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Monthly Archives: September 2016

RICHARD ALEXANDER CROOKS Tenor * 26 June 1900, Trenton, New Jersey + 29 September 1972, Portola Valley, California;

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Richard Alexander Crooks (June 26, 1900 – September 29, 1972) was an American tenor and a leading singer at the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Biography

He was born on June 26, 1900 in Trenton, New Jersey. Following several concert seasons as an oratorio and song recital specialist, including the American premier of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, he traveled to Germany where he made his operatic debut in Hamburg as Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca in 1927. After his tour in other European cities such as Berlin, Crooks returned to the United States and made his American debut in 1930 in Philadelphia. He became a star of the Metropolitan Opera, specializing in French and Italian operas. He participated in the farewell gala on March 29, 1936, for Italian soprano Lucrezia Bori, which was broadcast nationally and preserved on transcription discs.

From 1928 to 1945, Crooks was the host of “The Voice of Firestone” radio broadcasts, in which he sang operatic arias, patriotic songs, folk songs, and popular hits such as “People Will Say We’re in Love” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! in 1943. He also appeared on radio broadcasts with Bing Crosby, who remained a friend until Crooks’s death.

Health problems forced Crooks to retire in early 1945. He continued to sing, however, at his church and elsewhere. Some of his performances were taped. He had married his childhood sweetheart and spent his later years in Portola Valley, California. An entire room in his house was devoted to framed, autographed photographs of singers, conductors, and U.S. presidents he had known. In conversations, he often praised two of the other great tenors he had heard in person: Enrico Caruso and Jussi Björling.

Recordings

Aside from an unreleased disc for Columbia, Crooks recorded primarily for the Victor Talking Machine Company, and later RCA Victor. His first recordings date from the mid-1920s and were devoted mainly to operetta, especially ensemble medley recordings by the “Victor Light Opera Company.” Among these early electric recordings was a medley of The Student Prince by Sigmund Romberg, in which Crooks and Lambert Murphy alternated on the “Serenade.” Most of Crooks’s early Victor recordings appeared on the popular music black label. Crooks also made some recordings for Victor’s German subsidiary, Electrola, during the late 1920s.

By the late 1920s, when Crooks’s operatic recordings were released, he was promoted to the prestigious Red Seal label. Crooks often said that his personal favorite was a 1928 recording of two arias by Richard Wagner: “In fernem Land” from Lohengrin and the “Prize Song” from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Crooks recorded a complete version of Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin in c.1934 (one of the early attempts to do so) with his teacher Frank LaForge at the piano, of which only numbers 1-3, 7-8, and 13-19 of the 20 songs were issued, and that not until 1941: the complete recording with the missing titles was issued on CD in 1997. Crooks also enjoyed making an album of Stephen Foster songs, which used authentic arrangements to recapture a vanished era of American music. In early 1942, he released a recording of César Franck’s “Panis Angelicus” in the original Latin; the recording has been included in Nimbus Records’ Prima Voce Christmas compilation The Spirit of Christmas Past. Among his last commercial recordings, made in January 1945, was a patriotic song called The Americans Come, which he had actually recorded as a teenager for Columbia.

The Metropolitan Opera has issued a number of recorded performances featuring Crooks on LP and CD. One of his most memorable radio broadcasts was a 1940 Met performance of Gounod’s Faust with Crooks in the title role; Helen Jepson sang Marguerite and Ezio Pinza sang Méphistophélès. Naxos Records issued the performance on CD, conducted by Wilfrid Pelletier, as taken from the original NBC master transcriptions.

