Wednesday, June 14, 2006

From performances of Mozart in Harlem to African-American Heritage concerts in Iceland - Gershwin in Moscow to Duke Ellington in the Caribbean, Opera Ebony is considered one of the world's great cultural treasures. Benjamin Matthews, Sister Mary Elise S.B.S. and Wayne Sanders founded Opera Ebony in 1973. Since then, the company has served as a professional platform for thousands of American artists, administrators and technical staff helping them to refine their talent and perfect their craft.
In New York City, Opera Ebony has performed at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (651 Performing Arts Center), The Metropolitan Museum of Art,The World Trade Center, The Beacon Theatre, Langston Hughes Theatre (Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture) and the Manhattan Center. Additionally, for ten years the company presented grand opera at Philadelphia's Academy of Music.
Since 1988, Opera Ebony's impressive repertoire has delighted overflowing audiences throughout the United States and in Brazil, Russia, Estonia, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Canada, Switzerland and Martinique. The company has also partnered with several major international orchestras, opera companies and music festivals including the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, the Finnish National Opera, the Estonia Philharmonic and the Savolinna Music Festival.
In 1998, Opera Ebony was selected as the only American opera company to perform for the opening of the Novaya Opera House in Moscow, Russia. During the winter of 2000, members of Opera Ebony appeared in performance and engaging conversation on the PBS GREAT PERFORMANCES series - Aida's Brothers and Sisters: Black voices in Opera. For Black History Month 2001, the company joined with the Metropolitan Museum of Art to present the premiere workshop performance of Harriet Tubman, a new opera / musical theatre work by acclaimed American composer, Leo Edwards.
Notable world premieres and commissioned works include Frederick Douglass (Dorothy Rudd Moore, 1985); Sojourner Truth (Valerie Capers, 1986); The Outcast (Noah Ain, 1990); Oh Freedom (Lena McLin and Benjamin Matthews, 1990); Journin' (Benjamin Matthews 1991); The Meetin' (Pamela Baskin Watson, commissioned by Opera Ebony and the Jerome Foundation, 1998).
Current projects include Harriet Tubman by Leo Edwards (commissioned by Opera Ebony and the Linda Gale Sampson Charitable Trust) and the remounting of The Meetin' for touring throughout North America.
Opera Ebony is the longest surviving African-American opera company in American history.

Benjamin Matthews - Artistic DirectorMr. Matthews is regarded as one of the foremost interpreters of African-American religious folk music, work songs, field calls and American creole songs of the twentieth century. His expertise in the performance of this repertoire has endeared him to audiences worldwide. He is frequently engaged across the United States and in many major capitals in South America as a recitalist, lecturer and conductor of master classes.
Mr. Matthews received his musical training at the Chicago Conservatory and his operatic training under Boris Goldovsky. Operatic credits include performances with New York City Opera, Opera Company of Brasilia, the Metropolitan Opera's production of Gertrude Stein-Virgil Thompson's Four Saints in Three Acts, Graz Opera in Austria, Milwaukee-Florentine Opera and Philadelphia Grand Opera. He has performed a wide range of roles from Mephistopheles in Gounod's Faust, to Porgy in Porgy and Bess and Prince Itelo in Leon Kirchner's Lily. He has appeared as soloist with major orchestras in the United States, Mexico, Canada, Europe and South America including The New York Philharmonic, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra, Detroit and Milwaukee Symphonies, Buffalo Philharmonic, Barbants Orchestra of Holland, Orebo and Norrkopings Orchestras (Sweden), Sinfonica Municipal of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Santa Cecelia Orchestra of Rome and L'Orchestre Symphonique de Quebec.
Mr. Matthews' concert appearances as a recitalist include performances in the United States, Canada, the Virgin Islands, South America, Europe and the Pacific Rim. He is the principal founder of Opera Ebony and has served as the Artistic Director since its inception in 1973. Mr. Matthews' discography includes A Spiritual Journey, an album of inspirational spirituals and hymns, along with a companion recording, A Balm in Gilead, both on the Ebony Classic Recording label. Other releases include the Gertrude Stein-Virgil Thompson opera, Four Saints in Three Acts on Nonesuch Digital, George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess with the Slovak Philharmonic released on Opus Records and Opera Ebony's recording of Done Crossed Every River.
Wayne Sanders - Music DirectorWayne Sanders is co-founder of Opera Ebony, Inc., and has served as the company's Music Director since its inception in 1973. Under his direction, the company has gained an international prominence, performing in the United States, Europe, South America, Canada and the Caribbean.
As vocal coach and accompanist, Mr. Sanders has performed for televised Opera Ebony concerts worldwide and appeared at some of the world’s most important music festivals including the Spoleto Festival in Italy and the Savolinna Festival in Finland. At leading venues such as The Kennedy Center (Washington D.C.) and Carnegie Hall (New York City), he has accompanied such superstars as Jessye Norman, Florence Quivar, Kathleen Battle, George Shirley, William Brown, Hilda Harris, Jorma Hynnenin, Benjamin Matthews and Jubilant Sykes.
For his contribution to the arts and humanity, he has been awarded numerous honors within the United States and in Austria, Italy, Russia, Estonia and Germany. In Finland's largest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, critic Olavi Kanko wrote, "He will be remembered as one of the great figures in the history of vocal music." Many of his students now perform with major opera companies and musical theaters throughout the world. He currently teaches on the voice faculty at Sarah Lawrence College in New York City.
Mr. Sanders is a prominent figure in the preservation and presentation of new American opera with special emphasis on works by women and people of color. He has co-produced and served as musical director for several world premieres. A brief listing includes, Perfect Harmony by Heikki Sarmanto (Finlandia Records), The Outcast by composer Noa Ain and The Meetin' by Pamela Baskin-Watson. He is currently working on the new opera-musical theatre work, Leo Edwards’ Harriet Tubman, and Opera Ebony's new touring musical review, The Colors of Love.
Cross-Cultural Exposure & Development Programs
"Getting young people - or any people at all - to attend opera is difficult. Opera Ebony significantly contributes to breaking down these barriers and opening this world to thousands of people." Brad Learmonth - Director, International Series, City College of New York
Since 1990, Opera Ebony's Cross-Cultural Exposure & Development Program has achieved enormous success in offering opera and musical theatre to young audiences, ages 8-18. The Program is designed to broaden their musical horizons and provide a platform for cross-cultural training and understanding.
Opera Ebony has received an overwhelming demand for participation in this program. The project attracts participants representing a wide array of ethnic diversity. An Approximate ethnic ratio served through this program is 50% African-American, 30% Hispanic and 20% White, Asian, and other. "Opera Ebony's outreach program fulfills an important need for young minorities in the greater New York area to learn about different cultures," says Jean Parnell, Program Director, Board of Education, Division of Instruction and Professional Development, New York City.
