Cher Public

I’m a bad, bad man

Happy 83rd birthday to baritone Sherrill Milnes, who made his Metropolitan opera debut as Valentin in 1965 and his farewell as Amonasro in 1997.

  • Same performance as Montserrat Caballe. We in the audience loved him.

    • southerndoc1

      Did you love her?

      • Liked her very much. I remember a number of comments in the audience that she was very good but not as magical as on the night she debuted in NYC, I believe with Opera Orchestra of New York.

        • Yes, that would have been her legendary Lucrezia.

        • GiacomoPuccini

          Marguerite in Faust was not a good debut choice for her.

          • southerndoc1

            My understanding was that she was willing to sing just about anything to get a chance to sing in the old house.

            • GiacomoPuccini

              Pretty much. The Met offered her a contract immediately after the Lucrezia Borgia with a debut at the end of the 1966-67 season. She asked if there was any way she could sing at least once in the old house and the date that was available for everyone was Faust. It was a pity because the Met was doing Trovatore at that time and that would have been a much, much better debut role.

            • GiacomoPuccini

              I heard her once tell the story that she had a bracelet with small hangings representing every opera house where she had sung and she absolutely wanted to add the old Met to it. I wonder if she still has it.

  • Milnes was my first baritone in many ways. I first saw him in the Met Aida telecast with Millo/Domingo/Zajick. That wasn’t his best work. His acting was a bit hammy and his voice was past its best. But, he was also ubiquitous in my recordings.

    When one looks at all the classic Italian opera recordings of the 70s, they usually features Price/Sutherland/Caballe as soprano, Domingo/Pavarotti as tenor and Milnes as baritone.

    He had his flaws. He could be a bit over the top in his interpretations and his vocal production wasn’t flawless. But he also had many great qualities, including one of the most glamorous baritone voices with unbeatable high notes, as well as musicality and style. Compared to his contemporary, Cappuccilli, who had better technique and a more even instrument, Milnes’s performances had greater urgency and fire.

    • GiacomoPuccini

      Not fair to judge him by that performance which happened at the very end of his career and after he had had some severe vocal crises.

      • I agree and I don’t judge. I have many fond memories of his performances from his prime — the heartbreak of his Rigoletto, the swagger of his Enrico, the intensity of his Scarpia.

    • Tamerlano

      Milnes also had an immediately recognizable timbre and that really matters, particularly in lower voices where sometimes a certain monotony can set in. His approach to the top was “hooky” and the passagio could flat. I only heard him once as Germont at the very tail end of his career. He spent much of the night singing flat, but you could tell the voice was the real deal.

      • Yes, one of the most recognisable voices. Agreed about the passagio. He could produce a thrilling sound in that part of the voice but he never had it under complete control and did some flat singing. I’ve been listening to the live 70s Vespiri with Caballe/Gedda/Milnes. He is in great voice but consistently flat in the passagio.

    • Luvtennis

      I think Milnes was a great singer, but he was too ptofligate with his incredible top in the early days and paid a price later on although he remained capable of great nights until the early 90s.

      Listen to the first act trio on the Mehta Trovatore! He tears thru Di Luna’s part like a singing god. No one has brought more accuracy to the gruppetti and along wth Price, who apparently came to the sessions with a bathtub full of heavy cream with butterfat, and Domingo, who was in the early bloom of youth, it’s a total eargasm. Great singing. And FloCo just destroys Azucena. And Gaotti is a tremendous Ferrando. Wow.

      • I agree about how Milnes sings that trio and I agree about all the singers in the Mehta Trov. Even in the live video with Marton/Pavarotti, he doesn’t cheat anything in the trio.

        Not sure if over-use of his top was his problem considering how well his top stayed with him. To my ears, his mid-register was modest-sized for the kinds of roles he sang and he often had to over-darken the voice and try to make it sound bigger than it was.

        • Luvtennis

          I was trying to suggest that the “abuse” of his top, which was like that of a great dramatic tenor, lead to a weakening of the passagio. I think many felt Milnes was really a lazy tenor. I seem to recall reading an interview with Domingo and Milnes were they joked about this.

          • Camille

            Nicht doch! You were right the first time--he did recklessly use the top and for a while, it was thrilling, but that did not last that long. I first heard him in early seventies in California, in concert.

            By the last time I heard him, as Falstaff at NYCO, about a year or so around Das Ende at the MET, it was like he’d morphed into a different singer. At his best, he could be quite The Man. His Athanaël in Thaïs was particularly admired in San Fran in the late seventies, for a lot of reasons! Need say no more. He had great physical presence, to be sure, and was a great part of his success. I hope he is doing well.

      • GiacomoPuccini

        Hmm, I never thought that Milnes was abusing his top notes although no doubt they made his interpretations not to be forgotten. Like adding a B flat after Azucena’s at the end of Trovatore or when joining the tenor at the end of the Otello duet. Or the high note (B flat?) at the end of Rigoletto. Or the end of the first act of Luisa Miller. Or in the big Aida concertato. Ah yes, those were the days. :)

        • Luvtennis

          Lol! I really struggled finding the right word. Abuse is much too strong. Let’s just say that he may have sacrificed smoothness and accuracy of pitch in the passagio to facilitate those incredible top notes. And yes, he had b flat in his arsenal.

          • GiacomoPuccini

            Leonard Warren had a high C. I heard once a recording of him doing Di Quella Pira in the right key. Bastianini, Merrill, MacNeil, Cappuccilli, Guarrera, Colzani, Panerai all had big round voices and good strong high notes. That sound doesn’t seem to come along anymore.

      • GiacomoPuccini

        That recording of Trovatore came right after the new production at the Met with Domingo replacing the previously announced Corelli, Price, Bumbry, Milnes, and Mehta conducting.