His final private recordings were made in 1967 and 1968. The recordings of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (J. S. Bach) and For You With Love (Elinor Remick Warren) were made at a wedding in Southern California on April 8, 1967. The notes for the Delos CD erroneously state that these were Richard Crooks last recordings. Actually, on November 15, 1968, Crooks sang in a performance with the Portola Valley United Presbyterian Church Choir at the Sequoias in Redwood City. On the recording, he sings “Panis Angelicus” (in English) and Seek Ye The Lord. Throughout the LP era, RCA Victor issued several albums highlighting several of Crooks’s operatic arias and songs from the 1920s and 1930s. In 1969, RCA re-released a recording of Stainer’s The Crucifixion, originally issued by RCA Victor in 1929, which featured Crooks, Lawrence Tibbett, the Trinity Choir, and Mark Andrews at the organ. Delos has released a two-CD set of Crooks recordings, produced in cooperation with the Stanford Archives of Recorded Sound, including some performances that were never issued commercially. They also included the 1967 recordings. There have been additional CDs released by ASV and Jewel, which show the great diversity of Crooks’s recordings, including selections from operettas and popular songs.

Death

He was diagnosed with cancer in the mid-1960s and battled the disease until his death. He died on September 29, 1972 in Portola Valley, California, aged 72.

Legacy

For his work in recording, Crooks was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; located at 1648 Vine St. The Los Angeles Times, which has documented and photographed every star on the Walk as part of its ongoing Hollywood Star Walk project, has been unable to find Crooks’ star (or the one for the film career of Geraldine Farrar). It is unknown if Crooks’ star has been removed, or was never installed in the first place, or was simply overlooked by the Times crew.

Courtesy: Wikipedia

The young Crooks

Metropolitan Opera House
February 25, 1933 Matinee Broadcast

Photograph of Giuseppe De Luca, Lily Pons, and Tito Schipa backstage at the Opera Surprise Party.

Metropolitan Opera House
February 26, 1933 Broadcast

Photograph of Paul Cravath, Lawrence Tibbett, Richard Crooks, Lucrezia Bori, Ettore Panizza, and Edward Johnson by the Associated Press.

Metropolitan Opera House
December 16, 1935 – Opening Night

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Posted by on September 30, 2016 in Tenors

 

GERMAINE CERNAY, Mezzo-soprano * 28 April 1900, Le Havre + 19 September 1943, Paris;

She was born Germaine Pointu in Le Havre and studied piano and solfeggio when still a child. She joined the Conservatoire of Paris taking singing lessons with Albers and Engel. At the Paris Opéra in 1925 she made her début as Euryclée in Fauré’s Pénélope but she eventually appeared most of her career at the Opéra-Comique (Salle Favart), where she made her début in 1927 in Alfano’s Risurrezione opposite Mary Garden. After a number of small parts she sang roles such as Mallika (Lakmé), Suzuki, Mignon, Geneviève, Carmen and Charlotte, among many others. She was also a star at the La Monnaie of Brussels and at a number of provincial French opera houses. She toured North Africa, England, Ireland, Italy and Switzerland. In a broadcast she tried to sing Mélisande (a soprano role). Without neglecting the stage, her mind continuosly changed to sing melodies and oratorios. She was a famous interpreter of Bach. Germaine believed deeply in God and intended to spend her live in a cloister, but she died before having fulfilled her wish.

Courtesy: cantabile-subito

As Margared in Lalo’s “Le Roi d’Ys”

As Carmen

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2016 in Mezzo-Sopranos

 

ELSE BREMS, Mezzo-soprano * 16 July 1908, Copenhagen + 04 October 1995, Copenhagen;

In 1942 The Danish State Radio Symphony Orchestra did a concert with Ernest Ansermet conducting Ravel’s Shéhérazade. Ansermet was very unhappy and anxious with the choice of soloist; he wanted a native French mezzo soprano in the delicate work, and did not imagine that a Danish singer would be able to do justice to his – and Ravel’s – language. But after the first rehearsal the conductor’s second thoughts vanished – for two reasons. The reason – Else Brems always emphasised this herself – was that she was able to produce a few packets of much-needed cigarettes for Ansermet – not easy to come by in German-occupied Copenhagen. But the modest soloist surely had more assets than this to win Ansermet over – her beautiful velvet tone, her dignified phrasing and her perfect French must have removed the last bit of doubt; here was not just a mediocre local mezzo, but a singer with the potential to sing repertoire like this anywhere in the world.