For more information about Opera Ebony's educational programs, please may call us at 212.877.2110.
Touring Shows
The Colors of Love - Love, Harlem Style! The Colors of Love is a sensational, electric and fun production of Caribbean, Broadway and operatic classics that explores the complexities of love. This lively presentation features the music of Bernstein, Gilbert & Sullivan, Gershwin, Purcell, William Marion Cook and others! The Colors of Love premiered in New York City during the summer of 2000 at the World Trade Center's Festival of Creative Communities concert series.
Opera Takes the "A" Train - Opera & All That Jazz - Puccini, Gershwin, Harlem Jazz & American Pop. Audiences are thrilled when they hear great voices making beautiful music. The gifted artists that appear on this program have performed in prominent opera houses and theatres throughout the world. In this two-part treat, world-class performers sing operatic favorites by Puccini, Verdi, Gounod, Strauss and others. They then step out of the operatic roles to sing sizzling jazz and America's greatest popular music.
Movin' with the Spirit - Up From Dese Roots - A dazzling array of African-American music. Movin' with the Spirit takes us from the spirituals, field calls and related work songs of earlier times to contemporary songs of worship, ragtime, blues, bossa novas and modern jazz - all rooted in the heritage and deep tradition of the African-American experience.
Opera Ebony Master Classes and Lecture presentations provide the most thorough learning experience possible. Our presentors bring unparalleled expertise from a wide variety of musical backgrounds. Presenters are not only selected for their academic or celebrity status, but for their communicative skills, enthusiasm, and deep love of music and art that is rooted in the heritage and tradition of the African-American experience.
The early years
In its early years, the NYCO's home base was the City Center on West 55th Street. In 1945, the company became the first major opera company to have an African American performer. This was the production Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci with Todd Duncan's performance as Tonio. Lawrence Winters was another notable African American opera pioneer to sing with the company during this period. The first African American woman to sing with the company was Camilla Williams, soprano as Madama Butterfly in 1946. (Southern, 417)
The Present Day
On February 22, 1966, it innaugurated its new home at Lincoln Center with a production of Alberto Ginastera's Don Rodrigo with tenor Plácido Domingo. In 1966, the American soprano Beverly Sills made her major breakthrough as Cleopatra in Handel's Giulio Cesare. While Sills went on to sing at opera houses throughout the world, she remained affiliated with the NYCO. Upon her retirement from the stage in 1979, she joined the company as its General Director, replacing conductor Julius Rudel, who had led the company since 1957. Sills retired as General Director in 1989 and was replaced by conductor Christopher Keene. Keene was succeeded in 1996 by Glimmerglass Opera's artistic director, Paul Kellogg.
Ongoing Missions
Beverly Sills' success at NYCO is emblematic of NYCO's tradition of championing American singers. NYCO launched the careers of, among others, Sherrill Milnes, Carol Vaness, and Samuel Ramey. Internationally acclaimed American singers who still call NYCO home include David Daniels, Mark Delavan, Lauren Flanigan, Elizabeth Futral, and Amy Burton.
NYCO similarly champions the work of American composers; approximately one-third of its repertoire has traditionally been American Opera. NYCO's American repertoire ranges from established works (e.g., Douglas Moore's The Ballad of Baby Doe, Carlisle Floyd's Susannah and Leonard Bernstein's Candide) to new works (e.g., Rachel Portman's The Little Prince, Charles Wuorinen's Haroun and the Sea of Stories, and Mark Adamo's Little Women). NYCO's commitment to the future of American opera is demonstrated in its annual series, "Showcasing American Composer," in which operas-in-progress are showcased, giving composers a chance to hear their work performed by professional singers and orchestra.
In 1983, the NYCO became the first American company to use supertitles. In recent years, the works of baroque masters such as Handel, Gluck, and Rameau have gained special prominence in its repertoire, sparking a renewal of interest in these long-neglected works.
The NYCO has extensive education and outreach programs, offering arts-in-education programs to 12,000 students in over seventy-five schools.

Press & News
Production Rentals
Vox: Showcasing American Composers
Employment & Auditions
New York City Opera History
It was a well-received performance of Puccini's Tosca, featuring American singing sensation Dusolina Giannini in the title role, that christened New York City's newest opera company on February 21, 1944. Audiences flocked to City Center on West 55th Street, the new company's first home, to witness the promising start of what Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia billed as "the people's opera company." The first New York City Opera season consisted of nine performances of three productions over seven days. By the end of that dizzying week, it was clear that the risky prospect of a second major New York opera company was not as far-fetched as some might have imagined.
It wasn't simply that the company had broken even financially, a triumph of resourcefulness and prudent planning; it was also that, in just one week of programming, City Opera had taken great strides towards achieving its lofty mission. The company's founders dreamed of an opera company that would be financially accessible to a wide audience, innovative in its choice of repertory, and committed to the idea of providing a home for American singers and composers. Based on a first season that saw the promise of affordable ticket prices upheld, the inclusion of a discounted student performance of Flotow's Martha, and the return of Giannini to the American stage, the company's mission was in good hands.
The next big opening night in the company's history came almost 22 years to the day after the City Center launch. The date was February 22, 1966; the production was Ginastera's Don Rodrigo, featuring a young Placido Domingo in the title role; the occasion was City Opera's inaugural performance at the Philip Johnson-designed New York State Theater at Lincoln Center. Although concerned about the ramifications of the move—the company was leaving behind a $1-per-year rent at City Center and moving into a crowded Lincoln Center marketplace—City Opera decided that, in the end, the pros outweighed the cons. Philip Johnson's "jewel box," as the theater is known, has been home to City Opera ever since.
During the fall season of 1966, scant months after the Lincoln Center curtain raiser, Beverly Sills, a well-regarded American soprano who had sung with the company for over a decade, stormed the State Theater stage as Cleopatra in Handel's Julius Caesar. A star was born, and "the Beverly Sills era" had begun. Over the next decade and a half, Sills would perform in most of the world's major opera houses, while keeping City Opera as her home base. Then, in November 1979, she announced her retirement from performing to focus on her new position as City Opera's General Director. She replaced Julius Rudel, who had led the company since 1957.
Throughout her tenure and that of her successor, the late Christopher Keene, City Opera's founding principles remained at the core of the company's artistic choices. Most notably, in 1983, City Opera became the first American company to use Supertitles, thus demystifying the world of opera for a whole new audience previously wary of foreign language librettos.
