John Macurdy, bass who sang 1,001 times at Met, dies at 91

FILE - This Jan. 3, 1984 file photo shows John Macurdy as Radames after a performance of Giuseppe Verdi's "Aida" in New York. Macurdy, a bass who sang 1,001 performances at the Metropolitan Opera over four decades and created roles in several world premieres, died on May 7, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. He was 91.

John Macurdy, a bass who sang 1,001 performances at the Metropolitan Opera over four decades and created characters in notable world premieres, has died at 91, his wife said Wednesday.

Macurdy died of natural causes on May 7 in Stamford, Connecticut, Justine Macurdy said.

His career included world premieres of Carlisle Floyd’s “Wuthering Heights” at the Santa Fe Opera in 1958, Hugo Weisgall’s “Six Characters in Search of an Author” at the New York City Opera in 1959, Abraham Ellstein’s “The Golem” at the City Opera in 1962, Samuel Barber’s “Antony and Cleopatra” on the opening night of the Met’s new house in 1966 and Marvin David Levy’s “Mourning Becomes Electra” at the Met in 1967.

While he did take star turns, his many “comprimario” roles, as opera’s supporting roles are known, increased his performance total to sixth among basses in Met history. He sang 62 roles with the company.

“Everyone who came here had done other roles, and because the Met had a need for certain parts, those roles were added to your contract, even though you might be singing so-called leading roles at the time,” Macurdy told Opera News in 2005.

Macurdy, was born on March 18, 1929 in Detroit. He would go on to study voice and also become a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, where he was a radar instructor. He was at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi when he did some coaching in New Orleans and was noticed by conductor Walter Herbert, general director of the New Orleans Opera. He would go on to make his professional debut with that opera on the opening night of the 1952-53 season.

Macurdy made his debut with the New York City Opera in April 1959 as Dr. Wilson in Weill’s “Street Scene.”

He was part of one of the early attempts at televised live opera in color, singing the Commendatore in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” for “NBC Opera Theatre” on April 10, 1960, alongside Leontyne Price and Cesare Siepi.

Macurdy made his Met debut at the old house on Broadway on Dec. 8, 1962, and sang small roles in Verdi’s “Aida,” “La Traviata” and “Otello,” Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly,” Bellini’s “La Sonnambula” and Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov” as that season went on.

While singing Alessio in “La Sonnambula” he was a cover for the Count Rodolfo, filled by singers of much higher profiles. Macurdy was having a drink across from the Old Met on a snowy Dec. 23, 1963, when George Schick of the Met conducting staff told him Georgio Tozzi, that night’s Rodolfo, would not be arriving in time.

“At 8:15 they made the announcement, and I went on and sang it,” Macurdy told Opera News, explaining how his performance drew the attention of a Met assistant general manager. “As a result of that, within two weeks I got a call from Robert Herman. This was the season of the new `Aida.′ I did the King, but I was covering Ramfis. He asked if I’d like to do Ramfis, and Ferrando in ‘Trovatore,’ and then came Gremin, Timur — just out of that!”

Macurdy became a stalwart of the Met. His final Met appearance was as Hagen in Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung” on May 6, 2000.

Macurdy also sang at the Paris Opera, Milan’s Teatro alla Scala and the Salzburg Festival.

Macurdy met pianist Justine Votypka at an annual opera workshop in 1955 and married her three years later. Besides his wife, he is survived by son John B. Macurdy, daughter Allison Hays and two grandchildren. A memorial will be held at a later date.

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