V0298. JAN PEERCE: Songs by Leoncavallo, de Curtis, di Capua, Rossini, Lacalle, Moya, Speaks, Herbert, Butterfield, Schubert, Brahe, Romberg, Bartlett, Geehl, Bond, Grieg, Woodforde-Finden, Silesu, Harmati, etc.; also Peerce's Holiday Greetings. (Austria) Preiser 89571, recorded 1945-51. Long out-of-print, final copy! - 717281895712
"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, the American tenor who was one of the favorite singers of Arturo Toscanini, was before the public for over 60 years. 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. He had been a violinist before concentrating on singing. He started his vocal career in 1932 at the new Radio City Music Hall, made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1941, remained there for 27 years until 1968, made world tours and appearances in European opera houses during that time - but still refused to call it quits. At an age when most tenors have been long retired, Mr. Peerce kept on singing, his voice in a remarkable state of preservation.
He made films, he taught, he recorded, he appeared on television talk shows, and remained one of the busiest singers before the public. Not until he became ill in 1982 was he forced to call a halt to his activities. He had performed in a company of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF in Washington, managed to squeeze in a few recitals between performances, and returned to his home in New Rochelle. In May 1982 he had a stroke that partly paralyzed the right side of his body. His voice, however, remained intact, and he vocalized every day. During his rehabilitation, he planned concert engagements for the future. One of those was a Carnegie Hall concert scheduled for Jan. 16, 1983. That had to be postponed. But Mr. Peerce was making good progress, expected to resume singing, and had the date of his concert shifted to May 20, 1983, in Alice Tully Hall. In January 1983, however, Mr. Peerce contracted pneumonia and was hospitalized. Later in the month he went into a coma, from which he never emerged. It is believed that he suffered another stroke at that time.
He knew that he never could be a romantic figure on stage; he was short, had a big nose and cut anything but a dashing figure. Thus he had what he described as ‘a well-founded complex’ about his appearance. ‘But’, he concluded, ‘sheer technique overcame all the handicaps’. He never lost his technique. 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’.
His break came in 1932, when the group was playing at an Astor Hotel banquet. ‘Between the soup and meat courses’, Mr. Peerce later wrote, ‘I sang 'Yours Is My Heart Alone’ to the accompaniment of rattling dishes’. At the banquet was Samuel L. Rothafel, known as Roxy (he founded the Roxy Theater), who was looking for talent for the new Radio City Music Hall. He was impressed with the young man and engaged him as one of the vocal soloists. It was Roxy who changed the tenor's name from Perelmuth to Peerce. Mr. Peerce remained at Radio City for eight years, also singing on many radio broadcasts with an orchestra under the direction of Erno Rapee. He was heard by millions and became famous. He also was making a fortune in those Depression days.
Samuel Chotzinoff of NBC, impressed by the young singer, recommended him to Toscanini, who needed a tenor for a forthcoming broadcast of the Beethoven Ninth Symphony with the NBC Symphony. Toscanini had him sing and engaged him on the spot. This was the first of eight performances with Toscanini. 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 May 14, 1941, Mr. Peerce made his stage debut as the Duke in RIGOLETTO in Philadelphia. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut on Nov. 29, 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 Feb, 21, 1966, in DON GIOVANNI. On April 16, 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 elan, communicative ability and wide repertory’. ‘He sang, convincingly, everything from Bach to opera, lieder and Yiddish folk songs’, Mr. Levine said. ‘There was an utter depth of musical artistry, and the older he got the more probing his interpretations were’.
He was a superior stylist, always singing with taste, always secure technically and musically, never trying for a cheap effect. His scale was unusually even. He never lost that combination of taste with vocal splendor. 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.”
- Harold C. Schonberg, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 17 Dec., 1984