Be careful how you sing in the shower. You never know who might be listening.
In 1946, William Louis Roney Jr. and his Virginia-born wife were visiting his grandmother in his native Atlanta. He had graduated with honors majoring in writing in 1942 from Harvard University.
Already a singer when he entered college, he had used his talent at banquets, churches, women’s clubs and on the radio to defray his expenses. He later sang when the opportunity arose while he served as a Navy torpedo officer during World War II.
Now, as he was singing in the shower, critically acclaimed opera and film star Grace Moore, on tour and a guest at the house next door, heard him.
He became her protégé. She arranged auditions with some of the greatest voice teachers and introduced him to valuable contacts.
By February 1947, he was studying on scholarship in Manhattan with conductor and singing teacher Renato Bellini, learning the tenor leads of the repertoire. “I was a grown man and still sang only by ear,” Mr. Roney recalled at the time.
“Watch Louis Roney!” Moore said of him at age 26, when Mr. Roney first performed in Richmond in 1947 at an informal supper for the Westminster Fellowship of the University of Richmond. “This young man possesses one of the loveliest and most natural voices I have ever heard.”
Mr. Roney, an operatic tenor who for 40 years sang to international acclaim, died Nov. 5 at his home in Winter Park, Fla.
The 96-year-old former Richmond resident will be honored at an open house from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday at his residence.
He sang informally at Bellini’s house with American soprano Eleanor Steber, who arranged for him to audition for “Tosca” with Dimitri Mitropoulos, conductor of the New York Philharmonic.
“I shall never forget it,” Mr. Roney said of that audition in a July 1952 Richmond News Leader interview.
“ Mitropoulos came into his study dripping wet and exhausted after rehearsing for six straight hours with the Chausson Symphony, which he was conducting (that) evening. But he agreed to hear me and conducted the entire first act from his chair.
“At the last, the Greek-born conductor ... jumped to his feet and said, ‘That’s the real McCoy!’”
At 27, Mr. Roney made his opera debut singing the role of Cavaradossi opposite Steber in a concert version of “Tosca” in New York’s Lewisohn Stadium.
His reception by New York critics proved a triumph. Mitropoulos, who said that Mr. Roney had “one of the greatest voices I have ever heard,” launched his career with a contract for 30 performances of “Romeo and Juliet,” including one in Richmond in 1948. Mr. Roney hurriedly prepared for his new role under Richmonder George Harris, an authority on French songs and opera.
The Roneys often visited Richmond, which for a time, he considered home by marriage and adoption. In 1953, they bought a white frame house in the Westhampton area to prepare for a time when their girls became old enough to attend St. Catherine’s School. He lived in Manhattan during opera season, visiting when he could, and spent summers in Richmond.
During his time in Richmond, he sang for veterans at McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He and others, including local pianist Florence Richardson Robertson, appeared on the University of Richmond Radio Guild, a regular program on WRNL Radio. He performed for the Richmond Musicians Club.
A leading tenor in Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Brussels, Munich, Lisbon, Italy and Canada, Mr. Roney also sang at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and with many other U.S. opera companies.
He was a soloist with symphonies including those of San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Indianapolis, Minnesota, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Montreal, Amsterdam, Paris, Florence and Vancouver. Columbia Artists Management, Sol Hurok and Ballhausen Agentur managed his career.
Because no one at the time could make a living solely by singing opera, he concertized and gave recitals around the nation. He also had done some radio and TV work. He made two opera movies — one in Paris and one in Montreal.
In 1957, he became the first American leading tenor to sing in the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Italy’s greatest opera festival.
Mr. Roney played Jesus opposite Regine Crespin in the American premiere of Massenet’s “Marie Magdeleine” at New York’s Lincoln Center in 1976.
He sang the part of Radames in the largest ever “Aïda” in the Hartford Arena in Hartford, Conn., in 1981.
For years, he starred in 12 major French and 21 German opera houses. About 1996, he retired from the stage.
In 1980, Mr. Roney returned to Winter Park, Fla., where he grew up and lettered in high school football, tennis and swimming and won the Florida State Poetry Prize.
For 24 years, until 2005, he served as Distinguished Professor of Music and Artist in Residence at the University of Central Florida-Orlando and also sang with the Orlando Philharmonic, the Bach Festival and local concerts.
He and his wife, Joy, missing the music scene available in New York, started what became the Festival of Orchestras, which brought world-class orchestras to Orlando for 17 years. He retired from that in 2001. He also wrote a cultural column called “Play On” for the Maitland Observer from 1982 until earlier this year.
The Florida Artists Hall of Fame inducted him in 2012 for significant contributions to the arts. From Berlin, conductor Ara Khachaturian said, “I consider Louis Roney the last legendary tenor of the Golden Age of Opera.”
Mr. Roney married Martha Beverley Saunders, the mother of his children, in 1945, Renate Ackermann Heck in 1967, and Lenore Janis in 1978.
Survivors include his wife of 37 years, Joy Roseann Durschnitt Frank Roney; two daughters, Beverley Harrison Huskes of Huntington, Conn., and Madeliene “Lynn” Eckert of Silvermine, Conn.; a sister, Anne Marie Gary of Atlanta; and a grandson.