Artist Profile: Shirley Verrett’s Successful Career As Both Mezzo & Soprano

By David Salazar

Many mezzo-sopranos make the attempt to transition into the repertoire of the soprano.

Few succeed the way Shirley Verrett did.

Verrett, born on May 31, 1931, was raised in Los Angeles. While she showed early musical abilities. Her aspirations as a singer were looked down upon by her family, but she would find her way to Juilliard.

She would make her operatic debut in 1957 in “The Rape of Lucretia” and then a year later she was singing at the New York City Opera.

In 1961, she won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and a year later she appeared in the first concert ever televised from Lincoln Center. Her Met debut came in 1968 in “Carmen” and with it a plethora of performances and roles.

The 1970s would see Verrett push her vocal powers in a new direction, taking on soprano roles to great success. She would transition back to lower roles at the end of her career and even sang in “Carousel” as Netty Fowler in 1994.

In 1996, she became a University professor at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

She passed away in 2010 at the age of 79.

Signature Role

Verrett dominated a wide-range of mezzo roles throughout her career and was successful as a soprano. But no role perhaps defines her power as a singing actress more so than Lady Macbeth in Verdi’s “Macbeth.” Her voice has the highs and lows, the dark and the light that makes her interpretation arguably the most imaginative around.

As a mezzo, her Dalila is unsurpassed to this day, even if there are other incredible interpretations to draw from. But Verrett oozes the sensuality and violent potential that make her Dalila so exciting.

Watch and Listen

One of the iconic opera performances of all time, Verrett’s entrance arias as the Lady in “Macbeth” received a historic ovation.

And here she is with Plácido Domingo in “Samson et Dalila.”


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