Samuel Ramey is recognized as one of the most important American basses for his extensive vocal range and repertoire. He was admired for his stage presence and commitment to each role. He was also admired for reviving the Rossini repertoire and performing numerous operas from the Bel Canto repertoire. However, there are three works that he brought to the fore and returned to the standard repertoire. In celebration of Ramey’s 75th birthday, OperaWire takes a look at the contribution he made to these roles.
For many years Verdi’s work was obscure but it Ramey who brought it back to the fore. It became a personal war horse that he performed to great acclaim at the New York City Opera and especially at the Teatro alla Scala. Later in his career, he would take on the cameo role of Leone at the San Francisco Opera and the Metropolitan Opera. He also made a recording with Riccardo Muti and is in several video recordings of the work, including a famed production of La Scala with Cheryl Studer.
This is one of the rarely performed Rossini works that Ramey dominated in his time. It was because of his commitment to the composer’s work that he made this piece relevant. He performed it at the Rossini Opera Festival, among other theaters and made a recording for Phillips with June Anderson and Ernesto Palacio.
Ramey was also a major exponent of Massenet’s “Don Quichotte.” It was thanks to him that New York audiences got the opera in 1986 at the New York City Opera. The work, which was rarely performed, had not been showcased at the Metropolitan Opera since 1927. During his run with the New York City Opera, Ramey was able to create the hero he had long dominated. Critics raved about his performance and said: “Mr. Ramey, as sweetly befuddled an old chevalier as ever tilted at a windmill, immediately took control of the stage, and finally of the audience’s heart, in a performance that for once justified opera’s often-abused star system.” Ramey performed the work at the Lyric Opera of Chicago as well as at the Paris Opera among other houses. The Paris Opera recorded it on video, but never released the performance.