Farewell Deanna Durbin

Deanna Durbin (born December 4, 1921) is a Canadian-born, Southern California-raised retired singer and actress, who appeared in a number of musical films in the 1930s and 1940s singing standards as well as operatic arias.

Durbin made her first film appearance in 1936 with Judy Garland in Every Sunday, and subsequently signed a contract with Universal Studios. Her success as the ideal teenage daughter in films such as Three Smart Girls (1936) was credited with saving the studio from bankruptcy.[1] In 1938 Durbin was awarded the Academy Juvenile Award.

“Amapola”

Later, as she matured, Durbin grew dissatisfied with the girl-next-door roles assigned to her, and attempted to portray a more womanly and sophisticated style. The film noir Christmas Holiday (1944) and the whodunit Lady on a Train (1945) were, however, not as well received as her musical comedies and romances had been.

Durbin withdrew from Hollywood and retired from acting and singing in 1949. She married film producer-director Charles Henri David in 1950, and the couple moved to a farmhouse in the outskirts of Paris. Since then she has withdrawn from public life. Born Edna Mae Durbin at Grace Hospital in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, she was given the professional name Deanna at the beginning of her association with Universal Studios in 1936, when she was still 14 years old. Her parents, James and Ada Durbin, were immigrants from Lancashire, England who would become U.S. citizens after moving their family from Winnipeg to Southern California in 1923. Durbin had an older sister named Edith, who recognized Deanna’s musical talents at an early age and helped Deanna to take singing lessons at Ralph Thomas Academy. This led to her discovery by MGM in 1935. In late 1936, Cesar Sturani, who was the General Music Secretary of the Metropolitan Opera, offered Deanna Durbin an audition. Durbin turned down his request because she felt she needed more singing lessons. Andrés de Segurola, who was the vocal coach working with Universal Studios (and himself a former Metropolitan Opera singer), believed that Deanna Durbin had an excellent opportunity to become an opera star. Andrés de Segurola had been commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera to watch her progress carefully and keep them advised. Durbin started a collaboration with Eddie Cantor‘s radio show in 1936. This collaboration lasted until 1938 when her heavy workload for Universal Studios made it imperative for Durbin to discontinue her weekly appearances on Eddie Cantor’s radio show.[2]

“Lover”

Durbin signed a contract with MGM in 1935 and made her first film appearance in a short subject, Every Sunday (1936), with another young contract player, Judy Garland. The film was to serve as an extended screen test for the pair as studio executives were questioning the wisdom of having two female singers on the roster. Ultimately Louis B. Mayer decreed that both girls would be kept, but by the time that decision was made Durbin’s contract option had elapsed.[3]

Durbin was quickly signed to a contract with Universal Studios and made her first feature-length film Three Smart Girls in 1936. The huge success of her films was reported to have saved the studio from bankruptcy.[4] In 1938 she received a special Academy Juvenile Award, along with Mickey Rooney. Such was Durbin’s international fame and popularity that diarist Anne Frank pasted her picture to her bedroom wall in the Achterhuis where the Frank family hid during World War II. The picture can still be seen there today, and was pointed out by Frank’s friend Hannah Pick-Goslar in the documentary film Anne Frank Remembered.

Joe Pasternak who produced many of the early Deanna Durbin movies said about her:

“Deanna’s genius had to be unfolded, but it was hers and hers alone, always has been, always will be, and no one can take credit for discovering her. You can’t hide that kind of light under a bushel. You just can’t, no matter how hard you try!”

In 1936, Durbin auditioned to provide the vocals for Snow White in Disney’s animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs but was ultimately rejected by Walt Disney, who declared the 15 year old Durbin’s voice “too old” for the part.[5]

“Every Sunday” with Judy Garland

Durbin is perhaps best known for her singing voice, variously described as being light but full, sweet, unaffected and artless. With the technical skill and vocal range of a legitimate lyric soprano, she performed everything from popular standards to operatic arias. Dame Sister Mary Leo in New Zealand was so taken with Durbin’s technique that she trained all her students to sing in this way. Sister Mary Leo produced a large number of famous sopranos including Dames Malvina Major and Kiri Te Kanawa.

The Russian cellist/conductor Mstislav Rostropovich in a late 1980s interview cited Deanna as one of his most important musical influences, stating: “She helped me in my discovery of myself. You have no idea of the smelly old movie houses I patronized to see Deanna Durbin. I tried to create the very best in my music, to try and recreate, to approach her purity.”[6]

Durbin was the heroine of two 1941 novels, Deanna Durbin and the Adventure of Blue Valley and Deanna Durbin and the Feather of Flame, both written by Kathryn Heisenfelt and published by Whitman Publishing Company. “The heroine has the same name and appearance as the famous actress but has no connection … it is as though the famous actress has stepped into an alternate reality in which she is an ordinary person.” The stories were probably written for a young teenage audience and are reminiscent of the adventures of Nancy Drew. They are part of a series known as “Whitman Authorized Editions”, 16 books published between 1941-1947 that featured a film actress as heroine.[7]

“Musetta’s Waltz” from La Bohem

Between December 15, 1936 and July 22, 1947, Deanna Durbin recorded 50 tunes for Decca Records. While often re-creating her movie songs for commercial release, Durbin also covered independent standards, like “Kiss Me Again”, “My Hero”, “Annie Laurie“, “Poor Butterfly“, “Love’s Old Sweet Song” and “God Bless America“.

The star-making five-year association of Deanna Durbin, producer Joe Pasternak and director Henry Koster ended following the film It Started With Eve in 1941. After Pasternak moved from Universal to MGM, Durbin went on suspension between October 16, 1941 and early February 1942 for refusing to appear in They Lived Alone, scheduled to be directed by Koster. Ultimately, the project was canceled when Durbin and Universal settled their differences. In the agreement, Universal conceded to Durbin the approval of her directors, stories and songs.[8]

Durbin married an assistant director, Vaughn Paul, in 1941 and they were divorced in 1943. Her second marriage, to film writer-producer-actor Felix Jackson in 1945, produced a daughter, Jessica Louise Jackson, and ended in divorce in 1949.

In private life, Durbin continued to use her given name; salary figures printed annually by the Hollywood trade publications listed the actress as “Edna Mae Durbin, player.” Her studio continued to cast her in musicals, and filmed two sequels to her original success, Three Smart Girls. The second sequel was a wartime story called Three Smart Girls Join Up, but Durbin issued a press release announcing that she was no longer inclined to participate in these team efforts and was now performing as a solo artist. The Three Smart Girls Join Up title was changed to Hers to Hold. Joseph Cotten, who played alongside Deanna Durbin in Hers to Hold, praised her integrity and character in his autobiography.[9]

“When You’re Away”

She made her only Technicolor film in 1944, Can’t Help Singing, featuring some of the last melodies written by Jerome Kern plus lyrics by E. Y. Harburg. A musical comedy in a Western setting, this production was filmed mostly on location in southern Utah. Her co-star was Robert Paige, who is better known for his work in television dramas in the 1950s.[10]

“Begin The Beguine”

Durbin tried to assume a more sophisticated movie persona in such vehicles as the World War II story of refugee children from China, The Amazing Mrs. Holliday (1943), directed in part by Jean Renoir, who left the project before its completion; the film noir Christmas Holiday (1944), directed by Robert Siodmak, and the whodunit Lady on a Train (1945), but her substantial fan base preferred her in light musical confections.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s groundbreaking Broadway production of Oklahoma! in 1943 might have showcased Deanna Durbin as original Laurie, but Universal refused to accept the proposal.

In 1945 and 1947, Deanna Durbin was the top-salaried woman in the United States. Her fan club ranked as the world’s largest during her active years.

In 1946, her employers merged with two other companies to create Universal-International, and the new regime discontinued much of Universal’s familiar product and scheduled only a few musicals. Durbin stayed on for another four pictures, but her two releases of 1948, Up in Central Park, a film adaptation of the 1945 Broadway musical, and then what became her last feature, For the Love of Mary, saw her international box-office clout diminish. On August 22, 1948, two months after the latter film was finished, Universal-International announced a lawsuit which sought to collect from Durbin $87,083 in wages the studio had paid her in advance.[11] Durbin settled the complaint amicably by agreeing to star in three more pictures, including one to be shot on location in Paris. Ultimately, the studio would allow Deanna’s contract to expire on August 31, 1949, so the three films were not produced. Durbin, who obtained a $200,000 ($1,842,577 as of 2011),[12] severance payment[13] chose at this point to retire from movie making, already having turned down Bing Crosby‘s request for her to appear in his 1949 attractions for Paramount Pictures: Top o’ the Morning and/or A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

“Can’t Help Singin”

In Paris on December 21, 1950, Deanna Durbin, shortly after turning 29 years old, married Charles David, the producer-director of both French and American pictures who had guided her through Lady on a Train (1945). Durbin and David raised two children: Jessica (from her second marriage to Felix Jackson) and Peter (from her union with David).

Over the years, Durbin resisted numerous offers to perform again, including two choice proposals by MGM, asking her to take the female lead in the screen version of Cole Porter‘s Kiss Me Kate (1953), and to costar with Mario Lanza in Sigmund Romberg‘s operetta, The Student Prince (1954). As for stage shows, Durbin had been invited to play Kiss Me Kate ‘s Lilli Vanessi in London’s 1951-52 West End production, and reportedly, Alan Jay Lerner first had Deanna in mind to portray Eliza Doolittle in the 1956 Broadway cast of My Fair Lady. Suggestions that Durbin vocalize at the major Las Vegas casinos went unfulfilled.

She granted only one interview in 1983, to film historian David Shipman, steadfastly asserting her right to privacy. She maintains that privacy today, declining to be profiled on Internet websites.[14]

“Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s opera, Turandot.

However, Durbin has made it known that she did not like the Hollywood studio system. She has emphasized that she never identified herself with the public image that the media created around her. She speaks of the Deanna “persona” in the third person and considers the film character Deanna Durbin a by-product of her youth and not her true self.[15]

Durbin’s husband of over 48 years, Charles David, died in Paris on March 1, 1999.

Deanna Durbin has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1722 Vine Street.

Frank Tashlin‘s 1937 Warner Bros. cartoon The Woods are Full of Cuckoos contains an avian caricature of Deanna Durbin called “Deanna Terrapin”.

Durbin’s name found its way into the introduction to a song written by satirical writer Tom Lehrer in 1965. Prior to singing “Whatever Became of Hubert?”, Lehrer said that Vice President Hubert Humphrey had been relegated to “those where-are-they-now columns: Whatever became of Deanna Durbin, and Hubert Humphrey, and so on.”

She is mentioned in Richard Brautigan‘s novel Trout Fishing in America, when the narrator claims to have seen one of her movies seven times, but can’t recall which one.[16]

Sources: Wikipedia, youtube, imdb.com

Film credits
Title↓ Year↓ Role↓ Notes
Every Sunday 1936 Edna short subject (opposite Judy Garland)
Three Smart Girls 1936 Penelope “Penny” Craig Academy Juvenile Award
One Hundred Men and a Girl 1937 Patricia Cardwell
Mad About Music 1938 Gloria Harkinson
That Certain Age 1938 Alice Fullerton
Three Smart Girls Grow Up 1939 Penny Craig
For Auld Lang Syne: No. 4 1939 Herself short subject
First Love 1939 Constance “Connie” Harding
It’s a Date 1940 Pamela Drake a short subject, Gems of Song, was excerpted from this feature in 1949
Spring Parade 1940 Ilonka Tolnay
Nice Girl? 1941 Jane “Pinky” Dana
Friend Indeed, AA Friend Indeed 1941 Herself short subject for the American Red Cross
It Started with Eve 1941 Anne Terry
Amazing Mrs. Holliday, TheThe Amazing Mrs. Holliday 1943 Ruth Kirke Holliday
Show Business at War 1943 Herself short subject
Hers to Hold 1943 Penny Craig
His Butler’s Sister 1943 Ann Carter
Road to Victory 1944 Herself short subject
Christmas Holiday 1944 Jackie Lamont/Abigail Martin
Can’t Help Singing 1944 Caroline Frost her only film in Technicolor
Lady on a Train 1945 Nikki Collins/Margo Martin
Because of Him 1946 Kim Walker
I’ll Be Yours 1947 Louise Ginglebusher
Something in the Wind 1947 Mary Collins
Up in Central Park 1948 Rosie Moore
For the Love of Mary 1948 Mary Peppertree

Deanna Durbin songs

  • A Heart That’s Free [From “100 Men and a Girl”]
  • Alice Blue Gown
  • Alleluia [From “100 Men and a Girl”]
  • Always [From “Christmas Holiday”]
  • Adeste Fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful)
  • Amapola [From “First Love”]
  • Annie Laurie
  • Any Moment Now [From “Can`t Help Singing”]
  • Ave Maria [From “Mad About Music”]
  • Ave Maria [From “It’s a Date”]
  • Be A Good Scout [From “That Certain Age”]
  • Because [From “Three Smart Girls Grow Up”]
  • Begin the Beguine [From “Hers to Hold”]
  • Beneath the Lights of Home [From “Nice Girl”]
  • Brahms’ Lullaby [From “I’ll Be Yours”]
  • Brindisi (Libiamo ne’ lieti calici) [From “100 Men and a Girl”]
  • Californ-I-Ay
  • Can’t Help Singing [From “Can`t Help Singing”]
  • Can’t Help Singing (Deanna Durbin & Robert Paige) [From “Can`t Help Singing”]
  • Carmena Waltz
  • Chapel Bells [From “Mad About Music”]
  • Cielito Lindo (Beautiful Heaven)
  • Ciribiribin
  • Clavelitos (J. Valverde) [From “It Started with Eve”]
  • Danny Boy [From “Because of Him”]
  • Embrace Me
  • Every Sunday (with Judy Garland)
  • Filles de Cadiz (The Maids of Cadiz) [From “That Certain Age”]
  • Gimme a Little Kiss, Will Ya, Huh? [From “Lady on a Train”]
  • God Bless America
  • Goin’ Home [From “It Started With Eve”]
  • Goodbye [From “Because of Him”]
  • Granada [From “I’ll Be Yours”]
  • Home! Sweet Home! [From “First Love”]
  • Il Bacio (The Kiss) [From “Three Smart Girls”]
  • I’ll Follow My Sweet Heart
  • I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen [From “For The Love Of Mary”]
  • I’ll See You In My Dreams
  • I Love to Whistle [From “Mad About Music”]
  • (I’m) Happy Go Lucky and Free [From “Something in the Wind”]
  • (I’m) Happy Go Lucky and Free [From “Something in the Wind”] (Deanna Durbin & Donald O’Connor)
  • In the Spirit of the Moment [From “His Butler’s Sister”]
  • Italian Street Song
  • It’s a Big, Wide, Wonderful World [From “For The Love Of Mary”]
  • It’s Dreamtime [From “I’ll Be Yours”]
  • It’s Foolish But It’s Fun [From “Spring Parade”]
  • It’s Only Love [From “Something In The Wind”]
  • It’s Raining Sunbeams [From “100 Men and a Girl”]
  • Invitation To The Dance [From “Three Smart Girls Grow Up”]
  • Je Veux Vivre (from Roméo et Juliette) [From “That Certain Age”]
  • Kiss Me Again
  • La Estrellita (Little Star)
  • Largo Al Factotum (from The Barber of Seville) [From “For The Love Of Mary”]
  • Loch Lomond [From “It’s a Date”]
  • Love At Last [From “Nice Girl”]
  • Love Is All [From “It’s a Date”]
  • Lover [From “Because of Him”]
  • Love’s Old Sweet Song
  • Make Believe (Jerome Kern song)
  • Molly Malone
  • More and More [From “Can`t Help Singing”]
  • More And More/Can’t Help Singing [From “Can`t Help Singing”]
  • Musetta’s Waltz (from La bohème) [From “It’s a Date”]
  • My Heart Is Singing [From “Three Smart Girls Grow Up”]
  • My Hero
  • My Own [From “That Certain Age”]
  • Nessun Dorma (from Turandot) [From “His Butler’s Sister”]
  • Never in a Million Years/Make Believe
  • Night and Day [From “Lady on a Train”]
  • O Come All Ye Faithful
  • Old Folks at Home [From “Nice Girl”]
  • On Moonlight Bay [From “For The Love Of Mary”]
  • One Fine Day (from Madama Butterfly) [From “First Love”]
  • One Night Of Love
  • Pace, Pace, Mio Dio (La forza del destino) [From “Up In Central Park”]
  • Pale Hands I Loved (Kashmiri Song) [From “Hers to Hold”]
  • Perhaps [From “Nice Girl”]
  • Poor Butterfly
  • Russian Medley [From “His Butler’s Sister”]
  • Sari Waltz (Love’s Own Sweet Song) [From “I’ll Be Yours”]
  • Say a Pray’r for the Boys Over There [From “Hers to Hold”]
  • Seal It With a Kiss
  • Seguidilla (from Carmen) [From “Hers To Hold”]
  • Serenade to the Stars [From “Mad About Music”]
  • Silent Night [From “Lady On A Train”]
  • Someone to Care for Me [From “Three Smart Girls”]
  • Something in the Wind [From “Something in the Wind”]
  • Spring in My Heart [From “First Love”]
  • Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year [From “Christmas Holiday”]
  • Swanee – Old Folks At Home [From “Nice Girl”]
  • Summertime (from Porgy And Bess)
  • Sweetheart
  • Thank You America [From “Nice Girl”]
  • The Blue Danube [From “Spring Parade”]
  • The Last Rose of Summer [From “Three Smart Girls Grow Up”]
  • The Old Refrain [From “The Amazing Mrs. Holiday”]
  • The Prince
  • The Turntable Song [From “Something in the Wind”]
  • There’ll Always Be An England [From “Nice Girl”]
  • Two Guitars [“Две гитары” – Russian Gypsy Folk song (Lyrics – Apollon Grigoriev, music – Ivan Vasiliev), from “His Butler’s Sister” (1943)]
  • Two Hearts
  • Un bel di vedremo (from Madama Butterfly) [From “First Love”]
  • Viennese Waltz [From “For The Love Of Mary”]
  • Vissi d’arte (from Tosca) [From “The Amazing Mrs. Holiday”]
  • Waltzing in the Clouds [From “Spring Parade”]
  • When April Sings [From “Spring Parade”]
  • When I Sing [From “It Started with Eve”]
  • When The Roses Bloom Again
  • When You’re Away [From “His Butler’s Sister”]
  • You Wanna Keep Your Baby Looking Nice, Don’t You [From “Something in the Wind”]
  • You’re As Pretty As A Picture [From “That Certain Age”]

