Robert Merrill

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The Independent Online

In her otherwise excellent overview of the life of the American baritone Robert Merrill [obituary, 27 October], Elizabeth Forbes misses one "mighty fact" about this great singer, writes Jack Adrian - his collaboration on disc with the Swedish tenor Jussi Bjorling which resulted in one of the most celebrated and thrilling recordings of the 20th century.

Both singers complemented each other perfectly. Bjorling was no Heldentenor, but a lyric tenor of quite exceptional ability and exquisite tonal quality - a voice, at times, "to make you sob". Merrill's voice, though light in tone, could, during his best years, exhibit power and force and drama.

When Bjorling came over to America during the 1950s those at the Met saw at once what could be done by teaming the two singers up, and they appeared together a number of times on stage. But it was in the recording studios that they truly triumphed, and particularly in one opera excerpt - the tenor/baritone duet "Au fond du temple saint", from Bizet's The Pearl Fishers.

This achingly melodic and moving duet is started by Bjorling, Merrill counterpointing darkly and thrillingly, his voice weaving around and under the light, high tones of his companion. When the two voices, lyric tenor and lyric baritone, at last join together, moments of sheer glorious vocal magic occur and re-occur until the soaring climax.

No wonder that since the 1960s it has been high on the list of BBC radio's "Four Hundred Best Tunes" - although it is far more illustrious than that.

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