Tatiana Troyanos (September 12, 1938 – August 21, 1993) was an American mezzo-soprano of Greek and German descent, remembered as "one of the defining singers of her generation" (Boston Globe). Her voice, "a paradoxical voice—larger than life yet intensely human, brilliant yet warm, lyric yet dramatic"—"was the kind you recognize after one bar, and never forget," wrote Cori Ellison in Opera News. Troyanos led a distinguished international career and made a variety of admired operatic recordings, and beginning in 1976 was additionally known for her work with the Metropolitan Opera, with over 270 performances spanning twenty-two major roles. "She was extraordinarily intense, beautiful, and stylish in roles as diverse as Eboli, Santuzza, Geschwitz, Venus, Kundry, Jocasta, Carmen, and Giulietta, in addition to her great 'trouser' roles," said the Met's longtime Music Director, James Levine.
Born in New York City, Troyanos spent her earliest days in the Manhattan neighborhood where Lincoln Center, the new home of the Metropolitan Opera, would arise a quarter century later. She grew up in Forest Hills, Queens, and attended Forest Hills High School. Her parents, who had separated when she was an infant and later divorced, were operatic hopefuls who "had beautiful voices"; her father, born on the Greek island of Cephalonia, was a tenor and her mother, from Stuttgart, was a coloratura soprano. Tatiana was looked after by Greek relatives and lived for about ten years at the Brooklyn Home for Children in Forest Hills. She studied piano for seven years, first at the home (where her instructor was Metropolitan Opera bassoonist Louis Pietrini, who had volunteered to teach the children a variety of instruments, also teaching them solfège) and continuing, on scholarship, at the Brooklyn Music School. She sang in school choirs and the All City Chorus; when she was sixteen, a teacher heard her voice in the chorus and took time "to find out who the voice belonged to ... and got me to the Juilliard Preparatory School and my first voice teacher." (She was initially trained as a contralto, a range she found uncomfortable.) In her late teens, she moved to the Girls' Service League in Manhattan and later to a co-ed boarding house on E. 39th St., not far from the old Met, where she was a frequent standee. She was employed as a secretary to the director of publicity of Random House; performed in choruses, ranging from church choirs (with a scholarship at the First Presbyterian Church) to musical theater; and eventually began vocal studies with Hans Heinz at Juilliard, where she was chosen as a soloist for Bach's St. John Passion and the Verdi Requiem. She described Heinz, with whom she continued to study after her graduation in 1963, as "the major influence in my life ... Our work together built the foundation that was so essential to my career."
Operatic career: 1963–93
After a long run in the chorus in the original Broadway production of The Sound of Music, Troyanos was engaged by the New York City Opera and made her professional operatic debut in April 1963, on the opening night of the spring season, as Hippolyta in the New York premiere production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream. She sang the role of Marina Mnishek in that company's first production of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov the following year, as well as eight other roles through 1965. Offered a Metropolitan Opera contract with limited stage opportunities, she left that summer in quest of more intensive performing experience in Europe, where she made the Hamburg State Opera, led by the nurturing Rolf Liebermann, her home base for the next decade, first as a member of its renowned ensemble (her first roles there included Preziosilla in La Forza del Destino and Suzuki in Madama Butterfly) and later as a guest artist. The Aix-en-Provence Festival in 1966 saw her breakthrough performance in Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos (to the Ariadne of Régine Crespin); in her role debut as the Composer, wrote Elizabeth Forbes, "she made a heart-breaking—and heart-broken—adolescent, whose voice, in Strauss's great paean to the power of music, soared into the warm, Provencal night and seemed to hang there like the stars of a rocket." That performance, followed by her first Octavian in Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier at London's Covent Garden in 1968 (to the Marschallin of Lisa della Casa), effectively initiated her international career.
"Troyanos has a sumptuous voice, a very sharp intelligence, enormous ambition, and do-or-die determination to be a great artist," observed British record producer Walter Legge. She sang in Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Berlin, Edinburgh, Geneva, Milan, Montreal, Munich, Palermo, Paris, Rome, Salzburg, Stockholm, Toronto, Venice, Vienna, Zurich, and throughout the United States. A 1967 Hamburg Opera tour first brought her to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera's new home at Lincoln Center in a selection of twentieth-century repertory including Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, in which she "especially excelled with her rich voice" as Baba the Turk. Her acclaimed appearance as Handel's Ariodante opposite Beverly Sills in the opening week of the Kennedy Center in 1971 (under the baton of Julius Rudel, who had originally brought her to the New York City Opera) served to reintroduce her to American audiences. After debuts at the Lyric Opera of Chicago (Werther, 1971), Dallas Opera (Dido and Aeneas, 1972), Opera Company of Boston (I Capuleti e i Montecchi, 1975), and notably at San Francisco Opera (L'incoronazione di Poppea, 1975)—when the Chronicle's Robert Commanday wrote of her performance in Monteverdi's opera, "The means by which Poppea seduces Nero ... could liquefy even stone the way the sensational new mezzo soprano Tatiana Troyanos sang"—she returned to New York to make her Metropolitan Opera debut as Octavian, closely followed by the Composer, in the spring of 1976. "The star of the show was Miss Troyanos ... the most aristocratic Octavian at the Met in years," wrote Speight Jenkins in a review of the Rosenkavalier in the New York Post. "She has a large, warming lyric mezzo-soprano with perfect control ... her singing of the Trio and the final duet was perfection itself." Octavian (her most frequently sung role at the Met, with thirty performances) and the Composer were often described as her signature or calling-card roles.
