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). Her voice, "a paradoxical 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. 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.
Born in New York City, Troyanos spent her earliest days in the Manhattan neighborhood where Lincoln Center, the new home of the Metropolitan Opera, would arise a quarter century later. She grew up in Forest Hills, Queens, and 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, was a coloratura soprano. Tatiana was looked after by Greek relatives and lived for about ten years at the Brooklyn Home for Children in Forest Hills. She studied piano for seven years, first at the home (where her instructor was veteran Metropolitan Opera bassoonist Louis Pietrini, who had volunteered to teach the children a variety of instruments--initially teaching them solfège, which Troyanos later called "the basis of my musical education"), and continuing, on scholarship, at the Brooklyn Music School; in several interviews she recalled early expectations of becoming a concert pianist. "Determined since childhood," by other accounts, "to become an opera singer," she sang in school choirs and New York's All City High School Chorus; when she was sixteen, a teacher heard her voice in the chorus and took time "to find out who the voice belonged to ... and got me to the Juilliard Preparatory School and my first voice teacher." (She was initially trained as a contralto, a range she found uncomfortable.) In her late teens, she moved to the Girls' Service League in Manhattan and later to a co-ed boarding house on E. 39th St., not far from the old Met, which she frequently attended as a standee. She was employed as a secretary to the director of publicity of Random House; performed in choruses, ranging from church choirs (with a scholarship at the First Presbyterian Church) to musical theater; and continued at the Juilliard School, where she was chosen as a soloist for Bach's St. John Passion in 1959 and the Verdi Requiem in 1962, by which time she had begun vocal studies with Hans Heinz, who "understood my voice and helped me open it up at the top ... and gradually I found all my top notes." She described Heinz, with whom she continued to study after her graduation in 1963, as "the major influence in my life ... Our work together built the foundation that was so essential to my career."
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, on the opening night of the spring season, as Hippolyta in the New York premiere production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream. She also sang Jocasta in Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex that season, Marina in the company's first production of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov the following year, and various other roles through 1965. Offered a Metropolitan Opera contract with limited stage opportunities, but choosing a path also taken by other American singers at the time, she left that summer in quest of more intensive performing experience in Europe, where, after successful auditions for three companies, she opted to make the Hamburg State Opera, led by the nurturing Rolf Liebermann, her home base for the next decade, first as a member of its renowned ensemble and later as a guest artist. "It made sense to go to Germany," she recalled. "I found an intendant Liebermann ... who encouraged me and who knew how to further my career slowly. That was really what I wanted. I wanted to be in the theater every day, learning roles slowly, not quickly, and certainly not under any kind of pressure. That's really what I got." Her first parts there included Lola in Cavalleria Rusticana and Preziosilla in the premiere of a new production of La Forza del Destino, and by year's end she was singing Carmen, a key role she would later bring to Geneva, London, and the Metropolitan Opera spring tour; eventually at Hamburg she sang, in her words, "just about every mezzo role around." But it was the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 1966 (for which Liebermann himself had recommended her) that saw and heard her breakthrough performance in Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos (to the Ariadne of Régine Crespin); 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." 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--although, said Liebermann, "she returned to Hamburg unspoiled" after her triumph at Aix and "'took up her modest engagements as if nothing had happened.'"
"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. She sang in Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Berlin, Edinburgh, Geneva, London, Milan, Montreal, Munich, Palermo, Paris, Rome, Salzburg, Stockholm, Stuttgart, Toronto, Venice, Vienna, Zurich, and throughout the United States. A 1967 Hamburg Opera tour first brought her to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera's new home at Lincoln Center in a selection of twentieth-century repertory including Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, in which she "especially excelled with her rich voice" as Baba the Turk. Her acclaimed appearance as Handel's Ariodante opposite Beverly Sills in the opening week of the Kennedy Center in 1971 (under the baton of Julius Rudel, who had originally brought her to the New York City Opera) served to reintroduce her to American audiences.
After debuts at the Lyric Opera of Chicago (as Charlotte in Massenet's Werther, 1971), Dallas Opera (Dido in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, 1972), Opera Company of Boston (Romeo in Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi, 1975), and notably at San Francisco Opera (Poppea in Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea, 1975--about which the Chronicle's Robert Commanday wrote, "The means by which Poppea seduces Nero ... could liquefy even stone the way the sensational new mezzo soprano Tatiana Troyanos sang")--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." Octavian (her most frequently sung role at the Met, with thirty performances through 1986) and the Composer were often described as her signature or calling-card roles. She also became closely identified, on stage and screen, with another trouser role, Sesto in Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito, and Martin Mayer wrote in Opera magazine that she "gave the work a dramatic punch few of us had known was there."
