Andrea Velis Tenor, Metropolitan Opera Company - Bio
Andrea Velis (1927 - 1994)
Andrea Velis still holds the distinction of performing more times in one season than any other artist in the history of the Metropolitan Opera - 106, or about every other night. He achieved that remarkable record after only one season at the Met. He was under exclusive contract to the Met from his debut in 1961 until his sudden death from heart failure in 1994.
As Alfred Hubay recalled in an interview with Velis for Opera Index, “ a few years after his Met debut as Joe in Fanciulla, Andrea Velis was called ‘ the Prince of the Comprimarios.” In response, with his quick-witted tongue in cheek, Velis said: “ I graduated up. At first I was the Prince, and then the King. Eventually, the New York Times called me the ‘ Met Comprimario in Excelsis.’ Whatever they meant by that I’ll never know.”
Velis was born of Greek parentage (family name Capsambelis) in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. His father owned a restaurant, and expected his son to eventually join in the family business. Velis had different plans. Fortunately, a high school music teacher (Imogene Truxal) recognized his singing ability, and, very generously, took the then 16 year-old to voice lessons with a highly regarded teacher in Pittsburgh, M. Louise Taylor. They had a professional relationship until her death many years after Velis was on the Met roster.
After graduation from high school, Velis joined the U.S. Army and got into a USO unit that was stationed in Japan. During that period he took every opportunity to study and to sing that came along. After his army service, he returned to Pittsburgh and to study further with Taylor and to seek means for study in Italy. He won a Fulbright grant which enabled him to study for five-years at the Conservatory of Music, Santa Cecilia, Rome. He was a prize pupil particularly of Geni Sadero.
In 1954 Velis returned to Pittsburgh and began his opera career with the Pittsburgh Opera. It was during this period that he decided to specialize in comprimario roles which would allow him full access to his growing roster of richly etched characters. For the next several years he appeared with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, Philadelphia Opera, and the Cincinnati Zoo Opera.
It was at the Cincinnati Zoo, in fact, that Metropolitan Opera leading conductor, Fausto Cleva, came upon the talents of Andrea Velis. Maestro Cleva, indeed, told Velis that he wanted him to come to the Met, and would see that that happened. He did allow Rudolph Bing an audition, but prior to it, he told Mr. Bing that he wanted Velis to join the company, period. Gleefully, Velis joined the company for the 1961 season.
For the next three decades, Velis brought characters to life on the Met stage, and established an international reputation as one of the “Comprimarios with a capital C, the king-sized ones who can split a demi-semi-quaver in two, true masters of rhythm and diction.” (Tito Gobbi, Italian Opera.)
In addition to his career at the Met, Velis found time to specialize in the works of Benjamin Britten. He also appeared as guest artist with the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein and Pierre Boulez, the Miami Philharmonic, and the Pittsburgh Symphony. In 1977 he made his debut in South America with the Santiago Opera Company. He has recorded for Columbia Records and Deutsche Grammophon.