Opera Scotland

John Macurdy Suggest updates

Born Detroit, Michigan 18 March 1929

Died Stamford, Connecticut 7 May 2020.

American bass.

John Macurdy was one of the leading operatic basses in the United States for a long period in the second half of the twentieth century. 

He grew up in Detroit with a family background in engineering - singing was a hobby.  His engineering apprenticeship was interrupted by the Korean War, when he spent four years in the USAF based in Mississippi as a radar-electronics instructor.   During this period he sang several roles with the New Orleans Opera House Association, making his debut in 1952 as the Hebrew Elder in Saint-Saëns' Samson and Delilah.   He also appeared in works by Mozart (Die Entführung ais dem Serail);   Bellini (Norma);  Massenet (Thaïs) and  Menotti  (The Consul).

Macurdy returned to Detroit to complete his apprenticeship, then took singing lessons from Boris Goldovsky, who ran a reputable touring company at the time.  In 1957 he moved to New York City to concentrate on his singing career.   At Santa Fe he created the role of Mr Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights (Carlisle Floyd 1958).   At the New York City Opera from 1959, his repertoire ranged through Mozart (Don Alfonso);  Donizetti  (Raimondo);   Verdi (Sparafucile,  King of Egypt,  Ramfis);   Puccini (Colline);  Stravinsky (Creon) and  Dallapiccola (Priest Il prigioniero).   He also appeared in a number of new works by American composers.   These included Basso Cantante in Six Characters in Search of an Author (Weisgall 1959);  Mr Earnshaw  Wuthering Heights (Bernard Herrmann);  Jabez Stone  The Devil and Daniel Webster  (Douglas Moore);  William Jennings Bryan  The Ballad of Baby Doe  (Moore);   Rev John Hale  The Crucible  (Ward).

Macurdy made his debut at the New York Met in 1962.  During a long career there (ending in 2000) he appeared in over 1000 performances in a multitude of roles, including  Mozart  (Commendatore,  Sarastro);  Beethoven  (Rocco);  Rossini  (Don Basilio);  Donizetti  (Raimondo);   Bellini  (Count Rodolfo,   Oroveso);  Wagner  (Daland,  Heinrich Lohengrin,   King Mark,  Hunding,  Hagen,  Gurnemanz);   Verdi (Count Walter  Luisa Miller,  Sparafucile,  Ferrando Il trovatore,  Grand Inquisitor);   Gounod (Méphistophélès);   Musorgsky (Pimen);   Tchaikovsky  (Gremin);    Ponchielli  (Alvise Badoero  La gioconda);   Massenet  (Comte des Grieux);   Puccini  (Colline,  Timur);   Stravinsky  (Tiresias);  Barber (Agrippa Antony and Cleopatra) - premiere at the opening of the new Met.

He did not work much outside the USA.  However he appeared at the Paris Opéra (Arkel);  La Scala Milan (Rocco,  Hermann Tannhäuser) and  Salzburg (Commendatore).

It seems that his only appearance in the UK was for his performances with Scottish Opera in 1974 (Sarastro).   Macurdy had distant Scottish ancestry through Nova Scotia.


There are not many recordings, though it is possible that some live broadcast souvenirs from his Met years may become available.   He sings the Commendatore in Joseph Losey's film of  Don Giovanni, and is Lodovico in the Zeffirelli version of  Otello, both of which have been available on CD as well as video.

Roles in Scotland

Sarastro High Priest of Isis and Osiris
Zauberflöte 1974

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