In January 1996, another era began at City Opera: Paul Kellogg's. Under his leadership, the company has reinvigorated its long-held reputation for innovation, attaining new heights of artistic excellence and financial stability. With a winning combination of visionary directors-many from the world of theater-and exciting young singers, City Opera has challenged and exhilarated audiences with unusual repertory choices and a fresh approach to the classics. In recent seasons, the works of baroque masters such as Handel, Gluck, and Rameau have gained special prominence, sparking a nationwide renewal of interest in these long-neglected masterpieces.
The last half-decade has also seen the ongoing development of City Opera's education and outreach programs. Today, the company offers arts-in-education programs to 12,000 students in over 75 schools.
General and Artistic Director Paul Kellogg shares his predecessors' deep commitment to City Opera, acknowledging its storied past, overseeing its revitalized present, and faithfully working to fortify its future.

This exhibition celebrates the artistic development and musical career of Marian Anderson. Renowned throughout the world for her extraordinary contralto voice, she is also remembered for her dignity and grace under pressure. Through the mechanism of recorded sound, we can continue to enjoy Ms. Anderson's renderings of Lieder and spirituals . Through the reflected light of photographs, we can glimpse the preparation and performance of her repertoire. And through the papers that she left behind, we can investigate and understand how, when, where, and with whom her life took shape, was enriched, and became enriching not only for her audiences but also for others in need.
Before her death in 1993 Marian Anderson placed her personal papers--including letters, music scores, programs, photographs, and sound recordings--with the University of Pennsylvania Library, where they are housed in the Annenberg Rare Book & Manuscript Library. In 1996 the National Endowment for the Humanities provided the Library with outright and matching grants to preserve, catalog, and make available to the public the archive of Marian Anderson. The material on display is drawn from this important research collection. A register or inventory of the Marian Anderson Papers in available on-line. In addition, through the support of the NEH, the Rare Book & Manuscript Library has been able not only to identify, sort, and preserve the photographs in the Marian Anderson Papers but also to provide an on-line index to the more than 4,000 unique images. Through a donation from the Walter J. Miller Charitable Trust, this index has been enhanced by the inclusion of digitally scanned copies of each image. There is also a browsable photograph site.
The original 1994 exhibition was prepared with the generous contributions of knowledge and time of Allan Keiler, musicologist and author of the biography entitled Marian Anderson: A Singer's Journey (New York: Scribner, 2000), and Marjorie Hassen, Music Librarian, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library. The virtual exhibition presented here has been prepared by Nancy M. Shawcross with design consultation from Donna Brandolisio, image scanning by James B. Milner, and audio-visual transfer by Dan Heath and by Shooters, Inc.

Grace Ann Bumbry grew up at 1703 Goode Ave. in St. Louis. She joined the Union Memorial Methodist Church’s choir at eleven, and sang at Sumner High School. She was a 1954 winner on the "Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts." After her concert debut in London in 1959, Bumbry debuted with the Paris Opera the next year. In 1961 Richard Wagner’s grandson featured her in Bayreuth, Germany’s Wagner Festival. The first black to sing there, Bumbry was an international sensation and won the Wagner Medal. A mezzo-soprano who also successfully sang the soprano repertoire, Grace Bumbry recorded on four labels and sang in concerts worldwide.
Anthony Davis is an internationally known composer of operatic, symphonic, choral, and chamber works. He is also known for his virtuoso performances both as a solo pianist and as the leader of the ensemble Episteme, a unique ensemble of musicians who are disciplined interpreters as well as provocative improvisers. In April 1993, Davis made his Broadway debut, composing the music for Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, directed by George C. Wolfe. His music is also heard in Kushner’s companion piece, Perestroika, which opened on Broadway in November 1993.
As a composer, Davis is best known for his operas. X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X, which played to sold-out houses at its premiere at the New York City Opera in 1986, was the first of a new American genre: opera on a contemporary political subject. The recording of X was released on the Gramavision label in August 1992 and received a Grammy Nomination for "Best Contemporary Classical Composition" in February 1993. "[X] has brought new life to America's conservative operatic scene," enthused Andrew Porter in The New Yorker, "it is not just a stirring and well fashioned opera -- that already is much -- but one whose music adds a new, individual voice to those previously heard in our opera houses." Davis's second opera, Under the Double Moon, a science fiction opera with an original libretto by Deborah Atherton, premiered at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis in June 1989. His third opera, Tania, with a libretto by Michael-John LaChiusa and based on the abduction of Patricia Hearst, premiered at the American Music Theater Festival in June 1992. A recording of Tania was released in 2001 on Koch, and in November 2003, Musikwerkstaat Wien presented its European premiere. A fourth opera, Amistad, about a shipboard uprising by slaves and their subsequent trial, premiered at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in November 1997. Set to a libretto by poet Thulani Davis, the librettist of X, Amistad was staged by George C. Wolfe.
Reacting to two of Davis's orchestral works, Maps (Violin Concerto) and Notes from the Underground, Michael Walsh said in Time Magazine: "Imagine Ellington's lush, massed sonorities propelled by Bartók's vigorous whiplash rhythms and overlaid with the seductive percussive haze of the Balinese gamelan orchestra, and you will have an idea of what both the Concerto and Notes from the Underground sound like."
Davis's works also include the Violin Sonata, commissioned by Carnegie Hall for its Centennial; Jacob's Ladder, a tribute to Davis's mentor Jacob Druckman commissioned by the Kansas City Symphony; Esu Variations, a concert opener for the Atlanta Symphony; Happy Valley Blues, a work for the String Trio of New York with Davis on piano; and "Pale Grass and Blue, Then Red," a dance work choreographed by Ralph Lemon for the Limon Dance Company. His orchestral works have been performed by the New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, Orchestra of St. Luke's, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Kansas City Symphony, Beethoven Halle Orchestra of Bonn, and the American Composers Orchestra. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed Davis's opera X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X in concert in November 1992. The Pittsburgh Symphony recently commissioned a new concert opener from Davis entitled Tales (Tails) of the Signifying Monkey. In the 2003-2004 season Davis serves as Artistic Advisor of the American Composers Orchestra’ s Improvise! festival and conference which features a performance of Wayang V with Davis as piano soloist.
Born in Paterson, New Jersey, on 20 February 1951, Davis studied at Wesleyan and Yale universities. He was Yale's first Lustman Fellow, teaching composition and Afro-American studies. In 1987 Davis was appointed Senior Fellow with the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University, and in 1990 he returned to Yale University as Visiting Professor of Music. He became Professor of Music in Afro-American Studies at Harvard University in the fall of 1992, and assumed a full-time professorship at the University of California at San Diego in January 1998.
Recordings of Davis's music may be heard on the Rykodisc (Gramavision), Koch and Music and Arts labels. His music is published exclusively by G. Schirmer, Inc.

