Roald Reitan, Baritone Who Was First to Find Leonard Warren Dying on Stage, Dies
The great Leonard Warren
Roald Reitan, who as a young, aspiring baritone in La Forza del Destino, etched his place in operatic history when he was the first to discover that the great baritone Leonard Warren was dying on stage, has died at the age of 82. You can read the entire obituary HERE, but here is the original account of Roald discovering Warren's body by Raymond A. Ericson in Musical America:
In one of the most dramatic and tragic events to take place on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House, Leonard Warren was stricken with a cerebral hemorrhage and died during a performance of “La Forza del Destino” on March 4.
In the middle of Act II (as given at the Metropolitan), the duet for Mr. Warren and Mr. Tucker, “Solenne in quest’ ora” brought another crescendo of applause and bravos. Mr. Warren then was left onstage alone to sing the recitative that begins “Morir! Tremenda cosa!” (“To die! Tremendous moment!”). How ominous this phrase was to prove! Mr. Warren continued into the superb aria that follows, “Urna fatale” (0 fatal pages”), and he had never seemed in better form as his remarkable voice rode the long legato phrases and soared excitingly through the cadenzas to the climactic high notes. At the end, he stood quietly until the shouts of approval had died away. Moving to stage left he completed his next few lines of recitative and then fell forward heavily, as if he had tripped.
Roald Reitan, as the Surgeon, entered, singing his single phrase, “Lieta novella, e salvo” (“Good news I bring you, I saved him”). No response came from Mr. Warren, as Thomas Schippers, the conductor, waited with upstretched arms to bring the orchestra in.
Uncertainty and wonder gripped everyone for a few seconds, and the audience stirred uneasily. Mr. Reitan then went quickly over to Mr. Warren, knelt by his side. The audience did not know that Mr. Reitan raised Mr. Warren’s head slightly, that the stricken baritone uttered faintly the word “Help!” and then went limp. The audience was only aware of Mr. Reitan’s looking anxiously into the wings and at Mr. Schippers, and of a voice in the auditorium saying clearly, “Bring the curtain down!”
The great golden curtains came down. Mr. Schippers waited at his post and the audience waited in their seats for several minutes until Rudolf Bing, general manager of the Metropolitan, appeared before the curtains to announce that the performance would continue. Shortly thereafter, another member of the staff appeared, saying there would be an intermission until the replacement (Mario Sereni) who had been called to substitute for Mr. Warren arrived for the opera.
Backstage, meanwhile, the gravity of the baritone’s condition immediately became apparent. Dr. Adrian W. Zorgniotti, the house physician, who was in the audience, ran backstage, examined Mr. Warren and called for oxygen. An ambulance and a police emergency truck carrying oxygen were called. Oxygen supplies kept in the Metropolitan’s first-aid room were rushed backstage. Osie Hawkins, Metropolitan bass, and two staff attendants attempted to breathe into Mr. Warren’s mouth.
Mr. Warren’s wife, Agathe, had attended the performance and was at her husband’s side during his final moments. She alone, at one point, had seen a peculiar expression on Mr. Warren’s face and realized that all was not well with him. Also present was Mgr. Edwin Broderick, of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, who left the audience to come backstage and administer the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church. And at some point after 10 o’clock Mr. Warren died.
About 10:30, warning bells rang in the lobbies, and the audience filed back to their seats. Mr. Bing reappeared before the curtain, his expression grave.
“This is one of the saddest days in the history of opera,” he began. “I will ask you please to stand,” he continued, as the shaken audience uttered gasps of disbelief, in memory of one of our greatest performers, who died in the middle of one of his greatest performances.”After the audience had arisen, some of the members openly sobbing, Mr. Bing concluded: “I am sure you will agree with me mat it would not be possible to continue with the performance.” Slowly, a dazed and saddened public departed.
Leonard Warren, who was 48 years old, died at the height of a career in which he was acclaimed as one of the great operatic baritones of our time. Only four days before his death he had received some of the highest praise ever accorded a singer for his performance of the title role in a new production of Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra.”