Maria Callas

Maria CallasCommendatore OMRI[1] (Greek: Μαρία Κάλλας) (December 2, 1923 – September 16, 1977) was an American-bornGreek soprano and one of the most renowned opera singers of the 20th century. She combined an impressive bel canto technique, a wide-ranging voice and great dramatic gifts. An extremely versatile singer, her repertoire ranged from classical opera seria to the bel canto operas of DonizettiBellini and Rossini; further, to the works of Verdi and Puccini; and, in her early career, to the music dramas of Wagner. Her remarkable musical and dramatic talents led to her being hailed as La Divina. Born in New York City and raised by an overbearing mother, she received her musical education in Greece and established her career in Italy. Forced to deal with the exigencies of wartime poverty and with myopia that left her nearly blind onstage, she endured struggles and scandal over the course of her career. She turned herself from a heavy woman into a svelte and glamorous one after a mid-career weight loss, which might have contributed to her vocal decline and the premature end of her career. The press exulted in publicizing Callas’s allegedly temperamental behaviour, her supposed rivalry with Renata Tebaldi and her love affair with Aristotle Onassis. Her dramatic life and personal tragedy have often overshadowed Callas the artist in the popular press. However, her artistic achievements were such that Leonard Bernstein called her “The Bible of opera”;[2] and her influence was so enduring that, in 2006, Opera Newswrote of her: “Nearly thirty years after her death, she’s still the definition of the diva as artist—and still one of classical music’s best-selling vocalists.”[3] According to her birth certificate, Maria Callas was born Sophia Cecelia Kalos[4] at Flower Hospital (now the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center), at 1249 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, on December 2, 1923[5] to Greek parents George Kalogeropoulos and Evangelia “Litsa” (sometimes “Litza”) Dimitriadou, though she was christened Anna Maria Sofia Cecilia Kalogeropoulou – the genitive of the patronymic Kalogeropoulos – (GreekΜαρία Άννα Σοφία Καικιλία Καλογεροπούλου). Callas’s father had shortened the surname Kalogeropoulos first to “Kalos” and subsequently to “Callas” in order to make it more manageable.[4] George and Evangelia were an ill-matched couple from the beginning; he was easy-going and unambitious, with no interest in the arts, while his wife was vivacious and socially ambitious, and had held dreams of a life in the arts for herself.[4] The situation was aggravated by George’s philandering and was improved neither by the birth of a daughter, named Yakinthi (later called Jackie), in 1917 nor the birth of a son, named Vassilis, in 1920. Vassilis’s death from meningitis in the summer of 1922 dealt another blow to the marriage. In 1923, after realizing that Evangelia was pregnant again, George made the unilateral decision to move his family to America, a decision which Yakinthi recalled was greeted with Evangelia “shouting hysterically” followed by George “slamming doors”.[4] The family left for New York in July 1923, moving first into an apartment in Astoria, Queens. When Maria was 4, George Callas opened his own pharmacy, settling the family in Manhattan on 192nd Street in Washington Heights where Callas grew up. Evangelia was convinced that her third child would be a boy; her disappointment at the birth of another daughter was so great that she refused to even look at her new baby for four days.[4] Around the age of three, Maria’s musical talent began to manifest itself, and after Evangelia discovered that her youngest daughter also had a voice, she began pressing “Mary” to sing. Callas would later recall, “I was made to sing when I was only five, and I hated it.”[4] George was unhappy with his wife favouring their elder daughter, as well as the pressure put upon young Mary to sing and perform.[6] The marriage continued to deteriorate and in 1937 Evangelia decided to return to Athens with her two daughters.[4] Callas’s relationship with Evangelia continued to erode during the years in Greece, and in the prime of her career, it became a matter of great public interest, especially after a 1956 cover story in Time magazine which focused on this relationship and later, by Evangelia’s book My Daughter – Maria Callas. In public, Callas blamed the strained relationship with Evangelia on her unhappy childhood spent singing and working at her mother’s insistence, saying,

My sister was slim and beautiful and friendly, and my mother always preferred her. I was the ugly duckling, fat and clumsy and unpopular. It is a cruel thing to make a child feel ugly and unwanted… I’ll never forgive her for taking my childhood away. During all the years I should have been playing and growing up, I was singing or making money. Everything I did for them was mostly good and everything they did to me was mostly bad.[7]

In 1957, she told Norman Ross, “Children should have a wonderful childhood. I have not had it – I wish I had.”[8] On the other hand, biographer Pestalis-Diomidis asserts that it was actually Evangelia’s hateful treatment of George in front of their young children which led to resentment and dislike on Callas’s part.[4] However, according to both Callas’ husband and her close friend Giulietta Simionato, Callas related to them that her mother, who did not work, pressed her to “go out with various men”, mainly Italian and German soldiers, to bring home money and food during the Axis occupation of Greece during World War II. Simionato was convinced that Callas “managed to remain untouched”, but Callas never forgave Evangelia for what she perceived as a kind of prostitution forced on her by her mother.[4] In an attempt to patch things up with her mother, Callas took Evangelia along on her first visit to Mexico in 1950, but this only reawakened the old frictions and resentments, and after leaving Mexico, the two never met again.[9] After a series of angry and accusatory letters from Evangelia lambasting Callas’s father and husband, Callas ceased communication with her mother altogether.[9] Callas received her musical education in Athens. Initially, her mother tried to enroll her at the prestigious Athens Conservatoire, without success. At the audition, her voice, still untrained, failed to impress, while the conservatoire’s director Filoktitis Oikonomidis refused to accept her without her satisfying the theoretic prerequisites (solfege). In the summer of 1937, her mother visited Maria Trivella at the younger Greek National Conservatoire, asking her to take Mary as a student for a modest fee. In 1957, Trivella recalled her impression of “Mary, a very plump young girl, wearing big glasses for her myopia”:

The tone of the voice was warm, lyrical, intense; it swirled and flared like a flame and filled the air with melodious reverberations like a carillon. It was by any standards an amazing phenomenon, or rather it was a great talent that needed control, technical training and strict discipline in order to shine with all its brilliance.[4] Trivella agreed to tutor Callas completely, waiving her tuition fees, but no sooner had Callas started her formal lessons and vocal exercises than Trivella began to feel that Mary was not a contralto, as she had been told, but a dramatic soprano. Subsequently, they began working on raising the tessitura of Mary’s voice and to lighten its timbre.[4] Trivella recalled Mary as “A model student. Fanatical, uncompromising, dedicated to her studies heart and soul. Her progress was phenomenal. She studied five or six hours a day. …Within six months, she was singing the most difficult arias in the international opera repertoire with the utmost musicality”.[4]On April 11, 1938, in her public debut, Callas ended the recital of Trivella’s class at the Parnassos music hall with a duet fromTosca.[4] Callas recalled that Trivella “had a French method, which was placing the voice in the nose, rather nasal… and I had the problem of not having low chest tones, which is essential in bel canto… And that’s where I learned my chest tones.”[10] However, when interviewed by Pierre Desgraupes on the French program L’Invitee Du Dimanche, Callas attributed the development of her chest voice not to Trivella, but to her next teacher, the well-known Spanish coloratura soprano Elvira de Hidalgo.[11] Callas studied with Trivella for two years before her mother secured another audition at the Athens Conservatoire with de Hidalgo. Callas auditioned with “Ocean, Thou Mighty Monster.” De Hidalgo recalled hearing “tempestuous, extravagant cascades of sounds, as yet uncontrolled but full of drama and emotion”.[4] She agreed to take her as a pupil immediately, but Callas’s mother asked de Hidalgo to wait for a year, as Callas would be graduating from the National Conservatoire and could begin working. On April 2, 1939, Callas undertook the part of Santuzza in a student production of Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana at the Olympia Theatre, and in the fall of the same year she enrolled at the Athens Conservatoire in Elvira de Hidalgo’s class.[4] In 1968, Callas told Lord Harewood,

De Hildalgo had the real great training, maybe even the last real training of the real bel canto. As a young girl—thirteen years old—I was immediately thrown into her arms, meaning that I learned the secrets, the ways of this bel canto, which of course as you well know, is not just beautiful singing. It is a very hard training; it is a sort of a straight-jacket that you’re supposed to put on, whether you like it or not. You have to learn to read, to write, to form your sentences, how far you can go, fall, hurt yourself, put yourself back on your feet continuously. De Hidalgo had one method, which was the real bel canto way, where no matter how heavy a voice, it should always be kept light, it should always be worked on in a flexible way, never to weigh it down. It is a method of keeping the voice light and flexible and pushing the instrument into a certain zone where it might not be too large in sound, but penetrating. And teaching the scales, trills, all the bel cantoembellishments, which is a whole vast language of its own.[10]

De Hidalgo would later recall Callas as “a phenomenon… She would listen to all my students, sopranos, mezzos, tenors… She could do it all.”[12] Callas herself said that she would go to “the conservatoire at 10 in the morning and leave with the last pupil … devouring music” for 10 hours a day. When asked by her teacher why she did this, her answer was that even “with the least talented pupil, he can teach you something that you, the most talented, might not be able to do.”[13] After several appearances as a student, Callas began appearing in secondary roles at the Greek National Opera. De Hidalgo was instrumental in securing roles for her, allowing Callas to earn a small salary, which would help her and her family get through the difficult war years.[4] Callas made her professional debut in February 1942, in the small role of Beatrice in Franz von Suppé‘s Boccaccio.[4] Soprano Galatea Amaxopoulou, who sang in the chorus, later recalled, “Even in rehearsal, Mary’s fantastic performing ability had been obvious, and from then on, the others started trying to find ways of preventing her from appearing.”[4] Fellow singer Maria Alkeou similarly recalled that the established sopranos Nafsika Galanou and Anna (Zozó) Remmoundou “used to stand in the wings while Mary was singing and make remarks about her, muttering, laughing, and point their fingers at her”.[4] Despite these hostilities, Callas managed to continue and made her debut in a leading role in August 1942 as Tosca, going on to sing the role of Marta in Eugen d’Albert‘s Tiefland at the Olympia Theatre. Callas’s performance as Marta received glowing reviews. Critic Spanoudi declared Callas “an extremely dynamic artist possessing the rarest dramatic and musical gifts”, and Vangelis Mangliveras evaluated Callas’s performance for the weekly To Radiophonon:

The singer who took the part of Marta, that new star in the Greek firmament, with a matchless depth of feeling, gave a theatrical interpretation well up to the standard of a tragic actress. About her exceptional voice with its astonishing natural fluency, I do not wish to add anything to the words of Alexandra Lalaouni: ‘Kaloyeropoulou is one of those God-given talents that one can only marvel at.’[4]

María Callas – Puccini “Vissi d’arte” (Tosca)

Following these performances, even Callas’s detractors began to refer to her as “The God-Given”.[4] Some time later, watching Callas rehearse Beethoven‘s Fidelio, rival soprano Remoundou asked a colleague, “Could it be that there is something divine and we haven’t realized it?”[4] Following Tiefland, Callas sang the role of Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana again and followed it with O Protomastoras at the ancient Odeon of Herodes Atticustheatre at the foot of the Acropolis. During August and September 1944, Callas performed the role of Leonore in a Greek language production of Fidelio, again at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.[4] German critic Friedrich Herzog, who witnessed the performances, declared Leonore Callas’s “greatest triumph”:[4]

When Maria Kaloyeropoulou’s Leonore let her soprano soar out radiantly in the untrammelled jubilation of the duet, she rose to the most sublime heights…. Here she gave bud, blossom and fruit to that harmony of sound that also ennobled the art of the prima donne.[4]

After the liberation of Greece, de Hidalgo advised Callas to establish herself in Italy. Callas proceeded to give a series of concerts around Greece, and then, against her teacher’s advice, she returned to America to see her father and to further pursue her career. When she left Greece on September 14, 1945, two months short of her 22nd birthday, Callas had given 56 performances in seven operas and had appeared in around 20 recitals.[4] Callas considered her Greek career as the foundation of her musical and dramatic upbringing, saying, “When I got to the big career, there were no surprises for me.”[14]

