Opera Scotland

Mattiwilda Dobbs Suggest updates

Born Atlanta, 11 July 1925.

Died 8 December 2015.

American soprano.

Mattiwilda Dobbs had a notable international career as a light coloratura soprano, and was among the first African-American operatic performers to sing at major houses, including the Met, Covent Garden and La Scala.

She initially studied Home Economics at Spelman College, Atlanta. While working at Columbia University on a Masters degree in Spanish, she trained privately in New York with Lotte Leonard. She then moved to Europe, with a scholarship to study under Pierre Bernac in Paris, concentrating on recital work. 

Her breakthrough came in 1951, when she won the singing competition in Geneva. The following year at the Holland Festival she appeared with Netherlands Opera in Stravinsky's Rossignol. She was the first African-American to appear at La Scala in 1953, when she sang Elvira in L'italiana in Algeri under Giulini.

Her British debut came with a Wigmore Hall recital in January 1953. Later that year she sang Zerbinetta at Glyndebourne, repeating it in Edinburgh the following year. Her first appearance at Covent Garden, also in 1954, was as Queen of Shemakhan in Robert Helpmann's new production of The Golden Cockerel. Later roles at Covent Garden included the Woodbird in Siegfried and Gilda in Rigoletto. At the 1967 Bath Festival, Yehudi Menuhin conducted a staging of Mozart's Seraglio in which she sang Konstanze. She also appeared with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Proms.

Queen of Shemakhan was also the role of her first US appearance (San Francisco 1955). Her Met debut, as Gilda in 1956, made her only the second African-American to sing there, following Marian Anderson the year before. She returned regularly over the next nine years. She spent some time living in Sweden, when she sang at the baroque opera house at Drottningholm.

She retired from singing in 1974 and taught at the University of Texas at Austin, later being appointed Professor of Voice at Howard University (Washington DC).

Roles in Scotland

Zerbinetta a comedian
Ariadne on Naxos 1954

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