© 2001 by Sharon Rich. All rights reserved.
Left: a sample page from Nelson Eddy: The Opera Years. The book contains dozens of full-page reproductions from Nelson’s own scrapbooks with his handwritten notes as well as all the known performances, reviews and articles about him during his opera career (1922-35). This page is an advertisement for Nelson singing in “Carmen Fantasy”, his only vaudeville “act” performed for those lucky folks who attended this William Haines movie!
FROM THE INTRODUCTION:
Before he became a movie star, Nelson Eddy was an opera star. For eleven years, from 1922 until 1933, this young baritone worked tirelessly to make a name for himself in his chosen profession. He sang wherever possible, not only in opera, but oratorios, concerts and radio. He was a man driven by ambition, with the talent and looks to match.
Hollywood beckoned in 1933. The initial lure was money and the hope that he’d find a larger audience for his concerts and operas. The next two years found Nelson juggling his previous hectic schedule with the demands of his new venture. He didn’t want to drop his “serious singing” but in the end, Hollywood won out. Nelson sang his last live opera in 1935 but unlike any other movie star before or since, he continued his very active concert career plus maintained a weekly radio show (often singing operatic arias) throughout his MGM years. He became the highest paid singer in the world, a title he firmly held for many years until the arrival of Frank Sinatra.
Was he a great opera singer? The answer can be found in the hundreds of reviews that follow, written by those who observed him firsthand. Critics are by nature a jaded lot; they’ve heard it all and seen everything. It takes someone special to startle and impress them into enthusiastic adjectives. After reading a few pages of Nelson’s reviews, you’ll get the idea. It was a very rare occurrence for Nelson Eddy not to get a rave. Almost one for one, reviewers in cities far and wide praised his looks, his stage presence, his perfect diction in any language, his beautiful legato tones, his thoughtful and vivid interpretations, his ability to hold his audience’s attention rapt and his sheer stamina – sounding as fresh and exuberant after singing five, ten or even fifteen encores! Occasionally someone voiced a minor complaint, but the number of outright bad reviews could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Nelson’s contemporaries agreed that they were witnessing something special. Many boldly called him the greatest American baritone of his generation – and they were talking about a singer still in his twenties.