Clarence Whitehill

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Clarence Whitehill in 1917

Clarence Eugene Whitehill (November 5, 1871 - December 19, 1932) was a leading American bass-baritone. He sang at the Metropolitan Opera from 1915 to 1932.[1] He sang on both sides of the Atlantic and is best remembered for his association with the music dramas of Richard Wagner, and for his recordings of well-known music hall ballads such as "I'll take you home again, Kathleen".


He was born on November 5, 1871 in Marengo, Iowa.

Whitehill first studied in Chicago with L. A. Phelps, and then in Paris with Giraudet and the celebrated pedagogue Giovanni Sbriglia. In 1898, he made his stage debut at La Monnaie in Brussels, as Capulet in Roméo et Juliette. He sang Nilakhanta at the Opéra-Comique the next year, becoming the first ever American singer to perform in that famous theatre.

Wishing to broaden his repertoire, Whitehill travelled to Frankfurt in Germany to further his studies with Julius Stockhausen. He subsequently appeared on stage in several German cities, while studying the big Wagnerian baritone and bass-baritone roles. In 1904, he made a highly successful debut at the Bayreuth Festival as Wolfram in Tannhäuser. Later, he sang Amfortas and Wotan, garnering equal praise from critics and audiences.

Whitehill went on to appear with considerable success at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, in the first Ring Cycle given there in the English language. He decided, however, that the time had come for him to leave Europe and return to America, and he made his Metropolitan Opera debut. on November 25, 1909.

He married Isabel Rush on July 24, 1912. She was the widow of James Rervey Simpson.[2]

He would enjoy a long and praiseworthy career at the Met despite a throat ailment which periodically affected one of his vocal cords. He was especially acclaimed in such taxing Wagnerian parts as Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, but he also appeared in the Met premiere of the French operas Louise (in 1921) and Pelléas et Mélisande (in 1925), and in the North American premiere of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's one-act opera Violanta (on 5 November 1927).

He was to remain on the Met's roster of singers until May 14, 1932 when he retired in a dispute.[1]

He died on December 19, 1932 in Manhattan, New York City.[3]


Whitehill was notable for the tonal beauty of his large voice, the nobility of his singing style and the dignity of his stage demeanour. His diction, phrasing and enunciation were considered to be exemplary, too, while his interpretations were said to have a poignant intensity which set them apart from those of his contemporaries. Fortunately, Whitehill made a number of gramophone records prior to World War I which display something of his greatness as a Wagnerian singer. Many of these recordings are available on CD reissues. For a discussion of their qualities, see Michael Scott's The Record of Singing, Volume One (Duckworth, London, 1977).


  1. ^ a b "Whitehill, Quitting Opera, Scores Gatti". New York Times. May 14, 1932. Retrieved 2015-03-27. American Singer Lays Bias and Waste at Manager's Door. Demands Native Director. Cause Of Break In Dispute. Vocal Condition of 60-Year-Old Baritone Declared Factor in Refusal of Engagement. Anti-Americanism Denied. Veteran to Play in Talkies Under Two-Year Contract, He Announces. At Metropolitan Since 1915. Clarence Whitehill, veteran American singer, took a stormy departure from grand opera yesterday. In announcing to reporters that he was leaving the Metropolitan Opera Company, with which he had been associated since 1915, he charged its general manager, Giulio Gatti-Casazza, with wasting the organization's funds and with entertaining a bias against American artists. 
  2. ^ "Operatic Baritone's Marriage to Mrs. Isabel R. Simpson Is Just Announced". New York Times. November 6, 1912. Retrieved 2015-03-27. 
  3. ^ "Masonic Service for Whitehill". New York Times. December 22, 1932. Retrieved 2015-03-27. Fellow musicians and friends attended a service for the late Clarence E. Whitehill, the opera baritone, held last evening at the MacDougall Funeral Parlors, 40 West ... 
  • The Metropolitan Opera Encyclopedia, edited by David Hamilton, (Simon & Schuster, New York, 1987), ISBN 0-671-61732-X