 After returning to the United States and reuniting with her father in September 1945, Callas made the round of auditions.[4] In December of that year, she auditioned for Edward Johnson, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, and was favourably received: “Exceptional voice—ought to be heard very soon on stage”.[4] Callas maintained that the Met offered her Madama Butterfly and Fidelio, to be performed in Philadelphia and sung in English, both of which she declined, feeling she was too fat for Butterfly and did not like the idea of opera in English.[14] Although no written evidence of this offer exists in the Met’s records,[9] in a 1958 interview with The New York Post, Johnson corroborated Callas’s story: “We offered her a contract, but she didn’t like it—because of the contract, not because of the roles. She was right in turning it down—it was frankly a beginner’s contract.”[4]
Aida Triumphal March
In 1946, Callas was engaged to re-open the opera house in Chicago as Turandot, but the company folded before opening. BassoNicola Rossi-Lemeni, who also was to star in this opera, was aware that Tullio Serafin was looking for a dramatic soprano to cast asLa Gioconda at the Arena di Verona. He would later recall the young Callas as being “amazing—so strong physically and spiritually; so certain of her future. I knew in a big outdoor theatre like Verona’s, this girl, with her courage and huge voice, would make a tremendous impact.”[15] Subsequently he recommended Callas to retired tenor and impresario Giovanni Zenatello. During her audition, Zenatello became so excited that he jumped up and joined Callas in the Act 4 duet.[6] It was in this role that Callas made her Italian debut. Upon her arrival in Verona, Callas met Giovanni Battista Meneghini, an older, wealthy industrialist, who began courting her. They married in 1949, and he assumed control of her career until 1959, when the marriage dissolved. It was Meneghini’s love and support that gave Callas the time needed to establish herself in Italy,[15] and throughout the prime of her career, she went by the name Maria Meneghini Callas. After La Gioconda, Callas had no further offers, and when Serafin, looking for someone to sing Isolde, called on her, she told him that she already knew the score, even though she had looked at only the first act out of curiosity while at the conservatory.[14] She sight-read the opera’s second act for Serafin, who praised her for knowing the role so well, whereupon she admitted to having bluffed and having sight-read the music.[14] Even more impressed, Serafin immediately cast her in the role.[14] Serafin thereafter served as Callas’s mentor and supporter. According to Lord Harewood, “Very few Italian conductors have had a more distinguished career than Tullio Serafin, and perhaps none, apart from Toscanini, more influence”.[13]In 1968, Callas would recall that working with Serafin was the “really lucky” opportunity of her career, because “he taught me that there must be an expression; that there must be a justification. He taught me the depth of music, the justification of music. That’s where I really really drank all I could from this man”.[10] The great turning point in Callas’s career occurred in Venice in 1949.[16] She was engaged to sing the role of Brünnhilde in Die Walküre at the Teatro la Fenice, when Margherita Carosio, who was engaged to sing Elvira in I puritani in the same theatre, fell ill. Unable to find a replacement for Carosio, Maestro Serafin told Callas that she would be singing Elvira in six days; when Callas protested that she not only did not know the role, but also had three more Brünnhildes to sing, he told her “I guarantee that you can.”[13] InMichael Scott‘s words, “the notion of any one singer embracing music as divergent in its vocal demands as Wagner’s Brünnhilde and Bellini’s Elvira in the same career would have been cause enough for surprise; but to attempt to essay them both in the same season seemed like folie de grandeur“.[9] Before the performance actually took place, one incredulous critic snorted, “We hear that Serafin has agreed to conduct I puritani with a dramatic soprano… When can we expect a new edition of La traviata with [baritone] Gino Bechi‘s Violetta?”[9] After the performance, critics would write, “Even the most sceptical had to acknowledge the miracle that Maria Callas accomplished… the flexibility of her limpid, beautifully poised voice, and her splendid high notes. Her interpretation also has a humanity, warmth and expressiveness that one would search for in vain in the fragile, pellucid coldness of other Elviras.”[17] Franco Zeffirelli recalled, “What she did in Venice was really incredible. You need to be familiar with opera to realize the enormity of her achievement. It was as if someone asked Birgit Nilsson, who is famous for her great Wagnerian voice, to substitute overnight for Beverly Sills, who is one of the great coloraturasopranos of our time.”[12] Scott asserts that “Of all the many roles Callas undertook, it is doubtful if any had a more far-reaching effect.”[9] This initial foray into the bel canto repertoire changed the course of Callas’s career and set her on a path leading to Lucia di LammermoorLa traviataArmidaLa sonnambulaIl pirataIl turco in ItaliaMedea and Anna Bolena, and reawakened interest in the long-neglected operas of CherubiniBelliniDonizetti and Rossini.[12][15] In the words of soprano Montserrat Caballé,

She opened a new door for us, for all the singers in the world, a door that had been closed. Behind it was sleeping not only great music but great idea of interpretation. She has given us the chance, those who follow her, to do things that were hardly possible before her. That I am compared with Callas is something I never dared to dream. It is not right. I am much smaller than Callas.[15]

Maria Callas Interview

As with I puritani, Callas also learned and performed Cherubini’s MedeaGiordano‘s Andrea Chénier and Rossini’s Armida on a few days’ notice.[15][18] Throughout her career, Callas displayed her vocal versatility in recitals that pitched dramatic soprano arias alongside coloratura pieces, including in a 1952 RAI recital in which she opened with Lady Macbeth’s “letter scene“, followed by the “Mad Scene” from Lucia di Lammermoor, then Abigaile’s treacherous recitative and aria from Nabucco, finishing with the “Bell Song” from Lakmé capped by a ringing high E in alt (E6).[18] Although by 1951 Callas had sung at all the major theatres in Italy, she had not yet made her official debut at Italy’s most prestigious opera house, Teatro alla Scala in Milan. According to composer Gian-Carlo Menotti, Callas had substituted for Renata Tebaldi in the role of Aida in 1950, and La Scala’s general manager, Antonio Ghiringhelli, had taken an immediate dislike to Callas.[12] Menotti recalls that Ghiringhelli had promised him any singer he wanted for the premiere of The Consul, but when he suggested Callas, Ghiringhelli said that he would never have Callas at La Scala except as a guest artist. However, as Callas’s fame grew, and especially after her great success in I vespri siciliani in Florence, Ghiringhelli had to relent: Callas made her official debut at La Scala in Verdi‘s I vespri siciliani on opening night in December 1951, and this theatre became her artistic home throughout the 1950s.[12] La Scala mounted many new productions specially for Callas by directors such as Herbert von KarajanMargherita WallmannFranco Zeffirelli and, most importantly, Luchino Visconti.[15] Visconti stated later that he began directing opera only because of Callas,[19] and he directed her in lavish new productions of La vestaleLa traviataLa sonnambulaAnna Bolena and Iphigénie en Tauride. Callas was notably instrumental in arranging Franco Corelli‘s debut at La Scala in 1954, where he sang Licinio in Spontini‘s La vestale opposite Callas’s Julia. The two had sung together for the first time the year previously in Rome in a production of NormaAnthony Tommasini wrote that Corelli had “earned great respect from the fearsomely demanding Callas, who, in Mr Corelli, finally had someone with whom she could act.”[20] The two collaborated several more times at La Scala, singing opposite each other in productions of Fedora (1956), Il pirata (1958) and Poliuto (1960). Their partnership continued throughout the rest of Callas’s career.[21] The night of the day she married Meneghini in Verona, she sailed for Argentina to sing at theColon Theatre in Buenos Aires. Callas made her South American debut in Buenos Aires on May 20, 1949 during European summer’s recess. AidaTurandot and Norma roles were directed byTullio Serafin, supported by Mario del MonacoFedora Barbieri and Nicola Rossi-Lemeni. It was her only appearance on this world renowned stage. Her debut in America was five years later in Chicago in 1954, and “with the Callas NormaLyric Opera of Chicago was born.”[22] HerMetropolitan Opera debut, opening the Met’s seventy-second season on October 29, 1956, was again with Norma,[23] but was preceded with an unflattering cover story in Time magazine, which rehashed all of the Callas clichés, including her temper, her supposed rivalry withRenata Tebaldi and especially her difficult relationship with her mother.[6][16] As she had done with Lyric Opera of Chicago, on November 21, 1957, Callas gave a concert to inaugurate what then was billed as the Dallas Civic Opera, and helped establish that company with her friends from Chicago, Lawrence Kelly and Maestro Nicola Rescigno.[24] She further consolidated this company’s standing when, in 1958, she gave “a towering performance as Violetta in La Traviata, and that same year, in her only American performances of Medea, gave an interpretation of the title role worthy of Euripides.”[25] In 1958, a feud with Rudolf Bing led to Callas’s Metropolitan Opera contract being cancelled. Impresario Allen Oxenburg realised that this situation provided him with an opportunity for his own company, the American Opera Society, and he accordingly approached her with a contract to perform Imogene in Il pirata. She accepted and sang the role in a January 1959 performance that according to opera critic Allan Kozinn “quickly became legendary in operatic circles”.[26] Bing and Callas later reconciled their differences, and she returned to the house in 1965 to sing the title role in two performances as Tosca opposite Franco Corelli as Cavaradossi for one performance (March 19, 1965) and Richard Tucker (March 25, 1965) with Tito Gobbi as Scarpia for her final performances at the Met. In 1952, she made her London debut at the Royal Opera House in Norma with veteran mezzo soprano Ebe Stignani as Adalgisa, a performance which survives on record and also features the young Joan Sutherland in the small role of Clotilde.[18] Callas and the London public had what she herself called “a love affair”,[6] and she returned to the Royal Opera House in 1953, 1957, 1958, 1959, and 1964 to 1965.[15] It was at the Royal Opera House where, on July 5, 1965, Callas ended her stage career in the role of Tosca, in a production designed and mounted for her by Franco Zeffirelli and featuring her friend and colleague Tito Gobbi.[15] In the early years of her career, Callas was a heavy and full-figured woman; in her own words, “Heavy—one can say—yes I was; but I’m also a tall woman, 5′ 8½” [174 centimeters], and I used to weigh no more than 200 pounds [91 kilograms].”[14] Tito Gobbi relates that during a lunch break while recording Lucia in Florence, Serafin commented to Callas that she was eating too much and allowing her weight to become a problem. When she protested that she wasn’t so heavy, Gobbi suggested she should “put the matter to test” by stepping on the weighing machine outside the restaurant. The result was “somewhat dismaying, and she became rather silent.”[27] In 1968, Callas told Edward Downes that during her initial performances in Cherubini‘s Medea in May 1953, she realized that she needed a leaner face and figure to do dramatic justice to this as well as the other roles she was undertaking. She adds,

I was getting so heavy that even my vocalizing was getting heavy. I was tiring myself, I was perspiring too much, and I was really working too hard. And I wasn’t really well, as in health; I couldn’t move freely. And then I was tired of playing a game, for instance playing this beautiful young woman, and I was heavy and uncomfortable to move around. In any case, it was uncomfortable and I didn’t like it. So I felt now if I’m going to do things right—I’ve studied all my life to put things right musically, so why don’t I diet and put myself into a certain condition where I’m presentable.[14]

Una Voce Poco Fa

During 1953 and early 1954, she lost almost 80 pounds (36 kg), turning herself into what Maestro Rescigno called “possibly the most beautiful lady on the stage”.[12] Sir Rudolf Bing, who remembered Callas as being “monstrously fat” in 1951, stated that after the weight loss, Callas was an “astonishing, svelte, striking woman” who “showed none of the signs one usually finds in a fat woman who has lost weight: she looked as though she had been born to that slender and graceful figure, and had always moved with that elegance.”[28] Various rumours spread regarding her weight loss method; one had her swallowing a tapeworm, while Rome’s Pantanella Mills pasta company claimed she lost weight by eating their “physiologic pasta”, prompting Callas to file a lawsuit.[9] Callas stated that she lost the weight by eating a sensible low-calorie diet of mainly salads and chicken.[14] Some believe that the loss of body mass made it more difficult for her to support her voice, triggering the vocal strain that became apparent later in the decade (see vocal decline), while others believed the weight loss effected a newfound softness and femininity in her voice, as well as a greater confidence as a person and performer.[15] Tito Gobbisaid, “Now she was not only supremely gifted both musically and dramatically—she was a beauty too. And her awareness of this invested with fresh magic every role she undertook. What it eventually did to her vocal and nervous stamina I am not prepared to say. I only assert that she blossomed into an artist unique in her generation and outstanding in the whole range of vocal history.”[27] Callas’s voice was and remains controversial; it bothered and disturbed as many as it thrilled and inspired.[15][18] Walter Legge stated that Callas possessed that most essential ingredient for a great singer: an instantly recognizable voice.[29] During “The Callas Debate”, Italian critic Rodolfo Celletti stated, “The timbre of Callas’s voice, considered purely as sound, was essentially ugly: it was a thin sound, which gave the impression of dryness, of aridity. It lacked those elements which, in a singer’s jargon, are described as velvet and varnish… yet I really believe that part of her appeal was precisely due to this fact. Why? Because for all its natural lack of varnish, velvet and richness, this voice could acquire such distinctive colours and timbres as to be unforgettable.”[30] However, in his review of Callas’s 1951 live recording of I vespri siciliani, Ira Siff writes, “Accepted wisdom tells us that Callas possessed, even early on, a flawed voice, unattractive by conventional standards — an instrument that signaled from the beginning vocal problems to come. Yet listen to her entrance in this performance and one encounters a rich, spinning sound, ravishing by any standard, capable of delicate dynamic nuance. High notes are free of wobble, chest tones unforced, and the middle register displays none of the “bottled” quality that became more and more pronounced as Callas matured.”[31] Nicola Rossi-Lemeni relates that Callas’s mentor Tullio Serafin used to refer to her as “Una grande vociaccia”; he continues, “Vociaccia is a little bit pejorative—it means an ugly voice—but grande means a big voice, a great voice. A great ugly voice, in a way.”[32] Callas herself did not like the sound of her own voice; in one of her last interviews, answering whether or not she was able to listen to her own voice, she replies,

Yes, but I don’t like it. I have to do it, but I don’t like it at all because I don’t like the kind of voice I have. I really hate listening to myself! The first time I listened to a recording of my singing was when we were recording San Giovanni Battista by Stradella in a church in Perugia in 1949. They made me listen to the tape and I cried my eyes out. I wanted to stop everything, to give up singing… Also now even though I don’t like my voice, I’ve become able to accept it and to be detached and objective about it so I can say, “Oh, that was really well sung,” or “It was nearly perfect.”[33]

Maestro Carlo Maria Giulini has described the appeal of Callas’s voice:

It is very difficult to speak of the voice of Callas. Her voice was a very special instrument. Something happens sometimes with string instruments—violin, viola, cello—where the first moment you listen to the sound of this instrument, the first feeling is a bit strange sometimes. But after just a few minutes, when you get used to, when you become friends with this kind of sound, then the sound becomes a magical quality. This was Callas.[12]

 Callas’s voice has been difficult to place in the modern vocal classification or fach system, especially since in her prime, her repertoire contained the heaviest dramatic sopranoroles as well as roles usually undertaken by the highest, lightest and most agile coloratura sopranos. Regarding this versatility, Maestro Tullio Serafin said, “This woman can sing anything written for the female voice”.[6] Michael Scott argues that Callas’s voice was a natural high soprano,[9] and going by evidence of Callas’s early recordings, Rosa Ponselle likewise felt that “At that stage of its development, her voice was a pure but sizable dramatic coloratura––that is to say, a sizable coloratura voice with dramatic capabilities, not the other way around.”[34] On the other hand, music critic John Ardoin has argued that Callas was the reincarnation of the nineteenth century soprano sfogato or “unlimited soprano”, a throwback to Maria Malibran and Giuditta Pasta, for whom many of the famous bel canto operas were written. He avers that like Pasta and Malibran, Callas was a natural mezzo-soprano whose range was extended through training and willpower, resulting in a voice which “lacked the homogeneous color and evenness of scale once so prized in singing. There were unruly sections of their voices never fully under control. Many who heard Pasta, for example, remarked that her uppermost notes seemed produced by ventriloquism, a charge which would later be made against Callas”.[15] Ardoin points to the writings of Henry Fothergill Chorley about Pasta which bear an uncanny resemblance to descriptions of Callas:

“There was a portion of the scale which differed from the rest in quality and remained to the last ‘under a veil.’ …out of these uncouth materials she had to compose her instrument and then to give it flexibility. Her studies to acquire execution must have been tremendous; but the volubility and brilliancy, when acquired, gained a character of their own… There were a breadth, an expressiveness in her roulades, an evenness and solidity in her shake, which imparted to every passage a significance totally beyond the reach of lighter and more spontaneous singers… The best of her audience were held in thrall, without being able to analyze what made up the spell, what produced the effect–as soon as she opened her lips”.[15]

Callas herself appears to have been in agreement not only with Ardoin’s assertions that she started as a natural mezzo-soprano, but also saw the similarities between herself andPasta and Malibran. In 1957, she described her early voice as: “The timbre was dark, almost black—when I think of it, I think of thick molasses”, and in 1968 she added, “They say I was not a true soprano, I was rather toward a mezzo”.[4] Regarding her ability to sing the heaviest as well as the lightest roles, she told James Fleetwood,

“It’s study; it’s Nature. I’m doing nothing special, you know. Even LuciaAnna BolenaPuritani, all these operas were created for one type of soprano, the type that sang NormaFidelio, which was Malibran of course. And a funny coincidence last year, I was singing Anna Bolena and Sonnambula, same months and the same distance of time as Giuditta Pasta had sung in the Nineteenth Century… So I’m really not doing anything extraordinary. You wouldn’t ask a pianist not to be able to play everything; he has to. This is Nature and also because I had a wonderful teacher, the old kind of teaching methods… I was a very heavy voice, that is my nature, a dark voice shall we call it, and I was always kept on the light side. She always trained me to keep my voice limber”.[35]

Vocal size and range

Callas’s range in performance (highest and lowest notes both shown in red): from F-sharp below the Middle C (green) to E-natural above the High C (blue).

