Formidable US soprano dies, aged 94

The death has been reported of Phyllis Curtin, who sang major roles at the Met, Vienna, La Scala and Covent Garden from the 1950s to the 1960s and created the title role on Carlisle Floyd’s successful opera, Susannah.

No less incisively, she was an influential teacher at Tanglewood for half a century and was dean of the school of arts at Boston University and a professor of voice at Yale.

Launched at New York City Opera like so many American talents, she failed to gain Rudolf Bing’s confidence in romantic Italian roles but appeared nonetheless at the Met as Ellen Orford in Peter Grimes, Eva in Meistersinger, Alice Ford in Falstaff and many other roles. Peter G Davis, in his masterful study of American singers, suggests she was schmoozed out of the Met by her uber-political rival, Beverly Sills, who went on to chair the company’s board.

phyllis curtin

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  • She also appeared with the young Scottish Opera as Marguerite and Ellen Orford, the latter in a Colin Graham production for the Edinburgh Festival.

    • I well remember her in both Scottish Opera productions, when I was in the chorus there. She was charming to work with , always pleasant and friendly , in a quiet way.. Her Ellen Orford was especially memorable, such dignity she brought to the role.

  • Miss Sills definitely, if not purposely, nudged PC aside during their contemporaneous careers; both were great artists. Miss Curtin had another great talent: teaching and ENCOURAGING YOUNG SINGERS to find and hone their own artistic abilities. Most American singers, famous as well as not, of the last 40 years will happily point to PC as having helped them to flourish and grow directly. She is BELOVED by all.

  • In Tangelwood one season a group of us decided to stay up after the performance because there was so little time before the flight out. Miss Curtin expressed a fear of flying. We all tried to comfort her. Leonard Bernstein said he just relaxes on flights and if anything happens its God’s fault. He proceeded to keep us entertained by playing music of Kurt Weill until it was time to go. PC didn’t have time to dwell on the flight. I’m sorry she’s gone. It was a night to remember.
    Ann Summers Dossena.

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