On July 15th 2011, the opera world lost one of the biggest baritone voices of the 20th Century with the passing of Cornell MacNeil. Born in Minneapolis on September 24, 1922, he became a regular fixture at the Metropolitan Opera performing in 642 performances in 26 roles. He was most famous in the Verdian repertoire, Rigoletto and Iago being central to his Fach, in fact his Met debut was as Rigoletto on March 21, 1959.
He recorded relatively extensively and he can be heard in glorious form as Rigoletto with Sutherland, but my all time favourite recording of his would be as Jack Rance in partnership with Tebaldi and Del Monaco in the 1959 Decca recording of Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West. He can also be seen in much film footage, Tosca and Rigoletto among them, and played Germont Pere in the Zeffirelli movie of La Traviata with Stratas and Domingo. His huge baritone had a glorious tone right throughout his range and he was justifiably famous for his ringing top notes.
This performance of the Te Deum from Puccini’s Tosca, recorded at the Met on December 19, 1978, captures his wonderful dark baritone perfectly, as you can see he made a brilliant Scarpia.
It seems like the golden age of singers is rapidly coming to an end with the passing of so many favourites in the last few years. At least we have the luxury of their recorded legacy to remember them by.
May you rest in peace, Mac, you will be greatly missed.