Marian Anderson's Groundbreaking Met Opera Moment : Deceptive Cadence Sixty years ago, opera singer Marian Anderson made her long overdue debut at New York's Metropolitan Opera. She was its first African-American soloist.

Marian Anderson's Groundbreaking Met Opera Moment

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This next story marks an anniversary. It was 60 years ago today that the Metropolitan Opera had its first African-American soloist. That's the occasion for this story, but really any excuse will do to play the voice of Marian Anderson.


MARIAN ANDERSON: (As Ulrica) (Singing in foreign language).


That is a recording from one of Anderson's performances in 1955 as the fortuneteller Ulrica. She played the role in an opera by Verdi.

INSKEEP: F. Paul Driscoll, the editor-in-chief of Opera News, says Marian Anderson was made for that role.

F. PAUL DRISCOLL: The role of the sorceress, Ulrica, in "Un Ballo En Maschera," is something which depends a lot on the charisma of the performer, the presence of the performer and the ability to suggest a world beyond what you're seeing in front of you. And that's what Marian Anderson did every time she walked on stage, not to indicate that she was a sorceress. She had magic of a very different kind. But I think if you're going to have the first African-American artist at the Met be Marion Anderson, let her appear at her best.

INSKEEP: She did her best, though, even as an accomplished performer in her 50s, Marian Anderson was nervous.

MONTAGNE: She said afterward that she trembled. And when the audience applauded her appearance on stage, quote, "my stomach tightened into a knot." Nevertheless, a New York Times reviewer reported that her performance made men and women cry.

INSKEEP: The Opera News's F. Paul Driscoll says that moment 60 years ago opened the doors for performers who came after Marian Anderson.

DRISCOLL: The country didn't change overnight. There were still problems with taking African-American artists on tour for the Met throughout the '50s and the '60s. You know, in other words, it's not as if everything became completely rosy in 1955. But I think that seeing this is an important symbol, that this was the beginning of the integration in the deepest sense of classical music in the United States - that's why its important.

MONTAGNE: Marian Anderson's mere appearance at the Met 60 years ago was as dramatic as the story she acted out on stage.


ANDERSON: (As Ulrica) (Singing in foreign language).

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