Opera Roles You Forgot Legendary Baritone Leonard Warren Performed

By David Salazar

When you hear the name Leonard Warren, you always hear another name – Verdi.

The baritone, born on April 21, 1911, was dedicated to the great Italian and practically sang every great baritone role that Verdi wrote. You name it. For many, he was the ultimate Rigoletto (he performed the opera 89 times at the Metropolitan Opera), while others will never forget his work in “La Forza del Destino,” the opera that he was singing the moment he died. He towered as “Macbeth” and “Simon Boccanegra” and performed the role of Germont a whopping 53 times at the Met during his 20-plus year career. He also sang “Un Ballo in Maschera,” “Il Trovatore,” “Aida,” “Falstaff” and “Otello.”

He also made his appearance in other non-Verdi Italian roles in such operas as “Pagliacci,” “Cavalleria Rusticana,” “Lucia di Lammermoor,” “Andrea Chénier,” “Tosca,” and “La Gioconda.”

But there were other non-Italian operas that Warren sang throughout his career, most of it at the Met.

Boris Godunov

During the mid-20th century, it was fashionable for this masterwork to be performed in Italian. The Met made the most of it throughout this time period with numerous famous basses taking on the title role. As for Warren, he appeared as Rangoni and made some appearances as Shchelkalov as well. He appeared 17 times in the opera at the Met between 1939 and 1944.


Warren also showcased his talents in the famed Wagner opera 22 times at the Met between 1940 and 1943. As was the case with “Boris Godunov,” he sang a small role in “Lohengrin,” this time as the Herald. Writing about his performance of the role in 1941, Atlanta Constitution critic Eugenia Bridges Harty stated, “Mr. Warren’s smooth voice sent chills up 4,500 spines each time he repeated the [first] bars of his recurrent theme song.” A recording from Jan. 27, 1940 exists.


The baritone also took some forays into French opera, most prominently Gounod’s masterwork. He sang the role of Valentin between 1939 and 1951. Regarding his performance, New York Times critics Noel Straus wrote, “Leonard Warren’s rich voice soared forth impressively in the music allotted to Valentin.” He also performed the role in San Francisco. He wasn’t particularly beloved in this role but he sang it 22 times throughout his Met career and recorded it as well.


Warren was in the cast for the Met’s premiere of this work back in 1941, singing the role of the High Priest. He would only sing it four times and a review from the Herald Tribute called his singing “convincing.” There is a rare recording from this run.


Between 1940 and 1944, Warren also sang the role of Escamillo in the Bizet masterwork a total of 22 times. Irving Kolodin of The Sun called his singing “close to first rare” while Virgin Thomas was far more effusive in his review in the Herald Tribune. “Equally distinguished and beautiful was that of Mr. Leonard Warren as Escamillo. He neither looked nor even pretended to act the part; but O, how beautifully he sang. What vigor of musical line! What refreshing variety of “demi teints!” What constantly accurate resonance, at all times placed squarely in the upper part of the face!” Thomson wrote.

Samson et Dalila

Warren took on the part of the High Priest four times in his career at the Met in 1941 and 1942; he also performed it at San Francisco Opera. Of his work, Herald Tribune critic Jerome D. Bohm wrote, “Equally impressive was the High Priest of Mr. Warren. This young American baritone is ripening rapidly and he possesses indubitably the best voice of its kind to be heard here at the present time. The richness and unforced fullness of his tones was highly satisfying to hear, and his impersonation has grown more convincing from the histrionic point of view.”


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