Charles Anthony, an American tenor who sang in 2,928 performances over nearly six decades with the Metropolitan Opera — more than any other solo vocalist in the company’s history — and who enriched those productions by imbuing minor characters with vitality and nuance, died Feb. 15 at his home in Tampa. He was 82.
He had kidney failure, said a Metropolitan Opera spokeswoman.
The Metropolitan Opera in New York is widely regarded as the premier opera company in the Western hemisphere. From his debut in 1954 until his final performance two years ago at age 80, Mr. Anthony was known as one of the Met’s most respected interpreters of supporting characters. The Met entrusted him with roles alongside revered singers including Maria Callas, Luciano Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland and Franco Corelli.
His repertoire included no fewer than 111 parts in 69 operas, including the innkeeper in Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier”; Spoletta, the spy in Puccini’s “Tosca”; and Gastone, the lead tenor’s friend in Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Baritone George Cehanovsky trailed Mr. Anthony’s record with 2,394 performances between 1926 and 1966.
With his convincing stage presence, Mr. Anthony turned sidekicks and henchman into believable characters. He also had the “azure-blue, clear tenor voice . . . that we associate with the best of Italianate” singers, said Peter Russell, a former senior manager with the Met and past general director of the Wolf Trap Opera Company in Virginia.
Yet Mr. Anthony seldom drew attention to himself. He sang a handful of leading roles at the Met, including one performance as Rodolfo, the starving Parisian writer in Puccini’s “La boheme,” in 1959. But, generally, he embraced his identity as a comprimario, or character actor.
The word “comprimario,” Mr. Anthony noted in a 1999 interview with Opera News, means “with the first.”
“We’re the principal singers’ essential supporting players, and we’re proud of what we do,” he said. “God gives us each a glass but doesn’t necessarily fill yours and mine with the same amount of talent.”
Calogero Antonio Caruso was born July 15, 1929, in New Orleans to a family of Italian immigrants.
He went by Charles Anthony Caruso, then truncated the name to Charles Anthony as he competed for (and won) a Metropolitan Opera contest for young singers in 1952. According to Time magazine, Rudolf Bing, who was then the Met’s general manager, advised Mr. Anthony that “it would be prudent not to invite comparisons with the legendary tenor” Enrico Caruso.
Mr. Anthony had studied music at Loyola University in New Orleans and, after winning the Met contest, in Rome. He returned to the United States and in 1954 made his Met debut as the Simpleton in Mussorgsky’s opera “Boris Godunov.” The role is a moving one, Russell noted, because it represents the struggling Russian poor of the late 16th century.
“Few who saw the performance will forget him,” wrote New York Times music critic Ross Parmenter, praising Mr. Anthony’s “touching, crying” delivery. “Mr. Anthony had better be careful,” Parmenter continued. “If he does other bit parts so vividly, he’ll be stamped as a character singer for life.”
Bing, who would remain at the Met for two decades, continued booking Mr. Anthony until he became a mainstay of the house. In 1955, he sang in the production of Verdi’s “Un ballo in maschera” when contralto Marian Anderson became the first black singer to appear on the Met stage.
Six years later, he appeared alongside African American soprano Leontyne Price when she made her Met debut as Leonora in Verdi’s “Il trovatore.” As the character Ruiz, Mr. Anthony accompanied the terrified soprano to the tower where her lover, Manrico, was imprisoned, and where Price would sing her signature aria in Act IV.
Mr. Anthony’s survivors include his wife, Eleanor; three children, Anna Beth Burgmeier, Barbara Liriano and Anthony Caruso; a sister; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Mr. Anthony was remembered among Met colleagues as someone with a knack for calming anxious singers. He acknowledged his own nerves, even after decades on stage.
“I’ve been scared all my life,” he told the Times in 2010. “I prayed my way through every performance.”