After years of radio, recording and concert work, my father made his opera debut in the summer of 1938 with the Cincinnati Zoo Opera Company in Madama Butterfly. The New York Times wrote: "Melton Captures Opera Lovers' Hearts. Young tenor's debut brilliant success."
He made his Metropolitan Opera debut four years later on December 7, 1942, as Tamino in "The Magic Flute."
This time, The New York Times wrote:
"James Melton's name and voice have been known to the American public for a good many years as a result of his work in radio, concert, records and the movies. If that public needs any further endorsement of his attainments, Mr. Melton provided it last night by becoming a member of the Metropolitan Opera Association. He made his debut in the role of Tamino in Mozart's 'The Magic Flute' and proved beyond question that he belongs in the company. The only question was: Why had it taken the company so long to add this gifted American tenor to its roster?
Mr. Melton acted and sang with the poise that a singer gains only from years of appearing in public...Mr. Melton's is a true lyric tenor voice. It is not like some other lyric tenors that are too frail for the vast spaces of the Opera House; it is sturdy enough to be heard...Mr. Melton sang it intelligently, and with sensitive regard for the Mozart style. He brought dignity and elegance to the part of Tamino. He should grace other roles."
In that memorable debut performance the other leading roles were taken by Ezio Pinza as Sarastro, Jarmila Novotna as Pamina, John Brownlee as Papageno, and Norman Cordon as the High Priest. Good company, to say the least.
The day after his debut, my father took my mother to Bruno of Hollywood saying he had to have a photograph of her in her gold lamé "Papa's debut dress." She managed to get the beautiful topaz ring, her trophy of the occasion, to the foreground in every picture.
About that ring: At breakfast the morning of my father's debut he dropped a "rock" into her lap—a huge topaz ring, rich in color and depth, set afire by the rubies and diamonds that flanked it. "Tonight, if I'm any good, there'll be applause. I'll take the bows, but I want you to know that the applause is for you, too. Here's something to help you remember that I think so."
What a guy...