Merrill in the 1940s
|Birth name||Moishe Miller|
|Also known as|
|Born||June 4, 1917|
Brooklyn, New York, USA
|Died||October 23, 2004 (aged 87)|
New Rochelle, New York, USA
|Associated acts||Metropolitan Opera|
Merrill was born Moishe Miller, later known as Morris Miller, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York. He was the son of tailor Abraham Miller, originally Milstein, and his wife, Lillian (née Balaban), Jewish immigrants from Pultusk, Poland, near Warsaw. His paternal grandparents were Berl Milstein and Chana (née Mlawski), both from Pultusk, Poland.
His mother claimed to have had an operatic and concert career in Poland (a fact denied by her son in his biographies) and encouraged her son to have early voice training: he had a tendency to stutter, which disappeared when singing. Merrill was inspired to pursue professional singing lessons when he saw the baritone Richard Bonelli singing Count Di Luna in a performance of Il Trovatore at the Metropolitan Opera, and paid for them with money earned as a semi-professional pitcher.
|You may hear Robert Merrill as Escamillo in Georges Bizet's opera Carmen with Fritz Reiner conducting the RCA Orchestra and Jan Peerce, Rise Stevens and Licia Albanese in 1951 Here on archive.org|
In his early radio appearances as a crooner he was sometimes billed as Merrill Miller. While singing at bar mitzvahs and weddings and Borscht Belt resorts, he met an agent, Moe Gale, who found him work at Radio City Music Hall and with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Arturo Toscanini. With Toscanini conducting, he eventually sang in two of the maestro's NBC broadcasts of famous operas, La traviata (with Licia Albanese, in 1946), and Un ballo in maschera (with Herva Nelli, in 1954). Both of those broadcasts were eventually released on both LP and CD by RCA Victor. His ranking as an important NBC performer is evidenced by his inclusion in NBC's 1947 promotional book, NBC Parade of Stars: As Heard Over Your Favorite NBC Station, displaying Sam Berman's caricatures of leading NBC personalities.
Merrill's 1944 operatic debut was in Verdi's Aida at Newark, New Jersey, with the famous tenor Giovanni Martinelli, then in the later stages of his long operatic career. Merrill, who had continued his vocal studies under Samuel Margolis made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera as winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions of the Air in 1945, as Germont in La traviata. Also in 1945, Merrill recorded a 78 rpm record set with Jeanette MacDonald, featuring selections from the operetta Up in Central Park; MacDonald and Merrill did two duets together on this album.
In 1951, Merrill recorded a series of duets with the Swedish tenor Jussi Björling for RCA Victor, including a world-renowned recording of "Au fond du temple saint" from the opera Les pêcheurs de perles by Georges Bizet.
In 1952 Merrill, Björling, and Victoria de los Ángeles made a widely admired RCA Victor recording of Puccini's La bohème, conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham. In 1953, Merrill, Björling, de los Angeles and Zinka Milanov recorded the complete Pagliacci and Cavalleria rusticana.
His role in the musical comedy film Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick (1952) led to a conflict with Sir Rudolf Bing and a brief departure from the Met in 1951. Merrill sang many different baritone roles, and after the untimely on-stage death of the celebrated Leonard Warren in 1960, became the Met's principal baritone, sharing that position in a few years with Cornell MacNeil. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he appeared under the direction of Alfredo Antonini in performances of arias from the Italian operatic repertoire for the open air Italian Night concert series at Lewisohn Stadium in New York City.
He was described by Time as "one of the Met's best baritones". Yet reviews were not consistently good: Opera magazine reported on a Metropolitan Opera performance of Barber of Seville in which Merrill delivered "by all odds the most insensitive impersonation of the season". He was accused by the reviewer of "loud, coarse sounds" and "no grace, no charm, as he butchered the text and galumphed around the stage".
Merrill appeared on "Voice of Firestone" with Joanne Hill.
Merrill also continued to perform on radio and television, in nightclubs and recitals. In 1973, Merrill teamed up with Richard Tucker to present a concert at Carnegie Hall—a first for the two "vocal supermen" (as one critic dubbed them), and a first "for the demanding New York public and critics," Merrill recalled. The event marked a precedent that eventually led to the "Three Tenors" concerts many years later. Merrill retired from the Met in 1976. In 1977, he appeared on the TV special "Sinatra & Friends," soloing "If I Were A Rich Man" and performing "The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York" with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. For many years, he led services, often in Borscht Belt hotels, on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
In honor of Merrill's vast influence on American vocal music, on February 16, 1981 he was awarded the prestigious University of Pennsylvania Glee Club Award of Merit. In 1964, this award was "established to bring a declaration of appreciation to an individual each year that has made a significant contribution to the world of music and helped to create a climate in which our talents may find valid expression."
