Opera Scotland

Shirley Verrett Suggest updates

Born New Orleans, 31 May 1931.

Died Ann Arbor, Michigan, 5 November 2010.

American mezzo-soprano.

Shirley Verrett quickly reached a prominent place as one of the world's leading dramatic mezzo-sopranos, famed for her interpretation of parts such as Azucena, Eboli, Amneris, Carmen and Dalila. She later extended her range to include several soprano roles, most notably Norma and Lady Macbeth.

She began her training in Chicago before further study in New York at the Juilliard. Her debut in 1957 was in The Rape of Lucretia, at Yellow Springs, Ohio, and the following year she joined New York City Opera for a rare revival of Kurt Weill's Lost in the Stars.

Her international career began in 1963, when she sang Carmen at Spoleto. She made the first of many appearances at Covent Garden in 1966, the New York Met in 1968, La Scala in 1969 and San Francisco in 1972. Verdi was the mainstay of her repertoire, but she also had great success with earlier music, including Gluck (Orfeo), Donizetti (Jane Seymour, Elisabetta, Leonora in La Favorite) and Bellini (Adalgisa). In addition to Carmen, other French roles in her repertoire included Dalila, Sélika in L'Africaine and Dido in Les Troyens. Later soprano roles she sang, in addition to Norma and Lady Macbeth, included Tosca and Amelia (in Un ballo in maschera.

Verrett's appearances in Britain were nearly all at Covent Garden, beginning with Ulrica in 1966. She returned, with consistent success, as Eboli, Azucena, Amneris, Orfeo, Carmen, Dalila, Norma and Tosca. Her only operatic role in Scotland was the 1969 run of Maria Stuarda, but this was supplemented the same year with two thoroughly memorable performances of the Verdi Requiem, in which the outstanding contributions were from Verrett, Nicolai Gedda and conductor Giulini.

She made fewer recordings than might have been expected, but noteworthy souvenirs include Eboli (under Giulini), and Lady Macbeth (with Abbado) as well as two shorter Verdi roles, Ulrica in Un ballo in maschera and Federica in Luisa Miller. Her bel canto repertoire is represented by Giovanna Seymour in Anna Bolena and Adalgisa in Norma (both with Beverly Sills) and Maffio Orsini in Lucrezia Borgia (with Montserrat Caballé). Her Dalila was released on DVD from Covent Garden and Sélika from San Francisco. A live recording of Maria Stuarda was made before the visit to Edinburgh, and that has also been made available.

Roles in Scotland

Elisabetta Elizabeth, Queen of England
Maria Stuarda 1969
Messa da Requiem 1969

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