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Samstag, 29. September 2012

Richard Crooks (Tenor, 1900-1972) in Opera

A few weeks ago I transfered an old RCA LP devoted to the tenor Richard Crooks. I have always liked his voice, and I remember that as a young collector despite of his not quite correct German I was specially impressed by his Gralserzählung from Lohengrin, which I had on a black Electrola disc. Listening again to Crooks after some years I can say that I still like it. There are also some non-Wagnerian opera recordings which are very fine (Fedora, Manon, Tosca, even Don Giovanni) and some that are, for my taste,  too lyric and "sweet" (like his "Mi par d'udir", even if Gigli is more perfumed in his version). All in all it is fun listening to him and comparing his versions with others, and so I post the LP here.

Richard Crooks,
 Victrola cover (part)

As I don't prefer writing work (the correct tagging of the MP3s is hard enough), I give you the content of thr LP as scans from the LP cover:

You can download the album as MP3 (192 KB/sec) here:

PS. There are some bumps in the Don Giovanni aria, which I couldn't remove. Track 6 and 7 appear on the LP in reversed sequence than given on the cover. I have corrected it here and give them as printed.

Richard Crooks, advertisement from 1946

You can find an article and an interesting discussion about Crooks in the blog of Edmund St.Austell:

Some informations about Crook and his operatic career can also be found in the article on the back cover of the featured LP. It is a text by Francis Robinson, and I hope he doesn't mind when I cite his liner notes in full length:

Text Richard Crooks Victrola VIC-1464 (issued 1969)

When Richard Crooks came on stage at the last perform­ance in the old Metropolitan Opera House he was paid in what Alexander Woollcott used to refer to as "the coin of which most players know nothing." It had been 23 years since he sang there, but on his entrance the entire tenor section of the Metropolitan Opera chorus rose to greet him. Opera choristers are not a gullible lot. They know a champ­ion when they see—and hear—one, and they wait until they do.

Like those Met choristers, the Victor Talking Machine Company had pretty good antennae. They recorded Galli-Curci before she ever set foot on these shores, and Richard Crooks was a regular in the Victor catalogs for nearly a decade before the Metropolitan signed him. Two of the numbers in this release, the Lohengrin Narrative and the Prize Song, are from his pre-Metropolitan years.

At his debut in Manon opposite Lucrezia Bori on Febru­ary 25, 1933, he received 37 curtain calls. Manon was his favorite opera and the one he sang most often. He and Miss Bori did an act of Manon at the gala honoring Giulio Gatti-Casazza on his retirement after 27 years as general manager of the Metropolitan. When Miss Bori sang her farewell, there was the second act of Traviata with Martini and Tibbett, the convent scene from La Forza del Destine with Rethberg and Pinza, the Miserere from Trovatore with Ponselle and Martinelli, the end of the first act of Walkure with Flagstad and Melchior, and to end the evening the Saint Sulpice scene from Manon with Richard Crooks.

His colleagues at his first Faust were Pinza and Tibbett, and a contemporary account declares "at the end of each act people went wild with excitement." Lehmann was his first Tosca and Tibbett his first Scarpia, but the verdict of the press was "the real star of the performance was Crooks." At the end of his arias "the audience went wild with enthusiasm and the applause was thunderous."  "Thunderous" was again the Times' word to describe the ovation after the Romeo aria. Don Giovanni was the last opera he ever sang.

The other operas represented on this disc he never sang at the Metropolitan although he performed Lohengrin and Meistersinger with great success in Europe and often did Lohengrin's Farewell at those wonderful Sunday night concerts at popular prices in the old house.

Alexander Richard Crooks was born in Trenton, New Jersey. He was not quite 10 when he made his first appearance, in Mendelssohn's Elijah at Ocean Grove. The contralto was Ernestine Schumann-Heink, who predicted a bright future for him, and he suffered perhaps the only embarrassment of his long and solid career when the old girl bussed him smack in front of 14,000 people.

If his technique wasn't built-in, he found it so early it amounted to the same thing. He sang soprano one Easter and tenor the following October. He worked as painter (the reservoir of the Trenton gasworks, not canvasses), ice man and insurance agent and at 20 got his first professional engagement, as soloist at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York. The substitute baritone soloist was another young man who was going places, Lawrence Tibbett.
Less than a month after his 21st birthday he married his childbood sweetheart, Mildred Pyne. He turned down the lead in The Student Prince at $1,000 a week and an offer of $10,000 from Walter Damrosch to go to Europe for study. He made nine appearances with Dr. Damrosch and the New York Symphony. Toscanini engaged him for the Ninth Symphony with the Philharmonic, and Mengelberg chose him to create the tenor part in Das Lied von der Erde in this country. There were all-Wagner concerts with Fritz Reiner.
He was a sensation in recital and became an institution on radio. He was on "The Voice of Firestone" for years, and the weekly program was relayed to our men in arms throughout World War II.

A word about the conductor of most of the numbers on this record:
Wilfred Pelletier was only 21 when he came to the Metropolitan as accompanist and coach for some of the greatest artists of the time, including Caruso. He became the Metropolitan's leading conductor of the French reper­toire and was the guiding spirit and hand of the Auditions of the Air. Leonard Warren and Frank Guarrera are only two who owed their first big break to Maestro Pelletier. It is fitting that the magnificent new opera house in his native Montreal bears his name.

A few nights before that farewell to the old Metropolitan Maestro Pelletier and his lovely wife, who happens also to be Rose Bampton, gave a dinner for Mr. and Mrs. Crooks at their handsome apartment on East 57th Street. At just the right moment Mildred sat down at the piano and Alex stood and together they played and sang Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes. At 65 his voice was as virile and urgent and beautiful as we remembered it 30 years before.
Mr. and Mrs. Crooks live near Palo Alto. They have never lost touch with music. He is on the boards of the Los Angeles Symphony, the Hollywood Bowl and the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera.

francis robinson
Assistant Manager of the Metropolitan Opera and author of "Caruso: His Life in Pictures"

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