Leonard Warren, born on April 21, 1911, was one of the greatest American baritones in opera history. He is also widely remembered for one of the most tragic deaths in the artform.
Warren grew up in the Bronx and worked in his father’s fur business early in his life. At 24, he joined the chorus of the Radio City Music Hall and at the age of 27, he garnered a contract at the Met Opera. He was sent to Italy to further develop his voice and returned in 1938 in a concert performance. A year later he made his formal debut in the title role of “Simon Boccanegra” and the rest is history. For the remainder of his life, he was a Met fixture, even though he did sing all over the work.
His voice was lauded by many for its many colors and he got a chance to appear alongside the greatest stars of his day at the Met.
On March 1, 1960, he sang the title role in “Simon Boccanegra” at the Met; it was the last complete opera he sang in his life.
A few days later he was taking on the role of Don Carlo in “La Forza del Destino.” After singing the big scene “Morir tremenda cosa,” he started to feel ill and, crying out “Help me,” he fell to motionless on the Met stage. Attempts to save him were futile and it was determined that he had a massive cerebral hemorrhage. The performance was stopped then and there.
He was 48-years-old.
While he sang a wide range of repertoire, Warren was best-known for his work in the operas of Verdi. His death was forever linked with “Forza,” but he is better-known for title roles in “Simon Boccanegra” and “Rigoletto;” for many he is the ultimate interpreter of both operas.
Other Articles On Leonard Warren
Watch and Listen
Here is a famed recording of “Rigoletto” with Warren in the title role alongside Jan Peerce and Erna Berger.
Here is a recital album featuring the singer in a wide-range of arias that he dominated throughout his career.