Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Moment of Yore - January 18, 1944

Coming back from celebrating the MLK Jr. holiday, I think it only proper that we have A Moment of Yore to start the week.

Let's go back 67 years ago to 1944, shall we? In fact, let's go back to this exact date in 1944 because it was on this date that year that the Metropolitan Opera was home to a concert that was considered to be quite outside the 'norm' for the nation's premier Opera House.

A full house at the "Old Met" ca. 1937.
Can I just say: Holy Superstars, Batman!?  The Metropolitan Opera House in 1944 - what an era. 

The Met was still at it's old location of 1411 Broadway back then. The "Old Met", as it became known, occupied the whole block between West 39th and West 40th Streets and was a center (some might say *the* center) of glitz, glamor, culture, class and sophistication. 

On any given night in 1944, you could attend and see performances such as Zinka Milanov singing Norma, Leonard Warren singing Germont in La Traviata, Lily Pons singing Lucia di Lammermoor, Eleanor Steber singing Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, Ezio Pinza singing Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro, Licia Albanese singing Micaela in Carmen and Lawrence Tibbett singing Amonasro in Aida.

What a parade of superstars, right? Some of these people went on from the Met to perform on Broadway and to star in major motion pictures. That era was simply fantastic. Beyond amazing. Although, let's be honest ... as great as it was, the elite still had a long way to go. In fact, it would be another 11 years until Marian Anderson graced the stage as the first African American to sing in an opera there.

As far as I can tell, The Metropolitan Opera was performing (hopefully not as a double bill) Salome and Gianni Schicchi in Philadelphia on January 18, 1944 ... leaving the stage in New York unoccupied.

It wasn't unoccupied for long because a different parade of superstars graced the stage that night. Superstar musicians like: Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Roy Eldridge and Jack Teagarden. Singing on the stage of the "Old Met" that night wasn't one a house Prima Donna, but instead, it was Miss Billie Holiday.

Oh, yes. On this date in 1944, the Metropolitan Opera House hosted a jazz concert for the first time in it's history. The Metropolitan Opera House Jam Session - what a night that must have been. Below is a glimpse for you - it's a Life Magazine photo of Billie Holiday singing at the Metropolitan Opera House that night. It's stunning.

Billie Holiday - Metropolitan Opera House Jam Session.  Photographer: Gjon Mili

1 comment:

Figaropcb@aol.com said...

The Old Met had those wonderful Sunday Night Concerts as well as the goofy, special Gala Surprise Party evenings. Nothing beats the night back in 1935 when Lily Pons, Helen Jepson and Gladys Swarthout sang ‘Minnie the Moocher’ supported by the sublime Chick Webb and his Orchestra!

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