AOS’s starry cast for Beatrice di Tenda: Joan Sutherland, Enzo Sordello and Marilyn Horne.

My endeavor remains a work-in-progress, but as I’d reached one endpoint, I asked La Cieca if she would be willing to host the result and she agreed.

Founded in 1950 by two men in their mid-20s—Allen Sven Oxenburg (1927-1992) and Arnold Gamson (1926-2018)—AOS began small and old with a Monteverdi performance in a Manhattan apartment for an audience of 50. Soon it would be presenting full seasons at Town Hall, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, or Carnegie Hall in addition to performances in Philadelphia.

The gap in New York City’s concert opera scene created by AOS’s demise in 1970 was almost immediately filled by Eve Queler and Opera Orchestra of New York.

Happily, OONY’s Wikipedia page contains a complete listing of all its operas and casts, but I’ve long felt that AOS deserved its own such annals, but I’d never imagined that I might be the one to tackle it until this past summer.

While I was investigating Anita Cerquetti’s US career for Trove Thursday, I consulted Frank Hamilton’s enormously ambitious annals of operas performed in Philadelphia. For my quest, I downloaded the section covering 1950-1975 which runs to 375 pages!

What a fascinating document!

As I was searching for Cerquetti’s Norma and Il Trovatore, I came across AOS performances I’d never heard of including Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea with Leontyne Price (!) and Robert Rounseville; Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine and Les Mamelles de Tirésias featuring Denise Duval in the roles she’d created: Hilde Gueden as Gräfin Mariza and Virginia Zeani’s Cleopatra (which I’d later learn only happened in Philly, not NYC where the role was taken a month earlier by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf).

There were other more familiar items but I was intrigued enough to start an informal list on a yellow legal pad. It became the raw beginning of the near-complete chronology that I’m making available today. This post includes AOS’s repertoire season-by-season while a second, much more detailed archive available will feature casts, conductors and the date of the initial New York City performance (there were sometimes previews as well as repeats).

The AOS evening familiar to nearly everyone would be Il Pirata with Maria Callas performed on January 27, 1959 at Carnegie Hall. After Rudolf Bing dropped the diva from the Met’s new Macbeth set to premiere on February 5, Oxenburg invited Callas to appear with his company during that now-empty spot in her schedule. Many will know the early in-house recording which preserved that singular event.

Later that same year came another significant event: over two evenings AOS presented the first complete US performance of Berlioz’s Les Troyens. Sir Thomas Beecham should have conducted but he withdrew and was replaced by Robert Lawrence who would lead his own concert-opera enterprise, the Friends of French Opera.

Readers may decry several shortcomings of my work at this point. All along I should have been keeping more extensive notes about all the many premieres, debuts, cancellations and substitutions. If I move ahead with this project, that information will be added to master list which will remain easily accessible.

However, here is some indication of how essential the company was in introducing singers of that era to local audiences. This list includes just some of the artists who made their first NYC opera appearance with the American Opera Society.

Luigi Alva
Gabriel Bacquier
Janet Baker
Teresa Berganza
Walter Berry
Ernest Blanc
Inge Borkh
Montserrat Caballé
Anita Cerquetti
Denise Duval
Eileen Farrell
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Andrea Guiot
Angeles Gulin
Marilyn Horne
Teresa Kubiak
Richard Lewis
Ilva Ligabue
Johanna Meier
Russell Oberlin
Leontyne Price (post-Porgy and Bess, that is)
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
Giulietta Simionato
Elena Souliotis
Joan Sutherland
Alain Vanzo
Jon Vickers

Of these perhaps Caballé’s unheralded star-making 1965 Lucrezia Borgia debut is the best known.

Although at least one of the Society’s performances was broadcast, many, although far from all, survive thanks to the efforts of bootleggers. As far as I know no complete recording exits of the 1956 Giulio Cesare thus depriving us of Cesare Siepi in the title role and countertenor Russell Oberlin as Sesto, but we do have bits of Price’s Cleopatra.

During my research I was shocked to come across one pirate I’d never seen listed anywhere before. In 1964 AOS presented the US premiere of Busoni’s Doktor Faust with Fischer-Dieskau, George Shirley and Ingrid Bjoner. It was led by Jascha Horenstein, that Ukrainian-born conductor who has garnered somewhat of a cult following since his death in 1973. A complete recording of this important event has been uploaded to an all-Horenstein YouTube channel!