  • Mario C.

    I was lucky enough to see Sherrill Milnes many times in the 70s and 80s and always enjoyed his performances.

    I wore out all those Price/Domingo/Milnes opera recordings as well.

    He set the bar very high for me, and I have fantastic memories of him as Scarpia, Iago, DiLuna, Rigoletto, Gerard, Renato (Ballo & Forza), Tonio, Miller, Rodrigo, and Rance. Just fantastic!

    I was looking at the Met archives and saw that his debut season included Valentin, Yeletsky, Don Fernando, Amonasro, Rance, the Ballo Renato, Enrico on tour, and Escamillo and the High Priest in Samson in the parks. Quite an opening season!

    Happy Birthday Sherrill Milnes!

    • Apulia

      my fondest memory of him is Simon Boccanegra--I had never seen it before--with the added bonus of Aprile Millo wrapped up in the same memory

  • La Cieca
    • Camille

      You are a very, very naughty doyenne.

      I must have watched this a dozen times already and additionally made the acquaintance of an original cast youtube version of this Turkey Time number, which is a nonpareil go-go nirvana dream sequence.

      Thank you for bringing some joy to my sickbed convalescence!

  • Brackweaver

    What a top he had! Wasn’t he just about the end of the big American baritones era? I’ve wondered if the singing big style of the era had anything to do with the vocal issues that he went through. For baritones bigger was better and biggest was best for a long time.

    • MisterSnow

      Lawrence Tibbet, Leonard Warren, Cornel MacNeil, Milnes. Yes, he seems to be the last in a line. Interesting enough, the line of great Broadway Baritone voices seems to die out as well. Alfred Drake, Ray Middleton, Howard Keel, Harve Presnell, John Reardon (when he wasn’t doing opera), Stephen Douglas, etc… The last one I can thing who really had the true classical baritone sound is Ron Raines, who is getting up there (but still performing). I can hardly hink of a Broadway male from the last 30 year’s who can truly produce that classic sound of the 40s -- 60s. One exception would be Richard White (who was the voice of Gaston in the animated B&B and sang operetta at NYCO and elsewhere). At least the lack gave some concert and recording work to Thomas Hampson.

  • Other than Price/Corelli and Caballe/Milnes, how many other legendary double debuts have there been at the Met?

    • Armerjacquino

      Seefried and Della Casa?

      • GiacomoPuccini

        Not quite legendary but how about Evelyn Lear and Marie Collier.

    • GiacomoPuccini

      Mirella Freni and Gianni Raimondi

    • GiacomoPuccini

      Lucine Amara and Cesare Siepi

      • GiacomoPuccini

        And Fedora Barbieri and Delia Rigal at the same time.

    • GiacomoPuccini

      Tom Krause and Teresa Berganza

      • MisterSnow

        In Figaro or Barber os Seville?

        • GiacomoPuccini

          Hmmm, for that I’ll have to check the archives. My first guess is Barber.

        • PCally

          Figaro. I don’t believe Krauss ever sang Barber at the met.

    • fletcher

      Stella & Bergonzi; (also, less legendary and more recent, but Netrebko and Semenchuk)

      • GiacomoPuccini

        Stella and Bergonzi, of course. Good one.

    • GiacomoPuccini

      Hedda Topper and Regine Crespin i believe.

      • Luvtennis

        Noted gossip columnist Hedda Topper. Not much of a singer but, boy, she could dish! ????????

        • GiacomoPuccini

          There was a mezzo named like that. I think she also did Orfeo at the Met.

          • Luvtennis

            I think it was Hertha Topper. With an umlaut. ????????

          • Camille

            Hertha Töpper

            Hedda was the bitch who did in Dalton Trumbo, and watched Gloria Swanson descend that staircase as Miss Sally Mae:

            https://youtube.com/watch?v=SHT6cMzByjs

    • GiacomoPuccini

      The last season at the old house probably holds a record for debuts of major singers. Freni, Scotto, Lorengar, Bumbry, Milnes, Caballe, Stewart, King, Ghiaurov among them.

    • fletcher

      Actually pretty fun to play this game with the Met archives search. Behrens & Shicoff! Vaness & Podles! Weikl & Battle! Söderström and Stratas, almost (one off).

      • Armerjacquino

        ‘Soderstrom and Stratas’

        That was a very *chamber* ELEKTRA.

        • GiacomoPuccini

          In what opera? Soderstrom as Susana ?

          • PCally

            Correct, Stratas was a peasant.

            • fletcher

              Right, Stratas had her own debut two nights earlier as Pousette in Manon (w/ VdlA & Gedda!).

      • GiacomoPuccini

        Wow, very interesting. I was trying to do it from memory.

    • MisterSnow

      Samuel Ramey and G F Handel in Rinaldo (with “General Horne”). Wasn’t that the first Handel opera at the Met?

    • Thanks for all the answers. I didn’t know there were so many!

  • MisterSnow

    In the 70s, I saw Eileen Farrell and Milnes in a duo concert. A great contrast of styles from different singers -- each wonderful in his/her own way. Each did solos -- Rintorna Vincitor, Liebestod, Don G’s champagne aria, etc -- but the best was the big duets, including Aida and Trovatore. Farrel used music (on a stand) and reading glasses for the duets (not her solos) but Milnes was all over the stage, physically chewing the nonexistent scenery. They could not have been more different. However, when you just listened, they both “tore it up” with powerful sound and great drama. The Trovatore duet (this may been the first time I head it) crackled with fire -- as Milnes did his best Snidley Whiplish Bad Guy thing and Farrel let her voice rip through the runs. As they said in vaudeville -- a “ hot” stage!