Het is vandaag 75 jaar geleden dat de bekende Ierse tenor John McCormack is overleden.
Hij werd ontdekt in een wedstrijd waaraan ook niemand minder dan James Joyce deelnam (the Dublin Feis Ceoil van 1904). Ze trok een tijdlang samen op, maar uiteindelijk koos Joyce toch voor een literaire carrière.
Fundraising activities on his behalf enabled McCormack to travel to Italy in 1905 to receive voice training by Vincenzo Sabatini (father of the novelist Rafael Sabatini) in Milan. Sabatini found McCormack’s voice naturally tuned and concentrated on perfecting his breath control, an element that would become part of the basis of his renown as a vocalist. Famous for his extraordinary breath control, he could sing 64 notes on one breath in Mozart’s Il mio tesoro from Don Giovanni.
In 1906, he made his operatic début at the Teatro Chiabrera, Savona. The next year he began his first important operatic performance at Covent Garden in Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana, becoming the theatre’s youngest principal tenor. In 1909 he began his career in America.
In February 1911, McCormack played Lieutenant Paul Merrill in the world premiere of Victor Herbert’s drama Natoma with Mary Garden in the title role. Later that year he toured Australia after Dame Nellie Melba engaged him, then at the height of his operatic career aged 27, as a star tenor for the Melba Grand Opera Season.
McCormack made hundreds of recordings, the first on phonograph cylinder in 1904. His most commercially successful series of records were those for the Victor Talking Machine Company during the 1910s and 1920s (zie foto). He was Victor’s most popular Red Seal recording artist after tenor Enrico Caruso. He also broadcast regularly by radio and performed in a few sound films.
He also sang songs expressive of Irish nationalism — his recording of “The Wearing of the Green”, a song about the Irish rebellion of 1798, encouraged 20th century efforts for Irish Home Rule — and endorsed the Irish Nationalist estrangement from the United Kingdom. He was also the first artist to record the famous World War I song “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” in 1914.
In 1917, McCormack became a naturalised citizen of the United States.
McCormack originally ended his career at the Royal Albert Hall in London, during 1938. However, one year after that farewell concert, he was back singing for the Red Cross and in support of the war effort. He gave concerts, toured, broadcast and recorded in this capacity until 1943, when failing health finally forced him to retire permanently. After a series of infectious illnesses, including influenza and pneumonia, McCormack died in September 1945.
McCormack is mentioned in the first line of The Pogues song, “The Sick Bed of Cu Chulainn”, pictured singing at the bedside with his contemporary, Richard Tauber. (Wikipedia)