James McCracken, born on Dec. 16, 1926, is known today as one of the great American tenors of the 20th Century.
Shockingly, he wasn’t always viewed that way. In fact, a great portion of his early career, spent at the Metropolitan Opera, was spent in the shadows of other things. He sang a whopping 596 performances with the company, but 300 of those, more than half, were in minor roles such as Parpignol in “La Bohème,” the Messenger in a number of different operas, etc. For some context: he sang “Il Trovatore” 63 times at the Met; only 33 featured him as Manrico and the other 30 were as the Messenger.
As the story goes, McCracken left the Met for some time to try his talents in Europe and that is where he blossomed, turning into a major star.
He would return to the Met in 1963 and launch a 25+ year career as a leading tenor there. So here is a look at the operas the tenor took on during the two differing parts of his Met career and different roles for each corresponding opera.
Otello / Rodrigo
One of his great signatures, he took on the opera 67 times, but 60 of them were in the lead role; the other seven saw him appear as Rodrigo. His first stab at the title role took place on March 10, 1963, his first performance with the company since 1957 and the one that would launch his career as a leading man. His last “Otello” was on Feb. 24, 1978.
Manrico / Messenger
As noted, McCracken took on “Il Trovatore” 63 times at the Met but almost half of them were as the messenger. His first Manrico took place on Feb. 4, 1964, and his last was on April 9, 1977.
Radamès / Messenger
The tenor first sang “Aida” in 1954 but he was the Messenger, a role he would sing on 28 occasions. He would sing his first Radamès in 1966 on tour and would finally appear at the Met stage itself as the Egyptian hero in 1968. He would sing Radamès 39 times total, his final performance with the Met coming in 1986. Of course, one cannot overlook his Radamès being involved in arguably the most iconic “Aida” performance in Met history, the 1985 performance on Jan. 3. This, of course, was Leontyne Price’s farewell to the Met.
Samson / Messenger
In 1955, the tenor sang the minimal role in “Samson et Dalila” while Ramon Vinay took on the title role. It would be for just four performances because in in 1965, he would get the leading character, which he would sing on 10 occasions, the last being on Jan. 17, 1972.