Artist Profile: Cornell MacNeil, One of the Great American Baritone Of the 20th Century

By David Salazar

Cornell MacNeil, born on Sept. 24, 1922, would become one of the great American baritones in history.

The Minnesota native always had an interest in a musical career but struggled with asthma through the age of 20. During the Second World War, he worked as a lathe operator before going on to study with baritone Fredrich Schorr.

He would start his career performing at the Radio City Music Hall Glee Club but his opera career would start in earnest in 1950 after Gian Carlo Menotti cast him in “The Consul.”

In 1953, MacNeil made his New York City Opera debut, eventually making his way to the Metropolitan Opera in 1959, where he made his debut with what would go on to be his signature role, “Rigoletto.” He would go on to sing a whopping 642 performances of 26 roles with the Met until he retired from the company in 1987.

Signature Roles

MacNeil sang a wide range of roles, including those in the operas of “Wagner.” But he will always be remembered for two roles in the particular.

The first of these is “Rigoletto,” the opera with which he made his Metropolitan Opera debut; he would go on to sing the role over 100 times with the company and would appear in its first telecast of the work.

The second role that he dominated was that of Scarpia in “Tosca,” which he performed over 90 times in New York. It was the role with which he ended his career in 1987.

Read More on MacNeil

A Look at the shared roles of Ettore Bastianini, Pablo Elvira & Cornell MacNeil

Watch and Listen

Here is a performance of “Rigoletto.”

And here is a full recital.


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