Phyllis Curtin, soprano – obituary


Phyllis Curtin, who has died aged 94, was an American soprano who sang within the US premieres of Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes (1946) and Conflict Requiem (1963), the previous performed by Leonard Bernstein; each passed off at Tanglewood, the summer season residence of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the place she had been a pupil and would later change into a preferred trainer.

She was an amazing champion of up to date music, declaring that it was “immoral to make a residing off the music of lifeless composers”. “In the event you care about music,” she declared, “you’ve received to get it off the paper for composers of your individual time.”

In 1956 she created the title position in Susannah, an opera by Carlisle Floyd that turned probably the most incessantly carried out home-grown operas within the US. She additionally created the position of Catherine Earnshaw in Floyd’s Wuthering Heights with Santa Fe Opera, sang Thérèse within the US premiere of Poulenc’s Les mamelles de Tirésias in 1953 and took half on the earth premiere of Milhaud’s La mère coupable in Geneva in 1966.

Phyllis Curtin made her London debut in 1963 singing Strauss’s 4 Final Songs with the Hallé Orchestra performed by John Barbirolli on the Pageant Corridor, with one critic noting  her “easy stream of regular, clear and gleaming tone”.

She additionally sang Marguerite in Faust and Ellen Orford in Peter Grimes for Scottish Opera within the mid-Nineteen Sixties, and was heard at Glyndebourne in 1969 singing Donna Anna reverse Ruggero Raimondi’s title position in Don Giovanni, although the critics felt the half didn’t swimsuit her voice.

Phyllis Curtin was relaxed about opera, typically preferring to look in recital. “The tune literature was basic, primary and passionate for me, and I didn’t need to surrender tune recitals for something on the earth,” she stated.

It was most likely simply as properly. Though she made her debut on the Metropolitan Opera, New York, in 1961 as Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte and stepped in at brief discover to switch Virginia Zeani as Violetta in La Traviata in 1966, Rudolf Bing, common director of the Met, was reluctant to guide her for any lengthy runs of main roles. “He at all times advised me ‘Nicely, my pricey, you’re not Italian’, or German or Austrian or no matter,” she stated.

She was born Phyllis Jane Smith on December 3 1921 in Clarksburg, West Virginia. She sang with the native Lutheran church choir the place her mom was the organist, performed violin from the age of seven and was chosen as Might Queen at her highschool. She studied Political Science at Wellesley School, Massachusetts, nevertheless, and needed to persuade her supervisors to permit her to proceed singing classes amid fears that she was overstretching herself.

She labored for {an electrical} engineer in Boston, “a job of which I knew completely nothing”, however native musicians discovered her useful. “My singular expertise was that I might learn music quick. So, because of this, I used to be very helpful to younger composers who had been at all times doing issues on the final minute,” she advised an interviewer in 2002. The attraction of recent music was partly, she stated, that “individuals weren’t telling you ways Madame So-and-So at all times did it”.

However, she loved a large repertoire, making her debut as Lisa in The Queen of Spades with New England Opera in Boston in 1946. In 1953 she sang with New York Metropolis Opera in Gottfried von Einem’s The Trial, based mostly on Kafka, recalling that “once we completed our first efficiency a couple of third of the viewers had left, and of the remainder, half had been hissing and booing and the remainder had been very enthusiastic”.

Whereas engaged on the Conflict Requiem at Tanglewood she began educating “by chance” to assist preserve a bunch of under-used singing college students occupied. After retiring from the stage in 1984 she taught at Yale Faculty of Music and Boston College.

In 1976 President Gerald Ford invited Phyllis Curtin to the White Home, the place she sang for Helmut Schmidt, the West German Chancellor. Nonetheless, she felt that her liberal views counted towards her. “I had all types of black marks towards me,” she advised one interviewer. “I used to be on the board of the World Peace Basis.”

She married Philip Curtin, a historical past professor, in 1946. In April 1954 Life journal devoted three pages to footage of her, describing her “long-limbed, lush-voiced and intense” account of the Dance of the Seven Veils in Strauss’s Salome. Quickly afterwards her marriage was dissolved and in 1956 she married Gene Prepare dinner, a photographer with Life. He died in 1986 and she or he is survived by their daughter.

Phyllis Curtin, born December 3 1921, died June 4 2016


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