In Memoriam 2017: Remembering the Major Opera Singers That Passed This Year

By Francisco Salazar

For many, 2017 was a year to celebrate with many triumphs. It was also a tough year for arts institutions fighting sexual harassment scandals and numerous political issues. And it was also a year that saw many beloved artists and celebrities’ lives come to an end. The opera world was particularly devastated by the loss of many major stars, some of them rather young.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky

One of the most beloved baritones in the world saw his life come to an end after a two-year battle with a brain tumor. While he battled his illness, in 2017 the baritone did make some comeback performances in Toronto with Anna Netrebko and a memorable surprise at the Metropolitan Opera’s 50th Anniversary. His final performance was also recorded live with Aida Garifullina. Hvorostovsky will always be remembered however for his silvery tone and his dramatic commitment to each role. Thankfully he left many recordings including a memorable “Eugene Onegin” from the Metropolitan Opera and a final document of his “Rigoletto.”

Full Obituary here.

Nicolai Gedda

At 91-years-old the renowned Swedish tenor died. Throughout his career Gedda sang 70 roles and made over 300 recordings in a variety of repertoire including operetta, French, German, Italian, and Russian works. He was particularly well-known for his “Faust” interpretation and performed alongside such greats as Maria Callas, Victoria de Los Angeles, Eleanor Steber, Boris Christoff, Kiri Te Kanawa, and Beverly Sills.

Full Obituary here.

Roberta Peters

American darling Peters died at 86 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. She was one of the Metropolitan Opera’s leading ladies where she performed 515 times, making her farewell in 1985. She was also a popular TV icon, making appearances on the “The Voice of Firestone,” “The Tonight Show,” and on Sunday Night’s “The Ed Sullivan Show” for CBS. She left numerous recordings for RCA recording including “The Barber of Seville” and “Lucia di Lammermoor.”

Full Obituary here.

Georges Prêtre

French conductor Prêtre passed away at 92 in January after a remarkable career conducting some of the greatest singers. Among his biggest highlights were his 50-year relationship with La Scala and his work in the French repertoire, including works such as “Carmen,” “Faust,” “Samson et Dalila” and “Pélleas et Mélisande.” Among his most famous recordings are “Carmen” with Maria Callas and Nicolai Gedda.

Full Obituary here. 

Kurt Moll

Legendary German bass Moll made an impact in the opera world with his dark timbre taking on roles from Mozart, Wagner, Strauss, and Verdi. Throughout his career, he performed in all of the leading stages including the Metropolitan Opera, Hamburg Opera, and more. He left a huge recording legacy including DVDs from the Metropolitan Opera.

Full Obituary here.

Alberto Zedda

Perhaps best-known for his mastery of Rossini repertoire, Alberto Zedda was an important figure in recovering and promoting Rossini’s music. He would conduct all over the world including Bordeaux, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, London, New York and for a time he was the music director of the Festival della Valle d’Itria in Martina Franca and the Pesaro Festival, which celebrates Rossini’s music. He made numerous recordings of Rossini’s works including “Tancredi,” “L’Italiana in Algeri,” “La gazza ladra,” “La Cenerentola,” and “La donna del lago.”

Full Obituary here

Enzo Dara

Buffo bass Dara passed at 78 after being a household at the Metropolitan Opera for numerous years. With the house he would be showcased 59 times, singing just two roles over a 13-year span. He debuted as Bartolo in 1982 and finished up his Met days in that very role in early 1995 and went on to interpret the character 41 times at the Met. In between, he showcased his Dulcamara interpretation from “L’Elisir d’Amore” 18 times. His Dulcamara can be seen on DVD alongside Luciano Pavarotti and Kathleen Battle.

Full Obituary here.

Kristine Jepson

American mezzo Jepson passed away at the age of 54. Beloved by the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, and Royal Opera, Jepson performed roles by Mozart, Massenet, Gounod, and Strauss.  She was also well-known for her work in works by John Adams and Jake Heggie.

Full Obituary here. 

Jiří Bělohlávek

Czech conductor Bělohlávek was considered one of the great Czech interpreters of his generation. After a long battle with illness, he passed at the age of 77. A big proponent of Czech music the conductor led some of the greatest stars in works such as “Jenůfa” and “The Makropoulos Case (both featuring Mattila),” “Rusalka” and  “Kát’a Kabanová.” He performed with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Royal Opera, Paris Opera, and Glyndebourne among others.

Full Obituary here.

Barbara Cook

Broadway legend Cook may not have sung opera in her career but she made a mark on the opera world when the Metropolitan Opera invited her to perform for a one-night special in 2006. She was also a special guest on New Year’s Eve in 2003. Cook was also the first Cunegonde in “Candide” on Broadway.

Full Obituary here.

Peter Hall

After struggling with dementia, Hall died at the age of 86. A pioneer in the opera world, Hall served as artistic director of the Glyndebourne Festival from 1984 to 1990 and was influential in the decision to build a larger theatre for Glyndebourne, which resulted in the creation of the new opera house nearly 25 years ago. He also directed several productions at the Royal Opera and the Metropolitan Opera.

Full Obituary here.

Carol Neblett

American soprano Neblett mad an impact with American audiences and around the world for her interpretation as Minnie in “La Fanciulla del West.” She was also a fixture at the New York City Opera and would go on to perform at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Metropolitan Opera among others.

Full Obituary here.

This year also the passing of tenor Melvyn Poll, known for his performances at the New York City Operas as well as bass-baritone Edward Tsanga, a frequent Mariinsky Theatre artist.

Mezzo-soprano Klara Takacs also passed away after having a long career as a prominent artist in Hungary. She also sang at the Metropolitan Opera and recorded numerous operas. Conductor Fiora Corradetti was among the losses after making history as one of the few women conductors as well as Roberta Knie, a well-regarded Wagnerian soprano.

Kathleen Casello, part of the three sopranos, also passed, as well as Wagnerian expert Manfred Jung, and Verdi expert Rita Orlandi. 

Croatian mezzo Nada Puttar-Gold died after a 30-year career as did tenor Paul Gyton, who dedicated his career to the Welsh National Opera.

Canadian soprano Irene Salemka McGillivray also passed away after making marks on such roles as “Madama Butterfly” and “La Bohème,” as did Endrik Wottirch, a remarkable singer of the Wiener Volksoper, who died at age 53.

Lyric tenor Bruce Brewer, known for his recording of “L’Elisir d’Amore” and oratorio singer Agnes Giebel also passed.

Soprano Dorothy Dorow, known for work in modern music, soprano Eliane Lubin, music professor Christopher Charles Roselli and trailblazing soprano Barbara Smith Conrad also died.

The year also lost Bass Dennis Wilgenhof at the age of 44, English National tenor Emile Belcourt, Paris Competition founder  Pierre Vernes, University of Pittsburgh faculty member Claudia Pinza and the last descendant of Puccini, Simonetta Puccini. 

Other notable deaths included American Soprano Marilyn Tyler, tenor Bruce Rankin, soprano Nicoletta Panni, William Blankenship, Tenor José Razador, New York City Opera Director Frank Corsaro, Hungarian Soprano Julia Kukely, and American Tenor Louis Roney. 

Tenor Gaetano Bardini, German director Johannes Felsenstein, tenor Brian Galliford, New York Grand Opera Founder Vincent La Selva, Mariinsky Theatre Bass Nikolai Petrovich Okhotnikov, French tenor Andre Mallabrera, Bass-Baritone Pieter Vis, Georgian Soprano Tsisana Tatishvili and Opera and Broadway soprano Brenda Lewis also died.



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