Else Brems’ career was nevertheless basically a local one, singing at the Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen for three decades. She also toured Denmark with lieder and song recitals, she was a regular solist with conductor Mogens Wøldike, with whom she performed the Bach passions and Handel oratorios, and she was often required for song recitals and operetta productions at the Danish Radio, as well as appearances at the prestigiuos Thursday evening concerts with the Danish State Radio Symphony Orchestra. During the War she became a household name in her native country, and if the tenor Aksel Schiøtz was the most loved Danish male singer at that time, Brems was surely his female equivalent.

Else Brems was born on 16th July 1908 in Copenhagen into a very musical family. Her mother Gerda was a pianist and her father Anders Brems a clarinettist turned singer, concentrating on songs. He even made a few 78’s, as well as a singing manual. It was Anders Brems who first taught the young Else, and at the age of 17 she went with him to Italy and sang for no less than the ‘glory of Italy’, the baritone Mattia Battistini, who was now living in retirement outside Rome. He was very encouraging, and Else went back home with confidence in a future career as a singer. Her interest in the French repertoire was soon kindled in Paris, where she studied for four months with Charles Cunelli. On 3rd December 1928 she gave her debut recital in Copenhagen, and both public and critics were enthusiastic with the 20-year old mezzo with the sonorous voice and the secure musicianship.

Next step on the career-ladder was a debut at the Royal Danish Opera, and a year later this became a reality. Else Brems started her operatic career with the part that would become hers like no other; Carmen. She had prepared well for it, and again she was recognised as the young Danish mezzo of the future. Bizet’s gypsy would later bring her to Vienna, Warszaw, Budapest and Stockholm, as well as to Covent Garden in London – where she in 1948 sang the part in English. In Copenhagen alone she sang Carmen at more than 100 performances. She fought hard against the traditional vulgar image of the character emphasising her more refined and delicate aspects, much helped by Leo Blech who conducted a number of performances of the opera in Copenhagen in 1930. Brems was able to seduce without rolling her eyes wildly or making large gestures.

A very interesting live recording was made in December 1937, when Else Brems was appearing as guest at the Vienna Opera with Bruno Walter conducting. He had waited a long time to do Carmen: “I have put it off until now, because I need a strong personality for the title role, a singer with real temperament. I believe that I have now found this in a Danish mezzo. Now I will be able to stage the opera as I think Bizet would have wanted it.” The few recorded excerpts from these performances (in German) have been reissued in the Wiener Staatsoper Live series, but unfortunately they devote more attention to the Michaëla of Esther Réthy and the Don José of Todor Mazaroff than to the Carmen of Brems. In 1944, however, she recorded both the Habanera and the Seguidilla commercially (in Danish) for the Tono company:

The recordings reveal a singer with a wonderful sonorous middle register, but also with a slight problem with high notes. “Brems was a wonderful singer within her rather limited range,” says Sten Høgel, lecturer at the University of Copenhagen, where he for several years taught alongside Else Brems. “She was uncomfortable with the high register, probably because she did not get the proper technical training early on. She should have been able to sing for instance the high B in the Seguidilla on Carmen, but the recording shows that it was not really within her range. G sharp seems to have been her upper limit.”

Sten Høgel is also the man behind the first major Brems-reissue; a double CD devoted to the most important Danish mezzo of this century. The set has been issued by Danacord, following the success of their much-acclaimed and prize-winning Aksel Schiøtz Edition – more details can be found on the Danacord home page here.

Else Brems recorded rather few operatic 78s considering her popularity, but among the finest are two arias from Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila, recorded in 1945. Especially her account of ‘Printemps qui commence’ stands up against all competitors on record; she apparently has all the time (and air-supply) in the world, and her complete mastery of the French language is demonstrated fully.

