IN MEMORIAM - ROBERT MERRILL
On October 25, 2004 the legendary American baritone Robert Merrill passed away. He was 85 years old. Merrill was a stalwart artist of New York's Metropolitan Opera from the 1940's through the late 1970's. His gorgeous, creamy baritone voice set the standard for ease of vocal production and beautiful legato line. The great tenor Placido Domingo considered Merrill's vocal quality the most beautiful he ever heard. Merrill's teacher was himself a distinguished American baritone - Richard Bonelli. Renowned for his performance of the great Verdi baritone roles, Merrill's two recordings under the baton Arturo Toscanini (a friend of the composer) remain the Gold Standard for sheer artistic integrity and authenticity - "La Traviata" (with Licia Albanese and Jan Peerce) and "Un Ballo en Maschera" (with Herva Nelli and Peerce). Toscanini was a friend and contemporary of Verdi and brings unparalleled artistic insight to his music. Other great Merrill recordings include "Rigoletto" under Sir Georg Solti (with Anna Moffo, Alfredo Kraus, and Ezio Flagello), "La Traviata" conducted by Sir John Pritchard (with Joan Sutherland and Carlo Bergonzi), and "Carmen" under the baton of Fritz Reiner (with Rise Stevens, Peerce, and Licia Albanese). Unfortunately two of his greatest Verdi roles - Rodrigo in "Don Carlo" and Iago in "Otello" (Merrill's favorite roll) - were never recorded commercially. Likewise his Scarpia in "Tosca" was not recorded. (In the 1980's Merrill co-produced and hosted a splendid television special - "Tosca - I Live for Art" - which featured interviews with 7 famous sopranos who sang the role of Flora Tosca - Gina Cigna, Licia Albanese, Dorothy Kirsten, Galina Vishnevskaya, Renata Tebaldi, Monserrat Caballe, and Grace Bumbry.) This listener well remembers a 1960's Metropolitan Opera broadcast of "Un Ballo en Maschera" ("A Masked Ball") with Merrill, Birgit Nilsson, Richard Tucker, Jean Madeira, and Mattiwilda Dobbs. Just the names of that cast say everything. That was a golden era of vocalism! Although semi retired Merrill continued to occasionally perform in concert. In the early 1990's he joined the Italian tenor Nicola Martinucci at the annual Richard Tucker Foundation Gala for the tenor-baritone duet from "La Forza del Destino." The program was nationally telecast on PBS. Merrill was astonishing! He sounded almost exactly the way he did during his vocal prime. Robert Merrill was one of opera's truly great artists!