John Macurdy

John Macurdy (né John Edward McCurdy; (1929-03-18)March 18, 1929 – (2020-05-07)May 7, 2020) was an American operatic bass, who sang at the Metropolitan Opera 1,001 times from 1962–2000 (and also sang numerous performances in other opera houses).[1] Among his teachers was the contralto Elisabeth Wood of New Orleans, who was also the pedagogue of Norman Treigle.[2]

John Macurdy
Born(1929-03-18)March 18, 1929
Detroit, Michigan, US
DiedMay 7, 2020(2020-05-07) (aged 91)
Stamford, Connecticut, US
OccupationOpera singer
Years active1952–2000
EmployerNew York Metropolitan Opera
Spouse(s)Justine Votipka

Early lifeEdit

Macurdy was born on March 18, 1929, in Detroit, Michigan.[3] He was of Scottish descent by way of Nova Scotia.[4] As a three-year-old a neighbor paid him 10 cents to sing "O Tannenbaum".[3] Growing up, he sung in the Grosse Pointe Memorial Church choir, singing as a soprano until his voice changed at age 12.[3][5] Marie Curtis, the church choir director, encouraged him to take singing lessons.[3] At age 16, she sent him to Avery Crew, a top voice teacher in Detroit, who became his mentor for many years.[3][6]

Macurdy attended Keating Elementary and Hutchinson Intermediary schools, and graduated from Cass Technical High School, all in Detroit.[3][7] He attended the Wayne State University College of Engineering from 1947–1949, then entered an apprenticeship program for wood pattern-die model makers provided by the styling section of General Motors.[3][7][8]

He put his apprenticeship on hold to serve in the U.S. Air Force for four years during the Korean War at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, rising to the rank of Sergeant as a radar-electronics instructor.[5][9][10][7][1] During this time, he also sang with the New Orleans Opera House Association and the Mobile Opera Guild.[9]

After leaving the Air Force, he returned to Detroit to complete his apprenticeship at General Motors.[7] Now a journeyman model maker, he worked for Creative Industries of Detroit as a die and patternmaker.[3][4] He also continued to pursue singing, attending Boris Goldovsky's summer opera workshops at Oglebay Park (in West Virginia), Pittsburgh, and Tanglewood.[7][10] In 1957, Macurdy left Detroit for New York City to pursue his singing career.[3]

Opera careerEdit

Début in New OrleansEdit

Macurdy made his formal debut with the New Orleans Opera Association on the opening night of the 1952–53 season, as the Old Hebrew in Samson et Dalila, with Ramón Vinay and Blanche Thebom in the cast, which was conducted by Walter Herbert and staged by Wilhelm von Wymetal. He went on to appear with that company until 1959, in Thaïs, Die Entführung aus dem Serail (conducted by Julius Rudel), The Consul and Norma. He was to return to New Orleans for Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte, in 1979. During those years, he also occasionally performed with other companies, notably portraying Mr Earnshaw in the world premiere of Carlisle Floyd's Wuthering Heights, at the Santa Fe Opera in 1958.[2]

New York City OperaEdit

In 1959, Macurdy made his New York City Opera debut, as Dr Wilson in Street Scene (opera). Among his other roles there, until 1962, were Jabez Stone in The Devil and Daniel Webster, the Basso Cantante in Six Characters in Search of an Author (world premiere, with Beverly Sills), William Jennings Bryan in The Ballad of Baby Doe, Mr Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights (opposite Phyllis Curtin and Patricia Neway), Créon in Œdipus rex (conducted by Leopold Stokowski), Colline in La bohème, Timur in Turandot, President Prexy in The Cradle Will Rock, a Priest in Il prigioniero (with Treigle), Sparafucile in Rigoletto, Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte, the King of Egypt (later Ramfis) in Aïda, Reb Bashevi in Abraham Ellstein's The Golem (world premiere), and the Reverend John Hale in The Crucible (opera) (with Chester Ludgin). He made a return to that ensemble in 1979, for a single performance of Raimondo Bidebent in Lucia di Lammermoor.[2]

Metropolitan OperaEdit

It was the Metropolitan Opera that would become Macurdy's artistic home. Debuting as Tom in Un ballo in maschera in 1962, from there (until 1997), Macurdy would sing more than 1,000 performances, in a great variety of roles, including the King (later Ramfis) in Aïda, Alessio (later Count Rodolfo) in La sonnambula (opposite Dame Joan Sutherland), Don Basilio in Il barbiere di Siviglia, the Commendatore in Don Giovanni (perhaps his most acclaimed role), Ferrando in Il trovatore, Prince Gremin in Eugene Onegin, Colline, Count des Grieux in Manon, Daland in Der fliegende Holländer, Sparafucile, Agrippa in Antony and Cleopatra (opera) (world premiere), King Heinrich in Lohengrin (in Wieland Wagner's posthumous production), Sarastro, Ezra Mannon in Mourning Becomes Electra (world premiere), Alvise Badoero in La Gioconda, Hunding in Die Walküre (with Jon Vickers), Count Walter in Luisa Miller (with Montserrat Caballé), Timur, Raimondo (to Renata Scotto's Lucia), the Grand Inquisitor in Don Carlos (with Franco Corelli), Titurel (later Gurnemanz) in Parsifal, King Marke in Tristan und Isolde, Rocco in Fidelio (with Anja Silja in her Met debut), Méphistophélès in Faust, Pimenn in Boris Godunov, Oroveso in Norma, and Tirésias in Œdipus rex (in John Dexter's production). In the year 2000, he returned to the Met, for Hagen in Götterdämmerung, under James Levine.[2]


