Like Il Guarany by Gomes, which was recently posted on Trove Thursday, Alzira, based on Voltaire’s play Alzire ou Les Américains, deals with cultural and romantic conflicts between indigenous tribes and European invaders in South America during the 16th century.
Verdi’s eighth opera followed Giovanna d’Arco and preceded Attila and was later dismissed by the composer as “proprio brutta” (really ugly). Today’s “pirate” presents the work’s belated US premiere.
Although I never saw her perform, Ross (in her wheelchair) was a fixture in the audience at numerous New York City performance for years. She had often been ignored or dismissed until a video surfaced of a 1967 Norma performed in Berlin by the forces of La Fenice. Partnered by Mario Del Monaco, Ross’s impressive Bellini heroine persuaded many to reevaluate the American soprano’s career.
It was likely a bumpy journey which began in earnest with a starry Il Trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1958 when she was partnered by Giulietta Simionato, Jussi Björling and Ettore Bastianini. Unlikely to have been Carol Fox’s first choice, Ross never again appeared with Lyric. Three years later she debuted in San Francisco as Aïda followed by Trovatore but she didn’t return there either.
Throughout the 60s Ross appeared in big Verdi and Puccini roles in Europe and in smaller American houses before finally debuting at the Met in 1970 substituting for Birgit Nilsson during its June Festival in Turandot. She was then 44 and would make over 80 appearances with the company over the next nine years. Significantly many of those were not at Lincoln Center; 24 tour dates and seven in the city parks suggested that the Met may have considered her of secondary importance.
Although numerous in-house pirate recordings of her Met performances exist, her broadcasts were limited to just a 1970 Tosca (which was originally to have been Régine Crespin’s) and a Turandot opposite Franco Corelli, a performance perhaps more notable for Edda Moser’s unexpected Liù. Ross was often a cover sometimes given several appearances late in an opera’s run.
For me, the most surprising feature of Ross’s career during the 1970s was an association with the Handel Society first in New York and later when it relocated to the Kennedy Center. She sang the title role in Athalia and Nicotris in Belshazzar at Carnegie Hall and finally in Solomon in DC in 1977.
Although Ross’s Met engagements had already been decreasing, her career ended abruptly in 1979 when she was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy at age 53.
American Opera Society
17 January 1968
Alzira — Elinor Ross
Zuma — Beverly Evans
Zamoro — Gianfranco Cecchele
Gusmano — Louis Quilico
Alvaro — Michael Devlin
Ovando — Sidney Johnson
Ataliba — Vern Shinall
Otumbo — Frederic Mayer
Conductor — Jonel Perlea
Alzira can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player above and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.
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The archive listing every “Trove Thursday” offering since September 2015 in alphabetical order by composer was updated in March.