In addition to these her most important commercial recordings, the Danacord CDs also contains a considerable amount of archive material from the Danish Radio as well as private acetates and tape recordings. The dentist Nanna Kallenbach had a number of off-air acetates made in the 1940’s, and these unique recordings gives us a glimpse of some more of Brems’ French repertoire, mainly music by Ravel and Debussy. Some of the acetates were in such a bad shape that they have probably been played for the last time during the work with the transfers for the Danacord CDs. Engineers Clemens Johansen and Niels Flensted from the Danish Radio has devoted countless hours of work to restoring the delicate originals, removing as much background noise as possible without changing or distorting the timbre of Brems’ voice.

It was not just an easy task to select the recordings, and the inclusion of the 1953-recording of Brahms’ Alto rhapsody was made after much consideration. A certain decline in the steadiness of her voice is apparent from the early 1950’s onwards. “I honestly don’t think that the recording of the Brahms is very flattering for Brems,” Sten Høgel admits. “Here you clearly hear the technical decline of the only 45-year old singer and I feel uncomfortable hearing how she has to do little tricks just to get through the piece; some of the glissandi she makes simply to survive to the top notes. It is a live recording from the archives of the Danish Radio, and when it first came out on LP Brems herself gave the permission. Later she told me that she regretted her decision, but many people wanted this famous performance included, and in the end I surrendered.”

Another interesting recording is of two exerpts from Gershwins Porgy and Bess. In 1943 the opera was heard for the first time in Europe at the Royal Danish Opera – in spite of threads of bombing by the occupying Nazi forces – with Else Brems as Bess, transposing some of the music down to suit her range.

Else Brems sang at the Royal Danish Opera for 32 years, singing parts like Lola in Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana, Orfeus in Gluck’s Orfeus et Euridice, Conception in Ravel’s L’heure espagnol and Siebel in Gounod’s Faust. Several Danish composers wrote operas especially for Else Brems, among them Knudåge Riisager and Ebbe Hamerik. An exerpt from the latters Marie Grubbe is included in the Danacord set, and on a Naxos reissue of live material from the Royal Danish Opera she can be heard in snippets from Kirke og Orgel by Johan Hye-Knudsen and Susanne by Knudåge Riisager – all works that have now (perhaps with good reason) fallen out of the repertory, but it is nevertheless well worth a listen if you are interested in hearing Danish opera of the post-Nielsen period.

Even though Else Brems later admitted that vocal technique never really had interested her much, she never lost interest in renewing the interpretations of her repertoire. In 1937, as a well-established artist of 31 with almost a decade of professional work behind her, she went to New York to study with Enrico Rosati, one-time teacher of Beniamino Gigli.

In 1940 Else Brems married the Icelandic tenor Stefan Islandi, a regular guest at the Royal Danish Opera. Together they got a son, but the marriage was not a success, and a divorce came through in 1949. The son, Eyvind Brems-Islandi, had inherited his father’s tenor voice, but he tragically committed suicide in 1974 at the age of 34.

By this time Else Brems was teaching a new generation of singers at the University of Copenhagen, and generally lead a quiet life away from the public scene. She was unwilling to talk about her artistic life, she never listened to her recordings, and was totally incapable of understanding that anyone could be even remotely interested in her career.

This shyness and modesty is perhaps also the reason why Else Brems is not a name that appears more often in the annals of the international opera houses. It was certainly not any language barriers that kept her away; she sang Carmen on stage not only in French and Danish, but also in German and English. Of course the War prohibited her work outside Denmark at a crucial time in her career, but more than anything is was probably Brems own modesty that in the end kept her away from a large-scale career. Within her rather limited repertory she was certainly in the international league, but she was just too nice a person to push herself forward.

Else Brems died in Copenhagen in 1995, and it was only after her death that Sten Høgel began research for the reissues on CD: “Time and time again I have wanted to ask Else for advice during my work, but all I can do is hope that she would have approved of my choices.” He is, however, proud and happy that the best of Else Brems is now available on CD. “She was a great artist and a wonderful person. We all loved her, colleagues and students alike,” says Sten Høgel. “She was a queen here at the University, and I feel a great joy that her finest recordings will now finally be available to collectors of beautiful voices and fine interpreters.”

