Sherrill Milnes was born on January 10, 1935, and grew up on a dairy farm in Downers Grove, Illinois. Despite a childhood devoted to daily chores, he took voice lessons and studied piano, violin, viola, double bass, clarinet, and tuba. But when it came time for college, he pursued pre-medical studies. After a year and a half, he realized that music was his true calling and enrolled at Drake University where he studied with Andrew White, earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music in the hope of becoming a teacher. Additional graduate studies with Hermanus Baer followed at Northwestern University. During these years, the young baritone supported himself by playing in local jazz bands during college and singing wherever he could at women’s clubs, with local opera groups, in churches and synagogues, and for television and radio commercials. A great opportunity came when he auditioned and was accepted into the Boris Goldovsky Opera Company, an event he has called the “luckiest possible beginning” for his career. He toured throughout the United States with that company – over 100,000 miles by bus – singing in over 300 performances of more than a dozen roles.
Opera, Blood, and Tears
The Life You Give: Sherrill Milnes
with the streaming of Verdi’s opera
in celebration of his life and music
January 10 at 9:30 pm EST
It is fitting that the career of this artist was launched in his native land, belying the notion that singers must work their way through the small European opera houses before earning the respect of American critics and audiences. It was at the quintessential American house, the New York City Opera, that Mr. Milnes made his first important debut in 1964, as Valentin in Gounod’s Faust opposite Norman Treigle as Mephistopheles. It was again in the role of Valentin that Mr. Milnes made his critically acclaimed debut at the Metropolitan Opera on December 22, 1965, an auspicious night that also featured the Met debut of Montserrat Caballé. He was launched to stardom, however, in 1968, when his riveting performance as Miller in Verdi’s Luisa Miller literally stopped the show at the Met and immediately made him the dominant baritone of his time.
Mr. Milnes began his international career with a triumphant Macbeth at the Vienna Staatsoper, and in time would conquer all of the great opera capitals of the world, singing at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden; La Scala in Milan; Berlin’s Deutsche Oper; the Paris Opera; the famed Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires; the Liceu in Barcelona; the Bavarian State Opera in Munich; the Salzburg Festival; the Hamburg Opera and Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre. He also appeared with New York City Opera, San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the opera companies of Pittsburgh, San Diego, Miami, and Denver, among others in the United States. At the Metropolitan Opera, he sang 652 performances from 1965 to 1997, including the Met’s 1991 gala celebrating its 25th anniversary at Lincoln Center, which was released by Deutsche Grammophon on DVD.
Throughout his remarkable career, Mr. Milnes showed an affinity for Verdi, whose works formed the cornerstone of a repertoire of some 70 roles. Those included the lead baritone roles in Otello, Don Carlo, Aida, La Traviata, Il Trovatore, La Forza del Destino, Luisa Miller, Ernani, and Un Ballo in Maschera, as well as the monumental title roles of Rigoletto, Simon Boccanegra, Macbeth, and Nabucco, all sung to overwhelming acclaim. He also triumphed as Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Escamillo in Bizet’s Carmen, Figaro in Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Scarpia in Puccini’s Tosca and Jack Rance in La Fanciulla del West, Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet, Athanaël in Massenet’s Thaïs, and the title role of Henry VIII by Saint-Saëns, among many others. He continued to expand his vast operatic repertoire to include new roles, including the title role in Verdi’s Falstaff, Count Westmoreland in Wolf-Ferrari’s Sly, Judge Turpin in Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, the title role in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, and Ajax in Georges Antheil’s Transatlantic (United States premiere).
Mr. Milnes appeared with the great orchestras of North America and Europe, sang on the world’s major recital stages, and performed for every U.S. President from Gerald Ford to George W. Bush. Conducting added another dimension to his multi-faceted career; highlights include the acclaimed recording Domingo Conducts Milnes! Milnes Conducts Domingo!, Mendelssohn’s Elijah at Carnegie Hall (which marked his New York conducting debut), and Aida with Opera Memphis (his operatic debut).
Source: Sherrill Milnes
The Verdi baritone is almost a vocal type in and of itself. These roles require outstanding breath control as well as the ability not only to sing strong high notes, but to sing for extended periods in the upper part of the baritone range. Milnes had both of these, and for a while even considered a career as a Wagner tenor rather than a baritone. His timbre was not to all tastes, but his vocal gifts, musicality, and powerful stage presence made him the leading baritone at the Met, where most of his career was focused.
During the 1980s, he underwent a vocal crisis, and made relatively few operatic appearances afterwards (having more or less reached retirement age) though he remained active as an oratorio singer and recitalist, as well as a conductor.
by Anne Feeney / Source: all music
2 thoughts on “The Live You Give: Sherrill Milnes *1935”
As a total opera neophyte, the information you provide is so helpful in coming to an understanding of the artists you spotlight. Thank you Sila.
Your joy makes it worth putting the effort into sharing more than mere music.