The American baritone Frank Guarrera sang for 28 seasons at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. His large repertory was mainly Italian, though his most popular role, Escamillo in Bizet’s Carmen, was French and he was also a notable Valentine in Gounod’s Faust during the early years of his career. He sang frequently in San Francisco, Philadelphia and other US cities, including Seattle and Los Angeles. His summers were spent at Cincinnati Summer Opera and Colorado Central City. Though his voice was not huge, it was well-focused and always stylishly used, while with the years he became a very good actor.
Frank Guarrera, son of Sicilian parents, was born in Philadelphia in 1923 and Frank obtained a scholarship to study at the Curtis Institute there. His studies were interrupted by service in the Navy during the Second World War. In 1947 he made his début at the New York City Opera as Silvio in Pagliacci. Early in 1948 he sang in the Metropolitan Opera Auditions of the Air; his audition aria was Ford’s Monologue from Verdi’s Falstaff and not only did he win the competition, but he received a phone call from the great conductor Arturo Toscanini, asking him to audition at the NBC studio.
As a result of Toscanini’s intervention, Guarrera sang in two operas at La Scala, Milan that summer, as Zurga in Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles (or rather, I pescatori di perle) in August and Manfredo in L’amore dei tre re during October. Earlier, on 10 June, the 30th anniversary of the death of Arrigo Boito, he took part in a concert at La Scala, conducted by Toscanini, of excerpts from Boito’s operas; Guarrera sang Fanuel in Act III and Act IV, scene 2 of Nerone.
Guarrera made his Metropolitan début on 3 December 1948 as Escamillo in Carmen. His other roles included Guglielmo in Così fan tutte, Figaro in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, Marcello in La Bohème, Ping in Turandot and Ford in Falstaff. He also sang Ford in the NBC broadcast of Falstaff conducted by Toscanini in 1950, which was issued as a greatly admired recording.
Guarrera first sang at San Francisco in 1952, as the Count di Luna in Il trovatore. He appeared there nearly every year until 1960, singing many of his Met roles, but also Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor, Rodrigo in Verdi’s Don Carlo and Manfred, his second role from La Scala.
On 4 March 1960 the baritone Leonard Warren was singing Don Carlo in Verdi’s La forza del destino at the Metropolitan when he collapsed and died on stage. Guarrera took over another of Warren’s great Verdi characterisations, the title role of Simon Boccanegra, on 15 March and was warmly applauded for his courage, but he did not really have a large enough voice for the part.
Other Verdi roles included Amonasro in Aida, which he sang at the Met and in Los Angeles; Giorgio Germont in La traviata, at the Met and in Philadelphia; and Macbeth at Cincinnati, where he also sang Scarpia in Tosca, which was not a great success. However, Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte later the same season was a triumph, and became one of the best interpretations of the second half of his career.
In Philadelphia during the Sixties he sang Valentine in Faust, Tonio in Pagliacci and, in 1972, Scarpia again, this time with more success, with his ability as an actor making up for any vocal deficiency. Guarrera continued singing until 1976 and after his retirement became a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Biography by Elizabeth Forbes