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Lawrence Tibbett (1896 - 1960)


Tibbett’s father, a deputy sheriff, was killed in a shoot-out with the outlaw Jim McKinney in 1903 and two years later his family moved first to Long Beach and then to Los Angeles. After graduating from Manual Arts High School in 1915 he served in the merchant marine during part of World War I; on returning to civilian life he studied singing in Los Angeles with Joseph Dupuy and Basil Ruysdael, who taught him a technique of delivering text and music naturally that was to prove very valuable.

Initially Tibbett balanced drama and music: he appeared in musical comedy and straight theatre (including a time with a Shakespearean company managed by Tyrone Power senior) and sang at funerals, in church choirs and before the screenings of silent films at Grauman’s Million Dollar Theatre in the centre of Los Angeles.

After moving to New York he studied with Frank La Forge and Ignaz Zitomirsky. Tibbett now met Frances Alda, wife of Giulio Gatti-Casazza, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, who arranged for him to audition for the Met: his debut with the company, as Lavitsky / Boris Godunov, followed in 1923. Shortly afterwards he appeared in a principal role as Valentin / Faust, while continuing to sing small roles in a wide repertoire. His breakthrough took place in 1925 when, substituting as Ford / Falstaff opposite Antonio Scotti in the title role, he received a sixteen-minute ovation which made the front page of the New York Times the following day.

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