A mainstay and "one of the most beloved artists at the Metropolitan Opera" from 1976 to her death in 1993, she was internationally revered for her uniquely sensual, burnished sound, her versatility and beauty, as well as the thrilling intensity of all her performances. "Because of the burning intensity and conviction of her dramatic projection," wrote Clyde T. McCants in his book on American opera singers, "sometimes listening to Troyanos's recordings we tend to forget the radiant glory of the voice itself." From 1981 to 1983, Troyanos appeared in all three season opening nights at the Met—"typically enough," James Levine, the conductor for all three, noted, "in three different styles and languages"—as Adalgisa in Bellini's Norma in 1981 (opposite Renata Scotto), Octavian in Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier in 1982 (opposite Kiri Te Kanawa), and Didon in Berlioz's Les Troyens in 1983 (with Jessye Norman and Plácido Domingo). She was also in seven new productions at the Met, four of which were company premieres. In her La Scala debut in 1977, she sang in Norma opposite Montserrat Caballé in the first opera performance to be televised live throughout the world.
Troyanos was known for her impassioned portrayals of everything from trouser roles to femmes fatales; "the most boyish rose-bearer was also the most womanly Charlotte," wrote George Birnbaum. In his book The American Opera Singer, critic Peter G. Davis found that "after Grace Bumbry and Shirley Verrett, the principal mezzo-soprano of the day was Tatiana Troyanos ... Troyanos seemed prepared to sing it all, and unlike Bumbry and Verrett, she was content with her mezzo-soprano lot." Asked which mezzo type she'd rather play, "somebody's mother or some guy," Troyanos once quipped, "I prefer the guys—but maybe a guy who also wears a beautiful dress from time to time." In Handel's Giulio Cesare, she sang both leading parts: Cleopatra (here essaying a soprano role, opposite Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau on Karl Richter's 1969 recording for Deutsche Grammophon), and the alto title role (at the opera in San Francisco in 1982, Geneva in 1983, and New York in 1988).
Other roles Troyanos sang on opera stages in the course of her career included
- Cavalli's Diana (in La Calisto)
- Purcell's Dido (in Dido and Aeneas)
- Gluck's Orfeo (in Orfeo ed Euridice)
- Cimarosa's Elisetta (in Il matrimonio segreto)
- Mozart's Cherubino (in Le Nozze di Figaro), Donna Elvira (in Don Giovanni), Dorabella (in Così fan tutte), and Sesto (in La Clemenza di Tito)
- Donizetti's Giovanna Seymour (in Anna Bolena) and Maffio Orsini (in Lucrezia Borgia)
- Bellini's Romeo (in I Capuleti e i Montecchi)
- Verdi's Amneris (in Aida) and Eboli (in Don Carlo)
- Mascagni's Santuzza (in Cavalleria Rusticana)
- Wagner's Venus (in Tannhäuser), Brangäne (in Tristan und Isolde), Fricka (in Das Rheingold), Waltraute (in Götterdämmerung), and Kundry (in Parsifal)
- Humperdinck's Hansel (in Hansel and Gretel)
- Johann Strauss's Prince Orlofsky (in Die Fledermaus)
- Richard Strauss's Clairon (in Capriccio)
- Bizet's Carmen
- Offenbach's Giulietta (in Les contes d'Hoffmann)
- Saint-Saëns' Dalila (in Samson et Dalila)
- Massenet's Charlotte (in Werther)
- Berg's Countess Geschwitz (in Lulu)
- Stravinsky's Jocasta (in Oedipus Rex)
and two roles she created,
- Penderecki's Sister Jeanne (in The Devils of Loudun), Hamburg State Opera, 1969
- Glass's Queen Isabella (in The Voyage), Metropolitan Opera, 1992
Her singing was preserved in thirty-five live Metropolitan Opera broadcasts of complete operas (a number of which, including roles she never recorded in the studio—Giulietta, Brangäne, Waltraute, Geschwitz—have been restored in recent years for the Met's satellite radio channel); she was also heard in broadcasts from San Francisco Opera (including Poppea and Caesar), Lyric Opera of Chicago (including Romeo and the Rheingold Fricka), and other companies. Eight more Met performances, plus a joint concert with Plácido Domingo, were televised, as were Norma (opposite Joan Sutherland) at Canadian Opera Company, and the last production in which she appeared, Capriccio at San Francisco Opera. All these telecasts have been released on home video except for the Met's Die Fledermaus and Les contes d'Hoffmann, which are available on "Opera on Demand."
