The soprano who put opera on TV

The death has been announced of Rosemary Kuhlmann, an American-born soprano who played a central role in the world premiere, shown live on NBC Television, of Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors on Christmas Eve 1951.

She was 29 at the time and went on to sing at City Opera and the Met. Rosemary has died, aged 97.

Obit here.

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  • A little info about the NBC Opera Theater which ran from 1949 to 1964. During that 14 year period, 43 works were performed, including many premieres written specifically for the program including not only Gian Carlo Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors, but also Bohuslav Martinů’s The Marriage, Lukas Foss’ Griffelkin, Norman Dello Joio’s The Trial at Rouen, Leonard Kastle’s The Swing, Stanley Hollingsworth’s La Grande Bretèche, Menotti’s Maria Golovin, Philip Bezanson’s Golden Child, Kastle’s Deseret, and Menotti’s Labyrinth. The show had 3 Emmy Award nominations.

    The niveau of television was higher in those days. Many of the public broadcasters in Europe still have similar standards such as ARTE, 3SAT, and ORF. I think Americans would greatly appreciate state supported public broadcasting if it were offered to them.

  • In addition to the works listed in my earlier post, Copland’s opera “The Tender Land,” was written for the NBC Opera Workshop for broadcast on television. (He completed it between 1952 and 1954.) This represents a kind of mass media unthinkable in the USA today.

    At the time, the New Deal sensibility of societies working for the common good still imbued Copland’s worldview, as represented in “The Tender Land.” Not long after its completion, Copland was hauled before HUAC. He was deeply traumatized and was never the same afterwards. Those events represented the end of an American sensibility. The intellectual and social climate that nurtured things the NBC Opera Workshop and The Tender Land ended with the McCarthy purges.

    The video linked below of the choral number “The Promise of Living” from the Tender Land (arr. by John Williams) illustrates a worldview that was common in America during the New Deal Era and the decade after the war. The images are at times kitsch, but the music is the point. The video also includes the text which is worth following.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLM_YTnmLto

    • From the obituary:

      “I would never give up what I have today — my two children and five grandchildren — to have said on my résumé that I sang at the Met,” she told Opera News.

  • Rosemary Kuhlmann’s performance of the Mother in Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors , is vocally and dramatically outstandingly superb . As Melchior in the Egyptian premiere of this opera and then through many years of performances , I come back to her sophisticated , expressive , and entirely believable portrayal for inspiration and an object lesson in how to make a perfect career in opera .

  • The late ’40s/early ’50s was a period when classical music almost became “mainstream” in the United States – not only these operas but, of course, the NBC Symphony, “Omnibus” on CBS, and others.

    Imagine going to NBC today and suggesting that they commission and broadcast a live opera for children!

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