Shirley Verrett



Shirley Verrett (born May 31, 1931) is an American operatic mezzo-soprano and soprano. Verrett enjoyed great fame from the late 1960s and was much admired for her radiant voice, beauty, and great versatility.

Born into an African-American family of devout Seventh-day Adventists in New Orleans, Louisiana, Verrett showed early musical abilities, but initially a singing career was frowned upon by her family. Later Verrett went on to study in Los Angeles, California and at the Juilliard School in New York.

In 1957, Verrett made her operatic debut in Britten's The Rape of Lucretia. In 1958, she made her New York City Opera debut as Irina in Kurt Weill's Lost in the Stars. In 1959, she made her European debut in Cologne, Germany in Nabokov's Rasputins Tod. In 1962, she received critical acclaim for her Carmen in Spoleto, and repeated the role at the Bolshoi Theatre in 1963, and at the NY City Opera in 1964. Verrett first appeared at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 1966 as Ulrica in Un Ballo in Maschera.

She made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1968, with Carmen, and at La Scala in 1969 in Samson and Dalila. Verrett's mezzo roles included Cassandra and Didon (Berlioz), Amneris, Eboli, Dalila, Azucena, Leonora in La Favorita, Gluck's Orpheus, and Rossini's Neocles (L'Assedio di Corinto).

Beginning in the late 1970s she began to tackle soprano roles, including Selika in L'Africaine, Lady Macbeth, Madame Lidoine in Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites, Tosca, Norma, Leonore (Fidelio), Iphigénie, Alceste, Médée (Cherubini), Desdemona, and Aida.

In 1990, Verrett sang Dido in Les Troyens at the inauguration of the Opera Bastille in Paris. In 1994, she made her Broadway debut in the Tony Award-winning revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater, playing Nettie Fowler.

In 1996, Shirley Verrett joined the faculty of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance as a Professor of Voice. The preceding year at the National Opera Association Gala Banquet and Concert honoring Mattiwilda Dobbs, Todd Duncan, Camilla Williams and Robert McFerren, she said: "I'm always so happy when I can speak to young people because I remember those who were kind to me that didn't need to be. The first reason I came tonight was for the honorees because I needed to say this. The second reason I came was for you, the youth. These great people here were the trailblazers for me. I hope in my own way I did something to help your generation, and that you will help the next. This is the way it's supposed to be. You just keep passing that baton on!" 

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