Richard Versalle (3 December 1932 – 5 January 1996) was an American operatic tenor, who had an international career including performances at the Bayreuth Festival and the Vienna State Opera. He died while singing in a performance of The Makropulos Case, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.
Versalle was born in Muskegon, Michigan. After serving in the submarine branch of the US Navy, he worked in business while studying singing. He was initially known as a concert and oratorio singer and did not make his operatic stage debut until the age of 45 when he sang Augustin Moser in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at Chicago Lyric Opera. He specialised in the heavier tenor roles such as the title role in Otello, Florestan in Fidelio, Tristan in Tristan und Isolde, and most notably the title role in Tannhäuser, which he sang at Bayreuth in 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1989, as well as in Genoa, Tokyo, Vienna, Bonn, and the Met.
Versalle made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera on 8 December 1978, when he sang the minor role of the Messenger in Aida. After that, he sang primarily in Europe, having made his European debut in 1981 as Otello at the Saarbrücken opera house . At Saarbrücken he also sang the title role in Peter Grimes and Siegmund in Die Walküre (1988). He returned to the Met in 1992 when he sang Tannhäuser. He was at the Met again in 1995 singing Jacob Schmidt in John Dexter's production of Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.
Versalle died on 5 January 1996, while portraying Vitek (an elderly law clerk) in what was to have been the Metropolitan Opera premiere of Janáček's The Makropulos Case. Only a few minutes into the performance, and after singing the line "You can only live so long" while halfway up a 20-foot (6 meter) ladder, he suffered a fatal heart attack, and fell onto the stage.
- Mahler: Symphony No.8 – London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, Klaus Tennstedt (conductor). Label: EMI CD
- Wagner: Tannhäuser – Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus, Giuseppe Sinopoli (conductor). Label: Euroarts DVD
- Wagner: Tristan und Isolde – Teatro Real Madrid Orchestra and Chorus, Peter Schneider (conductor). Label: Fiori CD
Notes and references
- Forbes (11 January 1996)
- Bayreuther Festspiele
- The Makropulos Case: Act I fragment. Metropolitan Opera House: 01/5/1996 (MetOpera Database); Davis (29 January 1996) p. 48
- Bayreuther Festspiele, Richard Versalle
- Davis, Peter G., "The Makropulos Curse", New York Magazine, 29 January 1996.
- Forbes, Elizabeth, "Obituary: Richard Versalle", The Independent, 11 January 1996
- Holloway, Lynette, "Richard Versalle, 63, Met Tenor, Dies After Fall in a Performance", New York Times, 7 January 1996.
- Metropolitan Opera, Versalle, Richard (Tenor), performance record on the MetOpera Database