Troyanos sang in concert performances of operas ranging from Handel's Deidamia and Mozart's Mitridate to Donizetti's Roberto Devereux and Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle (performing the latter, in the original Hungarian, under Pierre Boulez, Georg Solti, and Rafael Kubelik), in addition to concert works by Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Berlioz, Verdi, Ravel, Mahler, Prokofiev, Schoenberg, Berg and others. In 1984 she sang with the Philadelphia Orchestra in the world premiere, in English, of Act I of Rachmaninoff's opera Monna Vanna, which had been left in piano score by the composer and orchestrated by Igor Buketoff. Along with Monna Vanna, her performances of such works as Berlioz's Les nuits d'été and Mahler's Rückert Songs and Das Lied von der Erde could be heard on radio broadcasts of major American orchestras. She was featured in Chicago Symphony broadcasts from the Ravinia Festival from 1980 to 1990. Troyanos was also active as a song recitalist (she made her Carnegie Hall recital debut in 1978) and, after 1987, in a series of duo recitals with the soprano Benita Valente.
Troyanos enjoyed an equally versatile career as a recording artist, appearing in the title role of Georg Solti's recording of Bizet's Carmen, as Cherubino in Karl Böhm's 1968 recording of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, and as Anita in Leonard Bernstein's high-profile operatic recording of West Side Story, among many others. The St. James Opera Encyclopedia concluded that "although she inexplicably never made a recital record," many of her discs "capture her faithfully—or ... as faithfully as is possible without her marvelous physical presence ... In fact, she never made a bad record, and—artist that she was—in every case Troyanos contributed something unique and memorable."
These recordings were released on LP and/or CD:
- Bartók, Bluebeard's Castle – Judith (Boulez, 1976, Columbia/Sony)
- Beethoven, Symphony No. 9 (Böhm, 1970, DG)
- Bellini, I Capuleti e i Montecchi – Romeo (Caldwell/Scott, live 1975, VAI)
- Bellini, Norma – Adalgisa (Cillario, live 1975, Gala)
- Bellini, Norma – Adalgisa (Levine, 1979, Columbia/Sony)
- Bernstein, West Side Story – Anita (Bernstein, 1985, DG)
- Bizet, Carmen (Solti, 1975, Decca/London)
- Cavalieri, Rappresentatione di Anima, e di Corpo – Anima (Mackerras, 1970, DG Archiv)
- Donizetti, Lucrezia Borgia – Orsini (Rescigno, live 1973, Melodram)
- Handel, Giulio Cesare in Egitto – Cleopatra (Richter, 1969, DG)
- Mahler, Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection" (Boulez, live 1973, Documents)
- Mascagni, Cavalleria Rusticana – Santuzza (Schermerhorn, live 1976, Gala)
- Massenet, Werther – Charlotte (Plasson, 1979, EMI/Angel)
- Mozart, Così fan tutte – Dorabella (Leinsdorf, 1967, RCA/BMG)
- Mozart, Così fan tutte – Dorabella (Maag, live 1968, Mondo Musica)
- Mozart, Die Gärtnerin aus Liebe (La Finta Giardiniera) – Ramiro (Schmidt-Isserstedt, 1972, Philips)
- Mozart, Le Nozze di Figaro – Cherubino (Böhm, 1968, DG)
- Mozart, Le Nozze di Figaro – Marcellina (Levine, 1990, DG)
- Mozart, Missa Brevis in C, "Sparrow Mass" (Kubelik, 1973, DG)
- Penderecki, Die Teufel von Loudun – Jeanne (Janowski, 1969, DG)
- Purcell, Dido and Aeneas – Dido (Mackerras, 1967, DG Archiv)
- Purcell, Dido and Aeneas – Dido (Leppard, 1977, Erato/Apex)
- Scarlatti, A., Endimione e Cintia – Cintia (Lange, 1969, DG Archiv)
- Schoenberg, Gurrelieder – Wood Dove (Ozawa, 1979, Philips)
- Strauss, Ariadne auf Naxos – Composer (Böhm, live 1967, Melodram)
- Strauss, Ariadne auf Naxos – Composer (Böhm, 1969, DG)
- Strauss, Ariadne auf Naxos – Composer (Solti, 1977, Decca/London)
- Strauss, Capriccio – Clairon (Böhm, 1971, DG)
- Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier – Octavian (Böhm, live 1969, DG)
- Stravinsky, Oedipus Rex – Jocasta (Abbado, live 1969, Opera d'Oro/Memories)
- Stravinsky, Oedipus Rex – Jocasta (Bernstein, 1972, Columbia/Sony)
- Wagner, Götterdämmerung – Second Norn (Levine, 1989, DG)
- Auger, Janowitz and Troyanos in Concert – Handel, Mozart, Strauss (Eichhorn, live 1968, Originals/Bella Voce)
- Troyanos and Valente – Handel and Mozart, Arias & Duets (Rudel, 1991, MusicMasters/Musical Heritage)
