|Cornell MacNeil was born Sept. 24,
1922, in Minneapolis. His father was a dentist, his mother a singer. He told
the New York Post in 1973, “I can’t remember when I didn’t sing.” He performed
on radio at 12.
Severe asthma kept him out of the military during World War II.
When he decided not to go to college, his father stopped supporting him. Mr. MacNeil found work as a machinist at a Pratt & Whitney engine plant in Hartford, Conn., while studying at the nearby Hartt School conservatory.
He began to find small parts in musicals and summer-stock theater and made his operatic debut in 1950 in Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Consul.” Mr. MacNeil was 30 before he gave up his job as a supervisor at a Bulova watch factory in New York to devote himself to opera.
He sang with the New York City Opera from 1953 to 1956, earning rapturous reviews, then traveled widely around the world.
Mr. MacNeil, who possessed a robust voice and a powerful stage presence, had modest success before leaping to operatic stardom in 1959. In the same month, he made triumphant debuts at La Scala in Milan and the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
After appearing in Verdi’s “Ernani” at La Scala on March 5, 1959, he was summoned to substitute for an ailing Robert Merrill in the title role of Verdi’s “Rigoletto” at the Metropolitan Opera on March 21. Mr. MacNeil arrived in New York on the day of the performance, with only enough time to be fitted for a costume before the opening curtain. Over the next 28 years, Mr. MacNeil sang more than 600 times at the Met, including more than 100 performances of “Rigoletto.”
Music critic Winthrop Sargeant wrote in the New Yorker in 1966 that Mr. MacNeil was “one of the truly great Rigolettos, with a voice of immense size and a fine grasp of character.”
He became equally renowned for his portrayals of Iago in Verdi’s “Otello,” Count di Luna in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” and Scarpia, the malevolent police chief in Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca.”
As president of the American Guild of Musical Artists, Mr. MacNeil represented performers in negotiations with the Met’s management for years.
In retirement, he lived in Toronto and Charlottesville, where he had an elaborate woodworking shop. He died on July 15, 2011.
His first marriage, to singer Margaret Gavan, ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife since 1972, violinist Tania Rudensky of Charlottesville; five children from his first marriage; two grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
-- Part of the obituary in the Washington Post by Matt Schudel
Cornell MacNeil at Lyric Opera of Chicago
1957 - Manon Lescaut (Lescaut) with Tebaldi, Bjoerling, Badioli, Velis; Serafin
Cavalleria rusticana (Alfio) with Simionato, Sullivan, Nadell; Kopp
Pagliacci (Silvio & Prologue) with Likova, Del Monaco, Gobbi, Caruso; Bartoletti, Rosing (dir)
1958 - Falstaff (Ford) with Gobbi, Tebaldi, Moffo, Simionato, Canali, Misciano; Serafin
Madama Butterfly (Sharpless) with Tebaldi, DiStefano, Canali, Caruso; Kondrashin
Pagliacci (Silvio (& Prologue?*)) with Likova, DeStefano, Gobbi, Caruso; Serafin, Rosing (dir)
Rigoletto (Rigoletto) with Moffo, Bjoerling, Wildermann, Steffan, Krainik (Giovanna); Sebastian
1965 - Rigoletto (Rigoletto) with Scotto, Kraus, Vinco, Cassei, Krainik (Giovanna); Sebastian
1976 - Tosca (Scarpia) with Neblett, Pavarotti, Tajo, Giorgetti, Andreolli; López-Cobos, Gobbi (dir)
1982 - Pagliacci (Tonio) with Barstow, Vickers, Carlson, Gordon; Cillario, Zeffirelli (prod)
* According to the annals as posted on the Lyric Opera website, MacNeil sang "Silvio & Prologue" in 1957. In 1958, MacNeil is only listed as "Silvio". However, the production was the same, and Gobbi (who was again singing "Tonio") had sung the title role in Gianni Schicchi earlier in the evening. Vladimir Rosing was the director both years, but the veteran conductor, Tulio Serafin, might have changed in 1958 what the then-young Bruno Bartoletti had allowed the previous year.
-- Note: Names which are links (both in this box and below) refer to my interviews elsewhere on this website
Fabritiis (June 13, 1902 - August 12, 1982) was born in Rome, where he studied
with Refice and Setaccialo. He made his debut at the Teatro Nazionale in
Rome in 1920, and later moved to the Teatro Adriano. He was artistic secretary
at the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma from 1932 until 1943. He inaugurated the
summer performances at the Baths of Caracalla in 1937, with Lucia di Lammermoor.
He conducted widely in Italy, notably in Verona from 1948 until 1980. He conducted many operas with Beniamino Gigli, with whom he also made recordings of Andrea Chénier, Tosca, and Madama Butterfly. In 1951 De Fabritiis conducted a series of performances in Mexico City with Maria Callas. In 1956, he conducted the television production of Madama Butterfly which launched Anna Moffo's career. That same year he conducted the soundtrack of a filmed Tosca with Maria Caniglia (voicing the on-screen Franca Duval), and Franco Corelli. He also conducted Leontyne Price in her first operatic album for RCA (a 1960 collection of Verdi and Puccini arias, known as "The Blue Album"), and Luciano Pavarotti and Montserrat Caballé in recordings of Mefistofele and Andrea Chénier.
He appeared widely in Europe, America and Japan, mostly conducting the standard Italian opera repertory. He was admired for his Italianate warmth of expression, and for his skills at balancing consideration for voices and instrumental details.
He was also the composer of a number of vocal works.
This conversation was recorded in Chicago on November 11, 1982. Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1987, 1992 and 1997. This transcription was made in 2014, and posted on this website at that time. My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago. You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.