Tatiana Troyanos

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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).[1] Her 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.[2] 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.


Early life

Born in New York City, Troyanos grew up in Forest Hills, Queens, where she 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, Germany, was a coloratura soprano. Troyanos spent some time at the Brooklyn Home for Children in Queens, which she described as "bleak but marvelous." She attended Brooklyn Music School on scholarship, studying piano. She wanted to become an opera singer from an early age; her musical inspirations included Mario Lanza and Jane Powell ("my father and mother, obviously") and later Maria Callas and Risë Stevens. She sang in school choirs and the All City Chorus; when she was sixteen, a teacher "tried to find out who the voice belonged to ... and got me to the Juilliard Preparatory School and my first voice teacher."[3] In her late teens, she moved to the Girls' Service League at 138 E. 19th St., near Gramercy Park, and later to a co-ed boarding house on E. 39th St. near the old Met, where she was a frequent standee. She found a job as secretary to the director of publicity of Random House.

In addition to choral work, including a scholarship at the First Presbyterian Church, Troyanos continued her musical studies at Juilliard and then privately with voice teacher Hans Heinz, whom she called "the major influence in my life ... Our work together built the foundation that was so essential to my career."[4]

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 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.[5] 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 Rolf Liebermann, her home base for the next decade, first as a member of its renowned ensemble and later as a guest artist. Liebermann also helped bring about her breakthrough performance in Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos (to the Ariadne of Régine Crespin) at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 1966. 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."[6] 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.[7] 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. The 1967 Hamburg Opera tour first brought her to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House. Her acclaimed appearance as Handel's Ariodante opposite Beverly Sills at the opening of the Kennedy Center in 1971 served to reintroduce her to American audiences. After debuts in Chicago, Dallas, Boston, and notably in San Francisco—where the Chronicle's Robert Commanday wrote of her performance in Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea, "The means by which Poppea seduces Nero ... could liquefy even stone the way the sensational new mezzo soprano Tatiana Troyanos sang"[8]—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."[9] 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" [10] 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, "sometimes listening to Troyanos's recordings we tend to forget the radiant glory of the voice itself."[11] 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"[12]—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.[13] In his book The American Opera Singer, critic Peter G. Davis concluded: "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."[14] 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." [15] In Handel's Giulio Cesare, she sang both leading parts: Cleopatra (opposite Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau on Karl Richter's recording for Deutsche Grammophon), and the title role (in performances in San Francisco, New York and Geneva).

Other roles Troyanos sang on opera stages in the course of her career included

and two roles she created,

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."[16]

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 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, both solo (she made her Carnegie Hall recital debut in 1978) and, later in her career, in partnership 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."[17]

These recordings were released on LP and/or CD:

There are DVDs of 10 complete operas featuring Troyanos:

There are also on DVD:

Final season

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 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."

Troyanos had successfully concealed her illness from the vast majority of her colleagues, having sung her last Met performance—the last of three performances 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."[18] James Oestreich in The New York Times reported that "Troyanos offered a searching, almost harrowing reading."[19] Troyanos' last opera performances were as Clairon in Richard Strauss' Capriccio at San Francisco Opera between June 12 and July 1, 1993. The cast, 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."[20] Daniel Kessler added 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."[21] 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."[22]

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.


  1. ^ Dyer, Richard. Tatiana Troyanos obituary. "Busy Time for Williams." The Boston Globe, August 27, 1993.
  2. ^ Ellison, Cori. "Tatiana Troyanos: 1938-1993." Opera News, vol. 58, no. 5, November 1993.
  3. ^ Jacobson, Robert. "Getting It Together." Opera News, vol. 47, no. 3, September 1982.
  4. ^ Speck, Gregory. "Troyanos Talks: A World-Class Prima Donna Discusses Opera Today". The World and I, June 1987, accessed August 24, 2012.
  5. ^ Sokol, Martin L. The New York City Opera: An American Adventure. New York: Macmillan, 1981.
  6. ^ Forbes, Elizabeth. "Obituary: Tatiana Troyanos." The Independent, August 26, 1993, accessed November 23, 2012.
  7. ^ Schwarzkopf, Elisabeth. On and Off the Record: A Memoir of Walter Legge. London: Faber, 1982, p. 81.
  8. ^ Quoted in Robert Wilder Blue, "Remembering Tatiana Troyanos", page 2, accessed September 22, 2012.
  9. ^ Jenkins, Speight. "The Golden Sound of Opera". New York Post, March 1976, posted at Metropolitan Opera archives, accessed August 24, 2012.
  10. ^ O'Connor, Patrick. "Tatiana Troyanos: Flair and Flamboyance." The Gramophone, December 2003.
  11. ^ McCants, Clyde T. American Opera Singers and Their Recordings: Critical Commentaries and Discographies. McFarland, 2004, p. 331.
  12. ^ Levine, James. "Remembering Tatiana." Program booklet for "Music in Memory of Tatiana Troyanos," concert at Metropolitan Opera House, April 7, 1994.
  13. ^ Birnbaum, George, "Auger, Popp and Troyanos." Classical CD Scout, vol. 2, issue 3, May 1994.
  14. ^ Davis, Peter G., The American Opera Singer. New York: Doubleday, 1997, p. 549 ISBN 0-385-47495-4
  15. ^ McLellan, Joseph. "Tatiana Troyanos: Awakening the Arias". Washington Post, February 28, 1987, accessed October 13, 2012.
  16. ^ http://www.metoperafamily.org/met_player/catalog/search/results/index.aspx?keyword=troyanos
  17. ^ Fox, David Anthony, in The St. James Opera Encyclopedia, edited by John Guinn and Les Stone. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1997, pp. 842-43.
  18. ^ Dyer, Richard. "The Three Mezzos". Boston Globe, April 29, 1993, accessed October 13, 2012.
  19. ^ Oestreich, James R. "Classical Music in Review". The New York Times, May 5, 1993, accessed October 13, 2012.
  20. ^ McLellan, Joe. "Richard Strauss—Capriccio: Editorial Reviews". Amazon.com, accessed October 13, 2012.
  21. ^ Kessler, Daniel, "Tatiana Troyanos: Reflections on an Operatic Career", page 4, accessed October 21, 2012.
  22. ^ Myers, Eric. "Fever Pitch". Opera News, vol. 65, no. 5, November 2002.

Further reading

External links