In January 1976, Sarah Caldwell was the first woman to conduct the New York Metropolitan Opera and when she gave the first downbeat of Verdi’s “La Traviata,” WWD was there. Her debut got a mixed review: WWD’s critic called it “routine, meticulous and slow, but consistent” and “an intelligent reading, helped by the horribly old-fashioned and tacky production.” But performers William Walker and Beverly Sills were impressive. Walker was a last-minute substitution and played a “superb” elder Germont, while Sills, a “marvel of an acting singer,” nailed Violetta. In the end, WWD’s critic admitted that Caldwell came off well, but wondered about future performances without Sills’ or Walker’s contributions. Today, we know Caldwell, who went on to a long career in opera and received the National Medal of Arts in 1996, turned out just fine.


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