An American Original - Orville Harrold
by Charles A. Hooey
A late-bloomer with a glorious voice, this American
tenor was insufficiently trained, sang too often, and poof...he
was gone, finished, that is, as a top line artist. His problem
was a lack of self-discipline that led to excesses in food and
liquor consumption. But, despite these failings, he possessed
an exceptional natural voice that extended to a top E, and at
his best, as in his “Che gelida manina" from La Bohème,
he was nothing less than sensational!
Harrold drew his first breath on 1 October 1877. His parents,
John William Harrold and Emily Harrold née Chalfont, no
doubt welcomed the little tyke to the family circle at their farm
near Cowan, south of Muncie, in Indiana. When Orville was nine,
the family moved to Lyons, Kansas where he began to study the
violin. At some point his parents discovered he possessed a fine
singing voice, no surprise for them surely, for with their parents,
they all were singers. In pursuing his musical training, young
Orville studied harmony and singing with Harry Paris, a local
vocal teacher. In time, with his parents’ blessing, the
lad went off to become a soloist in boy choirs that traveled about
the Mid West. He first attracted public attention when he sang
at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 billed as “the
boy wonder of Muncie.” In addition to his violin and vocal
studies, as young men will do, he made eyes at Euphamia Evelyn
"Effie" Kiger and they were married on 22 October 1898 in Delaware
County, Indiana. Like clockwork, three youngsters arrived. Exercising
his passion for music, Orville named them: Adelina Patti Harrold
on 14 April 1899, Marjorie Modjeska Harrold, after Polish-born
dramatic actress, Helena Modjeska, on 23 January 1901, and a son
Paul Dereszke Harrold, after Polish tenor Jean De Reszke, in 1902.
Effie often had trouble pronouncing the names of her children.
Harrold’s adult musical career began in 1925 when, at age
twenty-five, he sang tenor with various musical organizations,
still in mid-western states. To pursue his career, he moved to
New York, leaving Effie and the children behind, although they
remained on good terms. Like most successful families, the Harrolds
were opposite types. Effie was a homebody whereas he was a gregarious
individual eager to see the world. And so in mid 1906 for his
first fling, he appeared with the Schubert Brothers Company at
the Casino Theatre in New York in the light operetta ‘The
Social Whirl.’ It ran for more than 150 performances.
Then, in ‘The Belle of London Town” that opened
on 28 January, 1907 in Lincoln Square Theatre, he was ‘Lord
Drinkwell’ with Kathleen Clifford, Camille D’Arville
and Giorgio Majeroni. Unfortunately, the show closed on 9 February.
Afterwards, again at the Casino Theatre, he sang in a presentation
called ‘the Passing Show’ but soon he turned to vaudeville
as he considered it more stable employment since shows were scheduled
through theatre syndicates.
But later that year, he returned to Muncie to deliver for a coffin
maker in order to feed his family. On his rounds he would sing
‘La donna è mobile’ so extravagantly
that some of the mourners suggested he was wasting his talents
and should be storming the offices of Hammerstein and the Met.
Ernestine Schumann-Heink also happened to hear him and was so
impressed by his lovely sound that she urged him to drop everything
and head to New York and begin proper training. He did go, clutching
an invitation to meet a prominent socialite, Mabelle Hollenbeck
(mother of actor Clifton Webb). She invited him to sing and when
he did so, she was enthralled. The next morning, she was at Oscar
Hammerstein’s office, praising the young tenor to the skies,
but Oscar remained aloof. She maintained the pressure while developing
a fondness for Orville, but she, as well, urged him to study.
Instead he re-joined the Schubert Brothers' theatrical forces
and went on the road.
A year passed while Mabelle saw or heard nothing of him. Then,
suddenly, one afternoon, he turned up at the Hollenbeck apartment.
Mabelle’s inclination was to send him packing, but he begged
forgiveness so touchingly that he won her over. He said that his
quartet was appearing in a vaudeville musical review ‘Wine,
Women and Song’ at the Circle Theatre. When the show
closed, they went back to vaudeville, taking a booking at Hammerstein’s
Victoria. Mabelle began to badger Oscar into leaving his office
to hear him sing. When he finally did, Oscar turned to her and
demanded: ‘Why didn’t you tell me about him before?’
Icily, Mabelle responded: ‘He’s the one I’ve
been telling you about for a year!’
At a concert of ‘Harold and Wald Songs’ prompted a
perceptive comment from a Variety reporter: "Whoever is the tenor
he has a wonderfully sweet voice, and with a tendency to sound
tired before the finish of the act...What he should do, however,
is to study for grand opera. It might require more time than he
cares or can afford to give, but it would be worth it for the
voice is there."
Hammerstein Takes Charge
Oscar was now keen… to an extent. ‘You have a voice,”
he told Orville, ‘but you have nothing up here’ tapping
his forehead. ‘You must study…study…study!’
Harrold agreed so Hammerstein referred him to noted teacher Oscar
Saenger. After three months, Saenger let his pupil sing at the
Manhattan Opera. As reported locally on 16 January, 1910, “Oscar
Hammerstein sprang a surprise on the Sunday Concert audience at
the Manhattan Opera House by presenting his new tenor Orville
Harrold for the first time in public since he began studying to
sing in opera. The program listed Mr. Mariani who would sing ‘Ridi,
Pagliacci’ and ‘La donna è mobile’ but
when this number was reached, Arthur Hammerstein stepped before
the footlights and said, “Instead of Mr Mariani, Mr. Orville
Harrold will sing tonight. Mr. Harrold is an Indianapolis boy
whom my father discovered singing in vaudeville a few months ago.