In 1996, at a reception at Lincoln Center, Merrill was presented with The Lawrence Tibbett Award from the AGMA Relief Fund, honoring his fifty years of professional achievement and dedication to colleagues. The AGMA Relief Fund, award sponsor, provides financial assistance and support services to classical performing artists in need.
Relatively late in his singing career, Merrill also became known for singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Yankee Stadium and Giants Stadium. He first sang the national anthem to open the 1969 baseball season, and it became a tradition for the Yankees to bring him back each year on Opening Day and special occasions. He sang at various Old Timer's Days (wearing his own pinstriped Yankee uniform with the number "11⁄2" on the back) and the emotional pre-game ceremony for Thurman Munson at Yankee Stadium on August 3, 1979, the day after the catcher's death in a plane crash. He also sang at one World Series game in each year the Yankees played the Fall Classic at the stadium, starting in 1976. A recorded Merrill version is still sometimes used at Yankee Stadium, mainly at Old Timer's Day.
Merrill preferred a traditional approach to the song, devoid of additional ornamentation, as he explained to Newsday in 2000, "When you sing the anthem, there's a legitimacy to it. I'm extremely bothered by these different interpretations of it." Merrill appeared as himself in a cameo role, singing the national anthem, in the 2003 film Anger Management. Merrill joked that an entire generation of people know him as "The 'Say-Can-You-See' guy!" (Agmazine, April 1996).
Merrill was married briefly to soprano Roberta Peters in 1952. They parted amicably; he had two children, a son David and a daughter Lizanne, with his second wife, Marion (d. March 20, 2010), née Machno, a pianist. Merrill liked to play golf and was a member of the Westchester Country Club in Rye, New York, for many years.
He always maintained a warm sense of humor and once recalled the time a young contractor was working in his New Rochelle, New York, home. Surveying the photos, posters, plaques and other music memorabilia in the Merrill home, the young man asked Merrill, "You're a singer, aren't you?" "Yes," he responded. "You sing opera, don't you?" the worker asked. "A little," replied Merrill. (Agmazine, April 1996).
He wrote two books of memoirs, Once More from the Beginning (1965) and Between Acts (1976), and he co-authored a novel, The Divas (1978). Merrill toured all over the world with his arranger and conductor, Angelo DiPippo, who wrote most of his act and performed at concert halls throughout the world. He always donated his time on the Cerebral Palsy Telethon with Dennis James.
Merrill died at home in New Rochelle, New York, while watching Game 1 of the 2004 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals. He is interred at the Sharon Gardens Cemetery in Valhalla, New York, which is the Jewish division of Kensico Cemetery. His headstone features an opera curtain that has been drawn open.
His epitaph states:
Robert Merrill sang 769 performances with the Metropolitan Opera in the following 21 roles:
|Composer||Opera||Role||First performance||Last performance||Total performances|
|Donizetti||Lucia di Lammermoor||Enrico||1945-12-29||1965-01-23||16|
|Rossini||Il Barbiere di Siviglia||Figaro||1947-11-15||1966-06-04||46|
|Verdi||Il trovatore||Count di Luna||1947-12-11||1973-05-30||73|
|Saint-Saëns||Samson et Dalila||High Priest||1949-11-26||1950-04-30||10|
|Verdi||Un ballo in maschera||Renato||1955-02-26||1976-05-29||56|
|Verdi||La forza del destino||Don Carlo||1961-12-12||1972-06-09||33|
|Giordano||Andrea Chénier||Carlo Gérard||1962-10-15||1966-03-22||7|
Robert Merrill made at least 25 studio recordings of complete operas, including two Toscanini radio broadcasts:
|Donizetti||Lucia di Lammermoor||Enrico||1961|
|Puccini||La bohème||Marcello||1956, 1961|
|Rossini||Il barbiere di Siviglia||Figaro||1958|
|Straus||Der tapfere Soldat||Bumerli||1952|
|Verdi||Un ballo in maschera||Renato||1946, 1966|
|Verdi||La forza del destino||Don Carlo||1964|
|Verdi||La traviata||Germont||1946, 1960, 1962|
|Verdi||Il trovatore||Conte di Luna||1964|
The 7th Annual Grammy Awards were held on April 13, 1965, at Beverly Hilton Hotel, Beverly Hills. They recognized accomplishments of musicians for the year 1964. João Gilberto & Stan Getz won 4 awards.Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick
Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick (a.k.a. Marshmallow Moon in the UK and the Philippines and Härkiä, heiniä ja hakkailua in Finland) is a musical and was a 1952 'hillbilly' movie made by Paramount Pictures, directed by Claude Binyon and produced by William Perlberg and George Seaton. It is based on a 1919 play by Walter Benjamin Hare which was one of the most produced plays in the history of American theater with 40,000 performances, as of 1952, mainly by amateur groups. The cinematography was by Charles Lang and the costume design by Edith Head.Anna Moffo
Anna Moffo (June 27, 1932 – March 9, 2006) was an American opera singer, television personality, and actress. One of the leading lyric-coloratura sopranos of her generation, she possessed a warm and radiant voice of considerable range and agility. Noted for her physical beauty, she was nicknamed "La Bellissima".Winning a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Italy, Moffo became popular there after performing leading operatic roles on three RAI television productions in 1956. She returned to America for her debut at the Lyric Opera of Chicago on October 16, 1957. In New York, her Metropolitan Opera debut took place on November 14, 1959. She performed at the Met for over seventeen seasons. Although Moffo's earliest recordings were made for EMI Records, she later signed an exclusive contract with RCA Victor, recording for the company until the late 1970s. In the early 1960s, she hosted her own show on Italian television and appeared in several operatic films along with other non-singing roles.
In the early 1970s Moffo extended her international popularity to Germany through operatic performances, TV appearances, and several films, all while continuing her American operatic performances. Due to an extremely heavy workload, Moffo suffered a serious vocal-breakdown from which she never fully recovered. Her final appearance at the Metropolitan Opera was in 1983.Bob Merrill
Bob Merrill (born Henry Robert Merrill Levan, May 17, 1921 – February 17, 1998) was an American songwriter, theatrical composer, lyricist, and screenwriter. He was the most successful songwriter of the 1950s on the US and UK Singles Chart. He wrote musicals for the Broadway stage, including Carnival! (music and lyrics) and Funny Girl (lyrics).Carmen discography
This is a discography of audio and video recordings of Carmen, a French-language opera by Georges Bizet. The opera premiered at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on 3 March 1875. Carmen is one of the most frequently recorded operas, dating back to a near-complete German acoustical recording in 1908.La traviata discography
The following is a partial discography of the many audio and video recordings of Giuseppe Verdi's opera, La traviata. Based on the novel La dame aux Camélias by Alexandre Dumas, fils, La traviata has been a staple of the operatic repertoire since its premiere on 6 March 1853 at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice.Mario Sereni
Mario Sereni (25 March 1928 – 24 July 2015) was an Italian baritone, who sang leading roles at the New York Metropolitan Opera for many years.
Sereni was born in Perugia, Italy. He attended the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome and the Accademia Chigiana in Siena where he was a pupil of Mario Basiola. His professional career began in 1953, at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and within four years he made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera on 9 November 1957 as Gérard in Andrea Chénier.
Sereni enjoyed a long and steady career at the Metropolitan Opera. In twenty-seven seasons, he sang most of the important baritone roles of the Italian repertory in opera such as Ernani, Luisa Miller, Il trovatore, La traviata, Un ballo in maschera, La forza del destino, Don Carlo, and Aida. He also sang in La Gioconda, Cavalleria rusticana, Manon Lescaut, La bohème, and Madama Butterfly, as well as L'elisir d'amore and Lucia di Lammermoor.
Sereni was also a regular guest at the opera houses of Chicago, San Francisco and Dallas. He also enjoyed a successful international career appearing frequently at the Vienna State Opera, La Scala in Milan and the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires.
Despite his success, Sereni always remained in the shadow of the more charismatic baritones of his time, principally Leonard Warren, Robert Merrill, Ettore Bastianini, Rolando Panerai and
Piero Cappuccilli, yet his many recordings reveal a singer and musician of considerable distinction, with a handsome voice, a solid technique, and a fine sense of style.
Sereni sang Germont in two famous performances of La traviata. The first, with Maria Callas and Alfredo Kraus in 1958, became known as the "Lisbon Traviata". The second, from La Scala in 1964, with Anna Moffo and Renato Cioni, became known as the "Karajan Traviata".
