African American Opera Divas - Sung and Unsung
Marian Anderson, Contralto
Marian Anderson was an African-American contralto and one of the most celebrated singers of the twentieth century. An inspiration to singers everywhere, music critic Alan Blyth said "Her voice was a rich, vibrant contralto of intrinsic beauty." A classical music pioneer and Opera Singer, she was a contralto known for her wide-ranging repertory of art songs, opera arias, and spirituals. On Easter Sunday in 1939, more than 75,000 people come to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., to hear famed African-American contralto Marian Anderson give a free open-air concert. Anderson had been scheduled to sing at Washington's Constitution Hall, but the Daughters of the American Revolution, a political organization that helped manage the concert hall, denied her the right to perform because of her race. The first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, resigned her membership from the organization in protest, and Anderson's alternate performance at the Lincoln Memorial served greatly to raise awareness of the problem of racial discrimination in America. The only African American opera singer to have her own US Postal Service stamp.
Jessye Norman, Dramatic Soprano
Her performance resulted in numerous job offers. She went on to tour through the 1970s. By the 1980s her roles in Aïda and Les Troyen had made her one of the most popular and highest paid opera singers worldwide. In 1990, Javier Perez de Cuellar named her honorary ambassador to the United Nations. President Barack Obama presents the 2009 National Medal of Arts to Jessye Norman, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010, The Jessye Norman School of the Arts was named for her in her hometown.
Lillian Evans Evanti, Coloratura Soprano
A lyric soprano, she was the first African-American to sing opera with an organized company in Europe. Evanti studied and graduated from Howard Universities School of Music in 1917. Madame Evanti left America, and conquered Europe with a premiere in Delibes’ opera Lakme, in Nice, France, in 1925. She was honored at the Franklin Roosevelt White House in 1934 and won critical acclaim for her role as Violetta in the National Negro Opera Company's production of Verdi's La Traviata in 1943.
|Reri Grist, Coloratura soprano|
Reri Grist, Coloratura soprano
Reri Grist is an American coloratura soprano, precursor to Kathleen Battle, and one of the pioneer black singers to enjoy a major international career in opera. Her official operatic debut took place at the Santa Fe Opera in 1959, as Adele in Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus, followed by Blondchen in Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio. Shortly after she was invited to the opera of Cologne to sing the Queen of the Night in Mozart's The Magic Flute, which marked her European debut in 1960. She became a regular performer at Zurich Opera where she sang in many light coloratura roles, such as Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier and Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos. After her success in Zurich, she found herself much in demand, making her debut at the Royal Opera House and the Glyndebourne Festival, in 1962, followed by the Vienna State Opera and the San Francisco Opera, in 1963, the Salzburg Festival, in 1965, where she sang frequently the Mozart soubrette roles, such as Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro, Zerlina in Don Giovanni, and Despina in Cosi fan tutte. Her Metropolitan Opera debut took place on February 25, 1966, as Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia. Her other roles at the Met included, Adina in L'elisir d'amore, Norina in Don Pasquale, Gilda in Rigoletto, Olympia in Les contes d'Hoffmann, Oscar in Un ballo in maschera, as well as Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier and Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos. Grist was also active teaching at the Munich Hochschule, and giving numerous masterclasses in centers such as Zurich, Ravinia, Bloomington, San Francisco. She currently lives in Hamburg with her husband, noted musicologist, Ulf Thomson. Reri Grist possessed a sweet and agile voice, and a most enchanting presence on stage. She made relatively few recordings, but can be heard as Oscar in two recordings of Un ballo in maschera, the first in 1966, opposite Leontyne Price, and the second in 1975, opposite Martina Arroyo, two African-American sopranos like Grist.
Dorothy Maynor, Lyric Soprano
Dorothy Maynor, a Great Singer Opera Missed. Known for her exquisite rendition of "Depuis le jour" was said to sing it more beautifully than anyone on earth. "The voice itself was rare and special enough for history to have been more generous. It was marked by warmth and soul-stirring richness, with bell-like clarity in the upper range, and enhanced by a rare ability to float out a weightless mezza voce. Maynor exploited the device so well, especially in "Depuis le jour" from Louise, that her renderings of the aria still set the standard by which others are judged." Because of her race, she settled to teach at Harlem school of the arts, where she was a founding member.
Barbara Hendricks, Soprano
Since her 1974 New York Town Hall debut, Barbara Hendricks has been acclaimed as one of the leading and most active recitalists of her generation and in addition to her vast repertoire of German Lieder she is also known as a leading interpreter and staunch promoter of French, American and Scandanavian music. Since 1987, Barbara Hendricks has worked actively with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) as its Goodwill Ambassador, visiting refugee camps throughout the world.
Shirley Verrett, Mezzo and Soprano
Shirley Verrett 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.
