Although I had been offered a contract for Così fan tutte at the Met whilst I was singing Don Giovanni in Marseille, my actual New York debut was in 1978 with the New York City Opera in La Bohème and La Traviata. I recall that there were two performances of each. After the first performance of Bohème I invited a colleague – the baritone, Dominic Cossa – and his wife to have dinner with me at a restaurant: Fiorello’s opposite the theatre. I had worked with Dominic in Così, in Strasbourg a year or so earlier. We celebrated my success in not quite the style I had intended, as my reservation was delayed by forty-five minutes and the service was rather poor, thus dampening the elation somewhat.
I eagerly awaited the press reviews the next day, but was astounded to read one particular critic’s opinion of my debut. It appeared in the New York Post and stated, “What were we to expect from the British tenor, David Rendall? Obviously nothing!” I don’t think he stayed for the curtain calls … or even the whole opera. The critic’s name was Speight Jenkins, although after that review I called him Spite Jenkins. He went on to become the general manager of Seattle Opera.
I was completely taken aback after this review, especially as my first act aria had received a huge ovation, as had I at the final curtain call. Devastated, I called my agent in England, who contacted the Met’s casting director, Joan Ingpen, to see if this would have any effect on my forthcoming contract. Her reply was, “If that stupid man said this, then David must have had a huge success”.
Here is a recording from that very performance; judge for yourself. The conductor is John Mauceri.
Whilst in New York, I was invited to sing on the stage of the Met – maybe to see if the critic was right, or to check that my voice was big enough for the huge auditorium. The result was that I was offered five more contracts.
My first contract was for Così fan tutte in the 78-79 season, but this was cancelled because of an orchestral lock-out (the members of the orchestra were arguing about their hours and pay). The house was dark for months. Once it re-opened, some artists and directors were not available for their productions, so a new schedule was drawn up. I was offered the role of Ernesto in Don Pasquale, which premiered on 28th February, 1980 – my Norina being Roberta Peters.
At the dress rehearsal, in my very first aria ‘Com’e gentil’ (which was off stage and accompanied by harp – but may have been guitar), I decided to interpolate a high C sharp. Unfortunately, it splatted against all the walls of the theatre, and left a huge scar on my pride. Thank goodness it wasn’t a public rehearsal or even a performance! Needless to say, I reverted to the original scoring for that aria. Later in the opera, Ernesto has a duet with Norina, in which that very same note appears. This time, the approach, and by that I mean the preceding notes, was so different that there was no problem at all…pride remained intact!
I spent ten years at the Met, performing three or four productions a year. This included the tour, which took us to Washington, Dallas, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Atlanta, Detroit and Toronto. There would be dinner after dinner, function after function, and, as a younger member of the company, I was asked to perform at these functions.
In Cleveland in 1981, the Met was asked if there was an artist who liked cooking, and who would be interested in appearing on a lunchtime news programme that had a cooking spot. Knowing that I loved cooking, the powers that be asked me – and there I was on lunchtime TV in America. The Met even had a special apron and oven gloves flown in from New York for me to wear. You’ll see why! That was thirty-three years ago, and I was thirty-three years old at the time. The host of the show, whose name I can’t remember, didn’t like anybody in ‘her’ kitchen. During the rehearsal where I had to prepare the here’s-one-I-made-earlier, she was an absolute dragon and quite impossible, criticising my every move and method.
Afterwards, they gave me a tape of the show, and I found it the other day. It had never been played, so I went looking for somebody to convert it to DVD – not easy with an old, discontinued recording system like the Sony Umatic NTSC. Fortunately, I was able to find someone who could do it not that far from my home, and had it transferred. It’s below for you all to see. Watch the clip and be sure to pay attention to the very last shot of me. I thought I was off camera, but my expression told it all.
In my next post with, I’ll relate further exploits from my travels across USA, as well as the Americas, North and South.