Mario Sereni retired in 1986. He died in Perugia in 2015.Philadelphia Lyric Opera Company
The Philadelphia Lyric Opera Company was an American opera company located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that was active between 1958 and 1974. The company was led by a number of Artistic Directors during its history, beginning with Aurelio Fabiani. Other notable Artistic Directors include Julius Rudel and Anton Guadagno (1966–1972). The company produced between four and six of their own operas every year in addition to sponsoring numerous traveling productions from the New York City Opera. In 1975 the company merged with the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company but retained its original name. With the combined resources of both companies, the Philadelphia Lyric Opera Company began producing higher quality productions with name artists such as Luciano Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland, Roberta Peters, Montserrat Montserrat Caballé, and others. For the bicentennial year 1976, the company commissioned famed opera composer Gian Carlo Menotti to create a new opera. The work, The Hero, premiered on June 1, 1976. In 1980, the company artistically reorganized to form the Opera Company of Philadelphia.The company's first production, Giacomo Puccini's La bohème, was held on February 10, 1958 at the Academy of Music. The production starred Elaine Malbin as Mimì and John Alexander as Rodolfo. Although the company performed works from a variety of composers and musical periods, for the most part the company concentrated on Italian grand opera and verismo opera; particularly operas by Giuseppe Verdi and Puccini. The company notably presented the United States premiere of Renzo Rossellini's Uno sguardo dal ponte on October 17, 1967 with Nicola Rossi-Lemeni as Eddie Carbone and Gloria Lane as Beatrice.Many notable singers performed leading roles with the company including Luigi Alva, Carlo Bergonzi, Grace Bumbry, Montserrat Caballé, José Carreras, Elisabeth Carron, Richard Cassilly, Franco Corelli, Phyllis Curtin, Plácido Domingo, Simon Estes, Eileen Farrell, Mirella Freni, Nicolai Gedda, Peter Glossop, Marilyn Horne, Alfredo Kraus, James King, Albert Lance, Leon Lishner, Catherine Malfitano, Robert Merrill, Sherrill Milnes, Anna Moffo, Birgit Nilsson, Luciano Pavarotti, Roberta Peters, Leontyne Price, Louis Quilico, Samuel Ramey, Judith Raskin, Regina Resnik, Seymour Schwartzman, Renata Scotto, Cesare Siepi, Beverly Sills, Eleanor Steber, John Stewart, Joan Sutherland, Renata Tebaldi, Richard Tucker, Theodor Uppman, Cesare Valletti, Shirley Verrett, Camilla Williams, and Frances Yeend to name just a few. The final opera performance by the company was held on November 22, 1974. Another staging of La bohème, it starred Jean Fenn as Mimì and Luciano Rampaso as Rodolfo.Porgy and Bess (1950 album)
This album is a 1950 recording of selections from George Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess, sung by the noted opera stars Robert Merrill and Risë Stevens. The album featured no black singers at all, even though the opera was written for a mostly African-American cast (the whites in the opera speak, but do not sing). It was recorded by RCA Victor on September 12 and September 13, 1950. The album was originally released on one twelve-inch 331⁄3 rpm LP with the catalog number LM 1124.
Naxos Records re-released the album on CD along with the complete 1951 recording, though the Naxos CD omitted the chorus number "Gone, Gone Gone". (Naxos 8.110287-88)Richard Mohr
Richard Mohr (June 13, 1919 in Springfield, Ohio – November 23, 2002 in West Milford, New Jersey) was one of RCA Victor’s most prominent producers of classical and operatic music recordings from 1943 through 1977. His producing credits included recording the casts of the world premieres of Samuel Barber's Vanessa and Gian Carlo Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors, as well as the first LP recordings of Ernani, Luisa Miller and Lucrezia Borgia and three versions each of Rigoletto, Aida, La Traviata and Il Trovatore.
His orchestral repertory began with the last of the live, historical performances of Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra and continued over the years with such conductors as Leopold Stokowski, Pierre Monteux, Charles Munch, Fritz Reiner, Arthur Fiedler, Erich Leinsdorf, Tullio Serafin, Jean Morel, Zubin Mehta, James Levine, Georg Solti, Fausto Cleva and Nello Santi, conducting some of the world's most prestigious orchestras, such as The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The Boston Symphony Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra, The London Philharmonic Orchestra, the New Philharmonia Orchestra, and the London Symphony Orchestra.