Regarding the sheer size of Callas’s instrument, Celletti says, “Her voice was penetrating. The volume as such was average: neither small nor powerful. But the penetration, allied to this incisive quality (which bordered on the ugly because it frequently contained an element of harshness) ensured that her voice could be clearly heard anywhere in the auditorium.”[30] Yet, paradoxically enough, in “Le Grandi voci”, Celletti states that Callas had not a mere penetrating voice but “a voluminous, resonant and dark” one (“una voce voluminosa, squillante e di timbro scuro”). After her first performance of Medea in 1953, the critic for Musical Courier would write, “she displayed a vocal generosity that was scarecely believable for its amplitude and resilience.”.[17] In a 1982 Opera News interview with Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge, Bonynge stated, “But before she slimmed down, I mean this was such a colossal voice. It just poured out of her, the way Flagstad‘s did… Callas had a huge voice. When she and Stignani sang Norma, at the bottom of the range you could barely tell who was who… Oh it was colossal. And she took the big sound right up to the top.”[36] In his book, Michael Scott makes the distinction that whereas Callas’s pre-1954 voice was a “dramatic soprano with an exceptional top”, after the weight loss, it became, as one Chicago critic described the voice in Lucia,[17] a “huge soprano leggiero“.[9] In performance, Callas’s range was just short of three octaves, from F-sharp (F♯3) below middle C (C4) heard in “Arrigo! Ah parli a un core” from I vespri siciliani to E-natural (E6) above high C (C6), heard in the aria “Mercè, dilette amiche” in the final act of the same opera, as well as in Rossini‘s Armida and Lakmés Bell Song. Whether or not Callas ever sang a high F-natural in performance has been open to debate. After her June 11, 1951 concert in Florence, Rock Ferris of Musical Courier said, “Her high E’s and F’s are taken full voice.”[17] Although no definite recording of Callas singing high F’s have surfaced, the presumed E-natural at the end of Rossini’s Armida—a poor-quality bootleg recording of uncertain pitch—has been referred to as a high F by Italian musicologists and critics Eugenio Gara and Rodolfo Celletti.[30] Callas expert Dr. Robert Seletsky, however, stated that since the finale of Armida is in the key of E, the final note could not have been an F, as it would have been dissonant. Author Eve Ruggieri has referred to the penultimate note in “Mercè, dilette amiche” from the 1951 Florence performances of I vespri siciliani as a high F;[37] however, this claim is refuted by John Ardoin‘s review of the live recording of the performance as well as by the review of the recording in Opera News, both of which refer to the note as a high E-natural.[18][31] In a 1969 French television interview with Pierre Desgraupes on the program L’invitée du dimanche, maestro Francesco Siciliani speaks of Callas’s voice going to high F (he also talk about her lower register extending to C3), but within the same program, Callas’s teacher, Elvira de Hidalgo, speaks of the voice soaring to a high E-natural, but does not mention a high F; meanwhile, Callas herself remains silent on the subject, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with either claim.[11]

Ave Maria

Vocal registers

Callas’s voice was noted for its three distinct registers: Her low or chest register was extremely dark and almost baritonal in power, and she used this part of her voice for dramatic effect, often going into this register much higher on the scale than most sopranos.[29][30] Her middle register had a peculiar and highly personal sound—”part oboe, part clarinet”, as Claudia Cassidy described it[15]—and was noted for its veiled or “bottled” sound, as if she were singing into a jug.[29] Walter Legge attributed this sound to the “extraordinary formation of her upper palate, shaped like a Gothic arch, not the Romanesque arch of the normal mouth”.[29] The upper register was ample and bright, with an impressive extension above high C, which—in contrast to the light flute-like sound of the typical coloratura, “she would attack these notes with more vehemence and power—quite differently therefore, from the very delicate, cautious, ‘white’ approach of the light sopranos.”[30] Legge adds, “Even in the most difficult fioriture there were no musical or technical difficulties in this part of the voice which she could not execute with astonishing, unostentatious ease. Her chromatic runs, particularly downwards, were beautifully smooth and staccatos almost unfailingly accurate, even in the trickiest intervals. There is hardly a bar in the whole range of nineteenth century music for high soprano that seriously tested her powers.”[29] And as she demonstrated in the finale of La sonnambula on the commercial EMI set and the live recording from Cologne, she was able to execute a diminuendo on the stratospheric high E-flat, which Scott describes as “a feat unrivaled in the history of the gramophone.”[9] Regarding Callas’s soft singing, Celletti says, “In these soft passages, Callas seemed to use another voice altogether, because it acquired a great sweetness. Whether in her florid singing or in her canto spianato, that is, in long held notes without ornamentation, her mezza-voce could achieve such moving sweetness that the sound seemed to come from on high. . . I don’t know, it seemed to come from the skylight of La Scala.”[30] This combination of size, weight, range and agility was a source of amazement to Callas’s own contemporaries. One of the choristers present at her La Scala debut in I vespri siciliani recalled, “My God! She came on stage sounding like our deepest contralto, Cloe Elmo. And before the evening was over, she took a high E-flat. And it was twice as strong as Toti Dal Monte‘s!”[15] In the same vein, mezzo-soprano Giulietta Simionato said: “The first time we sang together was in Mexico in 1950, where she sang the top E-flat in the second-act finale of Aida. I can still remember the effect of that note in the opera house—it was like a star!”[38] For Italian soprano Renata Tebaldi, “the most fantastic thing was the possibility for her to sing the soprano coloratura with this big voice! This was something really special. Fantastic absolutely!”[12] Callas’s vocal registers, however, were not seamlessly joined; Walter Legge writes, “Unfortunately, it was only in quick music, particularly descending scales, that she completely mastered the art of joining the three almost incompatible voices into one unified whole, but until about 1960, she disguised those audible gear changes with cunning skill.”[29] Rodolfo Celletti states,

In certain areas of her range her voice also possessed a guttural quality. This would occur in the most delicate and troublesome areas of a soprano’s voice—for instance where the lower and middle registers merge, between G and A. I would go so far as to say that here her voice had such resonances as to make one think at times of a ventriloquist. . .or else the voice could sound as though it were resonating in a rubber tube. There was another troublesome spot. . . between the middle and upper registers. Here, too, around the treble F and G, there was often something in the sound itself which was not quite right, as though the voice were not functioning properly.[30]

La Wally

As to whether these troublesome spots were due to the nature of the voice itself or to technical deficiencies, Celletti says: “Even if, when passing from one register to another, Callas produced an unpleasant sound, the technique she used for these transitions was perfect.”[30] Musicologist and critic Fedele D’Amico adds, “Callas’s ‘faults’ were in the voice and not in the singer; they are so to speak, faults of departure but not of arrival. This is precisely Celletti’s distinction between the natural quality of the voice and the technique.”[30] In 2005, Ewa Podles said of Callas, “Maybe she had three voices, maybe she had three ranges, I don’t know — I am professional singer. Nothing disturbed me, nothing! I bought everything that she offered me. Why? Because all of her voices, her registers, she used how they should be used — just to tell us something!”[39] Eugenio Gara states, “Much has been said about her voice, and no doubt the discussion will continue. Certainly no one could in honesty deny the harsh or “squashed” sounds, nor the wobble on the very high notes. These and others were precisely the accusations made at the time against Pasta and Malibran, two geniuses of song (as they were then called), sublime, yet imperfect. Both were brought to trial in their day. . . Yet few singers have made history in the annals of opera as these two did.”[30] Though adored by many opera enthusiasts, Callas was a controversial artist. While Callas was the great singer often dismissed simply as an actress[40] she considered herself first and foremost “a musician, that is, the first instrument of the orchestra.”[10] Grace Bumbry states, “If I followed the musical score when she was singing, I would see every tempo marking, every dynamic marking, everything being adhered to, and at the same time, it was not antiseptic; it was something that was very beautiful and moving.” [41]Maestro Victor de Sabata confided to Walter Legge, “If the public could understand, as we do, how deeply and utterly musical Callas is, they would be stunned”,[29] and MaestroTullio Serafin assessed Callas’s musicality as “extraordinary, almost frightening.”[42] Callas possessed an innate architectural sense of line-proportion[15] and an uncanny feel for timing and for what one of her colleagues described as “a sense of the rhythm within the rhythm”.[4] Regarding Callas’s technical prowess, Celletti says, “We must not forget that she could tackle the whole gamut of ornamentation: staccatotrills, half-trills, gruppettiscales, etc.”[30] D’Amico adds, “The essential virtue of Callas’s technique consists of supreme mastery of an extraordinarily rich range of tone colour (that is, the fusion of dynamic range and timbre). And such mastery means total freedom of choice in its use: not being a slave to one’s abilities, but rather, being able to use them at will as a means to an end.”[30] While reviewing the many recorded versions of “perhaps Verdi’s ultimate challenge”, the aria “D’amor sull’ali rosee” from Il Trovatore, Richard Dyer writes,

“Callas articulates all of the trills, and she binds them into the line more expressively than anyone else; they are not an ornament but a form of intensification. Part of the wonder in this performance is the chiaroscuro through her tone — the other side of not singing full-out all the way through. One of the vocal devices that create that chiaroscuro is a varying rate of vibrato; another is her portamento, the way she connects the voice from note to note, phrase to phrase, lifting and gliding. This is never a sloppy swoop, because its intention is as musically precise as it is in great string playing. In this aria, Callas uses more portamento, and in greater variety, than any other singer. . . Callas is not creating “effects”, as even her greatest rivals do. She sees the aria as a whole, “as if in an aerial view”, asSviatoslav Richter‘s teacher observed of his most famous pupil; simultaneously, she is on earth, standing in the courtyard of the palace of Aliaferia, floating her voice to the tower where her lover lies imprisoned.”[43]

Travatore 1950

In addition to her musical skills, Callas had a particular gift for language and the use of language in music.[29] In recitatives, she always knew which word to emphasize and which syllable in that word to bring out.[15] Michael Scott notes, “If we listen attentively, we note how her perfect legato enables her to suggest by musical means even the exclamation marks and commas of the text.”[9] Technically, not only did she have the capacity to perform the most difficult florid music effortlessly, but also she had the ability to use each ornament as an expressive device rather than for mere fireworks.[39] Soprano Martina Arroyo states, “What interested me most was how she gave the runs and the cadenzas words. That always floored me. I always felt I heard her saying something – it was never just singing notes. That alone is an art.”[39] Walter Legge states that,

Most admirable of all her qualities, however, were her taste, elegance and deeply musical use of ornamentation in all its forms and complications, the weighting and length of every appoggiatura, the smooth incorporation of the turn in melodic lines, the accuracy and pacing of her trills, the seemingly inevitable timing of herportamentos, varying their curve with enchanting grace and meaning. There were innumerable exquisite felicities – minuscule portamentos from one note to its nearest neighbor, or over widespread intervals – and changes of color that were pure magic. In these aspects of bel canto she was supreme mistress of that art.[29] Regarding Callas’s acting ability, vocal coach and music critic Ira Siff remarked, “When I saw the final two Toscas she did in the old [Met], I felt like I was watching the actual story on which the opera had later been based.”[44] Callas was not, however, a realistic or verismo style actress:[9] her physical acting was merely “subsidiary to the heavyKunst of developing the psychology of the roles under the supervision of the music, of singing the acting… Suffering, delight, humility, hubris, despair, rhapsody—all this was musically appointed, through her use of the voice flying the text upon the notes.”[40] Seconding this opinion, verismo specialist soprano Augusta Oltrabella said, “Despite what everyone says, [Callas] was an actress in the expression of the music, and not vice versa.”[45][46] Mathew Gurewitsch adds,

In fact the essence of her art was refinement. The term seems odd for a performer whose imagination and means of expression were so prodigious. She was eminently capable of the grand gesture; still, judging strictly from the evidence of her recordings, we know (and her few existing film clips confirm) that her power flowed not from excess but from unbroken concentration, unfaltering truth in the moment. It flowed also from irreproachable musicianship. People say that Callas would not hesitate to distort a vocal line for dramatic effect. In the throes of operatic passion plenty of singers snarl, growl, whine, and shriek. Callas was not one of them. She found all she needed in the notes.[47]

Ewa Podles likewise stated that “It’s enough to hear her, I’m positive! Because she could say everything only with her voice! I can imagine everything, I can see everything in front of my eye.”[39] Opera director Sandro Sequi, who witnessed many Callas performances close-up, states, “For me, she was extremely stylized and classic, yet at the same time, human—but humanity on a higher plane of existence, almost sublime. Realism was foreign to her, and that is why she was the greatest of opera singers. After all, opera is the least realistic of theater forms… She was wasted in verismo roles, even Tosca, no matter how brilliantly she could act such roles.”[15] Scott adds, “Early nineteenth-century opera… is not merely the antithesis of reality, it also requires highly stylized acting. Callas had the perfect face for it. Her big features matched its grandiloquence and spoke volumes from a distance.”[9] In regard to Callas’s physical acting style, Nicola Rescigno states, “Maria had a way of even transforming her body for the exigencies of a role, which is a great triumph. In La traviata, everything would slope down; everything indicated sickness, fatigue, softness. Her arms would move as if they had no bones, like the great ballerinas. In Medea, everything was angular. She’d never make a soft gesture; even the walk she used was like a tiger’s walk.”[48] Sandro Sequi recalls, “She was never in a hurry. Everything was very paced, proportioned, classical, precise… She was extremely powerful but extremely stylized. Her gestures were not many… I don’t think she did more than 20 gestures in a performance. But she was capable of standing 10 minutes without moving a hand or finger, compelling everyone to look at her.”[15] Edward Downes recalled Callas watching and observing her colleagues with such intensity and concentration as to make it seem that the drama was all unfolding in her head.[14] Sir Rudolf Bing similarly recalled that in Il trovatorein Chicago, “it was Callas’ quiet listening, rather than Björling‘s singing that made the dramatic impact… He didn’t know what he was singing, but she knew.”[28] Callas herself stated that, in Opera, Acting must be based on the Music, quoting Maestro Tullio Serafin‘s advice to her:

“When one wants to find a gesture, when you want to find how to act onstage, all you have to do is listen to the music. The composer has already seen to that. If you take the trouble to really listen with your Soul and with your Ears – and I say ‘Soul’ and ‘Ears’ because the Mind must work, but not too much also – you will find every gesture there.”[13]

Callas’s most distinguishing quality was her ability to breathe life into the characters she portrayed,[15] or in the words of Matthew Gurewitsch, “Most mysterious among her many gifts, Callas had the genius to translate the minute particulars of a life into tone of voice.”[47] Italian critic Eugenio Gara adds:

Her secret is in her ability to transfer to the musical plane the suffering of the character she plays, the nostalgic longing for lost happiness, the anxious fluctuation between hope and despair, between pride and supplication, between irony and generosity, which in the end dissolve into a superhuman inner pain. The most diverse and opposite of sentiments, cruel deceptions, ambitious desires, burning tenderness, grievous sacrifices, all the torments of the heart, acquire in her singing that mysterious truth, I would like to say, that psychological sonority, which is the primary attraction of opera.[30]

