• 1884 — 1945
Often appears with
John McCormack, one of the most popular singers of his generation and the very archetype of the Irish tenor, was born in Athlone, Ireland. Without the benefit of prior training, he won the National Music Festival in Dublin in 1903 and thereafter continued his studies as a member of Dublin's Cathedral Choir. In 1905, he went to Italy to train with Vincenzo Sabatini; in the following year, he made his first appearance on the operatic stage in Savona, Italy (in the title role of L'amico Fritz) under the name Giovanni Foli. His official debut, as Turiddù in Cavalleria rusticana, took place at Covent Garden on October 15, 1907. Over the next several years he appeared there regularly in such operas as Rigoletto, Don Giovanni, Il barbiere di Siviglia, Faust, Roméo et Juliette, La bohème, and Madama Butterfly. He debuted in America in a Manhattan Opera House La Traviata in 1909 and thereafter appeared in a number of Metropolitan Opera productions. Both in London and New York he held the stage with such dive assolute as Luisa Tetrazzini and Nellie Melba. In 1914 he was slated to participate in a star-studded Don Giovanni in Salzburg, along with Lilli Lehmann, Geraldine Farrar, and Feodor Chalyapin; unfortunately, the outbreak of World War I meant that what should have been a legendary production had to be called off.
By the middle 1910s, McCormack, aware of his own limitations as an actor, abandoned the operatic stage and devoted himself to a career as a recitalist. In this milieu he attained even greater fame; though his sensitive interpretions of Handel, Mozart, and Romantic lieder were greeted with general enthusiasm, it was his sincere performances of folk songs and popular ballads that captured the hearts of the public. From the second decade of the twentieth century he also enjoyed remarkable success as a recording artist; on the strength of his recordings, some have held him up as as the only tenor of his era with a gift to rival that of Caruso.
In the later stages of his career, McCormack parlayed his still-considerable reputation into occasional film roles, most notably as the lead (opposite Maureen O'Hara) in the early talkie Song O' My Heart (1929) and as himself in the British Wings of the Morning (1937). Though he had become an American citizen in 1917, he spent his last decades in Dublin and died there.