By John ArdoinOne of the towering black artists of our time, former Metropolitan Opera soprano Shirley Verrett talked with GREAT PERFORMANCES Online about the problems she faced and about black artists and their accomplishments.GP: Was your first goal to sing opera?SV: Not really, although I was put into the opera department at the Juilliard School in New York when I studied there. But because of my religious upbringing, I was not interested in opera. I thought only in terms of concert work. My goal was to be a concert singer like Marian Anderson, and I undertook my first recital tour in 1960, which, incidentally was in the South, just after my graduation. GP: Was there still an atmosphere of prejudice there?SV: Yes there was. I remember Maestro Leopold Stokowski wanted to hire me as a soloist with the Houston Symphony at the time, but his Board rejected the idea because I was black. I guess they did not want to see a black face among all the white faces in the orchestra, because, back then, our orchestras were not yet integrated.GP: But what about the recital tour?SV: Actually, there were no blatant problems, although my mother was worried about me. She thought I was too outspoken and might get into trouble. But my father said it was a good thing to do, for young blacks would see me and this would give them courage. So, I decided to go. I did insist that I be met at the airport and taken to wherever I would be staying, which, of course, was usually a private home, because, even at that time, not all hotels were open to blacks. I also told the sponsors that I was not there to fight any battles, but that I would not sing before a segregated audience. And they did try to honor my requests. The one thing I do remember was that in certain places there were still water fountains labeled "white" and "black," and my accompanist, who was also black, said to me in one place, "I think I will go and drink some 'white' water!" And he did, but no one said anything. GP: But you were born in the South -- New Orleans -- weren't you?SV: Yes, but when I was young my father moved us to California. At that time, the Civil Rights movement was nowhere in sight, and he decided he did not want his children to grow up in the same atmosphere [in which] he had been raised. He didn't want us to feel that because of our color we were somehow inferior and have a chip on our shoulder. It was a very significant moment in my life, but little did we know that we would also have to face prejudice in California. But at least it was not overt. It was more hidden. GP: Was this also the case after you moved to New York, to go the school there?SV: It was. For example, if I was by myself, I couldn't get a cab. But if my husband, who is white, would flag one, it always stopped. Then, I particularly remember when we were trying to find a new apartment. We would make an appointment on the phone to look at a place, but when we arrived, and they saw us, suddenly it was no longer available. But these were problems faced by all blacks. On the whole, as a performer, on the whole, I think I have been lucky, for I heard some real horror stories from other of my black colleagues.GP: What do you think is the role of the artist politically, whatever their race might be?SV: If I had not been a singer, I possibly would have been out there marching and carrying a placard. But because I was an artist, I tried to make a statement with my dignity and my art. But having said that, I knew my life couldn't be just music. Because of my color, I was representing my race. And I felt the way I could best represent it was to be the best I could be. But a strange thing happens when you are a black performer. Somehow, to many, you are no longer black. People see the artist first. If you are a Bill Cosby or an Oprah Winfrey you are not black -- but you're not white either. It's an odd situation.GP: Is there such a thing as a "black" sound?SV: That's a tough question and one I've thought a lot about. Most of the time, I think I can tell a black voice but not always. Look, Janis Joplin definitely had a black voice, but she was white. And, when I first heard Marilyn Horne on records, I thought she was a black singer. The black sound does exist, but it's not as easily recognizable as a Slavic sound or an Italian sound. We are so mixed up in the melting pot that is America, you can't always tell black from white. A great deal depends on what is being sung. If you compare the same spiritual sung by a black and a white singer, there is usually no doubt which one is black. But with a French song or an Italian aria it is much harder to tell.GP: If we say, for the sake of argument, that there is a black sound, how would you define it?SV: I don't really know. Is it a question of timbre? Was it the kind of vibrato Miss Anderson had? Was it the fervor in Leontyne Price's singing? I would certainly have to say that it came from the influence the church and its music had on all of us. I guess it is just something you feel without being able to say why. GP: Isn't it true that black male singers have not had it as easy as black females?SV: They never did. I think that what held black men back, especially in opera, was the idea that a black man did not belong on a stage singing opposite a white woman. Somehow, a black woman singing with a white man was more acceptable. I remember the director of La Scala telling me that audiences would always accept a black Delilah or Carmen, but never a black Samson or Don José.GP: But isn't it also true that there has never been a black man superstar of the equal of a Verrett or a Price?SV: That's true, but couldn't it also be that there were black male singers who didn't even bother to go into the field because of what they knew they would face? And the situation has not changed that much. But just think of the movies and how many great black male stars there are and the success they are having. In fact, the black male is making it in a big way in films and is more dominant than black females. I keep asking myself, "What is going on here? Why is that?"GP: What do you think is the status of the black artist in the year 2000?SV: I think there is still a lot to be done. But I cannot lose track of what has been done. I see this better than the younger generation, who were born in a world where everything has already been fought for. But, I also think we have to be very diligent and not become overly complacent. We still find examples of terrible prejudice every day, and we must fight these with every ounce of our strength. What we have won is too precious to take for granted
Leontyne Price: A Biography by Rushaunda Nash (SHS)
Mary Violet Leontyne Price, better known as Leontyne Price, a famous black opera singer, was born in Laurel, Mississippi, on February 10, 1927. She grew up in Laurel, Mississippi, and graduated from Oak Park High School in 1944 (African American Biography 589). At an early age Price had an interest for music. She sang in the choir at St. Paul's Methodist Church in Laurel, Mississippi. Her mother Kate (Baker) Price, worked as a midwife and also sang in the choir. Her father James Price worked in a sawmill (African American Bio. 589).
Price began taking piano lessons at the age of five years old. She presented her first recital when she was only six years old. Price attended Sandy Gavin Elementary where she also learned dancing and acrobatics from her third grade teacher. Price enjoyed performing and many times was the star in school programs. Although she participated in extra activities, Price was an outstanding "A" student (Williams 11). At the age of nine, Price's mother took her to Jackson, Mississippi, to a concert by Marian Anderson. This concer inspired Leontyne. (African American Bio. 589).
Price attended Oak Park High School, where she sang first sorprano with the Oak Park Choral group. She played in a numerous of school concerts, church, community programs, and solo recitals, singing and also playing the piano (Williams 13). Price graduated from Oak Park High School in 1944. She graduated with honors and also was presented an award for outstanding ability in music (Williams 14). Price then enrolled at the College of Education and Industrial Arts (Central State College) in Wilberforce, Ohio. At Central State, Price studied music education, with the idea to become a music teacher if becoming a performer failed (African American Bio. 590).
