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 (Don Carlos), Santuzza (Cavalleria rusticana), Geschwitz (Lulu), Venus (Tannhäuser), Kundry (Parsifal), Jocasta (Oedipus rex), Carmen (Carmen), and Giulietta (Les contes d'Hoffmann), 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 veteran Metropolitan Opera bassoonist Louis Pietrini, who had volunteered to teach the children a variety of instruments—initially teaching them solfège, which Troyanos later called "the basis of my musical education"), and continuing, on scholarship, at the Brooklyn Music School; in several interviews she recalled early expectations of becoming a concert pianist. "Determined since childhood," by other accounts, "to become an opera singer," she sang in school choirs and New York's All City High School 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, which she frequently attended as a standee. She was employed as a secretary to the director of publicity at Random House, and performed in choruses, ranging from church choirs (with a scholarship at the First Presbyterian Church) to musical theater; “Tatiana Troyanos, almost hidden in the chorus, came soaring through with a pellucid and magnificent quality of tone as the Arab Singing Girl,” proclaimed the Boston Globe's Kevin Kelly in a review of a summer stock production of Fanny in September 1958. Continuing at the Juilliard School, Troyanos was chosen as a soloist for Bach's St. John Passion in 1959 and for the Verdi Requiem in 1962, by which time she had begun vocal studies with Hans Heinz, who "understood my voice and helped me open it up at the top ... and gradually I found all my top notes." 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 (she was in the opening-night cast in November 1959), Troyanos was engaged by the New York City Opera and made her professional operatic debut in April 1963, on the first night of the spring season, as Hippolyta in the New York premiere production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream. She also sang Jocasta in Stravinsky's Oedipus rex that season, Marina in the company's first production of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov the following year, and various other roles through 1965. These years also saw performances of Dorabella in Così fan tutte at the Aspen Music Festival, Carmen at the Kentucky Opera, the contralto roles in Iolanthe and The Yeomen of the Guard at the Boston Arts Festival, as well as Herodias in Salome with the Toronto Symphony. Offered a Metropolitan Opera contract with limited stage opportunities, but choosing a path also taken by other American singers at the time, she left in the summer of 1965 in quest of more intensive performing experience in Europe, where, after successful auditions for three companies, she was to make 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 and later as a guest artist. "It made sense to go to Germany," she recalled. "I found an intendant [Liebermann] ... who encouraged me and who knew how to further my career slowly. That was really what I wanted. I wanted to be in the theater every day, learning roles slowly, not quickly, and certainly not under any kind of pressure. That's really what I got." Her first parts there included Lola in Cavalleria rusticana and Preziosilla in the premiere of a new production of La forza del destino, and by year's end she was singing Carmen, a key role she would later bring to Geneva, London, and the Metropolitan Opera spring tour. Eventually at Hamburg she would sing, in her words, "just about every mezzo role around." But it was the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 1966 (for which Liebermann himself had recommended her) that presented 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—although, said Liebermann, "she returned to Hamburg unspoiled" after her triumph at Aix and "'took up her modest engagements as if nothing had happened.'"
"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, London, Milan, Montreal, Munich, Palermo, Paris, Rome, Salzburg, Stockholm, Stuttgart, 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 (as Charlotte in Massenet's Werther, 1971), Dallas Opera (Dido in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, 1972), Opera Company of Boston (Romeo in Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi, 1975), and notably at San Francisco Opera (Poppea in Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea, 1975—about which the Chronicle's Robert Commanday wrote, "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 through 1986) and the Composer were often described as her signature or calling-card roles. She also became closely identified, on stage and screen, with another trouser role, Sesto in Mozart's La clemenza di Tito, and Martin Mayer wrote in Opera magazine that she "gave the work a dramatic punch few of us had known was there." Her other most frequent appearances at the Met were as Prince Orlofsky in Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus, Venus in Wagner's Tannhäuser, Giulietta in Offenbach's Les contes d'Hoffmann, and Eboli in Verdi's Don Carlos.
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." While the St. James Opera Encyclopedia acknowledged that "the persistent pulse of her vibrato," which imbued roles like Carmen with "a fiercely elemental life force," was "not to every listener's taste," David Hamilton offered another perspective: the "close pickup" of one recording, he wrote in High Fidelity magazine, "unflatteringly magnifies the natural vibrato of Tatiana Troyanos' beautiful voice into something more like a beat ... a distortion of the effect she makes in a hall."
