Lawrence Tibbett was a renowned baritone schooled in Los Angeles who rose to worldwide operatic fame.
The singer was born Lawrence Tibbet but he adopted the double “t” after it appeared that way on a Metropolitan Opera program through a typographical error. He got his first acting job, in a prologue sketch at an L.A. movie theater, because of a resemblance to silent film star Charles Ray.
Tibbett always credited Basil Ruysdael, his tutor, with making an “honest baritone” of him. In 1922, at the urging of writer Rupert Hughes, Tibbett went to New York to study and sang in churches there. His first role with the Metropolitan was an insignificant one in which he mostly sang in a duet offstage. Several weeks after, Tibbett — on three days’ notice – took over the part of Valentine in “Faust” in which Feodor Chaliapin, Tibbett’s idol, was the star.
It was the night of Jan. 2, 1925, that Tibbett leapt from operatic obscurity to stardom. The opera that night was “Falstaff,” with the famed Italian baritone, Antonio Scotti, singing the title role and Tibbett singing the second baritone part of Ford. And it was Tibbett, after a solo in the second act, who brought cheers and shouts of “Tibbett! Tibbett!” At 28, he was the new luminary of the Met.
Tibbett refused to confine his robust voice and handsome stature to the select domain of the Met. Despite some raised eyebrows, he branched into movies and radio. He was the first American operatic artist to make a sound film, “The Rogue Song,” and it was a box office hit. Years later, in 1945, he became the singing star of a radio show, “Your Hit Parade” — for a reported $4,000 a week. The announcer on the program, incidentally, was his old teacher, Ruysdael. Tibbett defended these actions with a belief in American music and American singers.
Although he retired from the Metropolitan in 1949 after being one of its top stars for nearly 25 years, Tibbett remained one of the best-known figures in the world of music. In 1950 he starred on Broadway in “The Barrier,” and his last leading role was in the musical “Fanny” in 1956.
Before his death July 15, 1960, Tibbett had been unconscious since June 27, when he underwent surgery for an old head injury at Roosevelt Hospital in New York.
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