Since then he has been studying in New York… This evening
you will have an opportunity to judge the future of this young
man.” He was wildly applauded after the ‘Ridi, Pagliacci’and
was forced to repeat the Rigoletto aria. After this he
was recalled several times and finally he added a ballad ‘The
Secret’ by John Scott. At another Sunday Night concert he
sang with Mariette Mazarin, Marguerite D'Alvarez and Armand Crabbé.
This led to a Pagliacci with the Manhattan Opera on 18
February 1910 when, as Canio, he joined the statuesque Lina Cavalieri
and Mario Sammarco. The house was jammed with all the standing
room sold out. Such was his immediate success that Orville’s
dressing room was piled to the baroque ceiling with wreaths from
the Italian societies and bouquets sent by the women who had fallen
in love with his melting eyes and coal black hair not to mention
his glorious, golden voice.
A second operatic challenge came on 12 March as the Duke of Mantua
in a matinee Rigoletto when he joined Luisa Tetrazzini
as Gilda, Sammarco as Rigoletto, Henri Scott as Sparafucile and
Alice Gentle as Maddalena with Anselmi conducting.
In 1908 Hammerstein had taken on another venture by building an
opera house in Philadelphia that opened on 17 November with a
performance of Carmen. Harrold appeared with the Philadelphia
Opera Company on 5 March 1910 in Pagliacci with Mme Walter-Villa
as Nedda, Sammarco as Tonio and Armand Crabbé as Silvio.
He sang next on 26 March in a performance of Rigoletto
with Giovanni Polese in the title role, Lalla Miranda as Gilda,
Atala Vallier as Sparafucile. That evening he sang in a Gala Concert
that brought the short-lived undertaking to an end.
After his time with Saenger, there was talk that Hammerstein would
send Orville to Paris to study with Jean de Reszke. He did go,
to study singing and the French language, but not with de Reszke.
This was followed by a similar sojourn in Florence, Italy. After
a tour of the US mid-west with Luisa Tetrazzini, he was presented
by Hammerstein at the New York Theatre on 7 November 1910 as Richard
Warrington in a revival of Victor Herbert's Naughty Marietta
with Emma Trentini, a petite soubrette who had joined the troupe
in 1906. The show racked up 136 performances before going on tour.
It was a long and arduous time for the singers, especially for
Emma, but a huge money-maker for Oscar. In his main number "I'm
falling in love with someone," Orville was reported to have “delivered
a high E flat with dramatic flair.”
After Naughty Marietta closed, Orville went home to Muncie
in mid-May where he performed at the Wysor Grand Opera House.
He then traveled to Paris, France where Oscar had arranged for
him to study with Frederick Boyer. Then, he proceeded to London
to join in preparations for Oscar’s latest venture.
Hammerstein Pleases In London
In tackling the London market, Hammerstein believed he would find
a pot of gold. As part of his plan, he had erected his own edifice,
the London Opera House in Kingsway, at a cost in excess of £200,000
and had installed posh patron comforts and the finest of stage
equipment. With Harrold and fellow American Felice Lyne as star
attractions, Oscar offered a programme of light opera in English,
beginning with Quo Vadis on 13 November 1911. Two nights
later, Harrold was on stage as Arnold in William Tell with
Victoria Fer as Mathilde, Henry Weldon as Walther and José
Danse as Tell with Luigi Cherubini conducting. Next on 25 November
he sang the first of twelve performances of Rigoletto as
the Duke with Marcel Renaud as the jester and Felice Lyne as Gilda.
Then on 1 December he sang the title role in Faust, Vanity
Fair reporting on the event thus: “Mr. Harrold was in splendid
form. The more I hear of this artist the more I feel he is one
of the four greatest tenors living. His gift of crescendo on the
highest notes is remarkable as he does not substitute mere noise
for artistry. A beautiful tone always, whether it be loud or soft
seems to be his aim.” After one particularly thrilling performance,
Orville cabled Effie, “Great success and will expect you
soon.” Effie being Effie, she declined, being unwilling
to face an ocean voyage, especially with Christmas in the offing.
After he sang in Lucia di Lammermoor on 12 December, The
Evening News reacted: “Mr. Orville Harrold, who took the
part of Edgardo, is one of Mr. Hammerstein’s greatest finds.
His voice is really remarkable and he sings and acts with great
sense of style.” And the Weekly Times of London added, “the
new tenor, Mr. Harrold was the hero of the evening. His singing
of ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ from Donizetti’s sparkling
Elisir d’Amore was rapturously encored. The singer
easily reached the high D flat in the English ballad which he
substituted, the last verse of which he had to repeat.”
Then Hammerstein had his rising American stars present Offenbach’s
Tales of Hoffmann, box office receipts being bolstered
by special trains that brought opera fans from nearby cities.
Then in January 1912, Harrold joined Victoria Fer in La Traviata.
During a Sunday Night concert, according to The Standard in London,
“The feature was Mr. Harrold’s wonderful singing of
the aria from Aida.” The season concluded on 2 March
1912 with emphasis on modern French works, all in direct competition
with Covent Garden.
Although his financial return was considerably below expectations,
Oscar decided to try a second season. To open on 22 April, 1912,
he chose Romeo and Juliet to give Felice Lyne a chance
to charm opera lovers with her girlish impersonation - eight overall
- with Harrold as Roméo, Henry Weldon as the Friar, Lydia
Locke as Gertrude and André Kerlane as Stéphano.
Fritz Emaldy conducted. Orville’s high notes were very much
intact and much admired. The tenor went on to sing in La Favorita
on 24 April with Augusta Doria, Sig. Figarella and Henry Weldon.
Then on 16 May, he returned for five performances as the Duke
in Rigoletto with Miss Lyne and Vilmos Beck as the jester.