Macurdy also appeared at the Paris Opéra (Arkel in Pelléas et Mélisande, 1973), Teatro alla Scala (Rocco in Fidelio, 1974; Hermann in Tannhäuser, with Dunja Vejzovic as Venus, 1984), Teatro Colón, and Salzburg Festival. In 1978, he portrayed the Commendatore in Joseph Losey's famous film of Don Giovanni, with Ruggero Raimondi, Edda Moser, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Kenneth Riegel, José van Dam, and Teresa Berganza, conducted by Lorin Maazel.[2]

Personal lifeEdit

Macurdy's father worked for a tool and die company.[5] He died while on a business trip to New Orleans when Macurdy was 19.[3] His mother, Dorothea, was a secretary at Wayne State University for many years.[3] He had two sisters.[3]

Macurdy married Justine Votipka, also from Detroit.[5] She studied piano at the University of Michigan, and was working as an accompianist-coach for a Goldovsky opera workshop in 1955 when they met.[3][1] They married in 1958.[1]

The couple eventually settled in the woods near Stamford, Connecticut, in a house Macurdy largely built himself.[3] Justine was active with the League of Women Voters and the Schubert Club in Stamford, at one point serving as its president.[4][11]

They had two children – Allison, born in 1959/1960, and John, born in 1964/1965.[3] Allison graduated from the University of Boston.[12] In 1985, she married Australian Nicholas Blaxland Hays.[12]


Macurdy died of natural causes on May 7, 2020, in Stamford.[1]

Commercial discographyEdit

  • Ward: The Crucible (Ludgin; Buckley, 1962) CRI
  • Beethoven: Ninth Symphony (Ormandy, p. 1966) CBS/Sony
  • Mozart: Don Giovanni (Milnes; Böhm, 1977) [live] Deutsche Grammophon
  • Mozart: Don Giovanni (Raimondi; Maazel, 1978) CBS/Sony
  • Berlioz: Béatrice et Bénédict (Cotrubaș, Minton, Domingo, Fischer-Dieskau; Barenboim, 1981) Deutsche Grammophon
  • Verdi: Otello (Ricciarelli, Domingo, Díaz; Maazel, 1985) EMI

Commercial videographyEdit

  • Mozart: Don Giovanni (Raimondi; Maazel, Losey, 1978) Gaumont
  • Wagner: Tannhäuser (Cassilly; Levine, Schenk/Berkowitz, 1982) [live] Pioneer Classics
  • Wagner: Lohengrin (Hofmann; Levine, Everding, 1986) [live] Pioneer Classics


  1. ^ a b c d e "John Macurdy, Bass Who Sang 1,001 Times at Met, Dies at 91". The New York Times. Associated Press. May 13, 2020. Retrieved May 22, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e Hamilton, David (1987). The Metropolitan Opera Encyclopedia. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-61732-X.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Wilson, Jeanne Sprain (May 2, 1971). "A Detroiter with the Met, Who's Really a Choirboy Playing Villain". Detroit Magazine. Detroit Free Press. 140 (363) (Metro ed.). pp. 40, 42. Retrieved May 19, 2020 – via
  4. ^ a b c Ross, Ruth Lampland (September 16, 1973). "County Basso Sings with Met As Season Starts Tomorrow". Bridgeport Sunday Post. LXXXIV (37) (Metropolitan ed.). p. E-4. Retrieved May 19, 2020 – via
  5. ^ a b c d George, Collins (May 25, 1963). "Detroit Singer Ahead of Schedule". Detroit Free Press. 133 (21) (Metro Final ed.). p. 12-A. Retrieved May 19, 2020 – via
  6. ^ "Met Star Macurdy Scheduled". Orlando Evening Star. 89 (46) (Final ed.). February 25, 1965. p. 17-C. Retrieved May 19, 2020 – via
  7. ^ a b c d e "Community Concerts Engages Noted Bass". Shreveport Journal. 80 (City ed.). March 29, 1974. p. 12-D. Retrieved May 22, 2020 – via
  8. ^ Lafferty, Andrea (September 23, 2003). "Wayne State Music honors metropolitan Opera Bass John Macurdy with the 2003 Arts Achievement Award" (Press release). Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University. Retrieved May 22, 2020.
  9. ^ a b "Macurdy Will Play Assassin In 'Rigoletto'". The Shreveport Times. 87 (154). November 2, 1958. p. 6-F. Retrieved May 22, 2020 – via
  10. ^ a b "Elias and Macurdy Sing For Harlem Philharmonic". Events Northwest. Ridgewood Herald-News. 77 (13). March 31, 1966. p. 3. Retrieved May 22, 2020 – via
  11. ^ Robinson, Ruth (May 6, 1990). "Club Blends Friendship and Melody". Connecticut Weekly. The New York Times. CXXXIX (48227) (Late ed.). p. 18. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  12. ^ a b "Allison Anne Macurdy Is Married in Australia". The New York Times. CXXXIV (46344) (Late ed.). March 10, 1985. p. 61. Retrieved May 26, 2020.

External linksEdit