Kristin Chenoweth mourns great voice teacher

Kristin Chenoweth mourns great voice teacher


norman lebrecht

February 18, 2021

The death of  Florence Birdwell has brought an outburst of sympathy from Hollywood stars whose voices she trained.

Ms Birdwell was professor of voice at the Bass School of Music at Oklahoma City University for more than 70 years.

Kelly O’Hara is another of her graduates.


  • David Rohde says:

    I don’t know if I would call Kelli (correct spelling) O’Hara a Hollywood star in particular although she is certainly a Broadway superstar, while Kristin Chenoweth is a star everywhere she goes. The overall point, though, is well taken. Florence Birdwell has had an outsize impact on the American performing arts, and while I’m saddened by her passing, I’m thrilled to see her acknowledged in this global classical music forum. Her two most famous students have shown how exceptional vocal skills and musical sophistication do count for a great deal across serious and popular genres. Kelli O’Hara has appeared twice at the Metropolitan Opera, in The Merry Widow and Cosi fan tutte. And I’ve known people from the US East Coast who have gone to, or sent their kids to, Oklahoma City University for theater training (including acting and dance) given the precedent set by these two stars.

    A story: In ordinary times, about once a year or so I take the opportunity to see a current Met production in a movie theater in the Washington area because I can’t see it in New York and it feels important to go. I know that the HD project of the Met has been a bete noire for Norman, and in fact, most of the time the movie attendance here is rather sparse and the demographics of the audience (don’t yell at me) “worse,” or even more so, than in the opera house itself. But in 2014 when the Saturday date came for the HD showing of The Merry Widow, the theater was packed and it felt like half of Washington’s extensive musical theater community had turned out. Yes, the Metropolitan Opera can get new audiences, including regular Broadway attendees who are willing to migrate 20 blocks north to Lincoln Center, although the Met typically ruins the experience by the horrible practice of telemarketing new attendees for donations as a follow-up (whole other issue!). But back to Florence Birdwell, this cross-fertilization of musical and dramatic art forms is a key part of her legacy. I hope there are more like her in the future of American education in the performing arts.