On 1 June he sang in Faust with Berthe Cesar. Then on 10
June, he appeared in Planquette’s Les Cloches de Corneville
as Grenicheux with Vinie Daly as Serpolette and Tina Rasbaud as
Germaine. Gaetano Merola conducted this and five subsequent performances.
Repeats of William Tell and La Traviata concluded
the London seasons, Orville had sung in thirty weeks of opera,
appearing in 112 performances, all but one of the eleven operas
in which he sang were debuts, and for these he had to prepare
himself with numerous rehearsals which had occupied a great part
of his time. He said he was terribly lonely for he knew practically
no one. However, he gradually became acquainted and could later
enjoy much pleasantry at The Savage Club and the Automobile Club.
He said he had sung with Felice Lyne, “We appeared fifty-six
times in opera together and we also toured England, singing in
different cities and hamlets.’ Of Hammerstein, under whose
patronage he had flourished, Orville spoke cordially. ‘The
opera house there was very beautiful, nd the operas were put on
with lavish expenditure, with everything in the way of scenery,
costumes and accessories as well as splendid singers to make everything
complete. Mr. Hammerstein held his own at first,’ Harrold
offered with a sigh, ‘but when the Christmas pantomimes
began, the attendance grew less and less. Afterwards the prices
were cut in half, and then the opera house was crowded night after
night. But now it is given over to moving picture shows.’
Afterwards Oscar had to admit he had erred again; he'd lost a
fortune. Unfazed, he returned to the US, this time to stay.
Back in the US, Orville was able to spend time with his family
in Muncie in the summer, but soon he was active again giving the
occasional concert at major towns in central Indiana, as arranged
by his erstwhile former teacher, Harry Paris. Orville would sing
a range of songs, and then appear in costume to sing an aria from
Pagliacci to give his audience a taste of opera.
When Harrold visited Indianapolis for a recital in February 1913,
he stayed in the plush Claypool Hotel. When it was time he made
his way over to the huge and beautiful English’s Theatre,
located on Monument Circle. (Both structures are now gone.) A
host of excited friends and lovers of music generally had gathered
to hear him deliver a varied program. At the time he gave an interview,
in which he said he favored opera in English and if Mr. Hammerstein
would not give opera in English, he hoped he would be allowed
to sing for some other company. He concluded his interview by
saying that he had been singing in Kansas and came here for this
one concert. Next week he would sing in Schenectady, Buffalo and
Toronto and had plans to return for concerts in Terre Haute, Evansville,
Nashville, Tenn., and Columbus.
prior to these engagements, the long years of separation had led
to a parting of the ways for Orville and Effie. In London, Orville
had become infatuated with Lydia Locke (see left), who, as ‘Lydia
Talbot’ had also studied with Oscar Saenger. Coming home,
he decided to divorce Effie on 17 February, 1913 and three days
later, he married Lydia Locke.
At about this time, he appeared in Chicago with Titta Ruffo, and
at first he felt rather overshadowed by the great Italian singer
but soon he realized that Ruffo was pleased with him, because
he told him that any time he wanted to go to Italy, he (Ruffo)
could get engagements for him.
As reported in an Indianapolis newspaper on 6 May, Orville Harrold
returned to the auditorium of the German House where he had taken
his first step in his career. When he entered, he did so amid
a storm of applause as hands were extended to greet him and shouts
arose and continued until he went onto the platform. “Mr.
Harrold exhibited a remarkable voice, clear, powerful and of wonderful
tone quality. He chose to sing three songs from his operatic repertoire,
and to the unusual power of his voice was added an especially
pleasing and effectual interpretation. His program was brief but
it was sufficient to give an insight into the reason for the conquests
he has made and the possibilities the future holds. The songs
were ‘Vesti la giubba’ from I Pagliacci and
‘All hail, thou dwelling pure and holy’ from Faust.
In the last song, Mr. Harrold reached the only high C in the opera
easily and with a clear and well-sustained tone.”
Early in June, he returned to Indianapolis to take part in a Wagner
Festival concert, this time with Lydia accompanying him. Orville
proudly showed off his city to her, delightedly proclaiming, ‘The
trees are greener here, the skies are bluer, and the buildings
the best in the world, in my eyes,’ adding that ‘the
people are in a class that no other city can ever reach.’
Lydia, ‘an unusually pretty young woman, with a beautiful
complexion and big blue eyes, is also very charming in manner,
absolutely without any affectation or mannerisms that stage folk
sometimes adopt.’ After his concert, the couple planned
to spend a few weeks in a house they had rented on the New Jersey
coast. However, their idyllic relationship would soon begin to
fall apart. Lydia's voice lives on in a pair of duet recordings
she and Orville made for Columbia Records.
Joins Short-Lived Century Opera
With Hammerstein legally excluded from providing opera in major
cities, Orville suffered financially so he sought his release
by court action from Hammerstein. Meanwhile a new company, Century
Opera, had been formed by Martin and Sargent Aborn, who based
their operation in a renovated theatre in Central Park West in
New York. They began giving performances in September 1913, but
Orville, who had aligned himself with Century, was unable to appear
due to his legal entanglement until 27 January. Having sung Roméo
and Juliet with Hammerstein in London, naturally he was cast
as Romeo at the Century opposite Tennessee-born soprano Lois Ewell.
Next, early in March, he appeared as Radames in Aida with Enrica
Clay as Aida, Kathleen Howard as Amneris and Alfred Kaufman as
Ramfis. Then on 24 March 1914, he took part as Lionel in a performance
of Martha with Lois Ewell as Lady Harriet, Louis Kreidler
as Plunkett and Bertha Shalek as Nancy. In April the company concluded
its abbreviated season.
