John Alexander, a journeyman tenor praised for his vocal purity and lengthy career but consigned often to backup roles at the Metropolitan Opera, died Saturday after performing in his hometown of Meridian, Miss.
He was 67 and suffered a heart attack shortly after appearing in concert at the Temple Theater in a benefit for restoration of the city’s 100-year-old opera house.
“Everyone here is amazed at the poetic-ness of his death,” said his son-in-law, David Staples. “He was doing a major performance for the first time in three years. He was with his friends from the world of opera and was back in Mississippi, which he loved and where he always wanted to be buried in his family’s plot.”
Alexander was best known for his Mozart--Belmonte in “The Abduction From the Seraglio” and Ferrando in “Cosi Fan Tutte.” He also was considered one of the world’s foremost Donizetti bel canto tenors.
He trained at the Cincinnati Conservatory after premedical studies at Duke University and service with the U.S. Air Force. His most influential teacher was baritone Robert Weede. In 1952, he made his debut as Faust with the Cincinnati Opera.
Five years later, he joined the New York City Opera as Alfredo in “La Traviata.” In 1961, he made his Metropolitan debut as Ferrando.
Alexander considered his family life as important as his professional one and continued to sing at his neighborhood church in Manhasset, N.Y., years after establishing himself at the Met.
Friends said he was not a seeker of stardom.
Los Angeles Times music critic Martin Bernheimer said: “Alexander bore several curses with grace. He was too versatile, too reliable, too even-tempered and, perhaps, too American to achieve the international renown he deserved. Audiences and impresarios tended to take him for granted.
“Possessing a superb technique and an extraordinary range, he was . . . especially impressive in the high-lying, heroic music of Bacchus in Richard Strauss’ ‘Ariadne auf Naxos.’ He might have made a big career just concentrating on the hard-to-cast middleweight roles of the German repertory.”
Most recently, Alexander had returned to Cincinnati, where he lived with his wife, Sue.