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Following study at the Juilliard School, New York, Harrell made his début at New York’s Town Hall in 1938. He went on to win the Metropolitan Opera auditions of the same year and made his début with the company in New York in December 1939 as Biterolf in Tannhäuser. He remained on the Metropolitan Opera roster until 1948, and returned for the 1949-1950, 1952- 1954, and 1957-1958 seasons. At the Met he sang a wide repertory, appearing in 156 performances and 23 different rôles. In May 1944 he made his first appearance at the New York City Opera as Germont in La Traviata, and returned there in 1948, 1951-1952, and 1959. He also sang in Chicago and San Francisco, and pursued a notably successful concert career. Like Conley, he possessed a voice of remarkable lyrical beauty. Nick Shadow was probably the rôle for which he was best known.

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