The company re-opened on 14 September 1914 with Romeo and Juliet
with Orville and Lois Ewell repeating their roles, with the addition
of bass Henry Weldon. A month later, they offered Puccini’s
Madama Butterfly with Orville as Pinkerton, Helen Stanley
as Cio-Cio-San and Thomas Chalmers as Sharpless. Orville earned
praise for his singing and for being able to make the generally
dreary figure seem human. Century audiences were coming to realize
that this tenor combined a fine voice with an uncommon intelligence
However, it was observed that his high notes no longer possessed
the beauty and brilliance of four years ago, but now he showed
more feeling, more skill in phrasing, and a delicacy of expression
and romantic bearing which earned him high praise. His clear diction
was also a positive element, especially in opera sung in English.
Pitts Sanborn took in a performance of William Tell at
the Century, hearing Harrold as Arnold "do dazzling things in
this role." A Chicago tour, begun in the New Year, ended abruptly
when Century Opera collapsed due to financial trouble.
At the close of the New York season, the Company announced it
would go on tour, the highlight being a visit to Chicago for eight
weeks of opera beginning near the holidays. The European war had
prevented the Chicago Opera Company from having its regular foreign
cast, after spending heavily on scenery, costumes, and a theatre
lease. The Century Opera Company was to leave on 21 November for
Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston. They presented Carmen at a well-attended
Alvin Theatre in Pittsburgh during late November, with Bertha
Shalek in the title role and Orville as Don Jose. The entire presentation
was praised as well above previous Aborn productions to visit
while Orville was viewed as a remarkable tenor and distinct feature
of the evening.
The troupe opened in Chicago with Aida and then, on November 25,
presented Madama Butterfly with Lois Ewell as the lead and Orville
again as Pinkerton. Critics greatly enjoyed the singing and stage
presence of Miss Ewell, who they found much improved over her
appearance four years earlier with the Aborns. Orville was declared
a brilliant success, amid recollections that he had made no great
impression only a couple of years previously. The Century soon
thereafter sang with a different cast than in Pittsburgh, as they
were circulating artists through some of the lead roles. During
December, they staged the first full Chicago presentation of William
Tell in a quarter century. Pointing out that finding a capable
tenor was no little problem, critics described Orville to be a
`light of stellar radiance,' showing great powers in a tour de
force of voice and dramatic feeling. (They noted that he rested
in preparation, as for an athletic event.) At some point thereafter
the tour ended abruptly when Century Opera collapsed due to financial
In February 1915, Harrold found himself back in vaudeville, jostling
on stage at New York's Palace Theatre with Rosa Ponselle, Carl
Jörn, Carolina White and even Emma Calvé, who came
from Paris to "pack 'em in" for four weeks. Twice daily, they
offered a wide range of musical, theatrical and dance turns, Orville
showing off his "magnificent voice which he squanders like a proverbial
sailor." He truly did enjoy his vaudeville exploits and would
return to this medium after his opera career ended and continue
Late in the summer of 1915, Orville shifted his activities to
the Hippodrome in New York where he appeared as ‘the Hero’
in the musical review ‘Hip! Hip! Hooray! It enjoyed
a long and happy run from 30 September 1915 to 3 June 1916.
Summer opera had not existed in the United States prior to 1912,
when the phenomenon finally arrived at an outdoor park facility
known as Ravinia, a scant 25 miles from Chicago. Roads were primitive
or non-existent, but the invention of electric-powered railway
cars made it possible for opera lovers to flock from Chicago right
to the door of Ravinia. Orville helped open the 1916 season on
1 July as Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor with Mabel Garrison
as Lucia and Millo Picco as Enrico. He went on to sing in Faust,
Rigoletto, Martha, Contes d'Hoffmann, The Bohemian Girl
and Manon. Only portions of most operas were given, for
promptly at 11 PM the train had to depart. The holiday atmosphere
certainly prevailed. Orville returned in each of the next three
summers, skipped 1920/1 and made a final appearance at Ravinia
Orville’s recent singing had proved disappointing, no doubt
worsened by the stress of his marital situation. Life with Lydia
soon grew difficult as these two high strung artists began to
disagree. Their constant quarrels led to divorce in August 1917.
Some weeks later in Central Park, he caught sight of Blanche Malli,
whom he had met when she was a chorister in Naughty Marietta.
He scribbled a note and threw it through the window of her passing
car. This led to a resumed friendship that culminated in a third
marriage on 16 December, 1917. A wise lady, Blanche realized that
Orville was out-of-shape, and ‘looked terrible’ so
she decided to take action. According to Mike Harrold, a cousin,
‘Blanche rehabilitated Orville’s spirit, body and
voice, preparing him for the Met.’ Upon her insistence,
he lost weight, began a strict exercise routine, and buckled down
to serious study with Frederick Haywood to reconstitute his voice
during the winter of 1917/18. The Orville-Blanche union would
endure until his passing.
Society Of American Singers
As his next venture, Orville joined character tenor Albert Weiss
in presenting Mozart's Der Schauspieldirektor in a new
English version by Henry Krehbiel, Music Editor of the New York
Tribune. With David Bispham as a key participant, The Impresario
opened at the Empire Theatre in New York on the afternoon of 26
October 1916. It proved to be a walloping success that spawned
"The Society of American Singers." In May 1917, through a Hammerstein
connection, Harrold joined this merry band that included Florence
Easton, Francis Maclennan, Mabel Garrison and Riccardo Martin.
