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Leonard Warren this week on The Lyric Stage

This week we feature the American baritone Leonard Warren, in scenes from La Traviata, Tosca, and Il Trovatore.

Most singers - probably 99 per cent of them - study and perform for years before getting a chance to sing at a major opera house. But a very, very few are so gifted that they get that opportunity at the start of their careers. Rosa Ponselle was such a singer, and tonight’s featured artist, Leonard Warren, fits that category. He was 27 when he entered the Metropolitan Auditions of the Air in 1938. He had seen only one opera, La Traviata, and knew all of five arias. His stage experience consisted of three years in the chorus at Radio City Music Hall, and as an extra in his high school’s production of a play about Daniel Boone. But he was not unaware of his talent; he had been studying with the teacher Sidney Dietch, and his appearance at the Met auditions stopped the show, so to speak. Though obviously unfinished, the Met signed him immediately, and sent him to Italy for study that summer of 1938, where he learned five roles in 7 months. His debut came in scenes from Rigoletto and Pagliacci in a concert performance at the Met in early 1939, and later that year as Paolo in Simone Boccanegra in a full scale Met production.

He became the leading baritone of the Met for the next 20 years. He had international successes as well, including at La Scala in Milan, the Rome Opera, and a series of performances in Russia in 1958, but he is most closely identified with the Metropolitan.

Mike Harrah is host of The Lyric Stage, which airs Sundays at 8 pm.