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June 11, 2012

Stellar mezzo-soprano Rise Stevens marks her 99th birthday

Too often when I write about great singers of past days, it is to announce their deaths. So let me hasten to note the 99th birthday of Rise Stevens, the eminent American mezzo-soprano, born in New York June 11, 1913.

With a plush voice and an instantly engaging manner of phrasing, she became one of the most popular opera stars of the 1940s and '50s, especially acclaimed for her portrayal of Carmen and Dalila. No wonder her dynamic stage personality was also appreciated by Hollywood.

These vintage examples capture the Rise Stevens allure very well, I think: a TV performance of "Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix" from "Samson et Dalila" and a clip from her 1941 film with ...

Nelson Eddy, "The Chocolate Soldier" ("I Love Lucy" fans who, like me, know this aria only from Ethel's indelible version will kindly refrain from laughter):

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:52 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Clef Notes


One of the GREAT singers. Richard Strauss heard her as Octavian in "Der Rosenkavalier" and offered to rewrite the soprano role of Salome for her. I don't think she took him up on the offer - she would have been fabulous! Or maybe she knew that Ljuba Welitsch would be furious at having her signature role taken away!

Dear Miss Stevens, I was a young lad of 9 when I heard you perform carmen at the Cincinnati Summer Opera. This was one of the highlights of my musical career. I became a professional musician , a horn player, and music teacher at the elementary, junior high and university level.

My Dad and I had front row seats listening to you and the orchestra under the direction of Fausto Cleva, and having conversations with the horn plyaers, madison kukn, hilbert mosher etc.

Ernest Glover played trombone. I am so blessed to have heard Richard Tucker, in La Traviata and Ezio Pinza as Mephistopheles and Astrid Varnay as Ortrud in Lohengrin.

As a memory of these wonderful days and you may I please have your autograph. I ws a professional hornist and band director for over 60 years, and I would like to have my children and grandchildren. I know you are not in the greatest of health, but God has preserved you for your 100th birthday coming up on June 11th, 2013, which just happens to be the date of my parents wedding anniversary.

Thank you so very much- I hope you can deal with my request

Most Sincerely Yours happy birthday(100th) in advance

John D.K. Brisbin
169-1055 Bow Valley Drive NE
Calgary, Alberta T2E8A9 CANADA
403- 640-4231

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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