After a slowdown caused by the U.S. entry into the war, the American
Society resumed operations on 23 September, 1918 at the Park Theatre
in Columbus Circle, New York with a programme of lighter, opera
comique-style productions. One offering, Ambroise Thomas's
Mignon, brought Scottish soprano Maggie Teyte to the fore
as a most fetching heroine. Most of her operatic work in New York
occurred at this time. Later in Madama Butterfly, "she
sang the finale of the first act with Orville Harrold, an admirable
Pinkerton, so that both singers were recalled again and again."
When Harrold appeared in Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann,
David Bispham observed, "I delighted myself in the character part
of the Jew peddler Coppelius, the doll being Ruth Miller, and
Orville Harrold, as admirable as she, as Hoffmann." This frolic
would continue for six months.
Now, onto the scene came the popular baritone Antonio Scotti.
As impresario, he led his grand opera company in short forays
into music-loving America, initially during the Spring and Autumn
of 1919, then in 1920, the Autumn of 1921 and finally in the Spring
of 1922. A stickler for correctness, Scotti was rewarded with
glowing reviews. Harrold was involved in L'Oracolo, Cavalleria
Rusticana and Butterfly. In St. Louis he excelled as
a smarmy Pinkerton with Florence Easton and Scotti. In all, Harrold
took part in five of the six tours.
Gatti And The Metropolitan Opera Show Interest
Enter soprano Frances Alda. As explained in her book, Alda had
heard Harrold at Hammerstein’s and had recommended him to
Gatti-Casazza, her husband and manager of the Metropolitan Opera.
He went along with her advice and signed him but gave him a series
of inconsequential rôles to sing. One day during a performance
for charity, he was given a strong rôle, and sang it so
convincingly that Gatti allowed him to sing Rodolfo in La Bohème
in Brooklyn on 18 November 1919. The Mimi on that occasion was
none other than Alda herself. While this was happening, over at
the Metropolitan a Gala opera concert was being given in honor
of Prince Edward, who was making his first visit to America after
the War. The program for the Gala included scenes from various
operas, sung by the Metropolitan’s finest artists. At the
close of the opera, Alda was whisked over from the engagement
in Brooklyn to come onstage to sing ‘God Save the Queen’
and ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ in tribute to England’s
heir. “I was feeling considerable chagrin that, while this
marvelous program was going on at the Metropolitan, I should be
singing in Brooklyn. At least, I felt so, until I actually heard
Orville Harrold sing his first Rodolfo. Then the beauty of his
pure tenor voice so enthralled me I forgot about the Prince and
the glitter across the Brooklyn Bridge. I forgot about my anxiety
about getting to the opera house in time to change from Mimi to
my Grecian costume of white crepe de Chine, draped with
the flag, in which I always sang the National Anthem.
I could only realize that here was a marvelous voice and a marvelous
singer. Brooklyn realized it too that night. The audience gave
Harrold a tremendous ovation after his aria in the First Act,
before I began to sing. It was sincere and genuine and touching.
Best of all, it was deserved.” Afterwards Gatti asked, “How
did it go in Brooklyn?” “I told him, in no uncertain
phrases, “Harrold had the biggest ovation any tenor ever
had. Even Caruso.”
After his sensational debut, he was sent on tour and in Philadelphia
on 19 December he sang La Bohème again with Alda.
Back in Brooklyn on 30 December, he sang Faust with Farrar
and Rothier. Near the end of April, he re-appeared for a Lucia
in Atlanta on the 28th with Maria Barrientos and Mardones.
Two nights later, still in Atlanta, he sang Pinkerton in Madama
Butterfly with Farrar.
That autumn he was ready for the Metropolitan Opera stage but
first he was needed in Brooklyn on 16 November to sing Faust
with Farrar, Whitehill and Chalmers. His actual Met début
occurred on 22 November 1919 in La Juive with Caruso. In
the New York Times, Richard Aldrich wrote, "Orville Harrold, long
known to the local operatic world, has at last reached the Metropolitan,
and as Leopold sang and acted with splendid fervor. When he produced
his voice with steadiness, it was heard to be an excellent one,
somewhat light and with appealing qualities and his pronunciation
of French was of unusual correctness." Later he thought "his voice
somewhat light for Leopold" and suggested he "was still using
cautiously a voice that had been hard driven in the past and was
still to regain its normal power."
Orville had no time for reviews as Gatti needed him again on 24
November 1919 as Dimitri in Boris Godounov with Adamo Didur,
since 1913 the Met's first and only Boris. Two nights later he
demonstrated his versatility by singing Win-San-Luy in Leoni's
L'Oracolo with Scotti, but of course he knew this role
well, having sung it previously with Scotti’s own company.
He would sing it again late in February. After another La Bohème
on 19 December with Alda in Philadelphia, he returned to New York
where on Christmas afternoon he sang Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly
with Farrar and Scotti. Then, after La Bohème with
Alda and Scotti to please New Yorkers on 29 December, Henderson
(in the New York Sun) was convinced the "big and powerful" tones
of old were once more at his command, while Frances Alda averred
that the applause for him lasted for minutes. He wound up the
year on 30 December in Brooklyn as Faust with Farrar and
In just six weeks, he had established himself on the Metropolitan
roster and he must have approached 1920 brimming with confidence.
So popular now, as Rodolfo he sang Puccini’s opera again
with Alda and De Luca on 17 January. Two nights later he was Turiddu
in Cavalleria Rusticana with Easton, Perini and Chalmers.
On 24 January he sang Don José in Carmen with Farrar
and Robert Couzinou as Escamillo.
