dec., 1976, w.Bonynge Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Joan Sutherland, Giacomo Aragall, Huguette Tourangeau, Clifford Grant, John Macurdy, Louis Quilico & John Carpenter. (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-986.
“Just as sausage can be best enjoyed without any extensive knowledge of its preparation and contents, one should slide slowly into the luxuriant bath that is Massenet’s ESCLARMONDE and leave the libretto far to the side. Massenet’s melodic inspiration didn't blossom as lyrically as in his more famous scores, but his gift for orchestral color gets a full work out. Horns dominate, aside large, almost cantata-like blocks of music for chorus. Bonygne assembled a tremendous cast, starting with his wife, Joan Sutherland. Sutherland gets to sing more lyrically and passionately than one usually expects from her, and she sounds simply gorgeous. As Roland, Giacomo Aragall gives evidence of the beauty and power of his voice that makes one shake one’s head that he never quite established himself as the star he could have been. The supporting cast, all excellent, features Huguette Tourangeau, Clifford Grant, Louis Quilico, and a young Graham Clark. So depending on one’s appetite for high-fat, low-protein musical concoctions, this ESCLARMONDE will either delight or revolt. The opera certainly couldn't receive a finer performance.”
Chris Mullins, OPERA TODAY
“The little-known Massenet extravaganza ESCLARMONDE is a stunning vehicle for Joan Sutherland.... ESCLARMONDE is vintage French grand opera, written for Sibyl Sanderson of the three-octave range. Miss Sutherland and her husband, conductor Richard Bonynge, have revived it. Is this music from the muse that ESCLARMONDE leaves you humming a tune? Nor do any principals have a major, show-stopping aria, but the sense of unity, of opera as a totality - not to mention a melodic-atmospheric scene painting of surprising vividness - must make us reconsider the composer. Mr. Bonynge conducts one of the greatest performances of his career. The orchestra pit is several feet higher than usual - and the orchestra sounds gorgeous for it. Bonynge melds, and blends the sounds perfectly. He has a magnificent cast to help him out.
Miss Sutherland is ravishing vocally. The lowest tones create some problems, the very top lacks ease, but the upper-middle voice is so haunting, so resonant and communicative - there is no sound like it today. ESCLARMONDE is another triumph for her. Giacomo Aragall is handsome, virile, and the voice - when it does not cloud over - rings brightly and appealingly. Huguette Tourangeau impressed anew in her small role; Louis Quilico's baritone sounded tired and insecure; newcomer Clifford Grant possesses a rich, resonant bass - a striking addition to the roster. John Carpenter, new to the Met this season, has a promising tenor.”
- Thor Eckert Jr., THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, 13 Dec., 1976
“John Macurdy, an American bass who belonged to a select group of solo singers who have tallied more than 1,000 performances at the Metropolitan Opera, was admired for his rich, firm voice and poised, dignified stage presence. He sang 62 roles in works of wide stylistic diversity, including notable world premieres.
Though he achieved success in key roles like Gurnemanz in Wagner’s PARSIFAL, King Marke in TRISTAN UND ISOLDE and Sarastro in Mozart’s THE MAGIC FLUTE, Mr. Macurdy proved essential to the house for his standout performances of supporting roles.
Mr. Macurdy said in a 2005 interview with OPERA NEWS that these small parts would be ‘added to your contract, even though you might be singing so-called leading roles at the time’. But his willingness to take them on, his skill at learning a new role quickly and his vocal consistently made him indispensable to the Met for years. Critics often singled out his performances even when his stage time was limited. During his prime years he appeared with the Paris Opéra, La Scala and other international houses. He studied voice privately with Avery Crew, whom he credited as his one and only voice teacher, and who provided the grounding for his solid technique.
The NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE critic Alan Rich, reviewing a 1964 production of Saint-Saëns’s SAMSON ET DALILA, wrote that Mr. Macurdy ‘sang the few lines of the Old Hebrew with powerful resonance’. In Mr. McCurdy’s 1976 performance as the jailer Rocco in Beethoven’s FIDELIO, a meaty role, his intonation was ‘rock-firm’, the critic Andrew Porter wrote in THE NEW YORKER. A ‘magnificent voic’, Mr. Porter commented, ‘was kept within the bounds of character’. Mr. Macurdy took part in some historic evenings at the Met, including the gala farewell to the old house in April of 1966 and the inauguration of its Lincoln Center home five months later, at which he sang Agrippa in the world premiere of Barber’s ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, starring Leontyne Price. He created the role of Ezra Mannon in Marvin David Levy’s MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA, the company’s second world premiere of that inaugural season. He gained attention beyond the opera world for portraying the Commendatore in Joseph Losey’s 1979 film of DON GIOVANNI. A major break came in 1959 when he made his New York City Opera debut as Dr. Wilson in the company’s first performance of Kurt Weill’s STREET SCENE. He appeared with City Opera regularly for three years in familiar roles like Colline in Puccini’s LA BOHÈME, as well as in contemporary works, notably the 1959 premiere of Hugo Weisgall’s SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR. He took part the next year in a live television broadcast of DON GIOVANNI, singing the Commendatore in a cast including Leontyne Price and Cesare Siepi. His Met debut came in 1962 with the small role of Tom in Verdi’s UN BALLO IN MASCHERA. His final performance, in 2000, was as Hagen in Wagner’s GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG, conducted by James Levine. Others like him in the 1,000-plus Met solo singer performance club include the bass Paul Plishka (more than 1,600), the bass-baritone James Morris (1,100 and counting) and the tenor Charles Anthony, the record-holder at 2,928.
Mr. Macurdy always emphasized that while many of the bass parts he sang involved limited stage time, parts like Hunding, Fafner and Hagen in Wagner’s RING were vocally substantive and dramatically crucial. These old roles felt ‘like a good suit of clothes’, he said in a 1980 interview with Bruce Duffie for the Chicago radio station WNIB. ‘The ones that fit, fit very, very well,” he said, “and the other ones just hang in the closet. I look at how Wagner wrote’, he added, ‘and every one of the bass roles fits my voice like the day it was made’.”
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 23 May, 2020