My fascination with opera-in-concert began long before I attended one: the first was Rameau’s Les Boréades starring Ruth Welting presented in March 1982 by Opera Rediviva at Town Hall, venue of many AOS triumphs. Always drawn to unusual or obscure works, I’d acquired many pirate recordings of AOS and OONY performances and some have already appeared on Trove Thursday. Tomorrow will bring another AOS specialty, followed by several others in coming months.

In the meantime, these American Opera Society performances are already available on past Trove Thursdays:

Medea (1955)

Hercules (1960)

Hérodiade (1963)

Alzira (1968)

Orfeo ed Euridice — Haydn (1968)

La Straniera (1969)

Here are all but one of the works AOS presented:



Monteverdi: L’Incoronazione di Poppea or Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (sources differ)

Gluck: Le Cadi Dupé & Monteverdi: Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda


Rousseau: Le Devin du Village & Purcell: The Witch of Endor

Monteverdi: L’Incoronazione di Poppea


Gluck: Paride ed Elena

Rossini: La Gazza Ladra

Purcell: Dido and Aeneas & The Witch of Endor

Monteverdi: L’Incoronazione di Poppea


Rossini: Otello

Bellini: La Sonnambula

Gluck: Iphigénie en Tauride

Monteverdi: L’Incoronazione di Poppea


Cherubini: Medea  

Purcell: Dido and Aeneas & Monteverdi: Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda                          

Bellini: I Puritani

Offenbach: La Périchole


Handel: Giulio Cesare

Cherubini: Medea

Beethoven: Fidelio

Poulenc: Les Mamelles de Tirésias & Falla: El Retablo de Maese Pedro


Donizetti: Anna Bolena

Gluck: Paride ed Elena

Rossini: Otello

Offenbach: La Grande-duchesse de Gérolstein

Monteverdi: L’Incoronazione di Poppea


Bellini: I Capuleti ed I Montecchi

Rossini: Mosè in Egitto

Handel: Giulio Cesare

Bellini: Il Pirata  

Cherubini: Medea


Donizetti: Il Duca d’Alba

Offenbach: La Grande-duchesse de Gérolstein

Berlioz: Les Troyens

Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice

Poulenc: La Voix Humaine & Les Mamelles de Tirésias


Handel: Hercules  

Monteverdi: L’Incoronazione di Poppea

Bellini: Beatrice di Tenda


Bellini: La Sonnambula

Gluck: Iphigénie en Tauride

Handel: Samson

Lehar: Die Lustige Witwe

Rossini: La Cenerentola


Stravinsky: The Rake\s Progress

Rossini: L’Italiana in Algeri

Donizetti: Maria di Rohan

Kalman: Gräfin Mariza

Bellini: I Puritani  


Massenet: Hérodiade  

Poulenc: Dialogues des Carmélites

Rossini: Semiramide

Thomson: The Mother of Us All

Bellini: I Capuleti ed I Montecchi


Busoni: Doktor Faust

Handel: Alcina

Rossini: Il Turco in Italia

Gluck: Iphigénie en Aulide

Donizetti: Lucrezia Borgia


Donizetti: Roberto Devereux

Britten: Billy Budd

Boito: Mefistofele

Verdi: Giovanna d’Arco

Bellini: Il Pirata


Rossini: Mosè in Egitto

Donizetti: Anna Bolena

Cherubini: Medea

Handel: Giulio Cesare

Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice


Bellini: Norma

Donizetti: Maria Stuarda

Verdi: Alzira

Haydn: Orfeo ed Euridice

Catalani: La Wally


Verdi: Nabucco

Bellini: La Straniera

D’Albert: Tiefland

Meyerbeer: Les Huguenots


Donizetti: La Fille du Régiment  

Goldmark: Die Königin von Saba

[An ad in OPERA magazine lists Holst’s one-act Savitri as an opera that AOS had performed but I’ve been unable to locate a mention of it.]

There is undoubtedly more to say about the nearly 20 years of American Society which financial problems forced to shut down in 1970 after presenting Goldmark’s Die Königin von Saba!

As I’m not historian, I’m currently undecided if I want to delve any further into this topic but I hope to include some of my random discoveries on Trove Thursday. Reading AOS reviews has been lots of fun. For example, Harold Schonberg in The New York Times commenting on Gabriel Bacquier’s US debut found the 37-year-old French baritone was already a “veteran singer whose voice had seen better days.” Bacquier, of course, would continue at the top of his profession for more than 30 years!

Check in tomorrow when the weekly Trove Thursday podcast will present a truly “grand” introduction to the AOS concert experience!