Tibbett (real name, Tibbet), Lawrence

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Tibbett (real name, Tibbet), Lawrence

Tibbett (real name, Tibbet), Lawrence, outstanding American baritone; b. Bakersfield, Calif., Nov. 16, 1896; d. N.Y., July 15, 1960. His real name was accidentally misspelled when he appeared in opera, and he retained the final extra letter. His ancestry was connected with the Calif. Gold Rush of 1849; his great-uncle was reputed to be a pioneer in the navel orange industry; Tibbett’s father was a sheriff of Bakersfield who was shot dead by one of the outlaws he had hunted. His mother ran a hotel in Long Beach. Tibbett led a typical cowboy life, but dreamed of a stage career; he played parts in Shakespearian productions. During World War I, he served in the U.S. Navy; after the Armistice, he earned a living by singing at weddings and funerals in a male quartet. He also took vocal lessons with Joseph Dupuy, Basil Ruysdael, Frank La Forge, and Ignaz Zitomirsky. He made his operatic debut in N.Y. with the Metropolitan Opera on Nov. 24, 1923, in the minor role of Lovitsky in Boris Godunov; then sang Valentin in Faust (Nov. 30, 1923); achieved a striking success as Ford in Verdi’s Falstaff (Jan. 2, 1925), and thereafter was one of the leading members on its roster. Among his roles were Tonio in Pagliacci, Wolfram in Tannhäuser, Telramund in Lohengrin, Marcello in La Bohème, Scarpia in Tosca, lago in Otello, and the title roles in Rigoletto and Falstaff. He also sang important parts in modern American operas, such as Colonel Ibbetson in Taylor’s Peter Ibbetson, Brutus Jones in Gruenberg’s The Emperor Jones, and Wrestling Bradford in Hanson’s Merry Mount. During his first European tour in 1937, he sang the title role in the premiere of Don Juan de Manara by Eugene Goossens (Covent Garden, London, June 24, 1937); he also sang in Paris, Vienna, and Stockholm. A sincere believer in musical democracy, he did not disdain the lower arts; he often appeared on the radio and in films, among them The Rogue Song, The Southerner, and Cuban Love Song. During World War II, he sang in army camps. He made his farewell appearance at the Metropolitan Opera as Ivan in Khovanshchina on March 24, 1950. His last stage appearance was in the musical comedy Fanny in 1956. He publ. an autobiography, The Glory Road (Brattleboro, Vt., 1933; reprint, 1977, with discography by W. Moran).


A. Farkas, ed., L. T.: Singing Actor (Portland, Maine, 1989); H. Weinstat and B. Wechsler, Dear Rogue: A Biography of the American Baritone L T.(Portland, Ore., 1996).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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