Opera She-roes

Opera She-roes
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The death of opera star Roberta Peters and that of a dear friend of mine who was a huge opera buff (and who converted me into an opera buff as well) leads me to write about women who have contributed to the world of opera as singers and conductors. Match the woman with her accomplishment:

____ 1. The first African American to debut at the Met, one of her most famous concerts was on Easter Sunday 1939 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

____ 2. An international star who served as general director of the New York City Opera after her retirement from singing.

____ 3. The winner of 19 Grammy Awards, including a special Lifetime Achievement Award, she was the first black singer in a major role to debut at La Scala.

____ 4. A conductor, she founded the Opera Orchestra of New York in 1971.

____ 5. The first female conductor at the Met.

____ 6. She had five hours’ notice for her 1950 Met debut, when the soprano who was supposed to sing came down with food poisoning.

A. Roberta Peters

B. Leontyne Price

C. Marian Anderson

D. Beverly Sills

E. Eve Queler

F. Sarah Caldwell

Soprano Roberta Peters debuted at age 20 at the Metropolitan Opera (the Met) in New York City on five hours’ notice in 1950 in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, after the soprano who was slated to sing came down with food poisoning. Over 35 years, Peters would be the reigning soprano and sing in more than 500 appearances at the Met. In 1955, she sang in Verdi’s “Masked Ball” in which Marian Anderson made her long-delayed Met debut. In 1998, Peters received the National Medal of Arts. Never one to take herself too seriously, she was also featured in full operatic attire for a Chock full o’Nuts commercial and hailing a taxi in her operatic voice for an American Express commercial. Earlier in her career, to strengthen her diaphragm, she allowed Joseph Pilates (yes, those Pilates) to stand on her chest.

Beginning her formal music instruction when she was 5 years old, soprano Leontyne Price went to college at Wilberforce in Ohio and then on to the Julliard School of Music, with a full tuition scholarship. Her Broadway singing debut was in an opera in 1952. Her debut at the Met was in 1961 after she had sung on NBC-TV’s Opera Company; at the San Francisco Opera House; in Vienna, Austria; at the Covent Garden in London; and at La Scala. She was the first black singer to sing a major role at La Scala and one of the first African-American singers at the Met. In 1961, she was voted Musician of the Year and in 1964, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Price has been the recipient of many honors including the National Medal of Arts and the Kennedy Center Honors. She has received 19 Grammy awards including a special Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989.

The first African American to be invited to sing at the White House, Marian Anderson was a contralto who is famously known for singing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday 1939 after being denied the opportunity to sing at Constitution Hall because of her race. Anderson’s musical education was funded in part by her church choir, who had such faith in her abilities that they raised money for Marian Anderson’s Future Fund. In 1925, she won a contest for which she soloed with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Although she encountered extreme discrimination through much of her career, European audiences were much more receptive to the amazingly talented African-American contralto. In 1935, she debuted at Carnegie Hall (on a broken ankle) and in 1955, she became the first African American to sing at the Met. Anderson has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Soprano Beverly Sills, who was known as “Bubbles” to her fans, began singing professionally on the radio at age four. Her professional stage debut was in 1945 and her operatic debut, the date of which is the subject of great debate, might have been in 1951. In 1962, she sang title roles for conductor Sarah Caldwell. Her 1966 performance in the New York City Opera’s presentation of Handel’s Giulio Cesare made her an international star. In 1971, Time magazine featured her on its cover and called her the American Queen of Opera. Her debut at the Met was in 1975. After her retirement from singing, Sills served as the general director of the New York City Opera, chairwoman of the Lincoln Center, and board member and chairwoman of the Met. Her many honors include the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Arts. Sills has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

A pioneer in the opera world, Eve Queler has conducted more than 100 operas on the stage at Carnegie Hall and has served as guest conductor in venues around the world. She founded the Opera Orchestra of New York in 1971 after working on the staff of the Met and the New York City Opera. Queler is noted for her advocacy of performing lesser known works. She is the recipient of the 2010 National Endowment for the Arts Opera Honors Award. Today, she serves as the emerita Artistic Director of the Opera Orchestra of New York.

A child prodigy on the violin, Sarah Caldwell was giving public performances by age 10. In 1957, she established the Boston Opera Group which later became the Opera Company of Boston. Serving as conductor and stage director, she produced many operas often with interesting variations. She moved to the New York City Opera and, in 1976, became the first female conductor at the Met. In 1996, Caldwell received the National Medal of Arts.

Learn about more she-roes and celebrate amazing women. These women associated with opera are among the more than 850 women profiled in the book Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. I am proud to tell women’s stories and to write them back into history.

(Answers 1-C, 2-D, 3-B, 4-E, 5-F, 6-A )

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