Then, on 24 January, when Giovanni Martinelli fell ill at the
last minute, Orville stepped into the breach and sang Don Jose
in Carmen with Farrar and Robert Couzinou as Escamillo. It was
a banner occasion a benefit for the French School in New York
so in the flag-draped parterre gaily waving sat Madame Clemenceau-Jacquemaire,
the French Ambassador and Mrs. Jusserand, Marcel Knecht of the
French High Commission and other dignitaries. The next day, the
New York Times lavished praise on the tenor, " Mr. Harrold, without
rehearsal, rescued `Carmen' from another of the changes of bill
now of daily occurrence, but on his own merit he captured a critical
and emphatically a French opera-loving house, The hero's `Flower
Song' in the second act has not in recent years been sung with
more of tonal warmth and manly ardor, and at the same time with
delicacy, charm and poise typical of the Gallic stage. It was
an extraordinary first appearance for the Metropolitan and will
doubtless be repeated in the regular series." Albert Wolfe conducted,
and in an entr'acte led `The Star-Spangled Banner' and `La Marseillaise.'
However, as events unfolded, many felt that Gatti under-utilized
his Americans, Martin, Chamlee and Harrold, favouring instead
his splendid Italians Caruso, Gigli, Martinelli and Lauri-Volpi.
Who could blame him? Prejudice, a steadfast human frailty, ruled
then as it does to this day.
a La Juive, Orville came during a matinee on 31 January
1920 to the World Première of Henry Hadley's Cleopatra's
Night. As Cleopatra (Frances Alda) is about to bathe, an arrow
floats in bearing a message, "I love you" and a youth is observed
swimming. Suddenly he appears, dripping, having slithered up the
drainpipe! Such an intrusion meant instant death but Orville as
`Meiamoun' pleads for a single, wildly amorous night, after which
he will gladly exit via poison. Hadley was a prolific native composer
but one of the dullest. The work had two further outings with
Harrold and another on 3 March with Morgan Kingston and Hadley
conducting. Kingston sang the role three times in 1921.
In New York on 19 February, 1920 Orville assumed the title role
in Parsifal under Artur Bodanzky's direction with Rothier
as Gurnemanz, Marguerite Matzenauer as Kundry, Didur as Klingsor
and Ananian as Titurel when the opera was given in a new English
translation by Henry Krehbiel to deflect any negativity singing
in German might have caused. "Much could be understood, especially
in the delivery of Mr. Harrold, Mr. Rothier and Mr. Whitehill..."
There would be repeats. He was active in concerts, such as the
Benefit for the Company’s Emergency Fund on 14 March when
he sang a scene from Faust with Marie Sundelius and Mardones.
During a second benefit on 12 April, he sang in Act 3 of Rigoletto
with De Luca and Barrientos. A complete Faust followed
on the 19th with Geraldine Farrar. Not yet finished
he had a Lucia with Maria Barrientos and a Madama Butterfly
with Farrar, both with the Met in Atlanta.
Back at the Met that autumn, he led off on 15 November in La
Juive with Caruso and Ponselle, followed on the 20th by Cavalleria
Rusticana with Emmy Destinn. The next night, he shared a Verdi-Puccini
Concert, offering the Quartet from La Bohème with
De Luca and a pair of Maries, Sundelius and Tiffany and the Trio
from I Lombardi with Ponselle and Mardones. After La
Bohème on 25 November in which he was reunited with
Frances Alda, Henderson wrote that the audience gave a "demonstration
of pleasure as the house rarely witnesses when Mr. Caruso is not
in the cast...His voice, a big and powerful organ, was in fine
condition last night and he sang smoothly, with resonance, and
with no small amount of feeling. He took and sustained a High
C in the `racconto,' but more commendable than that feat were
his good phrasing and his legato." Gatti promptly tore up his
$200/week contract for four performances weekly and wrote a new
one that paid up to $18,000 a season with him singing three times
per week. At this time he recorded Rodolfo’s “Racconto”
for Victor Red Seal, a record that would soon be prized by collectors
as it shows off clearly a major, manly voice delivered with fine
bearing. La Juive on 24 December proved to be Caruso's
last performance, the 607th by the illustrious Italian
at the Metropolitan. The rest of the season Harrold spent singing
L’Oracolo, Parsifal and Faust.
New York audiences knew Charpentier's Louise, thanks to
Hammerstein and visiting companies but the Metropolitan Opera
had not deigned to present the opera until 15 January 1921. Geraldine
Farrar turned up her nose at the prospect of Harrold as Julien
in her Louise as she preferred Martinelli "the only one
except Caruso who can render this music and support me properly."
Gatti refused, using his old world charm to achieve what he wanted.
For the event itself, Farrar sang "industriously, if with no overwhelming
identity with the character." Good clothes, shoes and stockings
just didn't cut it. "Harrold was a prepossessing Julien but not
a very dramatic one."
After singing Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly in Philadelphia
on 15 February with Florence Easton and Thomas Chalmers, Harrold
returned to New York to prepare for an English language Lohengrin
on 3 March with Easton as Elsa, Julia Claussen as Ortrud and Whitehill
as Telramund. Two nights later they did the opera in Brooklyn.
After singing Julien to Farrar’s Louise on 8 March
in Philadelphia, he appeared on the 11th on the Met
stage in Carmen with Easton and Whitehill with Albert Wolff
conducting. He next essayed Gounod's Faust on 26 March
with Rothier as Méphistophélès with Marie
Sundelius and Chalmers. At a Met concert on 3 April, he offered
"Recondita armonia" from Tosca and three songs:
"The Eagle" by Black, "Lament of Ian the Proud" by Griffes and
"Happiness" by Richard Hageman, who conducted. He then sang Lohengrin
in Philadelphia on 19 April and La Bohème in Atlanta
on the 26th with Bori and Scotti. Post season, he sang
in Madama Butterfly on 7 May with Easton and Chalmers.
