The sumptuous interior of the La Scala opera house features six stories of gilt and crimson lined boxes.
Born Feb. 25, 1873 in Naples, Italy
Died Aug. 2, 1921 of lung ailment in Naples, Italy
Enrico Caruso was a tenor with a golden voice, idolized by millions in America and abroad who had an artistic career as well know as that of any famous statesman or military leader.
Caruso made his debut in “L’Amico Francesco” at the Nuovo Theater, Naples, in 1894. He then toured Italy and Sicily and was engaged for several seasons at La Scala, Milan.
In May 1902, Caruso made his debut in “Rigoletto” at Covent Garden, where he subsequently appeared from 1904 to 1907.
When Caruso came to the Metropolitan Opera on Nov. 23, 1903, in “Rigoletto,” the critics did not go into ecstasies over him.
The list of Italian and French operas in which the noted tenor’s name figures since he first sang in New York reveals an amazing versatility. In 18 years he sang more than 800 times. He was unsparing, if not reckless, of his vocal powers. No grand opera tenor in America ever reigned so long in popular favor.
At the height of his Met career, Caruso was receiving as average of $2,000 for each performance. On special occasions, such as his 1920 season in Havana, he was paid $10,000 a night.
His last public appearance was in Halevy’s “La Juive” at the Metropolitan on Dec. 21, 1920.
Born Sophie C. Kalos on Dec. 4, 1923 in Brooklyn, NY
Died Sept. 16, 1977 of heart attack in Paris, France
Maria Callas was an American-born opera star famed for her dramatic skill, her fiery temperament and her romance with Aristotle Onassis.
Critics hailed her for bringing operatic acting to new theatrical heights and revitalizing the bel canto repertory.
In 1937 her mother took her to Greece where they were stranded by the outbreak of World War II. There she was awarded a scholarship at the National Conservatory and began a serious study of music.
Callas made her debut in Pietro Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” at the Royal Opera House in Athens at 15. But her career really began when the great La Scala Opera House of Milan offered her a role in “Aida” and then signed her as a member of the company in 1951.
She made her American debut in 1954 performing the title role of Bellini’s “Norma” at Chicago’s Lyric Theater and in 1956 made her first appearance at the Metropolitan Opera in the same role.
The dark-eyed diva was also famed as “opera’s bad girl” because she walked out on so many performances in her career.
She battled with managers and conductors — including well-published duels with the Metropolitan Opera’s Rudolf Bing over contracts and what roles she should sing.
During her career Callas sang a remarkably broad repertory, encompassing lyric, dramatic and coloratura roles mostly in Italian. Early in her career she played such Wagnerian heroines as Isolde, Bruennhilde and Kundry. In later years, however, she concentrated on Lucia, Lady Macbeth, Violetta in “La Traviata,” Medea, Anna Bolena and Tosca.
She made numerous recordings, including 19 complete operas and 10 albums of operatic selections.
Callas retired from concert singing in 1966 because of ill health. She returned briefly to the stage in 1973 and 1974. She was greeted with enthusiasm by sellout audiences, but many critics were disappointed.
Born José Plácido Domingo Embil on Jan. 21, 1941 in Madrid, Spain
Regarded as the world’s greatest living tenor, and surely its busiest, Placido Domingo is as comfortable singing Puccini as he is with Wagner. In the April 2008 issue of BBC Music Magazine, he was ranked first in a survey of the 20 greatest tenors of all time, ahead of Enrico Caruso and Luciano Pavarotti.
In addition to having sung more roles than any tenor in history, the indefatigable Spaniard is a globe-hopping performer and conductor, a prolific, multiple Grammy Award-winning recording artist, an energetic presence at a wide array of cultural, philanthropic and ceremonial events, and director of the Los Angeles and Washington National operas.
His personal mantra is: “If I rest, I rust.”
As charismatic and well-connected as he is artistically accomplished, Domingo wields tremendous clout in his ability to help shape the careers of individual artists, and operatic culture generally, in the United States, Europe and beyond.
The son of light-opera singers, he made his stage debut in Mexico in 1959 and soon transitioned from baritone into tenor range. He was affiliated with the Israeli National Opera in the early 1960s, joined New York City Opera in 1965 and helped inaugurate its new Lincoln Center home in 1966.
He joined the Metropolitan Opera Company two years later, made his debut at La Scala in Milan in 1969 and at London’s Covent Garden in 1971.
In addition to opera, Domingo has performed in several films, including Franco Zeffirelli’s “Otello” (one of Domingo’s signature roles) and Francesco Rosi’s “Carmen.” He appeared on an episode of “The Cosby Show” and has performed with many pop musicians, including John Denver and Ricky Martin.
Born May 18, 1892 in Rome, Italy
Died May 9, 1957 of stroke in Stamford, CT
Ezio Pinza was a musical comedy star and Metropolitan Opera basso.
He began his career in his native Italy in 1914 and went on to win acclaim in opera houses on both sides of the Atlantic.
Pinza successfully made the difficult transition from opera to popular music. In the Broadway musical comedy “South Pacific,” which opened in 1949, he played the romantic lead opposite Mary Martin. The role made him a sex symbol to women from bobbysoxers to grandmothers.
Born Nov. 18, 1882 in Milan, Italy
Died 1963 of emphysema in La Jolla, CA
Amelita Galli-Curci was a petite coloratura soprano who was the toast of the music world during the 1920s.
Considered by many in her time to be the greatest coloratura soprano who ever lived, Galli-Curci was noted for her strength, clarity and range of her voice although, almost incredibly, she had no formal voice training.
She began her singing career in Italy, and made her American debut singing in the Chicago Opera, where she stayed from 1916 to 1924. Later she joined the Metropolitan Opera Company until her farewell appearance Jan. 24, 1930, as Rosina in “The Barber of Seville.”
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