REVIEW by Willard Manus

Leonard Warren, one of America's greatest baritones, came to prominence
in the middle of the 20th century when he starred in hundreds of
productions at the Met, gave concerts all across the USA, South America
and Europe, and sang on radio, tv and records. Warren, who died on stage
March 4, 1960 while singing Don Carlos in La Forza del destino, is the
subject of a magnificent biography by Mary Jane Phillips-Matz, LEONARD
WARREN, AMERICAN BARITONE (Amadeus Press, 520 pp., $39.95).

The book tells the remarkable story of Warren's life, which began in a Bronx tenement and saw him go from shy, dreamy youth to music student at
Greenwich House to Radio City Music Hall entertainer. costumed in top
hat and tails, "doing dance steps." Warren, who had a powerful but untrained voice, became a member of Radio City's Glee Club, where he ran into ugly anti-semitism.


"I think at that time he was the only Jew in the Glee Club, and I do feel he was discriminated against many times," said fellow singer John De Merchant. "When he asked for solos, he was always turned down. People really did treat him badly. He hated them."

It wasn't until he began studying with voice coach Byron Warner that Warren gained suffiencient polish and confidence to try out for the Met. He sang one song for Met director Wilfred Pelletier, who sent him home without a word. Warren left feeling he had flopped, but when he got home found a call from Pelletier asking him to come to his office in the morning.

"I wanted to confirm with one further trial the stability of his voice and convince myself that I had just heard a voice that was truly extraordinary," Pelletier said later. "My ears had not deceived me! Once again I was absolutely amazed as I listened to him."

That led to a contract and a long association with the Met, which became Warren's spiritual and artistic home for the rest of his life. His studies there with the likes of Pelletier, Sidney Dietch and Frank St. Leger led to the blossoming of his talent and his ascension up the ladder of success. Through it all, Warren remained the quiet, reserved and stubborn person that he was. As one colleague recalled, "Once he did something in a given way, that was it; it was like something engraved in stone. And it was very difficult to get him to change."

Phillips-Matz takes the reader through the many triumphs Warren had on
stage in the 40s and 50s, especially in the operas of Verdi, Wagner,
Puccini and Gounod; neither does she shy from discussing his occasional
bad notices. Nor is she afraid to deal with his marriage to Agatha Leifflen and subsequent conversion (at her request) to Roman Catholicism, a religion he practiced with deep, almost shocking faith and devotion. (He was dressed for burial in the regalia of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, as per his request to his wife).

The personal details are all there, but they pale beside the important thing: his voice. A voice that Renata Tebaldi called "a voice of velvet. It was a very, very soft, velvety voice...He was truly stupendous. It was something marvelous. He had to sing. That is what his life was; he had to sing."

While reading LEONARD WARREN it was wonderful to have at hand the
double-CD put out by the Leonard Warren Foundation. Disc I contains 16
of his greatest and most memorable arias (from Faust, Rigoletto, Otello
and others); Disc II has Warren singing a variety of concert songs, everything from "Shenadoah" to "On the Road to Mandalay" to "The Lord's Prayer." No matter what Warren sang, he reached levels that few others singers ever have or ever will.