A mainstay and "one of the most beloved artists at the Metropolitan Opera" 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 in his book on American opera singers, "sometimes listening to Troyanos's recordings we tend to forget the radiant glory of the voice itself." While the St. James Opera Encyclopedia acknowledged that "the persistent pulse of her vibrato," which imbued roles like Carmen with "a fiercely elemental life force," was "not to every listener's taste," David Hamilton offered another perspective: the "close pickup" of one recording, he wrote in High Fidelity magazine, "unflatteringly magnifies the natural vibrato of Tatiana Troyanos' beautiful voice into something more like a beat ... a distortion of the effect she makes in a hall."
As her "vibrato uncoiled to yield a plummier sound," wrote Cori Ellison, "she chose to stretch her medium-weight voice to suit her temperament," adding Wagner roles at the Met--beginning with Venus in Tannhäuser (opening the 1978 season) and Kundry in Parsifal (initially in a broadcast performance in 1980)--while continuing to sing Mozart, Handel (a New York Times profile in 1985 was headlined "Tatiana Troyanos Sings the Praises of Handel"), and Cavalli. From 1981 to 1983, she 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"--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 (alongside Jessye Norman and Plácido Domingo). She was also in seven new productions at the Met, including the company's premiere productions of Berg's Lulu (as Countess Geschwitz) in 1977, Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex (as Jocasta) in 1981, Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito (as Sesto) in 1984, and Handel's Giulio Cesare (as Cesare) in 1988. 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. In his book The American Opera Singer, critic Peter G. Davis found that "after Grace Bumbry and Shirley Verrett, the principal mezzo-soprano of the day was Tatiana Troyanos," whose voice's "dark, burnt-amber texture was distinctive and alluring, smoothly consistent from the lowest contralto depths to a stunning high B-flat." (Troyanos could also soar to a brilliant high C, which can be heard in her studio and live recordings of Adalgisa in Norma and Judith in Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle, as well as Santuzza's final cry in Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana.) "Troyanos seemed prepared to sing it all," Davis wrote, but "unlike Bumbry and Verrett, she was content with her mezzo-soprano lot." 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." In Handel's Giulio Cesare, she sang both leading parts: Cleopatra (here essaying a soprano role, opposite Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau on Karl Richter's 1969 recording for Deutsche Grammophon), and the alto title role (at the opera in San Francisco in 1982, Geneva in 1983, and New York in 1988).
Other roles Troyanos sang on opera stages in the course of her career included
Cavalli's Diana (in La Calisto),
Gluck's Orfeo (in Orfeo ed Euridice),
Cimarosa's Elisetta (in Il matrimonio segreto),
Mozart's Cherubino (in Le Nozze di Figaro), Donna Elvira (in Don Giovanni), and Dorabella (in Così fan tutte),
Donizetti's Giovanna Seymour (in Anna Bolena) and Maffio Orsini (in Lucrezia Borgia),
Verdi's Amneris (in Aida) and Eboli (in Don Carlo),
Puccini's Suzuki (in Madama Butterfly),
Wagner's Brangäne (in Tristan und Isolde), Fricka (in Das Rheingold), and Waltraute (in Götterdämmerung),
Humperdinck's Hansel (in Hansel and Gretel),
Johann Strauss's Prince Orlofsky (in Die Fledermaus),
Richard Strauss's Clairon (in Capriccio),
Berlioz's Marguerite (in La damnation de Faust),
Offenbach's Giulietta (in Les contes d'Hoffmann),
Saint-Saëns' Dalila (in Samson et Dalila),
and two roles she created,
Penderecki's Sister Jeanne (in The Devils of Loudun), Hamburg State Opera, 1969,
Glass's Queen Isabella (in The Voyage), Metropolitan Opera, 1992,
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--Princess Eboli, 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 in home video versions except for the Met's Die Fledermaus and Les contes d'Hoffmann, which are available on "Opera on Demand."
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 Georg Solti, Pierre Boulez and Rafael Kubelik in Chicago, Cleveland, New York and London between 1972 and 1981), 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, in English, 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 pieces 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, which included works like Beethoven's Missa Solemnis and Mahler's Das klagende Lied. Troyanos was also active as a song recitalist (her first recital was at the Paris Opera in 1972 and she made her Carnegie Hall recital debut in 1978), as well as in a series of duo recitals with the soprano Benita Valente which began after they co-starred in Ariodante at the Santa Fe Opera in 1987. Concert telecasts with Troyanos included Schoenberg's Gurrelieder with the Boston Symphony in 1979 and a recital with pianist Martin Katz, featuring Ravel's Shéhérazade, Falla's Siete canciones populares españolas and songs by Berlioz and Mahler, at the Casals Festival in 1985.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license