- A Salute to American Music, Richard Tucker Music Foundation Gala XVI – Copland, "At the River" (Conlon, 1991, RCA/BMG)
- Tatiana Troyanos in Recital – Schumann, "Frauenliebe und -leben"; Rachmaninoff, Ravel, Rossini, Bizet, Mahler (Levine, piano, live 1985, VAI, released 1999)
There are DVDs of 10 complete operas featuring Troyanos:
- Jeanne – Die Teufel von Loudun, Penderecki (Janowski, 1969)
- Santuzza – Cavalleria Rusticana, Mascagni (Levine, 1978)
- Eboli – Don Carlo, Verdi (Levine, 1980)
- Sesto – La Clemenza di Tito, Mozart (Levine, 1980)
- Adalgisa – Norma, Bellini (Bonynge, 1981)
- Octavian – Der Rosenkavalier, R. Strauss (Levine, 1982)
- Venus – Tannhäuser, Wagner (Levine, 1982)
- Didon – Les Troyens, Berlioz (Levine, 1983)
- Composer – Ariadne auf Naxos, R. Strauss (Levine, 1988)
- Clairon – Capriccio, R. Strauss (Runnicles, 1993)
There are also on DVD:
- In Concert At The Met with Plácido Domingo (Levine, 1982)
- The Making Of West Side Story (Bernstein, 1985)
- George London: A Tribute: Mozart, "Deh, per questo istante" (Hollreiser, 1984)
- The Unanswered Question: Poetry of Earth (6): Stravinsky, Oedipus Rex – Jocasta (Bernstein, 1972)
Troyanos died on August 21, 1993, at the age of 54 in New York City from breast cancer (first diagnosed in the mid-1980s), which was found in July 1993 to have metastasized to her liver. She is buried in Pinelawn Memorial Park on Long Island. In 1994, the Metropolitan Opera performed a concert in memory of Troyanos; in his printed eulogy, Music Director James Levine wrote, "The idea that we are gathered here ... to pay memorial tribute to Tatiana Troyanos is incomprehensible. What it means, of course, is that our Metropolitan Opera family has lost one of the most important, beloved artists and friends in its entire history."
Although she had become known to suffer increasingly from chronic physical ailments as well as severe performance anxiety (Opera magazine said she was, "by all reports, someone caught between a rock and a hard place: her stage fright was equalled only by her love of singing"), Troyanos had successfully concealed her more grave illness from the vast majority of her colleagues, and "the death came as a shock to the close-knit opera community." She had sung her last Met performance—the last of three as Waltraute (a role debut) to Gwyneth Jones' Brünnhilde in Wagner's Götterdämmerung—on May 1, 1993. That April and May, she also sang in Mahler's Third Symphony with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in both Boston and New York. "Troyanos is still a profoundly immediate and expressive artist," wrote Richard Dyer in the Boston Globe, citing her "pliant and meaningful delivery and coloration of the text" and her "beautiful, sophisticated and natural shaping of the musical line." James Oestreich in The New York Times reported that "Troyanos offered a searching, almost harrowing reading." Troyanos' last stage appearances were in a lighter vein, as the actress Clairon in Richard Strauss' Capriccio at San Francisco Opera between June 12 and July 1, 1993. This revival, Joseph McLellan of the Washington Post recalled, was "highlighted not only by the radiant presence of Kiri Te Kanawa but by the deceptively robust performance of Tatiana Troyanos." Daniel Kessler observed that "beneath the veneer of the casualness of her Clairon for San Francisco on those late 1993 Spring evenings, with each performance she gave, there was a conscious endeavor to build or perfect over what had gone before." Troyanos last sang on the last day of her life, in Lenox Hill Hospital for other patients, one of whom "told her that this was the first time in three years that she had completely forgotten her pain."
Troyanos, who died twenty-two days before her 55th birthday, was one of three female opera stars of international stature who succumbed to cancer in 1993 in or near their 55th year; the others were sopranos Lucia Popp and Arleen Auger.
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- Tatiana Troyanos Archives
- Tatiana Troyanos forum
- Troyanos at the Metropolitan Opera
- Troyanos at the San Francisco Opera
- Troyanos at Internet Movie Database