Catherine Van Buren, Leontyne's voice coach encouraged Price to continue her training. With that in mind, Price competed for and won a four-year scholarship to the Juilliard School of Music in New York City (Williams 17). Price left for New York in 1949 to attend Juilliard School of Music. During the four years at Juilliard, Price studied singing, learned stage presence, acting, and makeup (African American Bio. 590). She appeared in many of Juilliard's operatic productions. During one of her performances she was seen and heard by composer Virgil Thompson. This performance gave her the start to her career. Virgil Thompson asked her to sing the role of St. Cecelia in opera, Four Saints in Three Acts, which was her first appearance as a professional singer (African American Bio. 590). From then on, Price began touring the United States and Europe as a professional singer.
Four Saints in Three Acts was very successful and this helped Leontyne to be signed to sing the role of Bess in the folk opera Porgy and Bess (African American Bio. 591). In 1957 at the San Francisco opera, Price sang in the opera, Dialogues of the Camelites. By accident Price got the chance to play the first role of Aida because the opera singer who was chosen became very ill (African American Bio. 591). Price got her chance to sing at the Metropolitan in 1961. Price's outstanding performance in Verdi's II Trovature at the Met received a standing ovation of forty-two minutes. Price appeared in 118 Metropolitan Operas between 1961 and 1969 (African American Bio.591). In Samuel Barbers opera, Antony and Cleopatra, Price sang and played the role of Cleopatra. " Tickets for this opera sold out; and the tickets were as much as two hundred and fifty dollars" (Williams 24).
In 1970, Price cut down on her operatic appearances and concentrated on concert recitals and recording sessions. During Price's career she has won nearly twenty Grammy Awards. Price's retirement form the opera stage came in 1985 with the performance of Aida at the Lincoln Center. Price has also written Aida: A Picture Book for All Ages (African American Bio.591). Even though Price has retired from the opera stage, she has performed at presidential inaugurations and sung before the Pope. In 1991 she sang at Carnage Hall's hundredth anniversary in New York (African American Bio. 591). Williams says of her, "Leontyne Price had a strong desire to be successful opera singer. This goal , along with her vocal ability and stage personality , has led her to success. her belief in hard work and deep religious faith have helped her through difficult periods. The strength of character she has shown during her career marks her as one of America's great women" (Williams 31). Although she is no longer making recordings, BMG has recently released a new boxed set entitled "The Essential Leontyne Price," which includes eleven CD's of Price's greatest recorded performances (including many rarities), from operatic scenes and arias to art songs to spirituals and sacred songs. She has received many awards during her career. Two of the most recent are her induction into the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame (1999) and the Governor's Lifetime Achievement Award (2000).
Timeline for Leontyne Price
1927- Mary Violet Leontyne Price was born in Laurel, Mississippi 1933- began playing piano at the age of 5. 1934- at the age of six performed first recital 1944- Graduated from Oak Park High School; enrolled at the College of Education and Industrial Arts in Wilberforce, Ohio 1949- awarded four-year scholarship for the Juilliard School of Music in New York City 1952- first appearance as a professional singer in opera Four Saints in Three Acts 1952- married William Warfield 1954- made concert debut at Town Hall 1955- appeared in her opera debut on NBC-TV 1957- sang in Dialogues of the Carmelites at the San Francisco opera 1958- European opera debut 1960- Grammy Award: Best Classical Performance, Vocal Soloist A Program Of Song 1961- first appearance at the Metropolitan 1963- Grammy Award: Best Classical Performance, Vocal Soloist for Great Scenes from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess 1964- Grammy Award: Best Classical Performance, Vocal Soloist for Beriloz: Nuits d' ete 1965- Presidential medal of Freedom Grammy Award: Best Classical Performance, Vocal soloist for R. Strauss: Scenes & Arias 1966- Grammy Award: Best Classical Performance, Vocal Soloist for Prima Donna 1967- Grammy Award: Best Classical Performance, Vocal Soloist for Prima Donna,Vol.2 1969- Grammy Award: Best Classical Performance, Vocal Soloist for Barber: Knoxville 1970- cut down on opera performances 1971- Grammy Award: Best Classical Performance, Vocal Soloist for Schumann: Songs 1973- Grammy Award: Best Classical Performance, Vocal Soloist for Puccini Heriones 1974- Grammy Award: Best Classical Performance, Vocal Soloist for R. Strauss 1980- Kennedy Center Honoree Grammy Award: Best Classical Performance, Vocal Soloist for Verdi 1983- Grammy Award: Best Classical Performance, Vocal Soloist with Marilyn 1985- retired, with performance of Aida 1987- Image Award from Associated Black Charities 1989- Lifetime Achievement Award, National Academy of recording Arts and Sciences 1990- Essence Award 1991- Sung at the hundredth anniversary of Carnegie Hall in New York 1999- Inducted in Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame
2000- Recipient of Mississippi Governor's Lifetime Achievement Award.

"Put simply: if the human voice has the power to move you, you will be touched by Denyce Graves." - Atlanta Journal-Constitution"One of the singers most likely to be an operatic superstar of the 21st century." - USA TODAY
Recognized worldwide as one of today's most exciting vocal stars, Denyce Graves continues to gather unparalleled popular and critical acclaim in performances on four continents. Her career has taken her to the world's great opera houses and concert halls. The combination of her expressive, rich vocalism, elegant stage presence and exciting theatrical abilities allows her to pursue a wide breadth of operatic portrayals as well as delight audiences in concert and recital appearances. Denyce Graves has become particularly well-known to operatic audiences for her portrayals of the title roles in Carmen and Samson et Dalila. These signature roles have brought Ms. Graves to the Metropolitan Opera, Vienna Staatsoper, Royal Opera - Covent Garden, San Francisco Opera, Opéra National de Paris, Lyric Opera of Chicago, The Washington Opera, Bayerische Staatsoper, Arena di Verona, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Opernhaus Zürich, Houston Grand Opera, Dallas Opera, Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, Los Angeles Music Center Opera, and the Festival Maggio Musicale in Florence.
One of the music world's most sought after recitalists, Ms. Graves combines her expressive vocalism and exceptional gifts for communication with her dynamic stage presence, enriching audiences around the world. She is an exclusive recording artist with BMG Classics, and appears often on television. She was named one of the "50 Leaders of Tomorrow" by Ebony Magazine and was one of Glamour Magazine's 1997 "Women of the Year." In 1999 WQXR Radio in New York named her as one of classical music's "Standard Bearers for the 21st Century." Denyce Graves has been invited on several occasions to perform in recital at The White House, and she provides many benefit performances for various causes special to her throughout each season.

Much more than an opera divaA singer of arias and anthems, Denyce Graves puts her mark on American music
By Janelle GelfandThe Cincinnati EnquirerPublished: Feb. 21, 2003
Just days after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Denyce Graves stood before a grieving nation and sang "America the Beautiful" in Washington, D.C.'s National Cathedral. She got through that difficult moment, she says, by removing her ego, and letting the music speak through her.