That autumn at a matinee on 19 November, Maria Jeritza repeated
her Vienna triumph in Korngold's Die Tote Stadt, now with
Harrold as Paul. In the Dead City of Bruges, Paul fantasizes over
his dead wife, Marie, and while slipping in and out of dreamland,
he identifies her with Marietta, a look-alike dancer. In the dual
role, Jeritza scored mightily, but the opera's exceptional vocal
demands played havoc with the tenor. His energetic singing of
Paul is said to have impaired his voice permanently. In the rôle
of Pierrot was Mario Laurenti, a baritone of great promise soon
to die from spinal meningitis at age 32.
Vocal strain, if it did occur, was ignored as Orville plunged
onwards with Louise on the 21 November and in Korngold
again on the 24th before reappearing as Dmitri in Boris Godounov
on 9 December. This opera had been out of the repertoire for a
season, but Chaliapin, who had lost his fortune to the Communists,
was anxious to appear in the West to restore both his bankroll
and fame. For this first time in America, he offered Boris
in Russian, his larger-than-life presence somewhat overshadowing
Jeanne Gordon, Harrold and Rothier who sang in the mellower-sounding
Italian. Krehbeil in the New York Times thought "Chaliapin's impersonation
was heart-breaking in its pathos, terrible in its vehemence and
agony." To finish off December, he sang in L’Oracolo
with Scotti on the 15th, in scenes from three operas
during a Christmas Evening concert, and finally a Lohengrin
in Philadelphia on the 27th with Maria Jeritza. Thus
Orville ended a most productive 1921.
Though he began 1922 in Die Tote Stadt with Jeritza in
Brooklyn on 3 January, he would find in New York several new roles,
each quite distinctive, the first on 23 January being Rimsky-Korsakoff's
Sniegourotchka in its initial American presentation in
French with Bori a lovable Snow Maiden, Harrold excellent as the
Czar. French was the Met's language of choice for Russian works
except Boris. Then on 31 January, he sang Almaviva in Il
Barbiere di Siviglia for the first time under Met colors,
but in Brooklyn with Amelita Galli-Curci as Rosina, Titta Ruffo
as Figaro) and Adamo Didur as Basilio.
Vacating opera briefly, he joined Madame Charles Cahier at Carnegie
Hall on Wednesday afternoon, 1 February, 1922, to sing Gustav
Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. This, being the first
performance of the work in this city, the New York Times the next
day reported at length on the music, allotting the singers these
words: “the contralto crossed the ocean to sing but this
once for the sixty-second time a work, she bad often sung abroad,
while the opera tenor of today interrupted his activity to master
for the single occasion the difficult score. Both were cordially
applauded, Mr. Harrold especially after the third song, ‘Of
youth,’ and Mrs. Cahier at the solemn, almost funereal,
close, when Mr. Bodanzky also shared in the popular recognition.”
Returning to the Met on 16 February, he sang Lohengrin,
in Il Barbiere on the 18th with Galli-Curci,
De Luca and Mardones and Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana
on the 24th with Jeritza. Going to Philadelphia on
the 28th he sang Cavaradossi in Tosca with Jeritza
and Scotti. Back in New York on 4 March he sang Rodolfo in La
Bohéme with Lucrezia Bori and Scotti. The next evening
he took part in a Wagner concert, singing two scenes from Parsifal
with Jeanne Gordon and Act I of Lohengrin with Marie Sundelius
and Julia Claussen. On 10 March he sang Don José in the
first of three Carmens with Farrar. Again in Philadelphia
on 28 March for Die Tote Stadt, he returned to New York
to sing Almaviva in Il Barbiere on 5 April with Angeles
Ottein (Rosina), Giuseppe De Luca (Figaro), Adamo Didur (Basilio)
and Pompilio Malatesta (Bartolo). Then, after a Turiddu on 9 April
with Frances Peralta, he ended his season with Parsifal
on 14 April with Easton as Kundry.
He launched his next Met season on 15 November 1922 by singing
Dimitri in Boris Godounov to Chaliapin’s riotous
Boris. Two nights later in Der Rosenkavalier, he sang a
rather portly Italian tenor with Florence Easton as Marschallin,
Paul Bender as Baron Ochs and Marie Sundelius as Sophie with Bodanzky
conducting. After a repeat in Brooklyn on the 21st,
it became a Harrold/Jeritza show at the Met. First they teamed
on 29 November in Die Tote Stadt, and then in Massenet’s
Thais on 14 December, Maria excelled in the title rôle
to an “acceptable” Nicias by Orville and a “distinguished”
Athanaël from Whitehill. The opera was repeated on the afternoon
of Christmas Day as one of seven such delights the season.
To begin 1923, Harrold sang Don José in Carmen on
4 January with Florence Easton, Queena Mario and Jose Mardones.
Next on 8 January, he sang Lohengrin with Barbara Kemp.
This exciting German soprano had come from Berlin with her husband,
composer Max von Schillings, to present his opera Mona Lisa
in New York on 1 March. Although Orville took no part in this,
he did sing the Lohengrin and in Parsifal (on 30
March) with Madame Kemp. Philadelphians were treated first to
a Carmen on 13 March with Harrold, Ina Bourskaya, Nina
Morgana and De Luca, and then a double dose of Sniegourotchkas
on 27 March with Thalia Sabanieeva as the Snow Maiden during the
matinee while Bori handled the evening’s requirement, with
Harrold as Czar both times. Then on 5 April New York fans had
another look at the Rimsky opera. Moving to Atlanta for La
Bohème on 28 April, Harrold as Rodolfo sang with Bori,
Scotti and Queena Mario as Musetta.
