Samuel Barber's Antony and Cleopatra was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera for the opening of the new opera house at Lincoln Center in 1966. The opera's world premiere, fifty years ago, was reviled by the newspapers and judging from the opening night broadcast, enjoyed by the audience.
The Met put its state of the art stage machinery at the disposal of director Franco Zeffirelli, who adapted the play for Barber and designed the sets and costumes. Thomas Schippers conducted. Twenty-six year old Justino Diaz got the break of his career when chosen to sing Marc Antony. Rosalind Elias, a beloved mezzo and a favorite of Barber's sang Charmian.
And as Cleopatra, all ears and eyes were on soprano Leontyne Price.
The opera had Shakespeare, Barber, Price, Schippers, Zeffirelli and a brand new theater.
So what happened? Fifty years later, Rosalind Elias and Justino Diaz share their memories of what is actually a great American opera:
The Met hasn't asked me, but I think Antony and Cleopatra is a terrific opera, well worth a big revival. Anna Netrebko? Nathan Gunn? Jonas Kaufmann? Let's not wait another fifty years.