Artist Profile: Sherrill Milnes, A Notable Verdi Baritone

By David Salazar

Baritone Sherrill Milnes was the Verdi Baritone of his time.

Born on Jan. 10, 1935 in Downers Grove, Illinois, Milnes played a plethora of instruments throughout his youth. He had intentions of becoming an anesthesiologist but then sought out music as a career. After graduation from Drake University, he became an apprentice at the Santa Fe Opera and studied briefly under Rosa Ponselle.

His first performances came with the Opera Company of Boston, which was followed by the Baltimore Opera. In 1964, he appeared with the New York City Opera in “Faust,” and a year later he appeared at the Met Opera for the first time in the same opera. In 1967, he was in the world premiere of “Mourning Becomes Electra,” also at the Met.

His European debut came in 1964 at the Teatro Nuovo in Milan.

In 1984, he appeared in the world premiere of the first Act of Rachmaninoff’s “Monna Vanna,” in 1971, he appeared in the opera “And David Wept” on the CBS Television network.

He would go on to become a professor emeritus at Northwestern University and received Yale University’s Sanford Medal. He was also a Laureate of The Lincoln Academy of Illinois, and was honored by the French Government as Chevalier of L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

He created the VOICExperience Foundation alongside his wife Maria Zouves to educate young singers and the program has grown over the years.

Signature Roles

Milnes was the Verdi baritone of choice for many throughout the 1970s and 1980s, taking on all the major roles by the composer throughout his career. One look at his list of recordings reveals “Il Trovatore,” “La Traviata,” “Un Ballo in Maschera,” “Attila,” “Giovanna d’Arco,” “I Vespri Siciliani,” “Aida,” “Macbeth,” “Don Carlos,” “Rigoletto,” “Luisa Miller,” “La Forza del Destino,” “Ernani,” and “Otello.”

For some context, he performed every single one of those operas (except “Giovanna d’Arco” and “Attila”) at the Met more than 17 times each throughout his career (“Forza” and “Vespri” are the only two with less than 20 performances by the baritone at the Met). “La Traviata” and “Otello” were his most performed Verdi operas at the Met.

Read More on Milnes

An Interview With the Baritone & His Wife On Prague Summer Nights

Roles He Shares With Fellow Birthday Boy James Morris

Watch and Listen

Some Signature Moments From Italian Opera

An interesting conversation with Fred Plotkin.


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