By the time the 1923-1924 season arrived, Orville was appearing
infrequently, the “powers-that-be” feeling his voice
had lost its bloom. He did sing three times in L’Oracolo
with Scotti but otherwise his calls had dwindled to an occasional
aria or in tandem with others on the popular Sunday Night concerts
then in vogue at the Metropolitan. In a sense, they were useful;
he could sing and be heard by his fans in different music while
lesser lights had a chance to shine. Thus, on 23 December 1923,
he sang the second scene of Act II from Aida with Marcella
Roeseler, Jeanne Gordon, Millo Picco and Giovanni Martino. A week
later he offered quartets from Martha with Mario, Perini
and Didur, while on 20 January 1924, he tackled Act I of Carmen
with Gordon and Act 4 with Raymonde Delaunois as the gypsy and
Tibbett as Escamillo. On 5 February he journeyed to Philadelphia
to sing Edgardo in Lucia with Galli Curci, De Luca and
On 17 April he appeared as Dimitri in Boris Godounov with
Chaliapin and an emerging Lawrence Tibbett as Tschelkaloff. Then
on 20 April, when the house was packed for a concert to close
the season, Orville sang "Una furtiva lagrima" from L'Elisir
d'Amore and the Lucia sextet with Laura Robertson,
Minnie Egener, Rafaelo Diaz, Arnold Gabor and William Gustafson.
It was his final contribution to the Metropolitan Opera.
At the end of the 1923/4 season, he left the Company. For five
years, Harrold had prowled the heights of “tenordom”
with artists such as Caruso, Martinelli and Gigli, not to mention
Giulio Crimi, Morgan Kingston, Charles Hackett and Mario Chamlee.
He had also excelled in special concerts, including performances
of Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust.
For a third try at musical comedy, he appeared in Holka-Polka
when it opened at the Lyric Theatre in New York on 14 October,
1925. In this show, he was Peter Novak (known as ‘Nobody’)
with his own daughter Patti as his stage daughter, Peterie. The
show closed on 31 October, 1925 after 21 performances.
Also, his creativity, together with that of Blanche, spawned a
book and a comic opera adaptation, entitled ‘The Adventures
of Nibble Bunny.’ Publication, however, did not occur until
1938, five years after the tenor’s death.
Summary And Decline
Alda, who was there at the outset of Harrold’s Met career,
offers her assessment of what happened: “Immediately after
(his debut), Gatti began giving Harrold all the big tenor roles
to sing. Even Parsifal. I protested, ‘You’re
pushing him too hard. No voice can stand it.’ But my protests
counted for nothing beside the facts and figures of the book-keeper’s
ledger. Harrold did not command as high a fee per performance
as some of the other tenors received. And he drew the crowds.
The box-office receipts swelled.
What happened was one of the great tragedies that can happen to
a young singer who has not had the shrewd advice of a Maman Marchesi.
He sang too often, and in rôles that were still too heavy
for him. After a few seasons his glorious voice began to show
the strain; the critics first, then the public noticed it. Harrold’s
popularity waned. His career as a great tenor was over.”
But some blame surely must rest on the tenor. To play the "would've,
could've, should've" game, would Harrold have had a more fulfilling
career if he had begun earlier? Could he have found a way to pursue
training more assiduously? Should he have looked more to the future
and less on the present? And just suppose he HAD been able to
study with de Reszke! It seems Orville Harrold squandered a mighty
After his all-too-brief, halcyon days at the Met, Harrold returned
to life as an itinerant musician, filling vaudeville stints and
even appearing in two Broadway musicals late in the twenties.
While at his summer home in Darien, Connecticut, he became seriously
ill. Then his condition became grave when he was stricken with
a cerebral hemorrhage. He died on 23 October 1933 at age 55. Mario
Chamlee and his wife Ruth Miller were present at the end. His
body was transported to his native city of Muncie, Indiana, where
two days later he was interred in Beech Grove Cemetery. He was
survived by Blanche, daughter Patti Harrold, then a musical comedy
star in Hollywood, and his son, Paul.
William Seltsam: The Metropolitan Opera Annals; The H. W. Wilson
Company New York, 1947.
Robert Tuggle: The Golden Age Of Opera; Holt, Rinehart And Winston,
New York 1983.
Irving Kolodin: The Metropolitan Opera; Alfred A. Knopf, New York
John Briggs: Requiem For A Yellow Brick Factory - A History Of
The Metropolitan Opera; Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1969.
Robert C. Marsh: Opera Quarterly: The Ravinia Festival.
David Bispham: A Quaker Singer's Recollections; The MacMillan
Julian Moron Moses: American Celebrity Recordings 1900-1925; Monarch
Record Enterprises, Dallas, Texas 1993
Frances Alda: Men, Women And Tenors, AMS Press, Inc. NY 1937,
“Sitting Pretty - The Life and Times of Clifton Webb”
by David L. Smith, to be published in 2011.
I also wish to acknowledge the assistance and
encouragement of the late Jim McPherson of Toronto as well as
much help provided by Michael Bott in Bermuda. Finally, for original
research, thanks go to John Standen in London, England, David
Wiener in Grand Forks, Michael Mongeon in Rolla, both in North
Note: The article that originally occupied this space was a re-working
of a story by the author that appeared in For The Record, No.
24, Winter 2007-8.
Reacting to the web presentation, Professor David L. Smith in
Indiana supplied newspaper clippings that have enriched this further
revision. Especially welcome were excerpts from Prof. Smith’s
forthcoming book about Clifton Webb.
Thanks are due to Mike Harrold as well who responded to the Internet
story by providing memories from his perspective. Those seeking
more detail should check out Mr. Harrold’s most
extensive report also on the Musicweb International site.
Other Orville Harrold pages