James King, born on May 22, 1925, would go onto a prolific career as a heldentenor.
But it took him a long way to get there. In fact, he didn’t make his debut as a tenor until 1961 when he was in his mid-30s.
The reason for this is that his initial studies had led him down the path of being a baritone. He was a voice teacher who regularly performed in concerts and operas as a baritone.
In 1956, he realized that he was really at tenor and sought out means to make the vocal switch. He made the switch in 1960 and his final baritone role, that of Escamillo in “Carmen” at the San Francisco Opera, came in 1961.
He made a belated debut at the Met Opera, in the role of Florestan in “Fidelio,” in 1966 and would go on to perform 113 times with the company in a wide range of repertoire – mainly that of Strauss and Wagner. He sang with the Met for 30 years, his final performance coming on April 27, 1996.
He would finish out his career as a voice teacher until 2002, though he did manage one final performance as Siegmund in “Die Walküre” in 2000.
He died of a heart attack in 2005.
He was recognized for his work in Wagner and Strauss, his voice a perfect fit for those muscular roles.
But he was also a potent Florestan and one of his greatest performances ever was his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1966 when Howard Klein of The New York Times, hailed him as “among the few tenors around today who can fill the role” and still have “plenty of voice to spare.”
Watch and Listen
Here he is as Florestan in “Fidelio,” interpreting the character’s famous aria.
And here is a recital of vastly different repertoire that he sang throughout his career.