"It was not about how I was feeling, but collectively us - as human beings across the world - and how that changed us all forever," Graves says. "The message that we wanted to say was, that this horrible, horrible thing happened, but we will get through this, and we are more united than ever before."
Her inspiration on that day was legendary African-American contralto Marian Anderson. "I thought about Marian Anderson and I remembered her famous concert at the Lincoln Memorial," Graves says. "I thought about that moment."
Graves, who was reared in a gritty neighborhood not far from the National Cathedral, became an international opera star - partly by way of Ohio, where she attended Oberlin College. Her majestic mezzo-soprano voice has soared on stages from New York toLondon.
This weekend, she will join Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops in "A Patriotic Broadway," to be taped for a PBS television special.
Graves, who canceled performances at the Deutsche Oper Berlin to appear with the Pops, plans to sing a variety of "sentimental, light-hearted and patriotic favorites," she says - songs such as Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" and "Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor," Leonard Bernstein's "Take Care of this House" and George Gershwin's "Strike Up the Band."
Crossover appeal
Patriotic music is close to her heart. After the National Cathedral broadcast, viewed by millions of people and five U.S. presidents, she was mobbed by requests for a patriotic recording. She and her husband, David Perry, a guitarist, director and producer, put together an album, Memorial, which is available on her Web site, Its proceeds go to the Red Cross.
That kind of crossover appeal is not new for Graves, whose drop-dead good looks have landed her in Vogue, in designer Anne Klein's "Significant Women" campaign, and on TV with Oprah and Larry King. Lately, the opera superstar is again in the media eye, about to launch a fragrance, "Music by Denyce Graves," and a jewelry line.
It's all high-profile stuff. But on this day, she is decidedly undiva-like, radiating a friendly personality as she hurriedly chats by cell phone at 7 a.m. California time, while waiting to be driven to the airport. Next stop: Louisiana.
The misconceptions about the life of the glamorous opera star are many, she laughs.
"Every two days, we're in a different place, that's been making life really - fun!" she says, carefully choosing the last word. She was in Los Angeles to promote her new album, The Lost Days, but she was also in the middle of a recital tour that took her to Oxford, Ohio, last month, and will bring her to Dayton's new Schuster Center on May 2 and 4 (tickets: 888-228-3630).
CD 'sort of found us'
Her new Latin album represents a different direction; it's an exquisite and sensual mélange of jazz and classical that is too sophisticated to label "crossover." Material for The Lost Days (RCA Red Seal; $17.98), a lush collection of nostalgic ballads and jazzy new Latin sounds, "sort of found us," she says. "I feel like we need to do three other CDs to include all the material that we discovered, which is absolutely glorious."
Among the numbers are pieces by tango legend Astor Piazzolla, the famous Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos and Argentinean Carlos Guastavino. But there are also songs by new Latino composers, such as "Romanza de Denyce" by Cuban composer Chucho Valdes, and "Soledad" by Cuban Jose Maria Vitier, with lyrics by Silvia Rodriguez.
"Romanza de Denyce" began as a joke, when Graves teased Valdes about a score called "Habanera de Lorraine" on his music stand.
"I said to him, 'Who's Lorraine?' That became the biggest joke. So he said, 'OK, Denyce, I'm going to write one for you,' " she recalls.
Broadening repertoire
Operatically, she's branching out, too, from her steamy signature roles of Carmen, which she recently reprised at the Met, and Dalila in Saint-Saens' Samson et Dalila. In 2000, she added the role of Amneris to her repertoire when she performed Aida with Cincinnati Opera. Last spring, she debuted the intense role of Judith in Bartok's Duke Bluebeard's Castle, in a Los Angeles production directed by William Friedkin of The Exorcist fame.
But Graves is most excited about learning the title role of Margaret Garner, an opera that American composer Richard Danielpour is writing for her. It is based on historical material that inspired the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved by Toni Morrison, who is also the author of the opera's libretto.
"You are going to see it, up close and personal," says Graves, who will perform it at Cincinnati Opera in July 2005. (It is a joint commission that includes the world premiere at Michigan Opera Theatre and performances at Opera Company of Philadelphia.) Its Cincinnati performances will honor the 2004 opening of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
Her own PBS television special is in the works, too. She's co-writing (with a ghost writer) a book about her life for Warner Books. And she's working on a still-to-be-announced "very big" recording project that involves "a group of women across a spectrum of different music styles."
With everything she does, Graves says, her goal is to create more interest for opera in America.
"People think it's something just for the elite, and you can't understand it, and it's not accessible. But so many people tell me when they come to a concert or an opera, that it's nothing like they thought it was going to be. I love hearing that, because I would love to dispel those myths."

'Just Denyce'
By KURT LOFTPublished: Feb. 10, 2003
TAMPA - Most of us are content to sing in the shower. Denyce Graves would rather belt out the title role of "Carmen" at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
The two aren't quite the same, and Graves should know. She sang just that a few weeks back, with her acclaimed performance airing on radios around the country.
"There's a great amount of pressure at the Met," Graves says by telephone from her home in Washington, D.C. "There's a standard there that the people have, and what I have for myself. There's also the pressure of knowing you will document something."
Graves will be making another, less theatrical, document when she comes to Tampa this weekend to sing selections from her new recording "The Lost Days: Music in the Latin Style." The program is a far cry from her ambitious operatic work, but shows the diversity of her thinking as a musician and expresses the range of her voice. More important, her visit here is about the continuous musical dialogue between people.
"Music is about who we are as human beings," she says. "We can survive without music, but I don't think we could be human beings without it."
That attitude may be one reason Graves is one of the world's most sought-after mezzo-sopranos. Most every major opera house wants her appointment, whether for her signature roles in "Carmen" and "Samson et Dalila" or as a recitalist. Her repertoire is both wide and risky, including such operas as diverse as Bartok's "Bluebeard's Castle" and Stravinsky's "Rake's Progress."
Bringing Graves to the Bay area was a no-brainer, says Judith Lisi, president of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.
"What's exciting about Denyce is she's peaking - she is one of our great mezzo-sopranos," Lisi says. "She's a quality singer with an extraordinary voice."
At 37 and in her prime, Graves has little to prove, except to grow as an artist. Doing recitals, such as her upcoming appearance in Tampa, keeps her sharp.
"Recitals can be harder than operas, because it's just you out there," she says. "There's nothing to hide behind, no character, no scenery, and you can't blame the conductor. All the glory and blame falls on your shoulders. You're very exposed. It's just Denyce, just my intellect, my heart and my reasoning."
