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Merritt began piano studies at 8 years of age with Viola Knight. During this time, he also studied art at the Oklahoma Museum of Art. At 9 years of age he began dance studies under Jewel Grigsby. Finally, Merritt began singing lessons in the preparatory department of Oklahoma City University at 15 years of age. His teacher was Florence Gillam Birdwell. By this time, he had already changed piano studies to Oklahoma City University preparatory department with Dr. Robert Laughlin. It was also Oklahoma City University where he made his first operatic appearance in Douglas Moore's The Ballad of Baby Doe, at the age of 17, in a university production and singing alongside university-school-mates Leona Mitchell, Gwendolyn Jones, Stephen Dickson and Robert Pappas. At 18 and 19 years of age he performed and studied at Inspiration Point Fine Arts Colony (Arkansas) under direction of Dr. Isaac van Grove and assistant Roger Cantrell. At age 20 he was accepted at the Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts (Virginia) as fellowship artist where he studied and coached with John Moriarti, Benton Hess and Rhoda Levine, among others. At age 21 he was accepted into the summer season Apprentice Program for Singers at the Santa Fe Opera. Chris Merritt's sole voice teachers were Inez Lunsford Silberg and Florence Gillam Birdwell, both at Oklahoma City University, during his college carrier there from 1970 to 1978, and from where he later also received an Honorary Doctorate of Music. In addition to his vocal studies there, Merritt trained in acting with Carveth Osterhaus, dance with Conrad Ludlow and Joy Feldmann, costume, wigs and make-up with Lee Danser and performed under the watchful eye of Dr. Ray E. Luke, conductor.
During his career, Merritt has been given the advise and direct help of not only his wonderful and talented managers and agents...Dr. Rudolf Raab of Agentur Raab-Vienna, Elisabeth Crittenden and Andrea Anson of CAMI-New York, Michel Glotz of MusicaGlotz-Paris, Tom Graham of IMG-London and Peter Bloor-AskonasHolt, London...but also of three people who figured especially large in offering help and advise at the beginning of his career; Matthew Epstein, Beverly Sills and, above all, Marilyn Horne.
Chris Merritt made his official professional debut at Santa Fe Opera in 1975, as Caius in Verdi's Falstaff, singing with Thomas Stewart, Ruth Welting, Helen Vanni, Jean Kraft, Betty Allen and James Atherton in a production by Colin Graham. The conductor was Edo de Waart.
In 1977, Chris Merritt attended the American Institute of Musical Studies (AIMS) in Graz, Austria as a scholarship recipient. During the institute's end-of-studies-program concert in 1977, Merritt was heard by many European agents. It was the Viennese agent Dr. Rudolf Raab with whom he collaborated for representation. Merritt returned to the AIMS program in 1978 where he made his European debut in a concert broadcast live from Graz' Schloss Eggenberg on ORF Austrian National Radio, singing Janáček's song-cycle The Diary of One who Vanished and collaborating with pianist Norman Shettler.
Chris Merritt began a three-year engagement as ensemble member of the Landestheater Salzburg in the fall of 1978. From 1981 to 1984 Merritt sang as ensemble member at the Staedtische Buehnen Augsburg in Germany.
From 1978 to 1984, Merritt performed as guest artist in Kiel, Karlsruhe and Linz, as well as two seasons performing with "Fest In Hellbrunn" in Salzburg. Here he was heard singing in such operas as Gluck's La Danza (also in a studio recording with soprano Noelle Rodgers, for ORF Austrian National Recording), Haydn's Philemon und Baucis, Telemann's Der Geduldige Sokrates, Offenbach's Les Deux Aveugle and Richard Strauss' Des Esels Schatten, in a world premier of the posthumously-completed full-orchestration, which was recorded and televised for ORF, Austrian National Television. The performances with Fest in Hellbrunn were all conducted by Ernst Maerzendorfer.
Performances of concert work during this period included Haydn's Der Schoepfung and Bach's St Matthew's Passion (Evangelist and arias) in Denmark, Augsburg and with the Wiener Symphoniker in Vienna's Musikverein, conducted by Xaver Meyer, Bruckner's Te Deum at Vienna's Konzerthaus, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with the Hamburg Symphoniker, and Verdi's Messe da Requiem in Kiel. In Salzburg he was heard in Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, Mozart's Requiem, and Handel's Messiah. Additionally in Salzburg he was heard singing in Leopold Mozart's Lauretanische Litenei, Adlgasse's Te Deum and Michael Haydn's Requiem, all of which were recorded for the Schwann-Koch Label.
