Roberta Peters, born on May 4, 1930, was one of the great American coloratura sopranos of the 20th century.
She grew up in New York City and started her musical studies at age 13, under William Herman. He taught her vocal technique as well as French, German, and Italian. From there, she auditioned for Rudolf Bing, who was General Manager at the Metropolitan Opera at the time, and he scheduled her to sing the role of the Queen of the Night in 1951 when she was just 21.
But she ultimately made her debut earlier in 1950 in “Don Giovanni” and received enthusiastic reviews. She would go on to a 35-year career at the Met (where she performed over 500 times), but also performed widely at the Cincinnati Opera, and Royal Opera House in London, among others.
Later in her career, she took to operetta and musical theater, appearing in such works as “The King and I” and “Carousel.” She died on Jan. 18, 2017, leaving behind a cherished legacy that featured numerous recordings.
Peters was known for her exact technique and vocal flexibility throughout her career, her range pristinely extending high up into the soprano stratosphere where she could pick out high Fs with ease.
Perhaps her most famous interpretation is that of Gilda in Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” her delicate voice a perfect match for the innocence of the virginal character. She performed the role more than any other at the Met, a whopping 88 times. It was also the last opera she sang at the Met, in 1984 and 1985, both in the house and while on tour.
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Watch and Listen
Here is a compilation of some of her finest musical moments on video.
Here is a full recording from the Met’s production of “Rigoletto” from 1966 alongside Alfredo Kraus and Cornell Macneil under Francesco Molinari Pradelli.