Nicola Moscona


Born: September 23, 1907 Died: September 17, 1975
Born Nicolai Moscona, this Greek basso cantante spent the most significant period of his prime in the United States as a member of the Metropolitan Opera. With a voice of good size and more than adequate quality (a slight wooliness kept it from being first-rate), Moscona filled many prominent Italian and French roles once dominated by Ezio Pinza. His reliability and sound musicianship found favor with many of the leading conductors of the day, notably Arturo Toscanini, who engaged him for several important assignments later made available on disc. After studies with Elena Theodorini at the Conservatory in his native Athens, Moscona made his stage debut in Il barbiere di Siviglia at the National Opera in Athens in 1931. For the next six years, Moscona sang in a number of venues in Greece, Turkey, and Italy. His appearances in Italy were facilitated by a scholarship awarded by the Greek government for additional opera coaching in Milan. After only two months in that country, he was heard in audition by Metropolitan Opera general director Edward Johnson. Impressed, Johnson offered Moscona a contract and the bass accepted. Moscona's New York debut took place on December 13, 1937, as Ramfis in Aida. The New York Times critic reported, "He has a basso cantato (sic) voice of ample size and agreeable quality," further expressing the belief that the singer would prove useful in the Italian and French wings. Following his first season in New York, Moscona returned to Italy to sing at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and to fulfill engagements at La Scala and Bologna. During winter 1938, he appeared in his second Metropolitan season, once more to mixed but generally approving notices. Reviews of subsequent performances during Moscona's 25-year Metropolitan Opera career varied from dismissive ("dull sound") to appreciative for his well-considered characterizations and conscientiously sung performances. Another signal event in 1938 brought the bass into contact with Toscanini, who chose him for a London performance of Verdi's Manzoni Requiem. With a not yet fully schooled Zinka Milanov, a strong Kerstin Thorborg, and a clarion-voiced Helge Rosvaenge, Moscona sang his part in such a manner as to please the maestro and lead to further collaborations in America. Aside from his performances at the Metropolitan Opera, Moscona continued to perform leading roles at La Scala and at Rome's Teatro Reale. After acquiring United States citizenship in 1945, Moscona sang as soloist with many of the world's leading orchestras (26 performances with Toscanini alone). Appearances with other companies, such as Chicago, filled his calendar. In 1949, he returned to Greece for the first time since before the outbreak of WWII, giving 14 opera performances at the National Theatre and singing an outdoor stadium recital before a crowd of 35,000. Moscona became the first musician to receive the Cross of the Royal Order of the Phoenix, an honor bestowed by King Paul. Moscona sang a total of 485 performances at the Metropolitan Opera. Among his most frequently performed roles there were Ramfis, Raimondo, Sparafucile, and Ferrando (memorably preserved in an all-star RCA recording). Upon retirement, Moscona joined the faculty at Philadelphia's Academy of Vocal Arts.