Maria Ewing has died, aged 71

Maria Ewing has died, aged 71


norman lebrecht

January 11, 2022

The death has been confirmed in Detroit of the extraordinary opera singer Maria Ewing, former wife of the British stage director Sir Peter Hall and a magnetic talent during her own short career.

Maria was 71. No cause of death has been given.

UPDATE: Tributes pour in

The Detroit child of a non-white American father and a Dutch mother, Maria was spotted and nurtured at the Met by James Levine. In 1978 she met Hall at Glyndebourne and married him four years later. For the rest of that decade the couple worked together in productions of Carmen, Salome, Figaro and other operas at the Met, Covent Garden, Los Angeles and elsewhere. The marriage ended in 1990 and Ewing’s appearances grew scarcer. They are survived by a daughter, Rebecca Hall, whose recent film Passing told the story of women of mixed-race who passed as white.

Ewing stood out on stage for a lithe athleticism and a dramatic technique that she owed to Hall, the greatest Shakespeare director of his time. A mezzo at first, she moved up to full soprano. Her voice, never powerful nor stunningly beautiful, had a slightly detached quality. She was at once there, and not there. Record labels, attuned to pure vocal delivery, withheld commercial approval. She came to resent being treated as less of a star than some contemporaries. She could be, what they called, ‘difficult’.

Her temperament was fiery and her fallings-out frequent. Although she sang 96 times at the Met between 1976 and 1997, she absented herself for six of those years after a breach with her mentor Levine. At Covent Garden people walked around her on eggshells. In Salome, she defied her director Hall by ripping off a G-string and dancing the last of the seven veils completely nude. Years later, she told BBC’s Desert Island Discs that a G-string was obscene. ‘Naked is natural,’ she declared.



  • Anthony Sayer says:

    This is really sad. Seventy-one is no age. I have fond memories of Maria dating back to the time I worked with her with a view to hiring her for a production I was conducting. She was very open, charming, willing and eager. RIP.

  • Paul Dawson says:

    RIP. I can’t help thinking that there were more significant events in her career than ripping off her G-string, which, in any case, I do not see as an act of defiance. Entirely her choice.

  • Richard Bates says:

    I saw her at Glyndebourne as Rosina, and as The Composer in ‘Ariadne’. Both etched on my memory for ever. And the clips of her Salome take my breath away – utterly extraordinary.

    • Emma says:

      Very sad indeed to hear this news. I was working for a season at Glyndebourne the same year as the productions you mention, Richard. She was mesmerising in both roles. Off stage, she was always friendly and courteous to me, a junior receptionist who had just left school with dreams of being an opera singer…

  • Stephen Gould says:

    That is sad. What she could do was sell an aria – not merely sing it beautifully (or otherwise).

  • James Weiss says:

    As Rebecca Hall has confirmed, Maria Ewing’s father was Black not Native American. She had no Native American ancestry whatsoever. This was covered up for years as the family raised her to “pass.” It’s fascinating story to read.

  • Mr. Knowitall says:

    Contrary to the text above, her father was African-American, not Native American.

  • Emery says:


    My response to Ewing on an old videotape of Hall’s Poppea.

  • Tom Phillips says:

    What a nasty “tribute”. She was a quite excellent performer for many years – particularly as a mezzo – see for example her magnificent Cherubino in the 1976 film with Fischer-Dieskau, Freni, Prey, and Te Kanawa, and even in the early 90s she contributed an excellent Melisande in the Abbado recording. Yes, she should have not become a soprano and could be “difficult” but that is hardly the sum total of her entire career.

  • M.Arnold says:

    Never saw her life but that youtube video of her Salome is RIVETING! Such powerful emotional commitment .

  • IP says:

    Nowadays it is the executioner running around without a G-string, and thankfully diverting attention from the “singing”.