Saturday, Graves will reason her way through a program that covers Broadway, German lieder, French melodies, English art songs and Latin classical and popular composers: Astro Piazzolla, Eliane Elias, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Jose Maria Vitier and Chucho Valdes. The songs are a good fit for Tampa, with its rich Latin heritage.
"I'm going to try to show a very broad spectrum of music with different styles and languages throughout the evening," she says. "I'll start with early music and end up with something contemporary. I'll just be mixing it up - esoteric, familiar, charming, funny, dramatic pieces and tragic pieces."
Graves did her part to help people heal after the tragedy of 9/11 when she sang "The Lord's Prayer" at Washington National Cathedral days after the attacks. The experience, she says, had a profound impact on her life, and may go down as her most difficult moment as a performer.
"But at the same time, when something is expected of you, you rise up" she says. "I couldn't afford the luxury of thinking about myself at all that day because what was in front of me was so much greater. I just let the music speak and tried to be a vessel through which it passes. That's all I was trying to do, to focus on singing and let it speak."

15. Houston Ebony Music Society / Houston Ebony Opera GuildA company of classical singers based on Houston's African American community and committed to the expansion of opportunities for participation in and exposure to opera, traditional Negro spirituals and other classical music genres; performance of opera, choral music and other styles year-round; Christ Church Cathedral, 117 Texas Avenue; 713-529-7664
Kathleen Battle (Soprano)
Born: August 13, 1948 – Portsmouth, Ohio, USAThe outstanding black American soprano, Kathleen (Deanna) Battle, studied with Franklin Bens and has earned both her bachelor's (1970) and master's (1971) degrees from the College Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati.Kathleen Battle made her professional debut at the Spoleto Festival in Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem under the baton of Thomas Schippers. Her Metropolitan Opera debut came only five years later in Wagner's Tannhäuser. Kathleen Battle has been awarded six honorary doctoral degrees -- from her alma mater, the University of Cincinnati; Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J.; Ohio University; Xavier University in Cincinnati; Amherst College; and Seton Hall University.Kathleen Battle's lyric soprano voice and unique artistry have captivated audiences around the world, making her one of the most acclaimed singers of our time. She has appeared on the stages of the world's leading opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera and Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and the opera houses of Vienna, Paris, San Francisco and Chicago.Kathleen Battle has performed with the world's great orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, and Orchestre de Paris. She has also appeared at the festivals of Salzburg, Ravinia, Tanglewood, Blossom, the Hollywood Bowl, Mann Music Centre and Caramoor, and at Cincinnati's May Festival.A five-time Grammy Award winner, the soprano has recorded for Sony Classical throughout her career. Her latest recording for the label, Grace, is a collection of sacred arias and songs by Bach, Händel, Mozart, Rossini, and Fauré. After its release in the spring of 1997, it immediately rose to the top of the Billboard Classical chart. Battle's first crossover album, So Many Stars, was released by the label in 1995. On this recording she is joined by leading jazz musicians, including Grover Washington Jr., Cyrus Chestnut, Christian McBride and James Carter, in a collection of lullabies, spirituals and folksongs. In conjunction with the disc's release, she opened Jazz at Lincoln Center's 1995-96 season with a concert of spirituals, music of Duke Ellington, and selections from the album.Kathleen Battle's recent Sony Classical releases also include Angels' Glory, where she is joined by Christopher Parkening in a collection of Christmas songs arranged for guitar and voice. The disc features intimate, rare songs from around the world as well as well-known favourites such as "Silent Night." Baroque Duet, her 1991 Sony Classical recording with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and the Orchestra of St. Luke's under the baton of John Nelson, has proven one of the best-selling classical records in the USA since its release.Memorable concerts featuring Battle have been recorded live and are now available on Sony Classical home video. They include Mozart's Coronation Mass from the Vatican and the 1987 New Year's Concert, both with Herbert von Karajan conducting, as well as A Carnegie Hall Christmas Concert , with Frederica von Stade and Wynton Marsalis and conducted by André Previn. A documentary film on the recording of Baroque Duet was nominated for an Emmy following its broadcast on PBS. It is also available as a Sony Classical video release, as is her performance as Zerlina in Herbert von Karajan's production of Don Giovanni at the Salzburg Festival.With a stage repertoire spanning the centuries from Händel (Cleopatra in the Metropolitan Opera's 1988-89 premiere staging of Giulio Cesare) to Richard Strauss, Kathleen Battle is equally at home performing Mozart's Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro as she is in the bel canto operas of Rossini (Il barbiere di Siviglia) and Donizetti (L'elisir d'amore). Her Pamina in Die Zauberflöte has been hailed as one of the greatest Mozartean characterisations of our generation, and her glittering Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos received the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Performance in a New Opera Production for her debut at London's Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. In addition, she has performed Zerlina in Mozart's Don Giovanni and Despina in Così fan tutte, Sophie in Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier and Zdenka in Arabella, Marie in Donizetti's La fille du régiment and Norina in Don Pasquale.Kathleen Battle enjoys close musical collaborations with many of the most noted artists of our time. She has appeared in concert with the world's major conductors, including Herbert von Karajan, Riccardo Muti, Seiji Ozawa, Leonard Slatkin, André Previn, Claudio Abbado, Sir Georg Solti, James Levine, Lorin Maazel, and Sir Neville Marriner. She has performed with soprano Jessye Norman, tenors Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo, violinist Itzhak Perlman, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal, guitarist Christopher Parkening, and saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. These partnerships are documented on numerous recordings and videos.
Kathleen Battle's appearance on the PBS broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera's 1991 season opening gala won her an Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Classical Program on Television in the USA.In recital, Kathleen Battle has toured extensively throughout the USA, Canada, South America, Europe and the Far East, performing regularly in such music capitals as New York, Boston, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Paris, London, Vienna, Berlin, Tokyo, and Milan.
Kathleen Battle’s lyric soprano voice and unique artistry have captivated audiences around the world, making her one of the most acclaimed singers of her time. Her latest recording for Sony Classical – Classic Kathleen Battle – brings together the best of her recent recordings for the label, embracing a repertoire that includes opera, Baroque and sacred music, jazz, spirituals and an excerpt from Vangelis’ Mythodea, released in 2001.
In a repertoire that ranges from Handel to Richard Strauss, the singer has appeared on the stages of the world’s leading opera houses including the Metropolitan Opera, the opera houses of Vienna, Paris, San Francisco and Chicago, and London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Miss Battle has enjoyed close collaborations with most noted artists of our time and has performed with the world’s great orchestras in Vienna, Berlin, Paris, New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Los Angeles. She has also appeared regularly in the festivals of Salzburg, Ravinia, Tanglewood, Blossom, Hollywood Bowl, Mann Music Center, Caramoor and Cincinnati’s May Festival. In recital, she has performed extensively throughout the U.S.
and Canada, South America, Europe and Asia, regularly performing in the music capitals of the world.