Also during this time in Salzburg, Merritt sang in concert performances of the world premier of Franz Richter Herf's Odysseus, together with Barbara Bonney. This was conducted by Rupert Huber and was also recorded.
Auditioning for Beverly Sills during her tour of Germany searching for US talent to bring back home won him the role of Arturo in I Puritani for his debut with the New York City Opera in 1981, singing with June Anderson. Also in 1981, Merritt met Marcel Prawy, of the Vienna State Opera, in Salzburg. Prawy arranged a house audition at the Viennese opera company and Merritt was offered the role of Leopold in Halevy's La Juive for his debut in concert performances alongside of Jose Carreras and Cesare Siepi, conducted by Gerd Albrecht. In 1983, Merritt made his debut at New York City's Carnegie Hall, singing Argirio in Rossini's Tancredi with Marilyn Horne, Lella Cuberli and Justino Diaz; the conductor was Ralf Weikert. Later in 1983, Merritt made his debut at L'Opera de Paris' Palais Garnier in Rossini's Moise, the composer's French re-write of Mose in Egitto, as Amenophis singing alongside of Samuel Ramey, Cecilia Gasdia, Jean-Phillip Lafont and Shirley Varrett, conducted by Georges Pretre and directed by Luca Ronconi. Also that same year, Merritt made his UK debut in London with the London Philharmonic singing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony at the Royal Festival Hall, conducted by Klaus Tennstedt and singing with Linda Esther Grey, Anne Sofie von Otter and Robert Lloyd.
Merritt had five important debuts in 1985. He was heard debuting at London's Covent Garden as Giacomo/Uberto in Rossini's La Donna del Lago alongside Marilyn Horne, Frederica von Stade and Gwynne Howell in a production by Frank Corsaro, conducted by Lawrence Foster. Merritt debuted at the Hamburg State Opera as Idreno in Rossini's Semiramide with Monserrat Caballe, Marilyn Horne and Samuel Ramey, conducted by Henry Lewis in concert performances. Merritt's Italian debut was at Pesaro's Rossini Opera Festival, singing in the composer's Maometto II as Paolo Erisso; his colleagues were Cecilia Gasdia, Lucia Valentini-Terrani and Samuel Ramey in a production by Pier Luigi Pizzi which was conducted by Claudio Scimone. Shortly after, he made his La Scala debut in Milan, performing Conte Libenskof in Rossini's Il Viaggio a Reims, together with Katia Ricciarelli, Lella Cuberli, Cecilia Gasdia, Lucia Valentini-Terrani, Enzo Dara, Ruggerio Raimondi and Samuel Ramey. This production was directed by Luca Roconi and conducted by Claudio Abbado. Finally, Merritt made his debut at the Lyric Opera of Chicago as Percy in Donizetti's Anna Bolena, singing with Joan Sutherland, Paul Plishka, Stefania Toczyska, Elena Zilio and Mark Doss. The director was Lotfi Mansouri, and Richard Bonynge conducted.
His Met debut took place on November 30, 1990, when he sang again with Marilyn Horne and Samuel Ramey the role of Idreno in Rossini's Semiramide. That same season he sang there the role of Arturo in I puritani along with Edita Gruberova and Paul Plishka, conducted by Richard Bonynge. Successively he performed at the Met also in principal roles in Rusalka with Renee Fleming and Dolora Zajick (in 1997), and Káťa Kabanová with Karita Mattila and Magdelena Kozena (in 2005, being, so far, his last appearance at the Met).
In other places, he sang again at Covent Garden as Idreno in SEMIRAMIDE, Arnold in Guillaume Tell (in 1990 and in 1992) Boulevard Solitude (Henze) and Katja Kabanova. At the San Francisco Opera he sang in Maometto II (debut in 1988), and also in the role of Arnold in Guillaume Tell in 1992 and 1997/98 season, Otello (Rossini), I vespri siciliani, St. Francis d'Assise and Doktor Faust. On August 6, 1993, he sang the title role in Sigurd at the sole performance of that rarely performed opera at the Festival Montpellier. He opened twice (1988 and 1989) the opera season in La Scala, with Guillaume Tell and I Vespri Siciliani, both conducted by Riccardo Muti, then returning as Rodrigo in LA DONNA DEL LAGO, also conducted by Riccardo Muti. At the Opera de Paris, he has returned in the title role of BENVENUTO CELLINI, two different seasons as Herod in SALOME, Le Lepreux in SAINT FRANCOIS D'ASSISE, and as Eliezar in LA JUIVE.