Artist Profile: Barbara Hendricks – Soprano, Jazz Singer, Movie Star

By David Salazar

Barbara Hendricks is the textbook example of a singer that can truly do it all. 

Born on Nov. 20, 1948, in Arkansas, she graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a degree in mathematics and chemistry.

But from there it was all music. She studied at Juilliard under mezzo-soprano Jennie Tourel and took master classes with Maria Callas.

Per the Metropolitan Opera Archives, she first appeared with the company (with the mini-Met) in 1973 in Virgil Thomson’s “Four Saints in Three Acts.” Her formal debut on the big Met stage came far later in 1986 in “Der Rosenkavalier.”

But before all that she made her European operatic debut came in 1974 at the Glyndebourne Festival. She also debuted at the San Francisco Opera that same year. From there she went on to sing in Paris, London, Milan, among other cities.

In 1998, she appeared in a historic performance of “Turandot” at the Forbidden City in Beijing. She appeared in the world premiere of the operatic treatment of “Angels in America” in 2004 and created a new label Arte Verum in 2006. She also appeared in a filmed version of “La Bohème” and a Swedish movie of “The Rake’s Progress.” She also appeared in the film “Disengagement” by Amos Gitai in 2007 and even recorded Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” for the film.

In addition to her work as an opera singer, Hendricks has performed jazz regularly since 1994 when she appeared at the Montreux Jazz Festival. She is also a major humanitarian, supporting the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

She was made Commandeur d’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1986 and received the rank of Chevalier de la Léfion d’honneur in 1992. In 2001 she was granted the Prince of Asturias Award.

Signature Roles

While she did a plethora of operas, including 20 roles throughout her career, Hendricks is perhaps best known as a major recitalist, particularly in the German and French repertoire.

She is also a major champion of modern composers, having performed world premieres of such masters as Gilbert Amy, David Del Tredici, Tobias Picker, Mari Takano, Bruno Mantovani, Krzysztof Penderecki, and Arvo Pärt, among others.

Watch and Listen

Here is a vast array of selections that showcase her wide-ranging talent.


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