Artist Profile: Risë Stevens, Hollywood & Opera Superstar

By Gillian Reinhard

In the 1940s and 1950s, Risë Stevens was one of the Metropolitan Opera’s brightest stars.

The mezzo-soprano was born Risë Gus Steenberg on June 11, 1913, in New York City. She studied at Juilliard and made her debut in Thomas’ “Mignon” in Prague. After singing at the Vienna State Opera, Teatro Colón, and Glyndebourne, Stevens returned to the United States to star as Octavian in “Der Rosenkavalier.”

Stevens began a career in film and starred in Hollywood hits such as “The Chocolate Soldier” (1941) and “Going My Way” (1944) opposite Bing Crosby.

She married Austrian actor Walter Surovy, who famously “insured” her voice for $1 million. They remained married for 61 years until he died in 2001. Later in life, she embarked on tours across the United States to great acclaim.

In the early 1960s, she also served as general manager of the Metropolitan Opera National Company.

Stevens passed away at age 99 in 2013.

Signature Roles 

Stevens was known for a variety of roles at the Met—including Fricka in Wagner’s “Ring,” Marfa in Mussorgsky’s “Khovanshchina,” and Prince Orlovsky in “Die Fledermaus.” Early in her career, she stuck to the works of Mozart, such as Dorabella in “Così Fan Tutte” and Cherubino in “The Marriage of Figaro.”

Her most celebrated role, however, was the title character in Bizet’s “Carmen.” A 1951 recording with Robert Merrill, Jan Peerce, and Licia Albanese is one of the most loved versions of the opera. Her legendary farewell performance was as Carmen at the Met in 1961.

Risë Stevens sings Carmen.

Richard Tucker and Risë Stevens in Carmen (kind of bad quality, but cool!)

Risë Stevens, “Ave Maria”


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