A five-time Grammy Award winner, Miss Battle has made many recordings and television appearances that have brought her voice and musicianship into millions of homes worldwide. Her repertoire embraces jazz and spirituals as well as an uncommonly wide range of classical music, from the Baroque to composer André Previn’s song cycle Honey and Rue, commissioned by Carnegie Hall for Miss Battle, with texts by Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison.
A native of Portsmouth, Ohio, Kathleen Battle earned both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the College Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati. She made her professional debut at the Spoleto Festival, and her Metropolitan Opera debut followed only five years later. Miss Battle is the recipient of six honorary doctorates from American universities and, in 1999, was inducted into the NAACP Image Hall of Fame
Welcome to Opera WorldFew are born opera-lovers. Most of us achieve opera-love -- gradually.
The Hardcore Opera FanaticObsessive. Opinionated. Argmentative. Irrational. And sometimes downright rude.
When the Music Starts - Shut UpLast spring, I was attending Susannah at the Metropolitan Opera House, seconds away from the moment in the opera that we all wait for: Susannah's "The trees on the mountain."
Pop-star Divas Cher and MadonnaHow did an opera term get co-opted by popular culture?
Mad MenMale and female opera characters go insane in very different ways.
Generation X at the OperaHas Generation X lost its way to the opera?
Tidying Up to VivaldiOnce again, the genius of American marketing has discovered something I didn't know I needed.
Opera and Heavy MetalAt the precise cultural moment when countertenor-crazed operagoers are revisiting the eighteenth century, rock-music fans are reliving a more recent, if no less gilded age, the 1980s.
Law & Order's Sam Waterson at the OperaSam Waterston strides firmly into the elegant main dining room of Picholine, winning a discreet but audible buzz of recognition from the refined pre-theater crowd.
Reel OperaBack in the early days of the movies, opera stars were nearly as famous as film stars.
Critic John Simon, the Man Who Loves To Be HatedIn the cover photograph of his fourteenth and most recent book, Dreamers of Dreams, John Simon, impeccably tailored, gazes benignly and directly into the camera.
Mad Menby David J. Baker
Male and female opera characters go insane in very different ways. When heroines lose their mind, it is because they have lost a fiancé or lover. Men in opera, as the "stronger" sex, bring on madness through misdeeds of their own, through guilt rather than grief.
Lady Macbeth looks at first like an exception, but isn't she something of a moral transsexual? In Verdi as in Shakespeare, this is a woman who prays to be "unsexed" in order to realize her ambitions. On the other hand, while the operatic male occasionally can go crazy from grief, most of them — Nabucco, Macbeth, Boris Godunov, Wozzeck, Peter Grimes, Tom Rakewell and others from operas by Donizetti and Rossini — suffer madness as a punishment.
Posterity too punishes opera's madmen — by ignoring them. Some textbooks for the neophyte operagoer define "mad scene" as an enactment of insanity by a soprano. No mention of other voices. They include coloratura display as part of the definition. So if male mad scenes are overlooked, it is no doubt because of their plainer vocal style. The women get the high notes and trills; male mad scenes do offer juicy dramatic opportunities, but only those written after opera took steps toward naturalism.
Take an early example like Assur's hallucinatory cavatina in Act II of Rossini's Semiramide (1823). The recitative, in which he begins to make out the ghost of the murdered King Nino, is effectively feverish and choppy, but the ensuing melody addressed to the specter rolls out like a generic lyrical appeal — like any operatic appeal.
Rossini's soldier chorus interrupts Assur at times, supplying the clinical element the music lacks: "He is delirious," they tell us helpfully; "he is imagining things" — their words reading like stage directions in a libretto. Realism suffers further when Assur recovers in time for his cabaletta.
For one of his madmen, Murena in L'Esule di Roma (1828), Donizetti places directions such as "with a dark, broken voice" and invents a new tempo, andante in delirio. The baritone hero of his Il Furioso nell'Isola di San Domingo (1833) suffers a bout of hysterical blindness (a nice reversal of operas' constant recourse to visual hallucinations), but the sudden cure and happy ending seem forced. Somewhat like Assur's choral commentators, the Furioso's wife interjects "Ei delira" (He's delirious) three times during their duet. Composers would slowly become more adept at portraying insane behavior, rather than just labeling it.
Their best teacher was Shakespeare, in dramatic terms at least, and Mussorgsky's Boris is the most Shakespearean of operas. Like Macbeth in Verdi's banquet scene (who wonders "Can the tomb give up the murdered?"), Boris asks Prince Shuisky, "Have you ever heard of murdered children rising from their graves to frighten a czar who was chosen by the people?" Also like Macbeth (whose wife demands "Are you a man?" as he cowers before the ghost), Boris is humiliated by his outburst; he tries to make his question sound like a joke, and laughs a little too hysterically.
As if driven to torture himself, he forces Shuisky (perhaps not for the first time) to describe the corpse of the murdered czarevich as it lay for days in the square. Shuisky is projecting the vision for the audience, of course, to a stirringly vivid orchestral depiction of Boris' torment. The czar falls apart as the orchestra — his conscience — swells the clock chimes to a punishing reminder of Judgment Day.
Peter Grimes' mad scene is almost a struggle between sight and sound, between his visual hallucinations (the resuscitated apprentice and a comforting Ellen Orford) and the sound of his pursuers crying his name. These shouts banish the vision of Ellen and the apprentice, and transport Grimes back to the courtroom. Deafening at the close of the last scene, the townspeople's cries of "Peter Grimes!" are refracted and distorted during his mad scene, reduced to echoes and whispers that now seem to be coming from his own head. Equally imaginative are Peter's scattered fragments of vocal line, shouts, whines, longing and a sarcastic epitaph. He curses the townspeople but soon chants his own name as if cursing himself. The sounds have overcome the comforting visions, and he mutely obeys Balstrode's advice (anticipated in his own solo) to drown himself.
With this musical sophistication, especially the use of a functional, free-form vocal line and the subjective orchestra and chorus, we have come far since Donizetti's Murena. In his mad scene, Murena "sees" his victim (the falsely accused Settimio) being hurled to the lions (in an oddly graceful andante) and then (in the cabaletta) evokes his own imminent descent into hell. But underneath, this dual structure remains. Mussorgsky's and Britten's male mad scenes also combine delirium and recognition — illusion and then a certain clarity. Faced with consequences of their own action, blinded and then awakened by their visions, these tortured seekers accuse and condemn themselves.
DAVID J. BAKER is a writer, editor and translator based in Connecticut.