Tatiana Troyanos:
reflections on an operatic career

Daniel Kessler

It was more happenstance than design that I was witness to the operatic debut of Tatiana Troyanos back in April, 1963. The role was Hippolyta in Benjamin Britten's MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, a NY premiere given by the NYC Opera at the City Center Theater on West 55th Street. By further chance, I was also on hand for the San Francisco CAPRICCIO in June, 1993 with Kiri Te Kanawa as Countess Madeleine and Tatiana Troyanos in the role of Clairon, her last performance in an opera before her untimely death. Troyanos was born in New York in 1938.

Since I had traveled to Vancouver, B.C. in 1961 for the North American premiere of Britten's score with the well-known counter-tenor Russell Oberlin in the role of Oberon, the NYC Opera premiere interested me even though the role of Oberon was altered for tenor William McAlpine, not a true counter-tenor, as was Oberlin. To my dismay, Harold Schonberg, the then music critic of the NY TIMES was not particularly receptive to Britten's score, 'too much of the Disney factory about it and lacked depth', he quipped. Perhaps time and exposure to the work has negated that narrow view if Schonberg's sentiments still have any currency among today's audiences.

The role of Hippolyta is a minor one and Troyanos did not make any substantial impression nor did Schonberg mention her in his review. In those days, Troyanos was considered a bit of an 'ugly duckling' as if she had yet to learn how to walk on stage and create an impression. After Britten's 'DREAM' with the NYC Opera, Troyanos stayed on for a couple of seasons, appearing that fall in a small role in Honegger's JEANNE D'ARC AU BUCHER. Troyanos also sang Carmen and Jocasta in the NYC Opera premiere of Stravinsky's OEDIPUS REX.

In the following Spring season, Julius Rudel decided that the company should mount BORIS GODUNOV in an new English translation by Joseph Machlis to showcase the talents of bass Norman Treigle with Troyanos as Marina. Things didn't quite work out as planned since Treigle, wonderful artist that he was, being relatively slight of stature was thought by some to lack the physical stature for such a commanding role as Boris. In dramatic terms, 'Treigle alternated between fits of rage and down home folksiness' said Schonberg. Treigle was no BORIS and American tenor Jon Crain was no Dimitri, according to Schonberg and 'Troyanos might as well have been singing in Russian... she took the part of Marina and sang it beautifully...she has a big rich voice...but she might also consider using it to shape her vowels more carefully.'

Troyanos left the NYC Opera for Europe on a Mary Baird Rockefeller scholarship grant and caught the attention of Hamburg intendant, Rolf Liebermann, who signed her on with the company. Her debut was as Preziosilla in FORZA and continued with roles such as 'the voice from above' [stimme von oben] in R. Strauss's FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN, Mrs. Wordsworth in Britten's ALBERT HERRING, a Suzuki and an Amneris. An even bigger break came in 1966 when she was signed for the Composer in Strauss's ARIADNE with Regine Crespin as Ariadne at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. The audiences at the Aix-en-Provence Festival felt that the acclaim they bestowed on certain artists at their summer festival often did much to launch or enhance operatic careers.

To this day, the Aixois still fondly remember the early 60's as the time of the COSI of the two Teresas -- Stich-Randall as Fiordiligi and Teresa Berganza as Dorabella. This Aix audience affection for Stich-Randall I shared back in 1959 with her very fine Fiordiligi opposite Nan Merriman's Dorabella and can attest that it was on an equally high level with what I experienced in Vienna a few weeks earlier with Schwarzkopf and Ludwig in those roles under Karl Boehm. That Stich-Randall was not in her best voice at the Met some years after does not detract from the high standards of her performances at Aix at that time. In any event, the acclaim enjoyed by Troyanos at Aix was an important bench mark in her burgeoning career which led to further engagements beyond Hamburg. She returned to Aix the following season as Cherubino in FIGARO.

Meanwhile, back in Hamburg, Troyanos sang the Countess in Hindemith's MATHIS DER MAHLER and Baba the Turk in Stravinsky's RAKE'S PROGRESS. Prior to that second summer at Aix, Troyanos appeared briefly with the visiting Hamburg Opera at the Met as Baba the Turk but went virtually unnoticed by the New York critics. I also saw the Hamburg RAKE at Met and scarcely remember her as well.

Troyanos continued her European career with her debut at the Vienna State Opera but faltered a bit as the Composer in R. Strauss's ARIADNE with Leonie Rysanek in the title role, running up against strong memories with the Viennese of such legendaries as Jurinac, Seefried and Ludwig in the part. According to Joseph Wechsberg, the well-known Viennese critic, 'Troyanos had trouble with her diction and performed the part in an angular, slim way that ruined the beautiful Prologue.'

Afterwards, it was back to Hamburg for Cimarosa's IL MATRIMONIO SEGRETO and Dorbella in COSI under the baton of Sir Charles Mackerras. Then came one of her first recordings, Cherubino in FIGARO under Boehm with Gundula Janowitz as the Countess. Although Troyanos's Cherubino was thought to be ardent and appealing, the set, as a whole, was not considered particularly definitive. Then there was Purcell's DIDO AND AENEAS recorded under Sir Charles Mackerras with Troyanos as Dido. She was thought to sing the great lament movingly.

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