Leonard Warren (1911-1960)

I Pagliacci by Ruggiero Leoncavallo

Leonard Warren Leonard Warren (Warenoff) was born in New York to Russian immigrant parents. He studied with Sidney Dietch and performed in the chorus at Radio City Music Hall. In 1938 he entered the Metropolitan Opera Auditions of the Air and won a contract. The Met sent him to Italy that summer for a crash course in opera craft and to prepare his debut role, Paolo in Simon Boccanegra. His debut in that role followed in 1939 with the Met’s reigning baritone, Lawrence Tibbett singing the title role.

In his 1997 book, The American Opera Singer, Peter G. Davis says of Warren:

No major singer, not even Ponselle, arrived at the Metropolitan with less advance fanfare or experience. By the time he won the Met Auditions, Warren had seen just one opera—La Traviata at the Met—and his “sample case” of operatic material contained just five arias and “an inkling” of Rigoletto. Up till then his only stage appearance had been back in high school, when he played an Indian in a drama about Daniel Boone. But the voice he and Dietch were working on must have been there, even if no one at the Music Hall wanted to hear it. When Warren sang his first aria at the Auditions, conductor Wilfrid Pelletier rushed into the auditorium to check that someone was not substituting a recording by Ruffo or De Luca. The baritone won a contract on the spot and was sent to Italy for the summer for coaching with Riccardo Picozzi in Milan. there he learned five roles in seven months: Germont, Count di Luna, Ford, Tonio, and his debut role in Boccanegra—clearly Met management knew right away what repertory their new find would excel in. . . .

For once the Johnson team [at the Met] did not seize upon a fresh young voice and misuse it. Still very much the awkward novice when he returned from his crash course in Italy, Warren was brought along slowly. Even before his formal debut, on January 13, 1939, he was eased onstage during Sunday evening concerts, including scenes from Pagliacci and Rigoletto in costume. Other, more traditional apprentice roles quickly followed Paolo. . . . After Tibbett’s vocal crisis of 1940 and the onset of his slow decline, Warren soon found himself stepping into the older baritone’s roles. . .

Warren continued to develop as a singer and actor. Although he occasionally performed in Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Chicago and San Francisco, made a debut at La Scala (1953) and a Russian tour (1958), he seldom ventured from the Met. Peter Davis continues:
It was a quiet career, and one of slow, methodical, even dogged progress as the singer worked to improve his vocal style and his dramatic presence while carefully nurturing his voice. Indeed, the most dramatic moment of Warren’s life came on the very last night of it, during a performance of La Forza del Destino. . . . The baritone was about to launch the rousing cabaletta to Don Carlo’s aria, which begins “Morir, tremenda cosa” (to die, a momentous thing), when he pitched face-forward to the floor. A few minutes later he was pronounced dead of a massive cerebral vascular hemorrhage, and the rest of the performance was canceled. Warren was only forty-eight. . . .

The rich, rounded, mellow quality of [Warren’s] voice, fairly bursting with resonant overtones, may not have been to every taste, particularly those preferring a narrower baritonal focus that “speaks” more quickly on the note. But by any standards it was a deluxe, quintessentially “Metropolitan Opera sound,” one that seemed to take on a special glow and lustrousness as it opened up and spread itself generously around the big auditorium. And of course the easy top was its special glory—when relaxing with friends Warren would often tear into tenor arias like “Di quella pira” and toss off the high Cs that many tenors lacked. He could have, but never did, overindulge that applause-getting facility, and a careful listening to Warren’s recordings and live performances reveals just what a thoughtful singer he really was, especially when he is heard polishing his roles over the twenty-year period of his professional activities.

And this final tribute from Rudolf Bing:
Warren’s death was a terrible blow to the musical quality of our Italian wing: his was a unique voice of great beauty and power, perfectly placed for Verdi. Never an actor, he worked hard at everything he did, and invariably improved his dramatic performance from year to year. I honored him especially, perhaps for the care he took of himself, not racing around to parties or to perform in far places, making sure he would be in the best possible condition for every performance at the Metropolitan.

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