Robert Merrill, born on June 4, 1917, is one of the world’s most renowned baritones, making a lengthy career at the Metropolitan Opera throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
He was born Moishe Miller and then, later on, was known as Morris Miller. His mother claimed to have had an opera and concert career in Poland and supposedly pushed her son to pursue vocal training. He was inspired upon hearing baritone Richard Bonelli and paid for lessons with money earned as a semi-professional pitcher.
He got his career started singing at bar mitzvahs and weddings and eventually found work at Radio City Music Hall and with the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini.
He slowly grew up the ranks, making his operatic debut in 1944 in “Aida” in New Jersey. A Met Opera debut followed closely as well as high profile recordings with a number of major opera stars of the time.
He appeared in the musical comedy film “Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick” in 1952, which did not sit well with Met Opera general manager Rudolf Bing. But he would still maintain a solid Met Opera career, appearing with the company 769 times in 21 roles.
A big baseball fan, he eventually became a fixture at Yankees Stadium, singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” every year at opening day. A recording of his performance is often used at some games.
The composer’s legacy is closely tied with the works of Giuseppe Verdi. He performed Germont in “La Traviata” more than any other role during his Met career; he totaled 132 performances of the role. He was also a renowned Conte di Luna, singing the role at the Met 73 times and making legendary recordings of the role. His voice was simply perfect for Verdi with its lush sound and suave legato that rode the timbre’s opulence.
Watch and Listen
Listen to his pristine Verdi singing in the double arias from “Don Carlo.”
And here is his renowned interpretation of the national anthem.