Cornell MacNeil


Born: September 24, 1922; Minneapolis, MN  
Although not regarded as a great operatic actor, Cornell MacNeil possessed one of the most sumptuous baritone voices of the twentieth century's second half. A mainstay at the Metropolitan Opera, his rounded, heavyweight instrument coursed magnificently through such roles as Tonio, Amonasro, Rigoletto, Germont, Nabucco, and Scarpia, making vocal points impossible to ignore. MacNeil's occasional tendency toward unsteadiness was mitigated by the Read more sheer splendor of his sound. MacNeil was one of the last of the true dramatic Verdi baritones, and the end of his career left a void that is still unfilled.

After study with Wagnerian bass-baritone Friedrich Schorr at the Hartt College of Music in Hartford, CT, MacNeil sang in Broadway musicals before he created the role of John Sorel in Menotti's The Consul in Philadelphia on March 1, 1950. He made his debut with the New York City Opera in 1953, singing Germont in a March 21 matinee performance of La traviata with Frances Yeend as Violetta. He remained with the company until the fall season in 1956, singing among other roles Escamillo, Rigoletto, Valentin, and Stephano in the American premiere of Martin's The Tempest (Der Sturm). In 1955, MacNeil made his debut in San Francisco as Escamillo, his acting tepid, but his voice having "the ring of great promise."

A 1957 production of Manon Lescaut with Tebaldi and Björling introduced him to Chicago audiences on October 21. He followed that with a powerfully sung Alfio two nights later and returned for the 1958 season as Ford and Sharpless, also singing the Prologue in Pagliacci before yielding to Tito Gobbi as Tonio. In 1965, MacNeil offered his Rigoletto in a production regarded as otherwise lackluster.

Debuts at both La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera occupied the baritone in 1959. In Milan, he appeared as Carlo in Ernani, while at his March 21 Met debut the role was Rigoletto, the first of nearly 500 performances ranging over 26 roles. MacNeil's large, rolling voice found a congenial home at the old Met and, later, in the even larger new theater. In addition to the great Verdi roles for which he was so well-suited, he mastered such verismo roles as Michele in Il Tabarro and the chilling Gianciotto in Francesca di Rimini, the latter in a production televised to a large national and world-wide audience. In the latter part of his career, his interpretations showed increased dramatic specificity and vitality; some indeed were strongly compelling.

In addition to his performing career, MacNeil took time to serve as president of the American Guild of Musical Artists beginning in 1969.

In bass Jerome Hines' book, Great Singers on Great Singing (1982), MacNeil is outspoken about a variety of issues facing both fledgling singers and established artists. Given his long career (he was still singing leading roles in his mid-sixties), his words merit attention. MacNeil is particularly critical of the term "color," insisting rather that singers think about intent. "Breath control," too, is a term he disparages, preferring to believe that good singing results from balance of physical elements. On the issue of support, he considers that the diaphragm is "enormously overrated" as the basic means. Rather, he states that the floating ribs of the singer's back provide the cushion on which breath is made available -- and that most singers take in more breath than is necessary. Read less
Browse 26-31 of 31 Available Recordings
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  • 26.
    Puccini: La Fanciulla Del West / Capuana, Tebaldi, Et Al
    Label: London/Decca Grand Opera Series   Catalog: 421595 Release Date: 09/10/2002   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Giacomo Puccini
    Performer:  Bianca Maria Casoni,  Mario Del Monaco,  Piero de Palma,  Michele Cazzato  ... 
    Conductor:  Franco Capuana
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Santa Cecilia Academy Rome Chorus,  Santa Cecilia Academy Rome Orchestra
    CD: $34.99
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  • 27.
    The Great Renata Tebaldi
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 470280 Release Date: 01/15/2002   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Gioachino Rossini,  Giuseppe Verdi,  Giacomo Puccini,  Alfredo Catalani  ... 
    Performer:  Renata Tebaldi,  Mario Del Monaco,  Lydia Marimpietri,  Carlo Bergonzi  ... 
    Conductor:  Richard Bonynge,  Francesco Molinari-Pradelli,  Alberto Erede,  Fausto Cleva  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Philharmonia Orchestra,  Santa Cecilia Academy Rome Orchestra,  Santa Cecilia Academy Rome Chorus  ... 
    CD: $12.99
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  • 28.
    Jon Vickers - A Tribute On His 75th Birthday
    Label: Vai Audio   Catalog: 1201 Release Date: 12/11/2001   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Antonín Dvorák,  Ruggero Leoncavallo,  Richard Strauss,  Richard Wagner  ... 
    Performer:  Jon Vickers,  Richard Woitach,  Cornell MacNeil,  Bruno Tomaselli  ... 
    Conductor:  Juan Emilio Martini,  Horst Stein
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Buenos Aires Teatro Colón Orchestra,  Buenos Aires Teatro Colón Chorus
    CD: $15.99
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  • 29.
    Cavalleria Rusticana And Pagliacci / Martini, Bumbry, Et Al
    Label: Vai Audio   Catalog: 1197 Release Date: 06/26/2001   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Ruggero Leoncavallo,  Pietro Mascagni
    Performer:  Joan Carlyle,  Cornell MacNeil,  Jose Nait,  Virgilio Tavini  ... 
    Conductor:  Juan Emilio Martini
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Buenos Aires Teatro Colón Orchestra,  Buenos Aires Teatro Colón Chorus
    On sale! $34.98
    CD: $30.99
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  • 30.
    Dorothy Kirsten In New Orleans / Cellini, Macneil, Et Al
    Label: Vai Audio   Catalog: 1154 Release Date: 05/19/1998   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Gustave Charpentier,  Giuseppe Verdi
    Performer:  Norman Treigle,  Dorothy Kirsten,  Cornell MacNeil,  Thomas Tibbett Hayward
    Conductor:  Franco Patanč,  Renato Cellini
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Orleans Opera Chorus,  New Orleans Opera Orchestra
    CD: $15.99
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