The New York Herald Tribune/1960/03/05/Leonard Warren Dies at the Met

The New York Herald Tribune (1960)
Leonard Warren Dies at the Met by Sanche de Gramont

This account of the death of opera singer Leonard Warren was published in the New York Herald Tribune on March 5, 1960. It won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting, Edition Time.

3895949The New York Herald Tribune — Leonard Warren Dies at the Met1960Sanche de Gramont

Leonard Warren Dies at the Met

Audience Aghast as Baritone Is Stricken on Stage

By Sanche de Gramont

LAST ROLE—Leonard Warren as Don Carlo in "La Forza del Destino"

Leonard Warren, leading baritone of the Metropolitan Opera, died last night on the stage where he had sung for more than twenty years.

The forty-nine-year-old singer collapsed as he was ending the second act of Verdi's "La Forza del Destino." He fell forward as he was making his exit at 10:05 p.m., and twenty-five minutes later the house physician pronounced him dead, victim of a stroke.

There was an awesome moment as the singer fell. The rest of the cast remained paralyzed. Finally some one in the capacity audience called out "For God's sake, ring down the curtain."

The curtain came down, ambulances were called, and a member of the cast tried mouth-to-mouth respiration. A priest arrived to administer the last rites to the singer, who was a recent convert to Roman Catholicism.

Members of the staff who came from the stage weeping announced the the opera star was dead.

The news was met with hushed consternation by many in the opera house who had come backstage after the curtain was lowered.

In the audience were many critics who came to hear Mr. Warren and Renata Tebaldi, making her first appearance this year. Mr. Warren was acknowledged to be the world's best dramatic baritone. He had a repertoire of twenty-six operatic roles.

A member of the Metropolitan staff said Mr. Warren had appeared in perfect health when he came to sing last night.

At the time he collapsed, Mr. Warren had just finished the aria "O fatal pages of my destiny." He was singing the role of Don Carlo in the opera, set in Italy and Spain, and was dressed in the colorful uniform of a Spanish grenadier. The opera has a tragic ending in which Don Carlo is killed by an erstwhile friend.

The surgeon, in the opera, played by Roald Reitan, a baritone, sings to Mr. Warren: "E salvo (He's well).

Mr. Warren responds: "E salvo, e salvo, O gioia. (He's saved, he's saved, O joy.")

He turned to his left, and prepared to make his exit, which ends the act, and collapsed. Some thought he had tripped. The conductor, Thomas Shippers, froze. Mr. Reitan raced to Mr. Warren's side as the curtain fell. He was followed by Richard Tucker, who was playing Don Alvaro and was watching from the wings.

Leonard Warren in the title role of Verdi's "Simon Boccanegra," a new production which had its premiere at the Met last Tuesday evening.
Mr. Warren as Count di Luna in "Il Trovatore."
Mr. Warren in the title role of "Macbeth."
Mr. Warren off the stage.

Mr. Tucker said: "Lennie, Lennie, what is it?"

They turned him over.

Wife in Audience

The singer's wife, Mrs. Agatha Leifflen Warren, was watching from a parterre box with her brother, Roy Leifflen, a Washington attorney, and Msgr. Edwin Broderick, of St. Patrick's Cathedral, a friend of the Warrens.

Mrs. Warren saw Mr. Warren's face and gasped. Msgr. Broderick went backstage. Dr. Adrian W. Zorgniotti, the house physician, also went backstage.

Mr. Warren remained unconscious. The physician said he thought the singer suffered a massive cerebral vascular hemorrhage. His respiration stopped two or three minutes after he collapsed. He was pronounced dead at 10:15 p.m.

Half an hour after Mr. Warren collapsed the warning buzzer sounded in the foyers and lobbies of the packed house. The audience returned to its seats.

The audience chattered until the house lights dimmed and a moment later the spotlight hit the curtain and Rudolf Bing, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, stepped out.

With his hands clasped in front of him he announced: "It is one of the saddest days—"

At this point the audience broke into shouts of "Oh No, Oh No."

Tribute by Bing

Mr. Bing continued, "I ask you to stand . . ."

The audience again moaned and whispers went through the audience, "He's gone. He's gone."

". . . In tribute." Mr. Bing continued, "to one of our greatest performers, he died as I am sure he would have wanted to die."

"He died in the middle of a performance.

"Cannot Continue"

"I'm sure you will agree that under these circumstances we cannot possibly continue."

Mr. Bing made an about face and returned backstage.

The audience left the theater in visible shock and disbelief.

Ambulances from at least three hospitals and oxygen from a police emergency squad arrived at the opera too late to help.

Audience Stunned

The audience emptied into Broadway and stopped momentarily in front of the ambulance pulled up in front of the W. 40th St. exit, its red light flashing. Police blocked the backstage entrance. In the theater, musicians talked quietly among themselves, recalling the singer's career.

Mr. Bing called the singer's last performance "one of his greatest."

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Opera said it was believed to be the first time in the opera house's existence that a star had been fatally stricken on stage in the middle of a role.

Mr. Warren was taken to the dressing room he occupied for many years, and from there to the Abbey Funeral Home, 66th St. and Lexington Ave.

Mr. Warren made his debut at the Metropolitan on Jan 13, 1939. He was to sing another Verdi role, "Simon Boccanegra," in Philadelphia Tuesday, and had been scheduled for the title part in the company's first production of Verdi's "Nabucco" for the Metropolitan's fall season.


In 600 Performances

Mr. Warren had sung a total of more than 600 performances of twenty-two roles, more than a fifth of them as Rigoletto.

Like most top-flight singers, he was temperamental. He told other sings how to sing, conductors how to conduct, directors how to direct, photographers how to make pictures, recording engineers how to record and costumers how to costume.

He was forgiven for all this because many regarded him as the greatest baritone in Italian repertory, a "human bellows mounted on matchsticks." He had a fifty-one-inch chest (unexpanded), a size 17½ collar, a massive head, almost six feet of height and well over 200 pounds of weight—all supported on thin legs.

At the time he was engaged by the Metropolitan he had seen only one opera in his life, "La Traviata," when he was twenty-two. He had no definite idea of making a career in music, and began his career in his father's fur business.

In 1935, he went to Radio City Music Hall, went backstage asked for an audition and got it and a job. He stayed at Radio City for three years, spending all of the time in the chorus. He never got a chance for a solo turn.

Mr. Warren went to the Met by way of the "Auditions of the Air" in 1938, when he was dared into entering by fellow chorus members at Radio City. When he auditioned for Wilfrid Pelletier, the conductor thought a ringer had been brought in.

He did not have a single operatic role at that time, and he went to Italy to prepare some repertoire. Working under Giuseppe Pais and Ricardo Piccozi in Rome and Milan, he learned seven roles in seven months.

Mr. Warren was born in the Bronx, and attended Public School 11 and Evander Childs High School. For a year he studied business at night at Columbia University, preparatory to entering his father's fur brokerage business.

As a hobby he began studying music at the Greenwich House Music School, and sang lustily while counting muskrats and minks in his father's establishment.

After his audition with the Radio City Music Hall, he studied voice production with Sidney Dietch.

Besides the Metropolitan Opera, Mr. Warren appeared with the San Francisco Opera, the Chicago Opera and the Cincinnati Summer Opera, and sang concerts extensively throughout North and South America.

He also appeared often on major radio and television programs, including "Voice of Firestone" and "Toast of the Town." His extensive list of recordings for RCA Victor included a wide variety of music from "Falstaff" to sea chanties and Kipling ballads.


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