As her "vibrato uncoiled to yield a plummier sound," wrote Cori Ellison, "she chose to stretch her medium-weight voice to suit her temperament," adding Wagner roles at the Met—beginning with Venus in Tannhäuser (opening the 1978 season) and Kundry in Parsifal (initially in a Saturday matinee broadcast in 1980)—while continuing to sing Mozart, Handel (a New York Times profile in 1985 was headlined "Tatiana Troyanos Sings the Praises of Handel"), and Cavalli. From 1981 to 1983, she 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 (alongside Jessye Norman and Plácido Domingo). She was also in seven new productions at the Met, including the company's premiere productions of Berg's Lulu (as Countess Geschwitz) in 1977, Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex (as Jocasta) in 1981, Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito (as Sesto) in 1984, and Handel's Giulio Cesare (as Cesare) in 1988. 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 the Classical CD Scout. "I'm lucky that I look like the roles I do, whether it's Octavian or Carmen or Kundry or Giulietta," said Troyanos. "It's a flexible look and I'm a flexible actress. I must get ahold of a role or die." In his book The American Opera Singer, Peter G. Davis found that "after Grace Bumbry and Shirley Verrett, the principal mezzo-soprano of the day was Tatiana Troyanos"; her voice's "dark, burnt-amber texture was distinctive and alluring," he wrote, "smoothly consistent from the lowest contralto depths to a stunning high B-flat." (Troyanos could also soar to a brilliant high C, which can be heard in her studio and live recordings of Adalgisa in Norma and Judith in Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle, as well as Santuzza's final cry in Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana.) "Troyanos seemed prepared to sing it all," Davis continued, but "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 of Caesar (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)
- Gluck's Orfeo (in Orfeo ed Euridice)
- Cimarosa's Elisetta (in Il matrimonio segreto)
- Mozart's Cherubino (in Le nozze di Figaro) and Donna Elvira (in Don Giovanni)
- Donizetti's Giovanna Seymour (in Anna Bolena) and Maffio Orsini (in Lucrezia Borgia)
- Verdi's Amneris (in Aida)
- Puccini's Suzuki (in Madama Butterfly)
- Wagner's Brangäne (in Tristan und Isolde), Fricka (in Das Rheingold), and Waltraute (in Götterdämmerung)
- Humperdinck's Hansel (in Hansel and Gretel)
- Richard Strauss's Clairon (in Capriccio)
- Berlioz's Marguerite (in La damnation de Faust)
- Saint-Saëns' Dalila (in Samson and Delilah)
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—Princess Eboli, 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 in home video versions except for the Met's Die Fledermaus and Les contes d'Hoffmann, which are available from its streaming service, "Opera on Demand."
Troyanos sang roles in concert performances of operas ranging from Ulysses in Handel's Deidamia (Washington, 1987) and Farnace in Mozart's Mitridate, re di Ponto (New York, 1992) to Sara in Donizetti's Roberto Devereux (London, 1970) and Judith in Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle (in Hungarian, under Georg Solti, Pierre Boulez and Rafael Kubelik in Chicago, Cleveland, New York and London between 1972 and 1981), 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 pieces 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, which included works like Beethoven's Missa Solemnis and Mahler's Das klagende Lied. Troyanos was also active as a song recitalist (her first recital was at the Paris Opera in 1972 and she made a Carnegie Hall recital debut in 1978), as well as in a series of duo recitals with the soprano Benita Valente which began after they co-starred in Ariodante at the Santa Fe Opera in 1987. Concert telecasts with Troyanos included Schoenberg's Gurre-Lieder with the Boston Symphony in 1979 and a recital with pianist Martin Katz, featuring Ravel's Shéhérazade, Falla's Siete canciones populares españolas and songs by Berlioz and Mahler, at the Casals Festival in 1985.
Troyanos enjoyed an equally versatile career as a recording artist; her first appearance as a soloist in a recording hall was as Dorabella, opposite Leontyne Price's Fiordiligi, in Mozart's Così fan tutte under Erich Leinsdorf (recorded in London in 1967, released in 1968, and winner of the Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording in 1969). She went on to sing Cherubino in Karl Böhm's recording of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, the title role in Bizet's Carmen for Sir Georg Solti (she was described in the Penguin classical record guide as "quite simply the subtlest Carmen on record ... Troyanos' singing is delicately seductive too"), the Composer in Ariadne for both Böhm and Solti, Dido in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas for both Charles Mackerras and Raymond Leppard, and Anita in Leonard Bernstein's high-profile (if controversial) operatic recording of his West Side Story, among numerous other roles. David Anthony Fox in 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 commercially 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 1974, 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, Gurre-Lieder – 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, Four Songs; Ravel, "Five Greek Folksongs"; Rossini, "La Regata Veneziana" (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, in New York, at the age of 54, of cancer. Nine years after her death, Opera News identified this as breast cancer, initially diagnosed in the mid-1980s and later in remission, which was found only in July 1993 to have metastasized to her liver. Her earlier cancer diagnosis had been undisclosed at the time; the Opera News article, by Eric Myers, now reported that "through all her treatments, she valiantly, strenuously battled illness and nerves and kept most of her singing engagements." Troyanos is buried in Pinelawn Memorial Park on Long Island. The year after her death, the Metropolitan Opera performed a concert in her memory; 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 described as "an exceedingly private person offstage," Troyanos had become known increasingly to suffer from inner ear and sinus problems, 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"). Her death, however, was unforeseen and "came as a shock to the close-knit opera community," as Tim Page wrote at the time. "Ms. Troyanos had kept her illness to herself and continued to perform almost to the end." Martin Mayer in Opera concurred that "few if any in the opera world knew she was ill—her book was as full as she let it get for several years into the future." She had last sung at the Met—the last of three performances of Waltraute (a role debut) to Gwyneth Jones' Brünnhilde in Wagner's Götterdämmerung, conducted by Levine—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, one of three prominent singers who came to the rescue when the scheduled soloist withdrew from the series of concerts. "Troyanos is still a profoundly immediate and expressive artist," wrote Richard Dyer in the Boston Globe, adding that "hers was the most pliant and meaningful delivery and coloration of the text, the most 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 was scheduled to reprise the Mahler Third at Tanglewood in August, but her final 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. She had fallen ill during rehearsals but sang all the performances, and Joseph McLellan of the Washington Post recalled that the revival was "highlighted not only by the radiant presence of Kiri Te Kanawa but by the deceptively robust performance of Tatiana Troyanos." Taking part in a Strauss symposium in San Francisco "a short two months before she died, she was the most blooming and healthy-looking presence in the room," wrote Leighton Kerner in the Village Voice. 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 singers of international stature who succumbed to cancer in 1993 in or near their 55th year; the others, with both of whom she had sung, were sopranos Lucia Popp and Arleen Auger.
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