Sixty years ago today, when the contralto Marian Anderson appeared at the Metropolitan Opera as the fortune teller Ulrica in Giuseppe Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, she was the first African-American to sing a solo role at the preeminent opera house. The Marian Anderson Papers (Ms. Coll. 200), one of the treasures of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, include not only photographs from that groundbreaking performance, but also rehearsal notices from the Met, the program from the performance, and responses from the press and admirers.
When the Metropolitan Opera signed Anderson the previous fall, New Yorker James Comegys sent a telegram of congratulations: “It’s edifying that Bing has sought you to honor the Met by its belated invitation; not as chicken hearted as Stokowsky who ducked you for years in Philadelphia … I can now make peace with the Met.” Four days after the New York premiere, on January 11, the Metropolitan production took the stage at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, and Philadelphians claimed Anderson as their own. William D. Wilson III wrote, “Besides seeing you in New York as Ulrica I managed to see ‘The Masked Ball’ here in Philadelphia. As you must know, we Philadelphians are very proud of our great contralto and we all look forward to seeing you perform here soon again.”