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.
1 Early life,
2 Operatic career: 1963-93,
4 Final season,
6 Further reading,
7 External links,
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 began studying piano there and continued, on scholarship, at the Brooklyn Music School. She sang in school choirs and the All City Chorus, although she felt her timbre too "dark" for a solo career. 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." 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, where she was a frequent 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 eventually began vocal studies with Hans Heinz at Juilliard, continuing after her graduation in 1963. She called Heinz "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 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. 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 the nurturing Rolf Liebermann, her home base for the next decade, first as a member of its renowned ensemble (her first roles there included Preziosilla in La Forza del Destino and Suzuki in Madama Butterfly) and later as a guest artist. The Aix-en-Provence Festival in 1966 saw 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.
"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, Milan, Montreal, Munich, Palermo, Paris, Rome, Salzburg, Stockholm, 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 at the opening 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 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"--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) 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" 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." 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"--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. 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 ... Troyanos seemed prepared to sing it all, and 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 (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
Cavalli's Diana (in La Calisto),
Purcell's Dido (in Dido and Aeneas),
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), Dorabella (in Così fan tutte), and Sesto (in La Clemenza di Tito),
Donizetti's Giovanna Seymour (in Anna Bolena) and Maffio Orsini (in Lucrezia Borgia),
Bellini's Romeo (in I Capuleti e i Montecchi),
Verdi's Amneris (in Aida) and Eboli (in Don Carlo),
Mascagni's Santuzza (in Cavalleria Rusticana),
Wagner's Venus (in Tannhäuser), Brangäne (in Tristan und Isolde), Fricka (in Das Rheingold), Waltraute (in Götterdämmerung), and Kundry (in Parsifal),
Humperdinck's Hansel (in Hansel and Gretel),
Johann Strauss's Prince Orlofsky (in Die Fledermaus),
Richard Strauss's Clairon (in Capriccio),
Offenbach's Giulietta (in Les contes d'Hoffmann),
Saint-Saëns' Dalila (in Samson et Dalila),
Massenet's Charlotte (in Werther),
Berg's Countess Geschwitz (in Lulu),
Stravinsky's Jocasta (in Oedipus Rex),
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--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."
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, 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 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.