Grace Bumbrey, Mezzo and Soprano
Miss Bumbry made her operatic debut in 1960 with the Paris Opera Company as Amneris in Verdi's "Aïda." In 1961, she became the first Black woman to sing the role of Venus in Richard Wagner's "Tannhäuser" at the Wagner Bayreuth Festival. She made her United States debut in the same role at the Chicago Lyric Opera in 1963. Other roles include Verdi's "MacBeth," Strauss's "Salome," and Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess." Awards: Kennedy Center Honor
Betty Allen, Mezzo-soprano
Betty Allen made her New York City Opera debut in 1954 as Queenie in Showboat. She made her New York recital debut at Town Hall in 1958, followed by appearances in London, The Hague, Oslo, Montreal, and Berlin. In 1964 she made her formal opera debut at the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She made her North American debut with San Francisco Opera in 1966, the Canadian Opera and Bellas Artes in Mexico City in 1971, New York City Opera debut in 1973, Metropolitan Opera in New York in February 1973 (as Commère in Four Saints in Three Acts during the company's visit to Manhattan Forum), and Metropolitan Opera's mini-Met in 1974. She sang at the New York City Opera from 1973 to 1975. Betty Alen also toured as a concert singer, and since 1967 has made regular appearances at the Marlboro and Casals Music Festivals, and has also appeared with the Santa Fe Opera and Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, and at Ravinia, Saratoga, Tanglewood, and the Cincinnati May and Caramoor music festivals. She taught at Manhattan School of Music and Harlem School of the Arts.
Once hailed as the next Leona Mitchell, Marvis Martin had a beautiful creamy lyric soprano voice. She sang 2-3 seasons at the met as Ilia to Carol Vanness' stunning Electra in Mozart's lesser known opera Idomeneo at the Metropolitan in 1985. She moved to her home state of Florida to start a family and has recently moved back to NYC with the Met.
Marquita Lister toured the world as Bess and was televised in the televised production with New York City Opera. She continued to tour singing Bess, Aida, and Tosca and many other soprano roles and spent years at Dresden Semper Oper. Recent appearances as Solome in Richard Strauss' opera at the Boston Lyric Opera.
Michelle Crider, Dramatic Soprano
After completing the Houston Grand Opera Studio, she continued to sing Carmen all over the world in every opera house imagineable. She had such success she appeared on 60 Minutes. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1995 to excellent reviews. She later incorporated Delilah, Dorabella, the Dragon, Le Vestale, Ducinee and Baba the Turk to her repertoire. She is currently on the staff of Peabody Conservatory.
Angela M. Brown, Soprano
"At Last an Aida - NYTimes"
Her highly successful Metropolitan Opera debut in 2004 sparked a media excitement with reviews from The New York Times: "At last an Aida," the Associated Press: "she combines a potent, dusky lower register with a striking ability to spin out soft high notes of shimmering beauty. There's no doubt her voice is powerful enough for Verdi," CBS Evening News: "the future of opera has arrived," and features on the front page of The New York Times and in Oprah Magazine, Essence Magazine, Ebony Magazine, Classical Singer, Reader's Digest, and Psychology Today.
Tichina Vaughn, Mezzo Soprano
American mezzo-soprano Tichina Vaughn began her operatic career as a member of the Young Artist Development Program at the Metropolitan Opera after completing her studies at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. She made her debut on the Met stage in Porgy and Bess and her European debut at the Stuttgart State Theater as Dame Quickly in Falstaff and as Venus in Tannhäuser. From 1998 till 2006 Tichina Vaughn was a celebrated member of the ensemble at the Stuttgart State Theater where the Cultural Ministry Baden-Württemberg awarded her the title of Kammersängerin.
Morineke Fadayomi, Soprano
Rich voiced dramatic. Born in London; raised in London, Africa and Switzerland. Extensive career in Europe specifically Deutsche Oper am Rhine.
Engagements from the past few seasons include the title roles of Tosca and Aida for the Seattle Opera, Aida for the Portland Opera, Tosca for the Connecticut Opera, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, and Arizona Opera. In 2010 and beyond, she returns to the Seattle Opera as Desdemona in Otello and Leonora in Il Trovatore, performs Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana at Opera Lyra Ottawa. Additional recent operatic engagements include Tosca in her debuts with the Palm Beach Opera, Minnesota Opera, Michigan Opera Theatre, Boston Lyric Opera and Opera Carolina; Aida at the Cincinnati Opera, Connecticut Opera, and Opera Delaware; Aida with the Michigan Opera Theater; Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana at Opera Theatre of St. Louis; Aida, her role debut as Mimi in La Bohème with the Opera Company of North Carolina; and her role debut as Leonora in Il Trovatore in Hartford, Connecticut. Additional performances include Serena in Porgy and Bess for the Hollywood Bowl, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and on tour in London, Edinburgh, and Cardiff with the Cape Town Opera, the Washington National Opera, the Orlando Philharmonic, and at Opera Company of Philadelphia.
As a premiere interpreter of Bess, she has sung the role with Los Angeles Opera, Dallas Opera, Washington National Opera, the Opera Comique in Paris, Théâtre de Caen, Grand Théâtre in Luxembourg, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome, the Teatro Lirio in Cagliari, the Granada Festival, Staatsoper Hannover, Opera Frankfurt, Deutsches Theater München, Koninklijk Theater Carré in Amsterdam, Congress Centrum Hamburg, and at the Teatro Lirico Giuseppe Verdi in Trieste. More recent essays as Madama Butterfly to wonderful reviews.
Laquita Mitchell, Soprano
Laquita Mitchell was praised for her compelling portrayal as Bess and Clara in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess at the San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Atlanta Opera and New Jersey State Opera. She recently sang Verdi's Violetta with the New York City Opera at BAM.
Pretty Yende, Soprano
Pretty Yende made her Met debut as Countess Adèle in this season’s performances of Rossini’s Le Comte Ory, replacing Nino Machaidze, who was ill.