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Did you know that Soprano Roberta Peters appeared on The Ed Sullivan show 65 times?
I am not sure which is more surprising — the number of times she was on or how by the 1960s Ed Sullivan had become the arbiter of taste for America.
Opera, ballet, classical music and Broadway show tunes blossomed in the 1950s and 60s due to the show. In Ira Rosenblum’s NYT piece “From Ed Sullivan, “Rilly Big” Opera Stars,” Roberta Peter’s shares her thoughts on the impact the show was having on American audiences:
There were fewer regional opera companies back then, and many fans couldn’t afford to travel to New York, Chicago, or San Francisco, where our major opera houses were located. But television changed all that.
Ed made a deal with the Metropolitan Opera to bring their singers to the American public over three consecutive Sundays. The first of these appearances was Maria Callas, making her TV debut, singing the title role in Puccini’s Tosca. It’s unclear how long this official deal went on with the Met, but it was evident by the number of singers that appeared on the show that Ed Sullivan was an opera fan.
🎧 Listening Example: (3 minute listen): Soprano Maria Callas singing “Vissi d'arte” from Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca on The Ed Sullivan Show, November 25, 1956
But Ed didn’t do this on his own.
There was another dynamic at play in the US by the time the show ended in June 1971.
After World World II, there was a confidence in the air and a desire for the US to compete in the cultural realm. Large and small cities around the country began to create their own institutions to present symphonic music, ballet, and opera.
It was in the ether — the idea that the arts were an essential ingredient of a robust and healthy country and a healthy community,” says Marc A. Scorca, president/CEO of OPERA America.
Ed Sullivan brought opera into 80 million living rooms with the singers out of costume and without sets. Just a focus on the singing.
🎧 Listening Example: (2 minute listen): Soprano Roberta Peters & Baritone Robert Merrill singing “Morrò! La mia memoria” from Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata on The Ed Sullivan Show, December 28, 1969
Fun fact: Peters and Merrill were married in 1952 for less than a year. The two divorced amicably, remained friends, and performed together in opera and recitals.
🎧 Listening Example: (4 minute listen): Soprano Joan Sutherland singing “Quando rapito in estasi” from Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor on The Ed Sullivan Show, December 3, 1961
🎧 Listening Example: (2 minute listen): Soprano Joan Sutherland & Mezzo- soprano Marilyn Horne singing “Sì fino all'ore estreme” from Vincenzo Bellini's Norma on The Ed Sullivan Show, March 8, 1970
🎧 Listening Example: (2 minute listen): Tenor Giuseppe Di Stefano singing "La donna è mobile" from Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto on The Ed Sullivan Show, March 9, 1952
🎧 Listening Example: (7 minute listen): Tenor Franco Corelli & Soprano Renata Tebaldi “Vicino a te” from Umberto Giordano's Andrea Chénier on The Ed Sullivan Show, September 18, 1966
Thank you to Ed Sullivan for bringing us great singers, singing great arias, from great operas.
Thank you for reading (and listening),
PS. If you missed last week’s selection, we featured Soprano Lisette Oropesa singing “Addio del passato”, Violetta’s aria from Act 3 of the Italian opera La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi.
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Mike Douglas Show also had Sills as guest host who had Norman Treigle and other City Opera stars