The recorded legacy he left behind contains more than 80 complete opera recordings, including the landmark, La Bohème with Victoria de los Angeles and Jussi Bjoerling, conducted by Thomas Beecham. Other operas featured many of the glorious voices of the era including Leontyne Price, Montserrat Caballé, Martina Arroyo, Fiorenza Cossotto, Ruggero Raimondi, Leonard Warren, Licia Albanese, Robert Merrill, Roberta Peters, Zinka Milanov, Jan Peerce, Richard Tucker, Renata Scotto, Renata Tebaldi, Plácido Domingo, Sherrill Milnes, Gabriel Bacquier, Nicolai Gedda, Giuseppe di Stefano, Anna Moffo and Mirella Freni.
Martin Bernheimer, former music critic of the Los Angeles Times said of him that "He had a great eye and ear for talent and for putting important people together for projects that had lasting value to the music lover. He was an enabler with great imagination and great taste. My impression was he got (the artists) to behave like pussy-cats."
His body of work earned him five Grammy Awards for Best Opera Recording of the year and at least twenty-five Grammy nominations. He is also widely known for his legendary appearances on the Met Opera Quiz broadcasts as a panelist and later as producer of the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast intermission features.Robert Merrill Lee
General Robert Merrill Lee CBE (April 13, 1909 – June 29, 2003) was the air deputy to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, with the responsibility of assisting SACEUR in developing, training and employing NATO combat forces for the defense of allied Europe.Sinatra and Friends
Sinatra and Friends is an American television special that aired on April 21, 1977. Featuring contemporary artists such as John Denver and Natalie Cole, as well as Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Loretta Lynn, Leslie Uggams and Robert Merrill, Sinatra performs duets of standards in different styles such as folk and disco in addition to each singer performing solo.
Sinatra and Friends was released on DVD in 2002.Spanish Fly (2003 film)
Spanish Fly is an American film about the use of an aphrodisiac in a Los Angeles night club, released in 2003. The director, Will Wallace, won the Festival Prize for Best Comedy Feature at the Deep Ellum Film Festival in 2002. Cast included David Shackelford, Will Wallace, Judy Geeson, Anthony Crivello, Adam Russell Stuart, Carlos Alazraqui, Robert Merrill, Joe Estevez, Katrina Holden Bronson, Tom J. Jones, Ruben Pla, Tess Hunt, Larry Romano, Dana Lee, Jonathan Abrahams, Eric Martsolf and Kyle Dunnigan.Sweet Little Jesus Boy
"Sweet Little Jesus Boy" is a Christmas song composed by Robert MacGimsey and published in 1934 by Carl Fischer Music. Its style is similar to African-American spirituals.
Baritone Lawrence Tibbett introduced the song, and it went on to be recorded by choirs and other solo artists. They included Robert Merrill in 1947 (Victor 10-1303).The King and I (original cast recording)
The original cast recording of The King and I was issued in 1951 on Decca Records, with Gertrude Lawrence, Yul Brynner, Dorothy Sarnoff and Doretta Morrow. The Broadway cast recording was directed by John Van Druten, with orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett and musical director Frederick Dvonch. The recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001.A studio recording of selections sung by Patrice Munsel, Robert Merrill and Dinah Shore followed, later in 1951, and the London cast recording album followed two years later.Trees (poem)
"Trees" is a lyric poem by American poet Joyce Kilmer. Written in February 1913, it was first published in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse that August and included in Kilmer's 1914 collection Trees and Other Poems. The poem, in twelve lines of rhyming couplets of iambic tetrameter verse, describes what Kilmer perceives as the inability of art created by humankind to replicate the beauty achieved by nature.
Kilmer is most remembered for "Trees", which has been the subject of frequent parodies and references in popular culture. Kilmer's work is often disparaged by critics and dismissed by scholars as being too simple and overly sentimental, and that his style was far too traditional and even archaic. Despite this, the popular appeal of "Trees" has contributed to its endurance. Literary critic Guy Davenport considers it "the one poem known by practically everybody". "Trees" is frequently included in poetry anthologies and has been set to music several times—including a popular rendition by Oscar Rasbach, performed by singers Nelson Eddy, Robert Merrill, and Paul Robeson.
The location for a specific tree as the possible inspiration for the poem has been claimed by several places and institutions connected to Kilmer's life; among these are Rutgers University, the University of Notre Dame, and towns across the country that Kilmer visited. However, Kilmer's eldest son, Kenton, declares that the poem does not apply to any one tree—that it could apply equally to any. "Trees" was written in an upstairs bedroom at the family's home in Mahwah, New Jersey, that "looked out down a hill, on our well-wooded lawn". Kenton Kilmer stated that while his father was "widely known for his affection for trees, his affection was certainly not sentimental—the most distinguished feature of Kilmer's property was a colossal woodpile outside his home".
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