The History of James McCracken

James McCracken

Born: December 16, 1926
Died: April 29, 1988
American Tenor

We begin this tape with a quick look at two dramatic American tenors, born within a year of each other.
James McCracken, born in Indiana on the 11th of December 1926 and Jess Thomas born in South Dakota on the 4th of August 1927.

McCracken attended Columbia University and augmented his income by singing with a chorus at the Roxy theatre and in several Broadway shows.
In 1952, he made his operatic debut in la Boheme, at Central City. A year later, he was at the metropolitan in a tiny role of Papillon in the same opera.
At the end of that season, he found that he had sung in 126 performances, more than any other member of the company.
But all in secondary role.

He left the Metropolitan in 1957 to gain wider experience in European houses. Bonn engaged him for Die Freischutz, Aida, and Pagliacci.
But the turning point was an engagement as Otello with the Washington opera in 1959, it became and remained his most celebrated role.

He sang it at Zurich and Vienna in 1960. London in 1964. And in a remarkably successful comeback, at the Metropolitan in 1963.
No American had sung the role in New York before him.

A powerful and convincing actor, despite his ample physique, McCracken has an emotional intensity and a dark timbre tenor of exceptional fervor.
His repertoire includes the Fidelio, Carmen, the Queen of Spades, Samson, the Profit and Ariadne auf Naxos.
But he resisted all Wagnerian roles, for which his voice seemed well suited. He was in some demand for complete opera recordings.

For Decca he recorded, Pagliacci and Fidelio. For Deuch gramophone, Carmen. For CBS, the Profit. And for HMV, Otello.

As already said, he was a true dramatic tenor, with a strong stage presence, whose vivid characterizations are perhaps well caught in these excerpts from his Pagliacci. The Nedda is the Spanish Soprano to Pilar Loringar.

Vesti La Giubba / Pagliacci / 1969 – James McCracken

Non pagliacco Non Son / Pagliacci / 1969 – James McCracken

History of the Tenor - Sydney Rhys Barker

The History as it was Recorded

Sydney Rhys Barker