Memories have been jogged this past week of the moment back on June 28, 1939 when Marian Anderson walked onto the stage at the Lincoln Memorial after having been banned from singing at Constitution Hall. Anderson was one of the great singers of her time and fêted throughout the world but was not so honoured in parts of her own country.
Anderson was primarily a concert singer, her rich contralto showed to great advantage in lieder and nowhere better than in the Brahms Alto Rhapsody. This is a recording from 1939 – the year of her Washington triumph – with Eugen Ormandy conducting. The sound is not the greatest but the interpretation is matchless.
Anderson’s first appearance in opera was to be another landmark – January 7, 1955 at the Metropolitan Opera she sang the role of Ulrica in Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera, the first African American singer to appear on its stage. It was arranged by her manager Sol Hurok and Rudolf Bing, the Met’s General Manager, who was quoted as saying, “I am not straining every muscle to find Negro singers. I am looking for the best, regardless of race or creed.” It paved the way for so many wonderful performers that I recall hearing on the Met broadcasts in the years after. The Met website has a wonderful description of the performance and the events leading up to it.
Of course no Anderson concert was complete without a set of spirituals.
She always delivered them with an simplicity and intensity that touched the heart and spoke poignantly of her heritage.
21 gennaio – Sant’Agnese di Roma