Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A Talk About Richard Crooks

Remembering Richard Crooks

A (1) [3] Ah sweet mystery
He was a very versatile singer—Richard Crooks—he sang in English, in German, in French, in Spanish—he sang Victor Herbert, he sang Sigmund Romberg, he sang Beethoven, Shubert, Wagner, Richard Strauss, and he sang…Stephen Foster.
Here he is singing some Shubert lieder:
B (3) 1& 2 lieder
Today Richard Crooks is almost forgotten, but he was extremely popular in the 30s and 40s. And deservedly, as you will see.
He was born in Trenton, NJ, and he had a silvery but strong voice. His personality matched the sweetness of his singing.
As a young man he began making records with a singing group for Victor—even though he was anonymous on the records.
Here’s a recording he made in 1925 at the age of 25… If you have a really good ear—a really good ear—you may be able to pick out his voice.
C (4) 2 serenade 1925
He sang in Europe, then joined the Met Opera in 1933, and at his debut received 37 curtain calls. He sang there until 1943, when he came down with throat cancer and decided to retire…at the young age of 46.
How good an opera singer was he?
D (4) 9 una furtive
Before we hear more Sigmund Romberg and Victor Herbert, let’s hear more opera. The Flower Song from Carmen…in German.
E (4) 7 flower song
F (4) 5 the prize song from Die Meistersinger
Back to Shubert—his serenade.
G (2) 2 serenade-Schubert
He was considered one of the best interpreters of Stephen Foster. Someone wrote:
It is somewhat difficult to associate the street-wise songster who sings ‘doodah doodah, I’ll go back home with a pocketful of gin’ with the stentorian tenor who regualrly performed the heroic arias of Siegfried.” But, as someone wrote, he treated Stephen Foster with the same respect he paid to Franz Shubert.
I (2) 7 dreamer
J (2) 12 Jeanie
Next month’s program is on Dvorak, so here’s one of his most popular songs:
K (2) 20 songs my mother taught
A lovely but little-known song. A Dream
L (2) 12

Crooks was one of the first opera singers to cross-over, and here he is singing Victor Herbert, Sigmund Romberg, and Rudolph Friml:
N (1) 4 falling in love
O (1) 6 one alone
P (1) 7 only a rose
Now, one of my favorites: Love’s old sweet song.
Q (4) 11 sweet song
He even ventured to sing Richard Strauss…and you’re about to hear his speaking voice:
R (4) 12 Die Nacht
He was the host of The Voice of Firestone on the radio, he sang Beethoven’s 9th Symphony under Toscanini, and he made records with some of the most famous singers of his time, like Lawrence Tibbet and…and… [Bing Crosby]
S (4) 23 Camptown races
T (4) 24 Beautful dreamer
Why is he all but forgotten? Because a lot of great older singers are forgotten—like Elisabeth Rethberg. Do your own children listen to Ezio Pinza or Rosa Ponselle or Cesare Siepi?
Not all singers of the past were that good, of course. A famous critic, Ernest Newman, said of Nellie Melba that her voice was uninterestingly perfect and perfectly uninteresting.
Richard Crooks’s very last recording, made at the age of 67, may have been this--and you can still marvel at the great singer he was:
U (4) 20 Jesus
He died 5 years later.
Let‘s have a round of applause for a wonderful singer who should not be forgotten…Richard Crooks.

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