Gladys Swarthout
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One of the most famous roles that Gladys was known for was that of Carmen. One story, which can be found in several sources and variations, including one written by Gladys herself, tells of Mary Garden, a prima donna of the first caliber, and an excellent Carmen in her own right, when she passed the torch to Gladys. Garden must have sensed something special, even if Mary couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was.
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Gladys with Shawl

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“Swarthout!” she suddenly cried one day after a performance in which Gladys had played a secondary role. “Where’s Swarthout?” The young singer rushed in and meekly prepared to be scolded for God knows what. Ripping her mantle in two and extending half of it to the trembling young singer, Garden grandly proclaimed, “You shall be the next great Carmen!”   In one version, the mantle was actually the shawl Garden always used when playing Carmen, and Swarthout in later years used her half of the shawl as a drape over the piano in her Connecticut home. The photo on the left shows Gladys with the famous shawl. A picture of Calve as Carmine is on the piano and Galli-Marie, who created the role, can be seen on the wall behind her.

"One of my most vivid memories of how prayer helped me was on the night of my first performance in the challenging role of Carmen. It was with the Cincinnati Zoo Opera Company, and we were singing in the open pavilion that stands in the middle of the zoo garden. I was in my dressing room and could hear the night sounds of the zoo inhabitants. You can imagine how distracting and disconcerting such sounds were to an already nervous youg singer approaching such a demanding role for the first time."

And it was in the role of Carmen, on March 7, 1945, that Gladys made her farewell appearance with the Met. And it was in this role that she participated in the first televised complete opera in 1950.

  She was most famous as Carmen, but she only attempted it once she had reached the peak of her vocal powers.  Bassocantante’s Opera Shop, a site maintained by Carlton Higginbotham, has an audio clip from Carmen that you can listen to by clicking here.

Even as Carmen Gladys wasn't safe!
TIME - Dec. 21, 1942

As an actor, Polish Tenor Jan Kiepura does not know his own strength. Last summer in an outdoor performance of Carmen at Chicago's Soldier Field, vigorous Kiepura acted so hard in the third act quarrel scene that he knocked handsome Contralto Gladys Swarthout cold. Tenor Jan Kiepura spurned Mezzo-Soprano Gladys Swarthout so thoroughly that he knocked her cold against the stage floor. Carried off and revived, she finished the show with a banged-up forehead.

The Show Must Go On
TIME - Nov. 22, 1948

The Met's Gladys Swarthout, a onetime victim herself of Carmen's rough-&-tumble shenanigans (in 1942, a Don Jose spurned her so violently that he knocked her cold), inadvertently got even. Singing in Pittsburgh, she dropped her wooden prop dagger in Act III, quick-wittedly snatched up a steel-bladed knife from another member of the cast, and gave Don Jose's wrist a five-stitch gash. Don Jose (Tenor Raoul Jobin) sang on through the act as he bled, and finally finished the show after some between-the-acts bandaging.

This page was created and is Copyright by Mark Swarthout 2005
The last update to the page was on May 14, 2005
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