|Shirley Verrett (May 31, 1931 – November
5, 2010) was an American operatic mezzo-soprano who successfully transitioned
into soprano roles, i.e. soprano sfogato. Verrett enjoyed great
fame from the late 1960s through the 1990s, particularly well known for
singing the works of Verdi and Donizetti.
Born into an African-American family of devout Seventh-day Adventists in New Orleans, Louisiana, Verrett was raised in Los Angeles, California. She sang in church and showed early musical abilities, but initially a singing career was frowned upon by her family. Later Verrett went on to study with Anna Fitziu and with Marion Szekely Freschl at the Juilliard School in New York. In 1961 she won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.
In 1957, Verrett made her operatic debut in Britten's The Rape of Lucretia. In 1958, she made her New York City Opera debut as Irina in Kurt Weill's Lost in the Stars. In 1959, she made her European debut in Cologne, Germany in Nicolas Nabokov's Rasputins Tod. In 1962, she received critical acclaim for her Carmen in Spoleto, and repeated the role at the Bolshoi Theatre in 1963, and at the NY City Opera in 1964. Verrett first appeared at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 1966 as Ulrica in Un ballo in maschera.
She appeared in the first concert ever televised from Lincoln Center
in 1962, and also appeared that year in the first of the Leonard Bernstein
Young People's Concerts ever televised from that venue, in
what is now Avery Fisher Hall.
Beginning in the late 1970s she began to tackle soprano roles, including
Selika in L'Africaine, Judith in Bartók's Bluebeard's
Castle, Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, Madame Lidoine in Poulenc's
Dialogues of the Carmelites (Met1977), Tosca, Norma (from Boston
1976 till Messina 1989), Aida (Boston 1980 and 1989), Desdemona (Otello)
(1981), Leonore (Fidelio) (Met 1983), Iphigénie (1984–85),
Alceste (1985), Médée (Cherubini) (1986). Her Tosca was televised
by PBS on Live from the Met in December 1978, just six days
before Christmas. [Hirschfeld drawing of the cast is shown below, followed
by the DVD release.]
In 1990, Verrett sang Dido in Les Troyens at the inauguration of the Opéra Bastille in Paris, and added a new role at her repertoire: Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana in Sienna. In 1994, she made her Broadway debut in the Tony Award-winning revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater, playing Nettie Fowler.
In 1996 Verrett joined the faculty of the University of Michigan
School of Music, Theatre & Dance as a Professor of Voice and the James
Earl Jones Distinguished University Professor of Voice. The preceding
year at the National Opera Association Gala Banquet and Concert honoring
Todd Duncan, Camilla Williams and Robert McFerrin, Verrett said: "I'm
always so happy when I can speak to young people because I remember those
who were kind to me that didn't need to be. The first reason I came tonight
was for the honorees because I needed to say this. The second reason I came
was for you, the youth. These great people here were the trailblazers for
me. I hope in my own way I did something to help your generation, and that
you will help the next. This is the way it's supposed to be. You just
keep passing that baton on!"
-- Names which are links in this box and
below refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website. BD
Clelia Maria Josepha (Giuseppina) Strepponi (8 September 1815 – 14 November 1897) was a nineteenth-century Italian operatic soprano of great renown and the second wife of composer Giuseppe Verdi.
She is often credited with having contributed to Verdi's first successes,
starring in a number of his early operas, including the role of Abigaille
in the world premiere of Nabucco in 1842. A highly gifted singer,
Strepponi excelled in the bel canto repertoire and spent much of her career
portraying roles in operas by Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti, and Gioachino
Rossini, often sharing the stage with tenor Napoleone Moriani and
baritone Giorgio Ronconi. Donizetti wrote the title role of his opera Adelia
specifically for Strepponi.
She was described as possessing a "limpid, penetrating, smooth voice, seemly action, a lovely figure; and to Nature's liberal endowments she adds an excellent technique"; her "deep inner feeling" was also lauded.
Both her personal and professional life were complicated by overwork, by at least three known pregnancies, and by her vocal deterioration which caused her to retire from the stage by the age of 31, in 1846 when she moved to Paris to become a singing teacher. While it is known that she had a professional relationship with Verdi from the time of his first opera, Oberto in 1839, they became a couple by 1847 when they lived together in Paris, then moved to Busetto in 1849, married in 1859, and remained together until the end of her life.
|The Opéra-Comique is a Paris
opera company, which was founded around 1714 by some of the popular theatres
of the Parisian fairs. In 1762 the company was merged with, and for a time
took the name of its chief rival the Comédie-Italienne at
the Hôtel de Bourgogne, and was also called the Théâtre-Italien
up to about 1793, when it again became most commonly known as the Opéra-Comique.
Today the company's official name is Théâtre national de
l'Opéra-Comique, and its theatre, with a capacity of around 1,248
seats, sometimes referred to as the Salle Favart (the third on this site),
is located in Place Boïeldieu, in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris,
not far from the Palais Garnier, one of the theatres of the Paris Opéra.
The musicians and others associated with the Opéra-Comique have made important contributions to operatic history and tradition in France, and to French opera. Its current mission is to reconnect with its history, and discover its unique repertoire, to ensure production and dissemination of operas for the wider public. Mainstays of the repertory at the Opéra-Comique during its history have included the following works which have each been performed more than 1,000 times by the company: Cavalleria Rusticana, Le chalet, La dame blanche, Le domino noir, La fille du régiment, Lakmé, Manon, Mignon, Les noces de Jeannette, Le pré aux clercs, Tosca, La bohème, Werther and Carmen, the last having been performed more than 2,500 times. [Photo below shows the theatre at the time of the premiere of Carmen (March 3, 1875)].
© 1987 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded at her hotel in Chicago on September 23, 1987. Portions were broadcast on WNIB the following year, and again in 1991, 1992, and 1996. This transcription was made in 2020, and posted on this website at that time. My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM.You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago. You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.