Ethan Mordden writes, “It was a flawed voice. But then Callas sought to capture in her singing not just beauty but a whole humanity, and within her system, the flaws feed the feeling, the sour plangency and the strident defiance becoming aspects of the canto. They were literally defects of her voice; she bent them into advantages of her singing.”[40]Maestro Giulini believes, “If melodrama is the ideal unity of the trilogy of words, music, and action, it is impossible to imagine an artist in whom these three elements were more together than Callas.”[9] He recalls that during Callas’s performances of La traviata, “reality was onstage. What stood behind me, the audience, auditorium, La Scala itself, seemed artifice. Only that which transpired on stage was truth, life itself.”[15] Sir Rudolf Bing expressed similar sentiments:

Once one heard and saw Maria Callas—one can’t really distinguish it—in a part, it was very hard to enjoy any other artist, no matter how great, afterwards, because she imbued every part she sang and acted with such incredible personality and life. One move of her hand was more than another artist could do in a whole act.[12]

To Maestro Antonino Votto, Callas was

The last great artist. When you think this woman was nearly blind, and often sang standing a good 150 feet from the podium. But her sensitivity! Even if she could not see, she sensed the music and always came in exactly with my downbeat. When we rehearsed, she was so precise, already note-perfect… She was not just a singer, but a complete artist. It’s foolish to discuss her as a voice. She must be viewed totally—as a complex of music, drama, movement. There is no one like her today. She was an esthetic phenomenon.[15]

During the early 1950s, controversy arose regarding a supposed rivalry between Callas and Renata Tebaldi, an Italian lyrico spinto soprano renowned for the ravishing beauty of her voice.[15] The contrast between Callas’s often unconventional vocal qualities and Tebaldi’s classically beautiful sound resurrected an argument as old as opera itself, namely, beauty of sound versus the expressive use of sound.[15][30]

Carmen

This “rivalry” reached a fever pitch in the mid-1950s, at times even engulfing the two women themselves, who were said by their more fanatical followers to have engaged in verbal barbs in each other’s direction. Tebaldi was quoted as saying, “I have one thing that Callas doesn’t have: a heart”[6] while Callas was quoted in Time magazine as saying that comparing her with Tebaldi was like “comparing Champagne with Cognac. No, with Coca Cola.”[49] However, witnesses to the interview stated that Callas only said “champagne with cognac”, and it was a bystander who quipped, “No, with Coca-Cola”, but the Time reporter attributed the latter comment to Callas.[6]

According to John Ardoin, however, these two singers should never have been compared.[15] Tebaldi was trained by Carmen Melis, a noted verismo specialist, and she was rooted in the early 20th century Italian school of singing just as firmly as Callas was rooted in 19th century bel canto.[15] Callas was a dramatic soprano, whereas Tebaldi considered herself essentially a lyric soprano. Callas and Tebaldi generally sang a different repertoire: in the early years of her career, Callas concentrated on the heavy dramatic soprano roles and later in her career on the bel canto repertoire, whereas Tebaldi concentrated on late Verdi and verismo roles, where her limited upper extension[30] and her lack of a florid technique were not issues.[15] They shared a few roles, including Tosca in Puccini’s opera and La Gioconda, which Tebaldi performed only late in her career.

The alleged rivalry aside, Callas made remarks appreciative of Tebaldi, and vice versa. During an interview with Norman Ross in Chicago, Callas said, “I admire Tebaldi’s tone; it’s beautiful—also some beautiful phrasing. Sometimes, I actually wish I had her voice.” Francis Robinson of the Met wrote of an incident in which Tebaldi asked him to recommend a recording of La Gioconda in order to help her learn the role. Being fully aware of the alleged rivalry, he recommended Zinka Milanov‘s version. A few days later, he went to visit Tebaldi, only to find her sitting by the speakers, listening intently to Callas’s recording. She then looked up at him and asked, “Why didn’t you tell me Maria’s was the best?”[50]

Callas visited Tebaldi after a performance of Adriana Lecouvreur at the Met in the late 1960s, and the two were reunited. In 1978, Tebaldi spoke warmly of her late colleague and summarized this rivalry:

This rivality was really building from the people of the newspapers and the fans. But I think it was very good for both of us, because the publicity was so big and it created a very big interest about me and Maria and was very good in the end. But I don’t know why they put this kind of rivality, because the voice was very different. She was really something unusual. And I remember that I was very young artist too, and I stayed near the radio every time that I know that there was something on radio by Maria.[12]

Several singers have opined that the heavy roles undertaken in her early years damaged Callas’s voice.[45] The mezzo-soprano Giulietta Simionato, Callas’s close friend and frequent colleague, stated that she told Callas that she felt that the early heavy roles led to a weakness in the diaphragm and subsequent difficulty in controlling the upper register.[51]

Louise Caselotti, who worked with Callas in 1946 and 1947, prior to her Italian debut, felt that it was not the heavy roles that hurt Callas’s voice, but the lighter ones.[4] Several singers have suggested that Callas’s heavy use of the chest voice led to stridency and unsteadiness with the high notes.[45] In his book, Callas’s husband Meneghini wrote that Callas suffered an unusually early onset of menopause, which could have affected her voice. Soprano Carol Neblett once said, “A woman sings with her ovaries – you’re only as good as your hormones.”[40]

Critic Henry Pleasants has stated that it was a loss of physical strength and breath-support that led to Callas’s vocal problems, saying,

Singing, and especially opera singing, requires physical strength. Without it, the singer’s respiratory functions can no longer support the steady emissions of breath essential to sustaining the production of focused tone. The breath escapes, but it is no longer the power behind the tone, or is only partially and intermittently . The result is a breathy sound—tolerable but hardly beautiful—when the singer sings lightly, and a voice spread and squally when under pressure.[52]

In the same vein, Joan Sutherland, who heard Callas throughout the 1950s, said in a BBC interview,

[Hearing Callas in Norma in 1952] was a shock, a wonderful shock. You just got shivers up and down the spine. It was a bigger sound in those earlier performances, before she lost weight. I think she tried very hard to recreate the sort of “fatness” of the sound which she had when she was as fat as she was. But when she lost the weight, she couldn’t seem to sustain the great sound that she had made, and the body seemed to be too frail to support that sound that she was making. Oh, but it was oh so exciting. It was thrilling. I don’t think that anyone who heard Callas after 1955 really heard the Callas voice.[53]

Michael Scott has proposed that Callas’s loss of strength and breath support was directly caused by her rapid and progressive weight-loss,[9] something that was noted even in her prime. Of her 1958 recital in Chicago, Robert Detmer would write, “There were sounds fearfully uncontrolled, forced beyond the too-slim singer’s present capacity to support or sustain.”[17]

Photos and videos of Callas during her heavy era show a very upright posture with the shoulders relaxed and held back. On all videos of Callas from the period after her weight loss, “we watch… the constantly sinking, depressed chest and hear the resulting deterioration”.[54] This continual change in posture has been cited as visual proof of a progressive loss of breath support.[9][39]

Commercial and bootleg recordings of Callas from the late 1940s to 1953—the period during which she sang the heaviest dramatic soprano roles—show no decline in the fabric of the voice, no loss in volume and no unsteadiness or shrinkage in the upper register.[18] Of her December 1952 Lady Macbeth—coming after five years of singing the most strenuous dramatic soprano repertoire—Peter Dragadze would write for Opera, “Callas’s voice since last season has improved a great deal, the second passagio on the high B-Natural and C has now completely cleared, giving her an equally colored scale from top to bottom.”[15] And of her performance of Medea a year later, John Ardoin writes, “The performance displays Callas in as secure and free a voice as she will be found at any point in her career. The many top B’s have a brilliant ring, and she handles the treacheroustessitura like an eager thoroughbred.”[18]

In recordings from 1954 (immediately after her 80-pound weight loss) and thereafter, “not only would the instrument lose its warmth and become thin and acidulous, but the altitudinous passages would to her no longer come easily.”[9] It is also at this time that unsteady top notes first begin to appear.[18] Walter Legge, who produced nearly all of Callas’s EMI/Angel recordings, states that Callas “ran into a patch of vocal difficulties as early as 1954”: during the recording of La forza del destino, done immediately after the weight loss, the “wobble had become so pronounced” that he told Callas they “would have to give away seasickness pills with every side”.[29] When asked whether he felt the weight loss affected Callas’s voice, Richard Bonynge stated, “I don’t feel it, I know it did. I heard her Norma in 1953, before she lost all that weight, and then again afterward, and the difference was incredible. Even more incredible was that the critics didn’t write about it. When Callas was at her best vocally, she was fat, but she got only a quarter of the recognition that she got after she had become thin and was a great star.” [55]

There were others, however, who felt that the voice had benefitted from the weight loss. Of her performance of Norma in Chicago in 1954, Claudia Cassidy would write, “there is a slight unsteadiness in some of the sustained upper notes. but to me her voice is more beautiful in color, more even through the range, than it used to be”.[17] And at her performance of the same opera in London in 1957 (her first performance at Covent Garden after the weight loss), critics again felt her voice had changed for the better, that it had now supposedly become a more precise instrument, with a new focus.[17] Many of her most critically acclaimed appearances are from the period 1954–1958 (NormaLa Traviata,Sonnambula and Lucia of 1955, Anna Bolena of 1957, Medea of 1958, to name a few).

Callas’s close friend and colleague Tito Gobbi thought that her vocal problems all stemmed from her state of mind:

I don’t think anything happened to her voice. I think she only lost confidence. She was at the top of a career that a human being could desire, and she felt enormous responsibility. She was obliged to give her best every night, and maybe she felt she wasn’t [able] any more, and she lost confidence. I think this was the beginning of the end of this career.[12]

In support of Gobbi’s assertion, a bootleg recording of Callas rehearsing Beethoven‘s aria “Ah! Perfido” and parts of Verdi‘s La forza del destino shortly before her death shows her voice to be in much better shape than much of her 1960s recordings and far healthier than the 1970s concerts with Giuseppe Di Stefano.[18]

Soprano Renée Fleming has stated that videos of Callas in the late 1950s and early 1960s reveal a posture that betrays breath-support problems:

I have a theory about what caused her vocal decline, but it’s more from watching her sing than from listening. I really think it was her weight loss that was so dramatic and so quick. It’s not the weight loss per se… But if one uses the weight for support, and then it’s suddenly gone and one doesn’t develop another musculature for support, it can be very hard on the voice. And you can’t estimate the toll that emotional turmoil will take as well. I was told, by somebody who knew her well, that the way Callas held her arms to her solar plexus [allowed her] to push and create some kind of support. If she were a soubrette, it would never have been an issue. But she was singing the most difficult repertoire, the stuff that requires the most stamina, the most strength.[39]

Dramatic soprano Deborah Voigt, who lost 135 pounds after gastric bypass surgery, expressed similar thoughts concerning her own voice and body:

Much of what I did with my weight was very natural, vocally. Now I’ve got a different body—there’s not as much of me around. My diaphragm function, the way my throat feels, is not compromised in any way. But I do have to think about it more now. I have to remind myself to keep my ribs open. I have to remind myself, if my breath starts to stack. When I took a breath before, the weight would kick in and give it that extra Whhoomf! Now it doesn’t do that. If I don’t remember to get rid of the old air and re-engage the muscles, the breath starts stacking, and that’s when you can’t get your phrase, you crack high notes.[56]

Callas herself attributed her problems to a loss of confidence brought about by a loss of breath support, even though she does not make the connection between her weight and her breath support. In an April 1977 interview with journalist Philippe Caloni, she stated,

“My best recordings were made when I was skinny, and I say skinny, not slim, because I worked a lot and couldn’t gain weight back; I became even too skinny. . . I had my greatest successes–Lucia, Sonnambula, Medea, Anna Bolena–when I was skinny as a nail. Even for my first time here in Paris in 1958 when the show was broadcast through Eurovision, I was skinny. Really skinny.” [57]

And shortly before her death, Callas confided her own thoughts on her vocal problems to Peter Dragadze:

I never lost my voice, but I lost strength in my diaphragm. … Because of those organic complaints, I lost my courage and boldness. My vocal cords were and still are in excellent condition, but my ‘sound boxes’ have not been working well even though I have been to all the doctors. The result was that I overstrained my voice, and that caused it to wobble. (Gente, October 1, 1977)[4]

Whether Callas’s vocal decline was due to ill health, early menopause, over-use and abuse of her voice, loss of breath-support, loss of confidence, or weight loss will continue to be debated. Whatever the cause may have been, her singing career was effectively over by age 40, and even at the time of her death at age 53, according to Walter Legge, “she ought still to have been singing magnificently”.[29]

The latter half of Callas’s career was marked by a number of scandals. During performances of Madama Butterfly in Chicago, Callas was confronted by a process server who handed her papers about a lawsuit brought by Eddy Bagarozy, who claimed he was her agent. Callas was photographed with her mouth turned in a furious snarl. The photo was sent around the world and gave rise to the myth of Callas as a temperamental prima donna and a “Tigress”. In 1956, just before her debut at the Metropolitan OperaTime ran a damaging cover story about Callas, with special attention paid to her difficult relationship with her mother and some unpleasant exchanges between the two.

In 1957, Callas was starring as Amina in La sonnambula at the Edinburgh International Festival with the forces of La Scala. Her contract was for four performances, but due to the great success of the series, La Scala decided to put on a fifth performance. Callas told the La Scala officials that she was physically exhausted and that she had already committed to a previous engagement, a party thrown for her by her friendElsa Maxwell in Venice. Despite this, La Scala announced a fifth performance, with Callas billed as Amina. Callas refused to stay and went on to Venice. Despite the fact that she had fulfilled her contract, she was accused of walking out on La Scala and the festival. La Scala officials did not defend Callas or inform the press that the additional performance was not approved by Callas. Renata Scotto took over the part, which was the start of her international career.

In January 1958, Callas was to open the Rome Opera House season with Norma, with Italy’s president in attendance. The day before the opening night, Callas alerted the management that she was not well and that they should have a standby ready. She was told “No one can double Callas”.[12] After being treated by doctors, she felt better on the day of performance and decided to go ahead with the opera.[9] A survived bootleg recording of the first act reveals Callas sounding ill.[18] Feeling that her voice was slipping away, she felt that she could not complete the performance, and consequently, she cancelled after the first act. She was accused of walking out on the president of Italy in a fit of temperament, and pandemonium broke out. Press coverage aggravated the situation. A newsreel included file footage of Callas from 1955 sounding well, intimating the footage was of rehearsals for the Rome Norma, with the voiceover narration, “Here she is in rehearsal, sounding perfectly healthy”, followed by “If you want to hear Callas, don’t get all dressed up. Just go to a rehearsal; she usually stays to the end of those.”[58] The scandal became notorious as the “Rome Walkout”. Callas brought a lawsuit against the Rome Opera House, but by the time the case was settled thirteen years later and the Rome Opera was found to be at fault for having refused to provide an understudy,[40] Callas’s career was already over.

Callas’s relationship with La Scala had also started to become strained after the Edinburgh incident, and this effectively severed her major ties with her artistic home. Later in 1958, Callas and Rudolf Bing were in discussion about her season at the Met. She was scheduled to perform in Verdi’s La traviata and in Macbeth, two very different operas which almost require totally different singers. Callas and the Met could not reach an agreement, and before the opening of Medea in Dallas, Bing sent a telegram to Callas terminating her contract. Headlines of “Bing Fires Callas” appeared in newspapers around the world.[6] Maestro Nicola Rescigno later recalled, “That night, she came to the theater, looking like an empress: she wore an ermine thing that draped to the floor, and she had every piece of jewellery she ever owned. And she said, ‘You all know what’s happened. Tonight, for me, is a very difficult night, and I will need the help of every one of you.’ Well, she proceeded to give a performance [of Medea] that was historical.”[59]

Bing would later say that Callas was the most difficult artist he ever worked with, “because she was so much more intelligent. Other artists, you could get around. But Callas you could not get around. She knew exactly what she wanted, and why she wanted it.”[12] Despite this, Bing’s admiration for Callas never wavered, and in September 1959, he sneaked into La Scala in order to listen to Callas record La Gioconda for EMI.[6] Callas and Bing reconciled in the mid 1960s, and Callas returned to the Met for two performances of Tosca with her friend Tito Gobbi.

