Artist Profile: Mignon Dunn, Supreme ‘Carmen’ Interpreter

By David Salazar

Mezzo-soprano Mignon Dunn enjoyed a celebrated vocal career that she has now transformed into a legendary one as a teacher.

Born on June 17, 1928, in Tennessee, she studied under Karen Branzell and Beverley Peck Johnson. On Sept. 8, 1955, she made her official debut with the Experimental Opera Theatre of America / New Orleans Opera Association. The opera in question? “Carmen (More on that later).”

She would then appear with the New York City Opera in 1956 in “Troilus and Cressida.” From there, she would head over to the Metropolitan Opera where she would perform for a whopping 653 times between 1958 and 1994.

Her career saw her perform at a wide range of theaters such as La Scala, the Vienna Staatsoper, London’s Royal Opera, Covent Garden, the Paris Opéra, Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre, Teatr Wielki, Warsaw, the Hamburg Staatsoper, and the Deutsche Oper Berlin, among others. She also appeared in South and Central America and was a fixture at the Canadian Opera Company. She also appeared all over the US and left recordings with EMI, Erato, and Deutsche Grammophon.

Once retired from the stage, she became a voice professor, working at the International Vocal Arts Institute, University Texas at Austin, the University of Illinois, Northwestern University, Brooklyn College, and Manhattan School of Music, among others.

Signature Role

As hinted above, for Dunn, there is simply one role that defined her career – Carmen. Per her own admission, she heard the opera for the first time at age 10 and stated then and there that opera was her career path. Since then, she has sung the role over 400 times in four different languages. She performed the role throughout her career alongside a number of famous tenors, including Franco Corelli and Plácido Domingo. She recorded it with Domingo in 1968.

Of a performance at the City Opera, New York Times critic Raymond Ericson noted, “She is able to make striking musical effects in phrasing that were impossible at the [Metropolitan Opera].”

Watch and Listen

Here is a full recording from a performance that features Corelli, Piero Cappuccilli, and Maria Chiara.

And here is an opportunity to see her in teacher mode.


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