Penn Library

Marian Anderson: A Life in Song

Magic at the Met

On 9 October 1954 The New York Times congratulated the Metropolitan Opera for placing Marian Anderson under contract. That day the editorial page carried the headline "Miss Anderson to the Met" and commented: "that she has fulfilled a lifelong ambition is not nearly so important as the fact that we will have an opportunity to hear her in still another medium. Whenever there was 'discrimination' against Miss Anderson the real suffering was not hers but ours. It was we who were impoverished, not she."

As the first African American to be engaged by the Met, Marian Anderson made her operatic debut on 7 January 1955--one month before her fifty-eighth birthday--as the fortune teller Ulrica in Giuseppe Verdi's Un ballo in maschera. Ulrica is a highly dramatic role, and although she appears only in the first act of the three-act opera, she provides the underpinning of the plot with her prediction of the hero's death. Ms. Anderson's performance met with critical acclaim, although her vocal accomplishments were somewhat overshadowed in the press by the historic importance of the event: Marian Anderson was once again breaking racial barriers and was paving the way for an entire generation of singers who were to follow. While her appearance with the Met was a logical step in her career, it was, indeed, long-overdue.

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