In her final years as a singer, she sang in MedeaNorma, and Tosca, most notably her Paris, New York, and London Toscas of January–February 1964, and her last performance on stage, on July 5, 1965, at Covent Garden. A television film of Act 2 of the Covent Garden Tosca of 1964 was broadcast in Britain on February 9, 1964, giving a rare view of Callas in performance and, specifically, of her on-stage collaboration with Tito Gobbi.

In 1969, the Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini cast Callas in her only non-operatic acting role, as the Greek mythological character of Medea, in his film by that name. The production was grueling, and according to the account in Ardoin’s Callas, the Art and the Life, Callas is said to have fainted after a day of strenuous running back and forth on a mudflat in the sun. The film was not a commercial success, but as Callas’s only film appearance, it documents her stage presence.

From October 1971 to March 1972, Callas gave a series of master classes at the Juilliard School in New York. These classes later formed the basis of Terrence McNally‘s 1995 play Master Class. Callas staged a series of joint recitals in Europe in 1973 and in the U.S., South Korea, and Japan in 1974 with the tenor Giuseppe Di Stefano. Critically, this was a musical disaster owing to both performers’ worn-out voices.[6] However, the tour was an enormous popular success. Audiences thronged to hear the two performers, who had so often appeared together in their prime. Her final public performance was on November 11, 1974, in Sapporo, Japan.

In 1957, while still married to husband Giovanni Battista Meneghini, Callas was introduced to Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis at a party given in her honour by Elsa Maxwell after a performance in Donizetti‘s Anna Bolena.[9] The affair that followed received much publicity in the popular press, and in November 1959, Callas left her husband. Michael Scott asserts that Onassis was not why Callas largely abandoned her career, but that he offered her a way out of a career that was made increasingly difficult by scandals and by vocal resources that were diminishing at an alarming rate.[9] Franco Zeffirelli, on the other hand, recalls asking Callas in 1963 why she had not practiced her singing, and Callas responding that “I have been trying to fulfill my life as a woman.”[12] According to one of her biographers, Nicholas Gage, Callas and Onassis had a child, a boy, who died hours after he was born on March 30, 1960.[60] In his book about his wife, Meneghini states categorically that Maria Callas was unable to bear children.[61] As well, various sources dismiss Gage’s claim, as they note that the birth certificates Gage used to prove this “secret child” were issued in 1998, twenty-one years after Callas’s death.[62] Still other sources claim that Callas had at least one abortion while involved with Onassis.[63] In 1966, Callas renounced her U.S. citizenship at the American Embassy in Paris, to facilitate the end of her marriage to Meneghini.[4][64] The relationship ended two years later in 1968, when Onassis left Callas in favour of Jacqueline Kennedy. However, the Onassis family’s private secretary, Kiki, writes in her memoir that even while Aristotle was with Jackie, he frequently met up with Maria in Paris, where they resumed what had now become a clandestine affair.[60]

Callas spent her last years living largely in isolation in Paris and died at age 53 on September 16, 1977, of aheart attack. A funerary liturgy was held at Agios Stephanos (St. Stephen’s) Greek Orthodox Cathedral on rue Georges-Bizet, Paris, on September 20, 1977, and her ashes were interred at the Père Lachaise Cemetery. After being stolen and later recovered, in the spring of 1979 they were scattered over the Aegean Sea, off the coast of Greece, according to her wish.

During a 1978 interview, upon being asked “Was it worth it to Maria Callas? She was a lonely, unhappy, often difficult woman,” music critic and Callas’s friend John Ardoin replied,

That is such a difficult question. There are times when certain people are blessed—and cursed—with an extraordinary gift, in which the gift is almost greater than the human being. Callas was one of these people. It was as if her own wishes, her life, her own happiness were all subservient to this incredible, incredible gift that she was given, this gift that reached out and taught us things about music that we knew very well, but showed us new things, things we never thought about, new possibilities. I think that is why singers admire her so. I think that’s why conductors admire her so. I know it’s why I admire her so. And she paid a tremendously difficult and expensive price for this career. I don’t think she always understood what she did or why she did it. She usually had a tremendous effect on audiences and on people. But it was not something she could always live with gracefully or happily. I once said to her “It must be a very enviable thing to be Maria Callas.” And she said, “No, it’s a very terrible thing to be Maria Callas, because it’s a question of trying to understand something you can never really understand.” She couldn’t really explain what she did. It was all done by instinct. It was something embedded deep within her.[65]

So

Notable recordings

All recordings are in mono unless otherwise indicated. Live performances are typically available on multiple labels.

Sources: YouTube, Wikipedia, Mariacallas.com, IMDB, NMDB

Farewell Roger Williams

Famed pianist Roger Williams dies at 87

APBy CHRISTOPHER WEBER – Associated Press | AP – 18 hrs ago

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Roger Williams, the virtuoso pianist who topped the Billboard pop charts in the 1950s and played for nine U.S. presidents during a long career, died Saturday. He was 87.

Williams died at his home in Los Angeles of complications from pancreatic cancer, according to his former publicist, Rob Wilcox.

Known as an electrifying stage performer and an adept improviser, Williams effortlessly switched between musical styles.

“Roger was one of the greatest pianists in the world and could play anything from classical music to jazz. He was one of the greatest personalities I’ve ever known,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, a longtime friend of Williams and himself a musician. “He could touch any audience, from teenagers to senior citizens.”

Williams’ 1955 hit “Autumn Leaves” was the only piano instrumental to reach number one on the Billboard pop charts. It remains the best-selling piano record of all time, with more than 2 million sold.

Nicknamed the “pianist to the presidents,” Williams played for every commander in chief from Harry Truman to George H.W. Bush. His last trip to the White House was in 2008, when he performed at a luncheon for then-first lady Laura Bush.

Williams was good friends with Jimmy Carter, with whom he shared a birthday. When the two men turned 80, Williams played a 12-hour marathon at the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum in Atlanta, with the former president in attendance.

Born Louis Wertz in Nebraska, Williams started playing piano at age 3. By age 9 he was prolific with several instruments and could play anything by ear.

“I had a piano teacher growing up who would never play a song for me, she would make me play it from sheet music so I could learn to read music,” Williams said, according to biographical information provided by Wilcox.

“Autumn Leaves”

As a teenager, he was given his own 15-minute radio show on KRNT-AM, which was broadcast live from a Des Moines, Iowa, department store. Later he hosted a program on WHO-AM, where he first met the station’s young sports announcer, Ronald “Dutch” Reagan. The two men started a friendship which lasted over 60 years.

Nancy Reagan said that when the two men met in Iowa all those years ago, “neither could have guessed that their careers would take them both to the White House someday.”

The former first lady noted Saturday that in recent years Williams performed several times at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, including for a concert celebrating the late president’s 100th birthday.

“Roger was a great pianist, a great American, and a great friend. I am saddened by his death, and my sympathy and prayers go out to his family,” Nancy Reagan said in a statement.

“Beyond The Sea”

Williams moved to New York to study jazz at the Juilliard School of Music. He won performing contests on the popular radio shows “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts” and Dennis James’ “Chance of a Lifetime.”

Soon after, Williams was signed to Kapp Records, where founder Dave Kapp was determined to find a hit for the young prodigy. Producers decided on a shortened arrangement of “Autumn Leaves,” which Williams recalled first clocked in at three minutes and three seconds.

“Born Free”

“In those days the disc jockeys would not play a record over three minutes long. So Kapp asked if I could play the thirds a little faster. I did and it came in at two minutes and 59 seconds,” Williams said, according to Wilcox.

It was an instant hit and catapulted Williams to national renown. He followed it up with a string of hits including “Born Free,” ”The Impossible Dream,” ”Theme From Somewhere In Time,” and “Lara’s Theme from Dr. Zhivago.”

“The Way We Were”

Williams became a popular guest on the top television shows of the time including “The Ed Sullivan Show,” ”The Perry Como Show,” and “The Steve Allen Show.”

In a 1995 interview with The Associated Press, Williams said he liked playing — and listening to — all types of music.

“The only thing I have against rock ‘n roll is the volume,” he said.

He is the first pianist to be honored on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where his star was decorated with flowers Saturday. He also received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Steinway & Sons.

“The Impossible Dream”

On his 75th birthday, Williams played a 12-hour marathon at Steinway Hall in New York City, a stunt he repeated several time in the following years.

In March, Williams announced on his website that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. A few days later he played his last concert, in Palm Desert, California.

Williams is survived by his daughters, Laura Fisher and Alice Jung, and five grandchildren.

Funeral services are pending.

Marni Nixon

Marni Nixon (born February 22, 1930) is an American soprano renowned for being a playback singer for featured actresses in well known movie musicals. This has earned her the sobriquet “The Ghostess with the Mostess”, and also “The Voice of Hollywood”.[1] She has also spent much of her career performing in concerts with major symphony orchestras around the world and in operas and musicals throughout the United States.

Marni Nixon behind the voice of Natalie Wood in “West Side Story.”

From “Mary Poppins”

Born Margaret McEathron in Altadena, California, Nixon began singing at an early age in choruses. At the age of 14, she became part of the newly formed Los Angeles Concert Youth Chorus – whose other members included a 13-year-old Marilyn Horne and a 19-year-old Paul Salamunovich, among many others – under famed conductor Roger Wagner; this choir evolved into the Roger Wagner Chorale in 1948, and later into the Los Angeles Master Chorale in 1964.

She went on to study singing and opera with Carl Ebert, Jan Popper, Boris Goldovsky and Sarah Caldwell. She embarked on a varied career, involving film and musical comedy as well as opera and concerts. She appeared extensively on American television, dubbed the singing voices of film actresses in The King and I, West Side Story and My Fair Lady, and acted in several commercial stage ventures. Her light, flexible, wide-ranging soprano and uncanny accuracy and musicianship have made her valuable in more classical ventures, and have contributed to her success in works by Anton Webern, Igor Stravinsky, Charles Ives, Paul Hindemith and Alexander Goehr, many of which she has recorded.

Marni Nixon Interview

Singing for Margaret O’Brien in 1949

Nixon’s opera repertory includes Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos, Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro,

both Blonde and Konstanze in Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Violetta in La traviata, the title role in La Périchole and Philine in Mignon. Her opera credits include performances at Los Angeles Opera, Seattle Opera, San Francisco Opera and the Tanglewood Festival among others. In addition to giving recitals, she appeared with the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra among others. She taught at the California Institute of Arts from 1969–1971 and joined the faculty of the Music Academy of the West, Santa Barbara, in 1980 where she taught for many years.[2]

On “To Tell The Truth”

“Hello Young Lovers” from “The King and I”

“Show Me” from “My Fair Lady”

Career highlights

Nixon’s dubbing career includes:[3]

Except for Dementia, in which she received on-screen credit as “Featured Voice”, the credits for her many dubbing roles did not appear on the titles of any of the films, and Nixon did not begin to be fully credited or widely acknowledged until the movies’ subsequent release on VHS decades later.

The Sound of Music

Nixon appeared on screen singing for herself as Sister Sophia in the film The Sound of Music, cast in the role by director Robert Wise. In the DVD commentary to the film, he comments that audiences were finally able to see the woman whose voice they knew so well.

When Hollywood musicals gave her less work, she started to perform on stage, as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady and as Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, she hosted a children’s television show in Seattle on KOMO-TV channel 4 called Boomerang. In 2001, she replaced Joan Roberts as Heidi Schiller in the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim‘s Follies. In 2003, she returned to Broadway as a replacement in role of Guido’s mother in the revival of Nine.

In the 1998 Disney film Mulan, Nixon sang the role of Grandmother Fa.

In March 2007 she was involved in a concert version of My Fair Lady, in which she performed the non-singing role of Mrs. Higgins, Professor Higgins’s mother.

On June 18, 2007, Marni joined a group of volunteers who were inspired by the documentary film “Tocar y Luchar.”[1] They are trying to bring more music education to all children.[2]

Nixon performed on the U.S. National Tour of Cameron Mackintosh‘s U.K. revival of My Fair Lady through July 2008, replacing Sally Ann Howes in the role of Mrs. Higgins.

Under her own name, she has also recorded songs by Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Arnold Schönberg, Charles Ives, and Anton Webern.

One of her three husbands, Ernest Gold, composed the theme song to the movie Exodus. They had three children together, one of whom is the singer and songwriter Andrew Gold (“Lonely Boy” and “Thank You For Being a Friend”).

On October 27, 2008, Marni Nixon was presented with the Singer Symposium’s Distinguished Artist Award in New York City.

Sources: Wikipedia, youtube, imdb.com, nndb.com

Quick Bio Facts:

Marni Nixon

Marni NixonAKA Margaret Nixon McEathron

Born: 22-Feb1930
Birthplace: Altadena, CA

Gender: Female
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Singer

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: The Voice of Hollywood

Husband: Ernest Gold (film composer, m. 1950, div. 1969, one son, two daughters)
Son: Andrew Gold (singer/songwriter, b. 2-Aug-1951)
Daughter: Martha Carr (b. 1954)
Daughter: Melanie Gold (b. 1962)
Husband: Lajos Frederick Fenster (m. 23-Jul-1971, div. 31-Jul-1975)
Husband: Albert Block (m. 1983)

FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Mulan (5-Jun-1998)
I Think I Do (20-Jun-1997)
The Sound of Music (2-Mar-1965)
Mary Poppins (27-Aug-1964)

Joan Sutherland

Dame Joan Alston Sutherland, OM, AC, DBE (7 November 1926 – 10 October 2010[1]) was an Australian dramatic coloratura soprano noted for her contribution in the renaissance of the bel canto repertoire from the late 1950s through to the 1980s. She died in Switzerland on 10th October 2010.

One of the most remarkable female opera singers of the 20th century, she was dubbed La Stupenda by a La Fenice audience in 1960 after a performance as Alcina. She possessed a voice of beauty and power, combining extraordinary agility, accurate intonation, “pin point staccatos,[2] a splendid trill and a tremendous upper register, although music critics often complained about the imprecision of her diction. Her friend Luciano Pavarotti once called Sutherland the “Voice of the Century“, while Montserrat Caballé described the Australian’s voice as being like “heaven”. Her highest note was a high F sharp in altissimo.[3]

The Great Joan Sutherland

Joan Sutherland was born in Sydney, Australia, of Scots parents, where she attended St Catherine’s School. As a child, she listened to and copied the singing exercises of her mother, a mezzo-soprano who had studied but never considered making a career. Sutherland was 18 when she started studying voice seriously with John and Aida Dickens. She made her concert debut in Sydney, as Dido in Purcell‘s Dido and Aeneas, in 1947. In 1951, she made her stage debut in Eugene Goossens‘s Judith. In 1951, after winning Australia’s most important competition, the Sun Aria, she went to London to further her studies at the Opera School of the Royal College of Music with Clive Carey. She was engaged by the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, as a utility soprano, and made her debut there on 28 October 1952, as the First Lady in The Magic Flute, followed in November by a few performances as Clotilde in Vincenzo Bellini‘s Norma, with Maria Callas as Norma.

From Anna Bolena 1984

During her early career, she was training to be a Wagnerian dramatic soprano, following the steps of Kirsten Flagstad, whom she greatly admired. In December 1952, she sang her first leading role at the Royal Opera House, Amelia in Un ballo in maschera. Other roles included Agathe in Der Freischütz, the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro, Desdemona in Otello, Gilda in Rigoletto, Eva in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and Pamina in The Magic Flute. In 1953, she sang in Benjamin Britten‘s Gloriana a few months after its world premiere, and created the role of Jennifer in Michael Tippett‘s The Midsummer Marriage, on 27 January 1955.

Sutherland married Australian conductor and pianist, Richard Bonynge, on 16 October 1954. They had a son, Adam, born in 1956. Bonynge gradually convinced her that Wagner might not be her Fach after all, since she had such great ease with high notes and coloratura, and that she should perhaps explore the bel canto repertory.

