John Ardoin, music critic, musicologist, and author, was born on January 8, 1935, in Alexandria, Louisiana. He developed an interest in opera around the age of twelve and was inspired by radio broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera and by singers featured on the programs The Bell Telephone Hour and The Voice of Firestone. In the early 1950s his parents took him to see Carmen in New Orleans. Ardoin went to Denton to attend North Texas State College (now the University of North Texas) but eventually transferred to the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a B.A. degree in music theory and composition. He went on to receive his M.A. from the University of Oklahoma and also did postgraduate studies at Michigan State University in East Lansing. He served in the United States Army and was stationed at Stuttgart, Germany, where he had occasional opportunities to experience some impressive operatic performances, including that of soprano Martha Mödl.
In the late 1950s, after returning to the United States, Ardoin lived in New York and began his career as a music writer and editor. He edited Musical America magazine and was the New York critic for Opera and The Times of London. He was also a staff writer for the Saturday Review of Literature and managing editor for the program books of Philharmonic Hall at Lincoln Center.
In 1966 Ardoin moved to Dallas and went to work as the music critic for the Dallas Morning News. He became only that newspaper’s second employed music critic; the first was John Rosenfield from 1925 to 1966. For more than thirty years he served as the city’s eminent voice on classical music. Ardoin was especially knowledgeable on the subject of opera and was internationally recognized as the foremost authority on the famed Maria Callas, known as the godmother of Dallas opera. He authored several books on Callas including Callas: The Art and the Life (with Gerald Fitzgerald, 1974) and Callas at Julliard: The Master Classes (1987) which inspired the Tony Award-winning Master Class by playwright Terrence McNally.
His influence as a “prominent and sometimes caustic commentator on the musical life of Dallas,” as the Dallas Morning News described him, reached beyond North Texas to international classical circles. Ardoin often appeared as a commentator on the weekly radio broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera, and he served as a consultant for the PBS television series Great Performances for twenty years. Known as a musicologist with impeccable standards, Ardoin was considered “among the very great critics who viewed perfection as his standard…,” according to Dallas Morning News publisher Burl Osborne. His personal associations did not interfere with his uncompromising critiques; his friendship with Callas ended in 1974 when he wrote a negative review.
In addition to his studies on Callas, Ardoin wrote other books, including The Furtwängler Record (1994) about famed German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler and Valery Gergiev and the Kirov: A Story of Survival (2001) about the history of the Mariinsky Theatre. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of North Texas in 1987. Ardoin retired from the Dallas Morning News in 1998 and moved to Costa Rica. He died there from lymphoma on March 18, 2001. His body was cremated, and his ashes were scattered over Costa Rica. Notable celebrities who extended condolences included Van Cliburn, Walter Cronkite, and Beverly Sills. Ardoin had written the scripts for Cronkite’s narration of the Vienna Philharmonic’s telecasted New Year’s Day concerts, and the music critic had recently written the script for Beverly Sills for a Live From Lincoln Center telecast of La Bohème from the New York City Opera.