American baritone John Reardon (b. New York City, April 8, 1930; d. Santa Fe, NM, April 19, 1988), aside from being a beloved star of the Metropolitan Opera for twenty-two years, was a familiar entertainer on television, introducing many ground-breaking works to the national audience.
Reardon was educated at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, where he was friends with fellow music-major Fred (Mister) Rogers. Graduating in 1952, he worked with renowned pedagogues Martial Singher and Margaret Harshaw before making his debut at the New York City Opera as Dr. Falke in Die Fledermaus in 1954. He first appeared at the Metropolitan Opera a year later, as Prince Tomsky in Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades. At the Met Opera House and on national tour, Reardon sang 180 performances in eighteen different roles before leaving the roster there in 1977. He is best remembered for his Papageno in Die Zauberflöte, Mercutio in Roméo et Juliette, Escamillo in Carmen, and Albert in Werther.
Reardon was also an important advocate of new works on the regional opera stage, originating parts in Douglas Moore’s The Wings of the Dove (1961) and Carry Nation (1966), Marvin David Levy’s Mourning Becomes Electra (Metropolitan Opera 1967), Lee Hoiby’s Summer and Smoke (1971), and Thomas Pasatieri’s The Seagull (Houston 1974). He also sang the U.S. premieres of Shostakovich’s The Nose, Henze’s The Bassarids, von Einem’s Dantons Tod, Menotti’s Help, Help, the Globolinks!, and Penderecki’s The Devils of Loudon. Igor Stravinsky personally chose John Reardon to sing the role of Nick Shadow (the devil) on his definitive 1964 recording of The Rake’s Progress.
Reardon first appeared on Broadway in Menotti’s The Saint of Bleecker Street in 1955, and on the roster of New Faces of 1956. In 1960 he starred with Phil Silvers in the Jule Styne musical Do Re Mi, introducing the standard song “Make Someone Happy.” His television career was variegated: from an appearance as Papageno on NBC in 1956 and singing on a short-lived but Emmy®-winning classical music anthology series The Seven Lively Arts in 1958, he branched out to be the voice of God in Stravinsky’s The Flood in 1962 and to sing a hefty role in Janácek’s From the House of the Dead in 1969. Twice in the ’80s he joined his old friend Mister Rogers in his Neighborhood, playing fictitious characters.
In later years Reardon directed the summer opera workshop at Wolf Trap in Virginia. He was also involved extensively with the Opera in Santa Fe, where he died of pneumonia when he was only fifty-eight. He can be heard as Schaunard on a recording of La bohème, and also on three of Ben Bagley’s Painted Smiles “Revisited” albums in the lesser-known repertoires of Leonard Bernstein and Kurt Weill.