Courtesy: Henrik Engelbrecht

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Else Brems together with Ellen Margrethe Edlers and Karen Heerup in the Magic Flute

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The Brems siblings: Else, Mogens and Erik

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Else with her parents; Anders Brems and Gerda Brems

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Vacationing at the seaside; Else and her nanny circa 1911

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Dressed in the finest fashions and ready to conquer the world; Else circa 1930.

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Else as Carmen at her debut at The Royal Theatre in Copenhagen in 1930. On this photo collage various parts of the opera can be seen.

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Photo with a dedication from Solodancer Ulla Poulsen Skou – one of Else Brems´ colleagues.

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Else Brems as a young girl

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The Brems family together on Else´s birthday in 1912

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A mature Else circa. 1955

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Else and Stefan after a Thursday-concert circa 1940

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2016 in Mezzo-Sopranos

 

JARMILA NOVOTNÁ, Soprano * 23 September 1907, Prague + 09 February 1994, New York City;

Jarmila Novotná (September 23, 1907, in Prague – February 9, 1994, in New York City) was a celebrated Czech soprano and actress and, from 1940 to 1956, a star of the Metropolitan Opera.

Early career

A student of Emmy Destinn, Novotná made her operatic debut at the Prague Opera House, on June 28, 1925, as Marenka in Smetana’s The Bartered Bride. Six days later, she sang there as Violetta in Verdi’s La traviata. In 1928 she starred in Verona as Gilda opposite Giacomo Lauri-Volpi in Verdi’s Rigoletto and at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples as Adina opposite Tito Schipa in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. In 1929 she joined the Kroll Opera in Berlin, where she sang Violetta as well as the title roles of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut and Madama Butterfly.

In January 1933 she created the female lead in Jaromir Weinberger’s new operetta Frühlingsstürme, opposite Richard Tauber at the Theater im Admiralspalast, Berlin. This was the last new operetta produced in the Weimar Republic, and she and Tauber were both soon forced to leave Germany by the new Nazi regime.

Vienna and New York

In 1934 she left Berlin for Vienna, where she created the title role in Lehár’s Giuditta opposite Richard Tauber. Her immense success in that role led to a contract with the Vienna State Opera, where she was named Kammersängerin. Prior to the Anschluss, she also appeared with Tauber here in The Bartered Bride and Madama Butterfly.

She appeared as Pamina in the 1937 Salzburg Festival production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, conducted by Arturo Toscanini. In the orchestra pit was the young Georg Solti, who played the glockenspiel in the opera.

On January 5, 1940 she made her debut with the Metropolitan Opera, as Mimí in Puccini’s La bohème. She also appeared in twelve other roles at the Met: Euridice, Violetta, Cherubino, Massenet’s Manon, Marenka, Donna Elvira, Pamina, Octavian, Antonia, Freia, Mélisande and Prince Orlofsky, the role in which she made her farewell performance on January 15, 1956. Of her 208 appearances at the Met, 103 were in the breeches roles of Prince Orlofsky, Cherubino and Octavian.

Films

She appeared in several films, including Max Ophüls’s 1932 version of The Bartered Bride. In 1948 she won acclaim for her leading role, as an Auschwitz survivor who searches for her young son, in The Search which co-starred Montgomery Clift. In 1951 she appeared in The Great Caruso, starring Mario Lanza.

Selected filmography

The Cossack and the Nightingale (1935)
The Last Waltz (1936)

Courtesy: Wikipedia

The soprano “In memory of my first concert” 1940
From a private collection, formerly property of Harmonie Autographs

Novotna
 Jarmila Novotná costumed as Violetta in ‘La Traviata.’ This costume and others from the soprano’s glittering career are on display now at The Municipal House.
Novotna
 With Václav Havel in 1991
 Autograph signature.
In blue ink on blue-green paper, inscribed to “Jim,” and dated April 3, 1949.
foto: archív Supraphon
foto: archív Supraphon
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Posted by on September 27, 2016 in Sopranos