Lucia di Lammermoor 1972

In 1957, she appeared in Handel‘s Alcina with the Handel Opera Society, and in Donizetti‘s Emilia di Liverpool, in which performances her bel canto potential was clearly demonstrated, vindicating her husband’s judgement. The following year she sang Donna Anna in Don Giovanni in Vancouver.

Caro Nome Rigoletto 1960

In 1958, at the Royal Opera House, she “stopped the show” with “Let the Bright Seraphim” from Handel’s Samson, an exceedingly difficult and demanding aria. The crowd was on its feet for ten minutes and the show came to a stop. It was one of the most extraordinary ovations that house had seen. Her future as a diva at the Royal Opera House seemed assured afterwards.

In 1959, she was invited to sing Lucia di Lammermoor at the Royal Opera House in a production conducted by Tullio Serafin and staged by Franco Zeffirelli. The role of Edgardo was sung by her fellow Australian Kenneth Neate, who had replaced the scheduled tenor at short notice.[4] It was a breakthrough for Sutherland’s career, and, upon the completion of the famous Mad Scene, she had become a star. In 1960, she recorded the album The Art of the Prima Donna, which remains today one of the most recommended opera albums ever recorded: the double LP set won the Grammy Award for Best Classical Performance — Vocal Soloist in 1962. The album, a collection consisting mainly of coloratura arias, provides an opportunity to listen to the young Sutherland at the beginning of her international career. It displays her seemingly effortless coloratura ability, high notes and opulent tones, as well as her exemplary trill, by which she is identified and for which she is widely admired.

With Pavaratti

By the beginning of the 1960s, Sutherland had already established a reputation as a diva with a voice out of the ordinary. She sang Lucia to great acclaim in Paris in 1960 and, in 1961, at La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera. Also in 1960, she sang a superb Alcina at La Fenice, Venice, where she was nicknamed La Stupenda (“The Stunning One”). Sutherland would soon be praised as La Stupenda in newspapers around the world. Later that year (1960), Sutherland sang Alcina at the Dallas Opera, with which she made her US debut.

Her Metropolitan Opera debut took place on 26 November 1961, when she sang Lucia. After a total of 217 performances in a number of different operas, her last appearance there was on 19 December 1987, when she sang in Il trovatore. During 1978–82 period her relationship with the Met severely deteriorated when Sutherland had to decline the role of Constanze in Mozart‘s Die Entführung aus dem Serail, more than a year before the rehearsals were scheduled to start. The opera house management then declined to stage the operetta The Merry Widow especially for her, as requested; subsequently, she did not perform at the Met during that time at all, even though a production of Rossini‘s Semiramide had also been planned, but later she returned there to sing in other operas.[5]

Tosca

During the 1960s, Sutherland had added the greatest heroines of bel canto (“beautiful singing”) to her repertoire: Violetta in Verdi‘s La traviata, Amina in Bellini‘s La sonnambula and Elvira in Bellini’s I puritani in 1960; the title role in Bellini’s Beatrice di Tenda in 1961; Marguerite de Valois in Meyerbeer‘s Les Huguenots and the title role in Rossini’s Semiramide in 1962; Norma in Bellini’s Norma and Cleopatra in Handel‘s Giulio Cesare in 1963. In 1966 she added Marie in Donizetti‘s La fille du régiment, which became one of her most adored roles, because of her perfect coloratura and lively, funny interpretation.

In 1965, Sutherland toured Australia with the Sutherland-Williamson Opera Company. Accompanying her was a young tenor named Luciano Pavarotti, and the tour proved to be a major milestone in Pavarotti’s career. Every performance featuring Sutherland sold out.

Singing Dvorak, “Songs My Mother Taught Me”

During the 1970s, Sutherland strove to improve her diction, which had often been criticised, and increase the expressiveness of her interpretations. She continued to add dramatic bel canto roles to her repertoire, such as Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda and Lucrezia Borgia, as well as Massenet‘s extremely difficult Esclarmonde, a role that few sopranos attempt. She recorded a very successful Turandot in 1972 under the baton of Zubin Mehta, though she never performed that role on stage.

Sutherland’s early recordings show her to be possessed of a crystal-clear voice and excellent diction. However, by the early 1960s her voice lost some of this clarity in the middle register, and she often came under fire for having unclear diction. Some have attributed this to sinus surgery; however, her major sinus surgery was done in 1959, immediately after her breakthrough Lucia at Covent Garden.[6] In fact, her first commercial recording of the first and final scene of Lucia reveals her voice and diction to be just as clear as prior to the sinus procedure. Her husband Richard Bonynge stated in an interview that her “mushy diction” occurred while striving to achieve perfect legato. According to him, it is because she earlier had a very Germanic “un-legato” way of singing.[7] She clearly took the criticism to heart, as, within a few years, her diction improved markedly and she continued to amaze and thrill audiences throughout the world.

In the late 1970s, Sutherland’s voice started to decline and her vibrato loosened to an intrusive extent. However, thanks to her vocal agility and solid technique, she continued singing the most difficult roles amazingly well. During the 1980s, she added Anna Bolena, Amalia in I masnadieri and Adriana Lecouvreur to her repertoire, and repeated Esclarmonde at the Royal Opera House performances in November and December 1983. Her last performance was as Marguerite de Valois (Les Huguenots) at the Sydney Opera House in 1990, at the age of 63, where she sang Home Sweet Home for her encore. Her last public appearance, however, took place in a gala performance of Die Fledermaus on New Year’s Eve, 1990, at Covent Garden, where she was accompanied by her colleagues Luciano Pavarotti and the mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne.

Oh Si Les Fleurs Avaient Des Yeux

According to her own words, given in an interview with The Guardian newspaper in 2002[8], her biggest achievement was to sing the title role in Esclarmonde. She considered those performances and recordings her best.

After retirement, Sutherland made relatively few public appearances, preferring a quiet life at her home in Switzerland. One exception was her 1994 address at a lunch organised by Australians for Constitutional Monarchy. In that address, she complained about having to be interviewed by a clerk of Chinese or Indian background when applying to renew her Australian passport. Her comments caused controversy among some sections of the community at the time.[9][10]

Sutherland had a leading role as Mother Rudd in the 1995 comedy film Dad and Dave: On Our Selection opposite Leo McKern and Geoffrey Rush.[11]

In 1997 she published an autobiography, The Autobiography of Joan Sutherland: A Prima Donna’s Progress. While it received generally scathing reviews for its literary merits,[12] it does contain a complete list of all her performances, with full cast lists.

In 2002 she appeared at a dinner in London to accept the Royal Philharmonic Society‘s gold medal, and gave an interview to The Guardian in which she lamented the lack of technique in young opera singers, and the dearth of good teachers.[8] By now, no longer giving master classes herself, she was asked why this was by Italian journalists in May 2007, replying: “Because I’m 80 years old and I really don’t want to have anything to do with opera any more, although I do sit on the juries of singing competitions.”[13] The Cardiff Singer of the World competition was the one that Sutherland was most closely associated with after her retirement. She began her regular involvement with the event in 1993, serving on the jury five consecutive times and later, in 2003, became its patron.[14]

With Marilyn Horne

On 3 July 2008, she fell and broke both of her legs while gardening at her home in Switzerland.[15] She completely recovered and attended the luncheon hosted by Her Majesty The Queen in honour of Members of the Order of Merit at Buckingham Palace in 2009. She died on 10 October 2010 at her home near Geneva, in Switzerland.[1] She had been in poor health since a fall. Her death was announced by her family on 11 October and they plan to hold a small funeral.[16][1]

From Alcina 1959

During her career and after, Sutherland received many honours and awards.

In 1961, she was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).[17] That year she was also named the Australian of the Year.

In the Queen’s Birthday Honours of 9 June 1975, she was in the first group of people to be named Companions of the Order of Australia (AC) (the order had been created only in February 1975).[18]

She was elevated within the Order of the British Empire from Commander to Dame Commander (DBE) in the New Year’s Honours of 1979.[19]

On 29 November 1991, the Queen bestowed on Dame Joan the Order of Merit (OM).[20]

In January 2004 she received the Australia Post Australian Legends Award which honours Australians who have contributed to the Australian identity and culture. Two stamps featuring Joan Sutherland were issued on Australia Day 2004 to mark the award. Later in 2004, she received a Kennedy Center Honor for her outstanding achievement throughout her career.

Sutherland House and the Dame Joan Sutherland Centre, both at St Catherine’s School, Sydney, and The Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre (JSPAC), Penrith, are all named in her honour.[21]

Quick Bio Facts:

Joan Sutherland

Joan SutherlandBorn: 7-Nov1926 Died 10-Oct-2010

Birthplace: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Gender: Female
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Singer

Nationality: Australia
Executive summary: Operatic soprano

Father: McDonald Sutherland (tailor, d. 1932)
Mother: Muriel
Husband: Richard Bonynge (conductor, m. 1954, one son)
Son: Adam

University: Rathbone Academy of Dramatic Art
University: Opera School, Royal College of Music (1951-52)

Australian of the Year 1961
Commander of the British Empire 1961
Dame of the British Empire 1979
Kennedy Center Honor 2004

Sources: Wikipedia, youtube, imdb.com, nndb.com

Recordings

Recordings include:

Vincenzo Bellini
  • Beatrice di Tenda — Joan Sutherland (Beatrice), Luciano Pavarotti (Orombello), Cornelius Opthof (Filippo), Josephine Veasey (Agnese), Joseph Ward (Anichino/Rizzardo), Ambrosian Opera Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra, Richard Bonynge — Decca
  • I puritani — Joan Sutherland (Elvira), Pierre Duval (Arturo), Renato Capecchi (Riccardo), Ezio Flagello (Giorgio), Giovanni Fioiani (Gualtiero), Margreta Elkins (Enrichetta), Piero de Palma (Bruno), Coro e Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Richard Bonynge (conductor) —recorded 1963— Decca 448 969-2 / Decca 467 789-2 (part of a 10-CD set) / London POCL 3965-7
  • I puritani — Joan Sutherland (Elvira), Luciano Pavarotti (Arturo), Piero Cappuccilli (Riccardo), Nicolai Ghiaurov (Giorgio), Giancarlo Luccardi (Gualtiero), Anita Caminada (Enrichetta), Renato Cazzaniga (Bruno), Chorus of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, London Symphony Orchestra—Richard Bonynge, Recorded 1973, Decca
  • La sonnambula — Joan Sutherland (Amina), Nicola Monti (Elvino), Fernando Corena (Rodolfo), Sylvia Stahlman (Lisa), Margreta Elkins (Teresa), Angelo Mercuriali (Notary), Giovanni Fioiani (Alessio), Coro e Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Richard Bonynge recorded 1962—Decca 00289 448 9662 6 / 000320702 / 455 823-2 — Track listing
  • La sonnambula — Joan Sutherland (Amina), Luciano Pavarotti (Elvino), Nicolai Ghiaurov (Rodolfo), Isobel Buchanan (Lisa), Della Jones (Teresa), Piero De Palma (Notaro), John Tomlinson (Alessio), National Philharmonic Orchestra, London Opera Chorus, Richard Bonynge, recorded 1980—Decca 2LH417-424
  • Norma — Joan Sutherland (Norma), Marilyn Horne (Adalgisa), John Alexander (Pollione), Richard Cross (Oroveso), Yvonne Minton (Clotilde), Joseph Ward (Flavio), London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Richard Bonynge, Recorded 1964—Decca
  • Norma — Joan Sutherland (Norma), Margreta Elkins (Adalgisa), Ronald Stevens (Pollione), Clifford Grant (Oroveso), Etela Piha (Clotilde), Trevor Brown (Flavio), Opera Australia Chorus, Elizabethan Sydney Orchestra, Richard Bonynge, recorded 1978—DVD Arthaus Musik 100 180
  • Norma — Joan Sutherland (Norma), Montserrat Caballé (Adalgisa), Luciano Pavarotti (Pollione), Samuel Ramey (Oroveso), Diana Montague (Clotilde), Kim Begley (Flavio), Chorus and Orchestra of the Welsh National Opera, Richard Bonynge, Recorded 1984—Decca
Georges Bizet
  • CarmenRegina Resnik (Carmen), Mario del Monaco (Don Jose), Joan Sutherland (Micaëla), Tom Krause (Escamillo), Georgette Spanellys (Frasquita), Yvonne Minton (Mercedes), Robert Geay (Zuninga), Jean Prudent (Le Dancaire), Alfred Hallet (Le Remendado), Claude Cales (Morales)
Giovanni Battista Bononcini
Léo Delibes
Gaetano Donizetti
  • Emilia di Liverpool (excerpts) / Lucia di Lammermoor (excerpts) — Joan Sutherland (Lucia), Margreta Elkins (Alisa), Joao Gibin (Edgardo), Tullio Serafin (conductor). Recorded 26 February 1959—Myto Records MCD 91545 (Probably these are excerpts from the same performance as the Melodram recording.)
  • Lucia di Lammermoor — Joan Sutherland (Lucia), Renato Cioni (Edgardo), Robert Merrill (Enrico), Cesare Siepi (Raimondo), Chorus & Orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, John Pritchard (conductor), Decca, 1961.
  • Lucia di Lammermoor — Joan Sutherland (Lucia), Luciano Pavarotti (Edgardo), Sherrill Milnes(Enrico), Nicolai Ghiaurov (Raimondo), Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Richard Bonynge, Decca, 1971.
  • Lucia di Lammermoor — Joan Sutherland (Lucia), João Gibin (Edgardo), John Shaw (Enrico), Joseph Rouleau (Raimondo), Kenneth MacDonald (Arturo), Margreta Elkins (Alisa), Robert Bowman (Normanno), Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Tullio Serafin, recorded 1959—Golden Melodram GM 50024 or Giuseppe di Stefano GDS 21017 or Bella Voce BLV 107 218 (highlights). 2006 release: Royal Opera House Heritage Series ROHS 002.
  • Lucia di Lammermoor — Joan Sutherland (Lucia), André Turp (Edgardo), John Shaw (Enrico), Joseph Rouleau (Raimondo), Kenneth MacDonald (Arturo), Margreta Elkins (Alisa), Edgar Evans (Normanno), Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, John Pritchard, recorded 1961—Celestial Audio CA 345
  • Lucia di Lammermoor — Joan Sutherland (Lucia), Richard Tucker (Edgardo), Frank Guarrera (Enrico), Nicola Moscona (Raimondo), Robert Nagy (Normanno), Thelma Votipka (Alisa), Charles Anthony (Arturo), Metropolitan Opera House, Conductor: Silvio Varviso. Recorded 9 December 1961 for radio broadcasting.
  • La fille du régiment — Joan Sutherland (Marie), Luciano Pavarotti (Tonio), Monica Sinclair (La Marquise de Berkenfield), Jules Bruyère (Hortensius), Spiro Malas (Sulpice), Eric Garrett (Le Caporal), Edith Coates (La Duchesse de Crakentorp), Orchestra & Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Richard Bonynge. Recorded: Kingsway Hall, London, 17–28 July 1967. Original LP release: SET 372-3 (2 LPs), CD release: 414 520-2 DH2 (2 CDs).
  • L’elisir d’amore — Joan Sutherland (Adina), Luciano Pavarotti (Nemorino), Dominic Cossa (Belcore), Spiro Malas (Dulcamara), Maria Casula (Giannetta), Ambrosian Opera Chorus, English Chamber Orchestra, Richard Bonynge. Recorded: Kingsway Hall, London, 12–23 January & 1–10 July 1970. Original LP release: SET 503-5 (3 LPs), CD release: 414 461-2 DH2 (2 CDs), CD re-release: 475 7514 DOR2 (2 CDs).
  • Lucrezia Borgia — Joan Sutherland (Lucrezia Borgia), Ronald Stevens (Gennaro), Margreta Elkins (Maffio Orsini), Richard Allman (Don Alfonso), Robin Donald (Jacopo Liveretto), Lyndon Terracini (Don Apostolo Gazella), Gregory Yurisich (Ascanio Petrucci), Lamberto Furlan (Oloferno Vitellozzo), Pieter Van der Stolk (Gubetta), Graeme Ewer (Rustighello), John Germain (Astolfo), Neville Grave (Un servo), Eddie Wilden (Un coppiere), Jennifer Bermingham (Principessa Negroni), Australian Opera Chorus, Sydney Elizabethan Orchestra, Richard Bonynge, recorded 1977. VHS Video Cassette — Castle Video CV2845 (PAL); Polygram-Vidéo 070 031-3 (SECAM) Polygram 079 261-3 (PAL)
  • Lucrezia Borgia — Joan Sutherland (Lucrezia), Giacomo Aragall (Gennaro), Marilyn Horne (Orsini), Ingvar Wixell (Alfonso), London Opera Chorus, National Philarmonic Orchestra, Richard Bonynge (conductor), Decca, 1977.
  • Maria Stuarda — Joan Sutherland (Maria), Huguette Tourangeau (Elisabeta), Luciano Pavarotti (Leicester), Roger Soyer (Talbot), Margreta Elkins (Anna), James Morris (Cecil), Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Richard Bonynge, recorded 1975—Decca 00289 425 4102 / Lyrica LRC 1040/1041 — Track listing and excerpts
Charles Gounod
George Frideric Handel
  • Alcina — Joan Sutherland (Alcina), Margreta Elkins (Ruggiero), Lauris Elms (Bradamante), Richard Greager (Oronte), Narelle Davidson (Morgana), Ann-Maree McDonald (Oberto), John Wegner (Melisso), Chorus and Orchestra of Australian Opera, Richard Bonynge, recorded 1983. Celestial Audio CA 112
  • Alcina coupled with Giulio Cesare in Egitto (highlights) — Margreta Elkins (Giulio Cesare), Joan Sutherland (Cleopatra), Marilyn Horne (Cornelia), Monica Sinclair (Tolomeo), Richard Conrad (Sesto), New Symphonic Orchestra of London, Richard Bonynge—Decca 00289 433 7232 / 467063-2 / 467 067-2 — Track listing and excerpts
  • Athalia — Joan Sutherland, Emma Kirkby, Aled Jones, James Bowman, Anthony Rolfe Johnson, David Thomas, The Academy of Ancient Music, Christopher Hogwood (Conductor)
  • Messiah — Joan Sutherland, Grace Bumbry, London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Adrian Boult (Conductor)—Decca 433 003-2
  • Rodelinda — Alfred Hallett (Grimoaldo), Raimund Herincx (Garibaldo), Joan Sutherland (Rodelinda), Dame Janet Baker (Eduige), Margreta Elkins (Bertarido), Patricia Kern (Unolfo), Chandos Singers, Philomusica Antiqua Orchestra, Charles Farncombe. An English language version, recorded live on June 24, 1959—Opera D’oro OPD 1189 (2 CDs) or Memories HR 4577–4578 or Living Stage LS 403 35147 (highlights).
  • Rodelinda — Joan Sutherland (Rodelinda), Huguette Tourangeau (Bertarido), Eric Tappy (Grimoaldo), Margreta Elkins (Eduige), Cora Canne-Meijer (Unolfo), Pieter Van Den Berg (Garibaldo), Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, Richard Bonynge. Recorded 30 June 1973—Bella Voce BLV 10 7206.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Giacomo Meyerbeer
Jacques Offenbach
  • Les contes d’Hoffmann — Joan Sutherland, Plácido Domingo, Gabriel Bacquier, , L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande,Orchestre du Radio de la Suisse Romande, Pro Arte de Lausanne, Andre Charlet, Richard Bonynge, studio recording made at Victoria Hall, Geneva, first published in 1976.
Giacomo Puccini
Gioachino Rossini
  • Semiramide — Joan Sutherland (Semiramide), John Serge (Idreno), Joseph Rouleau (Assur), Spiro Malas (Oroe), Patricia Clark (Azema), Leslie Fyson (Mitrane), Michael Langdon (Spectre of Nino), Marilyn Horne (Arsace), London Symphony Orchestra, Richard Bonynge. Decca 425 481-2, recorded in 1966.
Ambroise Thomas
  • Hamlet — Joan Sutherland, Gösta Winbergh, James Morris, Sheril Milnes, Orchestra and Chorus of the Welsh National Opera. Decca, 433 857-2.
Giuseppe Verdi
Richard Wagner
  • Siegfried — Joan Sutherland as the Woodbird, Vienna Philharmonic (Sir Georg Solti) 1962 recording, London 414 110-2

