He sang minor roles at the Metropolitan Opera from 1953 to 1957, while he was still a student. In 1957, he moved to Europe and made his debut at the Vienna State Opera. He had great success with the Zürich Opera. Otello was one of his signature roles. Starting in 1963, he became one of the Met's principal dramatic tenors.
New productions that starred James McCracken were Otello (1963 and 1972), Carmen (1972), Aida (directed by John Dexter, 1976), Le prophete (1977) and Tannhaeuser (1978, his only leading Wagnerian role). Feeling slighted about being passed over for the September 1978 telecast of Otello, McCracken walked out on the Met, only to return to a rousing ovation in October 1983 for the Centennial Gala, during which he performed Otello's Act 3 soliloquy, "Dio! mi potevi scagliar". The following season, he took part in a live telecast of Verdi's Aida, on January 3, 1985, which was historic in that it was Leontyne Price's farewell to the operatic stage. McCracken's voice was huge, with a distinctive and somewhat thick texture. Occasionally he was criticized for his less-than-effortless singing technique.
But virtually all critics acknowledged his acting skill, as well as the overwhelming power of his sound and his clarion high notes. He was married to the mezzo-soprano Sandra Warfield, with whom he performed Saint-Saëns' "Samson and Delilah," at the Met. He returned to the Met only weeks before his death at the age of 61. He was a member of the Metropolitan Opera's final U.S. tour, where he sang the role of Canio in Pagliacci. McCracken made a number of complete opera recordings, including "Le prophète" (with Marilyn Horne and Renata Scotto, (Col/CBS), c1976), "Carmen" (conducted by Leonard Bernstein, (DG), 1972), "Fidelio" (with Birgit Nilsson, (Decca/London), 1964), "Otello" (with Dame Gwyneth Jones, (EMI/Angel), 1968) and "Pagliacci", on which side 4 of the original LP version was a recital of opera arias, (Decca/London), (1967), as well as Schoenberg's Gurre-Lieder (with Jessye Norman, Tatiana Troyanos and David Arnold, (Phi), 1979), and a program of Irish and Scottish songs with piano (EMI/Angel),1977.
He sang the part of Waldemaar in Schoenberg's Gurre-Lieder when it opened the Edinburgh International Festival in 1961. The broadcast of this concert, which was given under Leopold Stokowski's direction, has now been issued on CD Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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