Acclaimed singer Robert Merrill, the opera baritone who felt equally comfortable on opening night at the Metropolitan Opera House or opening day at Yankee Stadium, has died. He was 85. Merrill died Sa

Acclaimed singer Robert Merrill, the opera baritone who felt equally comfortable on opening night at the Metropolitan Opera House or opening day at Yankee Stadium, has died. He was 85. Merrill died Saturday at his home in suburban New York, family friend Barry Tucker said.

Merrill performed around the country with Tucker's father, tenor Richard Tucker, the younger man said. "My father felt that he had the greatest natural voice that America created," he said.

Merrill, once described in Time magazine as "one of the Met's best baritones," became as well-known to New York Yankees fans for his season-opening rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" -- a tradition that began in 1969.

In his 31 consecutive seasons with the Metropolitan Opera, Merrill performed virtually every baritone role in the operatic repertoire. He earned admiration for his interpretations of dozens of roles, including Escamillo in "Carmen" and Figaro in "The Barber of Seville," reportedly his favorite opera.

Merrill once said opera "is the toughest art of all. It's a human instrument," he said. "Your voice, so many words, so much music ... There's a lot of emotion."

Merrill was known for a velvet-smooth voice. Critics wrote that he "worked hard to polish his natural rich baritone" and that he "noticeably improved each season." Merrill retired from the Met in 1976 but returned to its stage in 1983, when the company marked its centennial.

Throughout his career, Merrill sang with popular stars ranging from Frank Sinatra to Louis Armstrong, appeared worldwide at music festivals and made numerous recordings. He performed as a soloist with many of the world's great conductors, including Leonard Bernstein. He also appeared for several presidents.

He also was a well-established radio and television soloist, beginning his television career on NBC's "Saturday Night Revue" in 1949.

Merrill made his operatic debut in 1944, singing Amonasro in "Aida" on a Trenton, N.J., stage. He signed on with the Metropolitan Opera in 1945 and debuted there that year as the elder Germont in "La Traviata."

He is survived by his wife, a son, a daughter and grandchildren, Tucker said.


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