Beverly Sills

Beverly Sills (May 25, 1929 – July 2, 2007) was an American operatic soprano between the 1950s and 1970s.

Although she sang a repertoire from Handel and Mozart to Puccini, Massenet, Wagner, and Verdi, she was known for her performances in coloratura soprano roles in live opera and recordings. Sills was largely associated with the operas of Gaetano Donizetti, of which she performed and recorded many roles. Her signature roles include the title role in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, the title role in Massenet‘s Manon, Marie in Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment, the three heroines in Offenbach‘s Les contes d’Hoffmann, Rosina in Rossini‘s The Barber of Seville, and Violetta in Verdi‘s La Traviata.

After retiring from singing in 1980, she became the general manager of the New York City Opera. In 1994, she became the Chairman of Lincoln Center and then, in 2002, of the Metropolitan Opera, stepping down in 2005. Sills lent her celebrity to further her charity work for the prevention and treatment of birth defects.

Sills was born Belle Miriam Silverman in Brooklyn, New York to Shirley Bahn (née Sonia Markovna), a musician, and Morris Silverman, an insurance broker.[1] Her parents were Jewish immigrants from Odessa and Bucharest, Romania. She was raised in Brooklyn, where she was known, among friends, as “Bubbles” Silverman. As a child, she spoke Yiddish, Russian, Romanian, French and English.[2] She attended Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, as well as Manhattan‘s Professional Children’s School.[3]

At the age of three, Sills won a “Miss Beautiful Baby” contest, in which she sang “The Wedding of Jack and Jill”. Beginning at age four, she performed professionally on the Saturday morning radio program, “Rainbow House”, as “Bubbles” Silverman. Sills began taking singing lessons with Estelle Liebling at the age of seven and a year later sang in the short film Uncle Sol Solves It (filmed August 1937, released June 1938 by Educational Pictures), by which time she had adopted her stage name, Beverly Sills. Liebling encouraged her to audition for CBS Radio’s Major Bowes’ Amateur Hour, and on October 26, 1939 at the age of 10, Sills was the winner of that week’s program. Bowes then asked her to appear on his Capitol Family Hour, a weekly variety show. Her first appearance was on November 19, 1939, the 17th anniversary of the show, and she appeared frequently on the program thereafter.[4]

In 1945, Sills made her professional stage debut with a Gilbert and Sullivan touring company produced by Jacob J. Shubert, playing twelve cities in the US and Canada, offering seven different Gilbert and Sullivan operas. In her 1987 autobiography, she credits that tour with helping to develop the comic timing she soon became famous for: “I played the title role in Patience, and I absolutely loved the character, because Patience is a very funny, flaky girl…. I played her as a dumb Dora all the way through and really had fun with the role…. My Patience grew clumsier and clumsier with each performance, and audiences seemed to like her…. I found that I had a gift for slapstick humor, and it was fun to exercise it onstage.”[5] Sills sang in light operas for several more years.

On July 9, 1946, Sills appeared as a contestant on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts (radio). She sang under the pseudonym of “Vicki Lynn”, as she was under contract to Shubert. Shubert did not want Godfrey to be able to say he had discovered “Beverly Sills” if she won the contest (although she did not ultimately win). Sills sang “Romany Life” from Victor Herbert‘s The Fortune Teller.

In 1947, she made her operatic stage debut as the Spanish gypsy Frasquita in Bizet’s Carmen with the Philadelphia Civic Grand Opera Company. She toured North America with the Charles Wagner Opera Company, in the fall of 1951 singing Violetta in La traviata and, in the fall of 1952, singing Micaëla in Carmen. On September 15, 1953, she made her debut with the San Francisco Opera as Helen of Troy in Boito’s Mefistofele and also sang Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni the same season. On October 29, 1955, she first appeared with the New York City Opera as Rosalinde in Johann Strauss II‘s Die Fledermaus, which received critical praise. As early as 1956 she performed before an audience of over 13,000 guests at the landmark Lewisohn Stadium with the noted operatic conductor Alfredo Antonini in an aria from Vincenzo Bellini‘s I puritani.[6] Her reputation expanded with her performance of the title role in the New York premiere of Douglas Stuart Moore‘s The Ballad of Baby Doe in 1958.

On November 17, 1956, Sills married journalist Peter Greenough, of the Cleveland, Ohio newspaper The Plain Dealer and moved to Cleveland. She had two children with Greenough, Meredith (“Muffy”) in 1959 and Peter, Jr. (“Bucky”) in 1961. Muffy was profoundly deaf and Peter was severely mentally disabled. Sills restricted her performing schedule to care for her children.

In 1960, Sills and her family moved to Milton, Massachusetts, near Boston. In 1962, Sills sang the title role in Massenet’s Manon with the Opera Company of Boston, the first of many roles for opera director Sarah Caldwell. Manon continued to be one of Sills’ signature roles throughout most of her career. In January 1964, she sang her first Queen of the Night in Mozart’s The Magic Flute for Caldwell. Although Sills drew critical praise for her coloratura technique and for her performance, she was not fond of the latter role; she observed that she often passed the time between the two arias and the finale addressing holiday cards.[7]

In 1966, the New York City Opera revived Handel’s then virtually unknown opera seria Giulio Cesare (with Norman Treigle as Cæsar), and Sills’ performance as Cleopatra made her an international opera star. Sills also made her “unofficial” Met debut in its “Opera in the Parks” program as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, though nothing further came of this other than offers from Rudolf Bing for roles such as Flotow’s Martha. In subsequent seasons at the NYCO, Sills had great successes in the roles of the Queen of Shemakha in Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel, the title role in Manon, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, and the three female leads Suor Angelica, Giorgetta, and Lauretta in Puccini’s trilogy Il trittico.

In 1969, Sills sang Zerbinetta in the American premiere (in a concert version) of the 1912 version of Richard StraussAriadne auf Naxos with the Boston Symphony. Her performance of the role, especially Zerbinetta’s aria, “Grossmächtige Prinzessin”, which she sang in the original higher key, won her acclaim. Home video-taped copies circulated among collectors for years afterwards, often commanding large sums on Internet auction sites (the performance was released commercially in 2006, garnering high praise). The second major event of the year was her debut as Pamira in Rossini’s The Siege of Corinth at La Scala, a success that put her on the cover of Newsweek.

Sills’ now high-profile career landed her on the cover of Time in 1971, where she was described as “America’s Queen of Opera”.[8] The title was appropriate because Sills had purposely limited her overseas engagements because of her family. Her major overseas appearances include London’s Covent Garden, Milan’s La Scala, La Fenice in Venice, the Vienna State Opera, the Théâtre de Beaulieu in Lausanne, Switzerland, and concerts in Paris. In South America, she sang in the opera houses of Buenos Aires and Santiago, a concert in Lima, Peru, and appeared in several productions in Mexico City, including Lucia di Lammermoor with Luciano Pavarotti. On November 9, 1971, her performance in the New York City Opera’s production of The Golden Cockerel was telecast live to cable tv subscribers.

During this period, she made her first television appearance as a talk-show personality on Virginia Graham’s Girl Talk, a weekday series syndicated by ABC Films. An opera fan who was Talent Coordinator for the series persuaded the producer to put her on the air and she was a huge hit. Throughout the rest of her career she shone as a talk show guest, sometimes also functioning as a guest host. Sills underwent successful surgery for ovarian cancer in late October, 1974 (sometimes misreported as breast cancer). Her recovery was so rapid and complete that she opened in Daughter of the Regiment at the San Francisco Opera a month later.[9]

Following Sir Rudolf Bing‘s departure as director, Sills finally made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera on April 7, 1975 in The Siege of Corinth, receiving an eighteen-minute ovation. Other operas she sang at the Met include La traviata, Lucia di Lammermoor, Thaïs, and Don Pasquale (directed by John Dexter). In an interview after his retirement, Bing stated that his refusal to use Sills, as well as his preference for engaging, almost exclusively, Italian stars such as Renata Tebaldi – due to his notion that American audiences expected to see Italian stars – was the single biggest mistake of his career. Sills attempted to downplay her animosity towards Bing while she was still singing, and even in her two autobiographies. But in a 1997 interview, Sills spoke her mind plainly, “Oh, Mr. Bing is an ass. [W]hile everybody said what a great administrator he was and a great this, Mr. Bing was just an improbable, impossible General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera…. The arrogance of that man.”[10]

Sills was a recitalist, especially in the final decade of her career. She sang in mid-size cities and on college concert series, bringing her art to many who might never see her on stage in a fully staged opera. She also sang concerts with a number of symphony orchestras. Sills continued to perform for New York City Opera, her home opera house, essaying new roles right up to her retirement, including the leading roles in Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia, Lehár‘s Die lustige Witwe and Gian Carlo Menotti‘s La loca, a role written especially for her.

Although Sills’ voice type was characterized as a “lyric coloratura”, she took a number of heavier spinto and dramatic coloratura roles more associated with heavier voices as she grew older, including Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia (with Susanne Marsee as Orsini) and the same composer’s Tudor Queens, Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux (opposite Plácido Domingo in the title part). She was admired in those roles for transcending the lightness of her voice with dramatic interpretation, although it may have come at a cost: Sills later commented that Roberto Devereux shortened her career by at least four years.

Sills popularized opera through her talk show appearances, including Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett, David Frost, Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, and Dinah Shore. Sills hosted her own talk show, Lifestyles with Beverly Sills, which ran on Sunday mornings on NBC for two years in the late 1970s; it won an Emmy Award.[11] In 1979 she even appeared on The Muppet Show. Down-to-earth and approachable, Sills helped dispel the traditional image of the temperamental opera diva.

In 1978, Sills announced she would retire on October 27, 1980, in a farewell gala at the New York City Opera. In the spring of 1979, she began acting as co-director of NYCO, and became its sole general director as of the fall season of that year, a post she held until 1989, although she remained on the NYCO board until 1991. During her time as general director, Sills helped turn what was then a financially struggling opera company into a viable enterprise. She also devoted herself to various arts causes and such charities as the March of Dimes and was sought after for speaking engagements on college campuses and for fund raisers.

From 1994 to 2002, Sills was chairman of Lincoln Center. In October 2002, she agreed to serve as chairman of the Metropolitan Opera, for which she had been a board member since 1991. She resigned as Met chairman in January 2005, citing family as the main reason (she had to place her husband, whom she had cared for over eight years, in a nursing home). She stayed long enough to supervise the appointment of Peter Gelb, formerly head of Sony Classical Records, as the Met’s General Manager, to succeed Joseph Volpe in August 2006.

Peter Greenough, Sills’ husband, died on September 6, 2006, at the age of 89.[12] They would have had their 50th wedding anniversary on November 17, 2006.

She co-hosted The View for Best Friends Week on November 9, 2006, as Barbara Walters’ best friend. She said that she didn’t sing anymore, even in the shower, to preserve the memory of her voice.

She appeared on screen in movie theaters during HD transmissions live from the Met, interviewed during intermissions by the host Margaret Juntwait on January 6, 2007 (I puritani simulcast), as a backstage interviewer on February 24, 2007 (Eugene Onegin simulcast) and then, briefly, on April 28, 2007 (Il trittico simulcast).

On June 28, 2007, the Associated Press and CNN reported that Sills was hospitalized as “gravely ill”, from lung cancer. With her daughter at her bedside, Beverly Sills succumbed to cancer on July 2, 2007, at the age of 78.[13]

Here’s Beverly singing Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s song, “All The Things You Are.”

Her final perfomance