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From Johnson's Kids to Lemonade Opera
The American Classical Singer Comes of Age
Victoria Etnier Villamil

Northeastern University Press
2004 • 336 pp. 40 illus. 6 x 9"
Music / Theater & Performing Arts / American History

$35.00 Hardcover, 978-1-55553-635-0

“...[a] lively and absorbing study of an earlier generation of vocalists, who struggled to be taken seriously in an era when third-rate Europeans were generally valued more highly than first-class native talent.”—The Washington Post Book World

“A thoroughly enjoyable romp through the golden age of American classical singers.” -- Booklist

American baritone Lawrence Tibbett created an overnight sensation at the Metropolitan Opera in 1925 when the audience stopped the performance of Falstaff to honor their compatriot for his exceptional talent. Tibbett's now legendary curtain call foreshadowed a startling new era for classically trained native singers who rarely received the public recognition or respect given to their European colleagues.

In this absorbing work, Victoria Etnier Villamil chronicles the extraordinary time from 1935 to 1950 when American artists, who felt intensely inferior to foreign performers, journeyed from being unappreciated in their own country to standing without apology on stages at home and abroad. Drawing on exhaustive primary research and extensive interviews, Villamil tells the remarkable story of a generation of American opera singers whose profession, image, and art were forever altered by the upheavals of World War II, as well as sweeping cultural and technological changes.

The author's in-depth look at these breakthrough years explores such defining factors as Edward Johnson's drive to "Americanize the Met" in his first seasons as general manager, the impact of the microphone on singers and singing styles, and the importance of radio and motion pictures in introducing classical music voices to wider audiences. Villamil also considers how travel restrictions imposed on European artists during the war unlocked opportunities for American artists, and the role of political and Jewish refugees in enriching music education and training in this country. In addition, the author discusses thoroughly the founding of the New York City Opera, the rise of regional and smaller opera companies, including the enterprising and popular Lemonade Opera, and advancements for African American classical singers.

Brimming with entertaining anecdotes and colorful figures, both famous and little remembered, the fascinating book concludes with an examination of this crucial period's legacy for the American classical music scene in the 1950s and beyond. From Johnson's Kids to Lemonade Opera contains an invaluable appendix that provides biographical sketches of the over 250 opera and radio singers, as well as art song specialists, featured in this illuminating study.


"An entertaining and informative look back at a pivotal time in operatic history, one whose effects and benefits undergird much of a music making we enjoy today."—The Opera Quarterly

“Villamil builds a sweeping panorama that moves with incredible speed as the individual stories get caught in this fabric of time. Her prose is crisp and colorful. While filled with a wealth of detailed information, this is not a dry, pedantic book. It’s a great ‘read.’”—Record Collector

Wed, 20 Jun 2012 09:54:16 -0500