Tenor Jan Peerce was conductor Arturo Toscanini’s go-to tenor.
He was born Jacob Pincus Perelmuth on June 3, 1904 and was raised in New York City as the third child of a family of Polish immigrants. He attended Columbia University and actually grew up playing the violin before eventually realizing that he was a lyric tenor.
In 1932, he was hired to perform as a tenor soloist with the Radio City Music Hall. It was here that he was renamed John Pierce before eventually finding a middle ground with Jan Peerce. It was via these radio broadcasts that Toscanini first heard the tenor and immediately snatched him up for a number of his most famed recordings. He first sang with Toscanini on Feb. 6, 1938 at Carnegie Hall.
He would then become a major tenor at the Philadelphia La Scala Opera Company in 1938 and would make it to the Metropolitan Opera in 1941, performing roles from the Italian repertory.
He also starred in a few films, toured South America, and also became a major cultural ambassador when he performed at the Bolshoi Opera in 1956.
He died on Dec. 15, 1984.
Peerce had a rather varied opera repertory throughout his career, ranging from lyric roles to some heavier repertory, especially in his recordings with Toscanini. At the Met, his most performed roles were in “La Traviata” and “Rigoletto,” which make up about one-third of all his Met performances. Another role he performed often at the Met was Edgardo in “Lucia di Lammermoor.”
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Watch and Listen
Here is a recording of “Un Ballo in Maschera” from the Met.
And here is a recording of “La Bohème” with Toscanini.