About Jan Pincus Peerce
The American tenor Jan Peerce (birth name Jacob Pincus Perelmuth) was born in a New York cold water flat in the Lower East Side, where he lived until marriage. He attended De Witt Clinton High School and Columbia University. He took violin lessons, and gave public performances; sometimes he also sang and it was soon discovered he was an exceptional lyric tenor.
In 1932 he was hired as a tenor soloist with the Radio City Music Hall company. Thanks to its radio broadcasts and stage programs, Peerce soon had a nationwide following. This led to concert engagements, and then he made his operatic debut in May 1938 in Philadelphia as the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto, followed by his first solo recital in New York in November 1939.
The legendary maestro Arturo Toscanini heard him singing Wagner on the radio and was able to contact Peerce through a mutual friend to see if he would like an audition for him. Toscanini found him to be the tenor he had sought to sing operatic and choral works with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. The recordings made during, or following, the NBC broadcasts are among the outstanding musical legacies of the mid-20th century. Toscanini was reportedly pleased with Peerce's professionalism, as well as his extraordinary musical talents; many have said that Peerce may have been Toscanini's "favorite tenor" during the Maestro's 17 years at NBC. Peerce recalled that Toscanini never lost his temper the way he famously did with other musicians even though Peerce believed he had the right to, on a few occasions.
Peerce made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera on November 29, 1941, singing Alfredo in Verdi's La traviata. He sang also the parts of Cavaradossi in Tosca, Rodolfo in La bohème, and in Gounod's Faust. He was hailed by the critics as the "All-American successor to the 'greats' of opera's almost extinct 'Golden Age'."
In 1943 he appeared in the OWI film, Hymn of the Nations, with Toscanini, the NBC Symphony Orchestra, and the Westminster Choir in a performance of Verdi's seldom-heard choral work. Filmed in NBC Studio 8-H, the performance has been issued on video-cassette and DVD.
During the 1950s Mr. Peerce performed regularly as a featured soloist before audiences of over 14,000 guests under the conductor Alfredo Antonini at the landmark Lewisohn Stadium in New York City. These Italian Night open air concerts featured the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra and the Lewisohn Stadium Orchestra along with such operatic luminaries as Richard Tucker, Robert Merrill, and Eileen Farrell.
In 1956 Peerce made a sensation in Moscow as a musical "cultural exchange" ambassador, being the first American to sing with the famed Bolshoi Opera. He remained on the roster of the Metropolitan until 1966, appearing again in 1966-1967. He also taught a master class. In 1971 he made his Broadway debut as Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof." He continued to make occasional appearances until his retirement in 1982, remaining in fine voice. He was the brother-in-law of fellow Jewish-American tenor Richard Tucker. Peerce was also at home on the concert stage and in solo recital.
He died in New York City. His wife was Alice Peerce.