 

GABRIELLA BESANZONI, Mezzo-soprano * 20 September 1888, Rome + 08 July 1962, Rome;

Italian mezzo-soprano. She studied in Rome, making her début (as a soprano) as Adalgisa at Viterbo in 1911. After further study she became a mezzo-soprano, singing Ulrica in Rome and appearing throughout Italy. She first sang at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires, in 1918, returning there frequently; she also visited Rio de Janeiro and, in 1919, Mexico City, where she sang Ulrica, Delilah, Nancy (Martha), Carmen and Amneris, all with Dnrico Caruso as principal tenor. Engaged at the Metropolitan (1919–20), she made her début as Amneris, then sang Isabella in the Metropolitan première of L’italiana in Algeri, as well as Delilah and Preziosilla (Forza del destino) with Caruso. Besanzoni’s repertory also included Laura (La Gioconda) and Santuzza, which she sang at performances of Cavalleria rusticana conducted by Pietro Mascagni himself. At La Scala (1923–4) she sang C. W. Gluck’s Orpheus under Toscanini, and also appeared as Mignon and Carmen, the role of her farewell in 1939 at the Baths of Caracalla, Rome. Her voice was rich, powerful, smoothly produced and notably flexible.

From The Grove Book of Opera Singers in Oxford Reference.

A portrait by Herman Mishkin

 

As Mignon (?)

Gabriella Besanzoni and Charles Hackett in Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algeri”

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2016 in Mezzo-Sopranos

 

BEVERLY SILLS, Soprano * 25 May 1929, Brooklyn, New York, U.S. + 02 July 2007, New York City;

Opera soprano Beverly Sills, called “America’s Queen of Opera” by Time Magazine, and known as “Bubbles” to her fans, was the face of opera for millions through her public performances, recordings and broadcasts during a singing career of more than four decades.

After retiring in 1980, she stayed in the public eye for the next three decades as head of music organizations, host of public television specials, and as chairperson for national charities. With her death in 2007, the opera world lost one of its most visible and endearing supporters.

This web site is dedicated to preserving the artistry and humanity of Beverly Sills, offering an in-depth look at her life and career through print, sound and video. Whether you are a long-time fan or just discovering her, this web site provides useful and entertaining information, verified in the most authoritative resources.

Although this is a non-commercial tribute site not officially connected with any of Sills’ family, recording companies or former managers and agencies, it is the most comprehensive on the Internet, maintained to keep alive the memory of this beloved artist.

1943 Silverman Family Portrait

1943 Silverman Family Portrait From left to right: Beverly; Shirley, mother; Stan, brother; Morris, father; Sidney, brother.

Beverly and Shirley, her mom

Beverly with Shirley, her mother during the opening night of Manon in Baltimore. April 18, 1953

Beverly and Peter wedding photo

Beverly and Peter on their wedding day, 1956

Beverly Sills and Roy

July 23, 1971: Website co-creator Roy and Sills after a performance of Lucia Di Lammermoor at Wolftrap

Beverly Sills and Ed Specht

Long-time fan Ed Specht and Sills backstage at L.A.’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Dec. 4,1977 after a performance of “Die Fledermaus” by the New York City Opera on Tour.

Beverly Sills and Pat Miles

March 21, 1991: Sills and Pat Miles, Indiana University Auditorium after an “Evening with Beverly Sills”.

Beverly Sills and Billy Chittum

November 9, 1989: Sills and Billy Chittum at the Embassy Theater in Fort Wayne Indiana. Sills was the guest speaker at a Celebrity Lecture Series

Courtesy: Beverly Sills Home Page

 

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2016 in Sopranos

 

IRMGARD BARTH, Mezzo-soprano * 20 March 1913 Erfurt, † 13 July 1980 München;

Irmgard Barth (1913-1980) was a German mezzosoprano.

as Herodias (by courtesy of Manfred Krugmann)

Portrait (by courtesy of Manfred Krugmann)

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2016 in Mezzo-Sopranos

 
 
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