© 2021 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Opera Abbreviated: Antony and Cleopatra

Wikipedia, public domain

Samuel Barber's Antony and Cleopatra was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera for the opening of the new opera house at Lincoln Center in 1966. The opera's world premiere, fifty years ago, was reviled by the newspapers and judging from the opening night broadcast, enjoyed by the audience. 

The Met put its state of the art stage machinery at the disposal of director Franco Zeffirelli, who adapted the play for Barber and designed the sets and costumes. Thomas Schippers conducted. Twenty-six year old Justino Diaz got the break of his career when chosen to sing Marc Antony. Rosalind Elias, a beloved mezzo and a favorite of Barber's sang Charmian.

And as Cleopatra, all ears and eyes were on soprano Leontyne Price.

The opera had Shakespeare, Barber, Price, Schippers,  Zeffirelli and a brand new theater. 

So what happened? Fifty years later, Rosalind Elias and Justino Diaz share their memories of what is actually a great American opera:

The Met hasn't asked me, but I think Antony and Cleopatra is a terrific opera, well worth a big revival. Anna Netrebko? Nathan Gunn? Jonas Kaufmann? Let's not wait another fifty years.

Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.