Obituary: Legendary Soprano Roberta Peters Dies at 86

By Francisco Salazar

Robert Peters has died at the age of 86.

The coloratura soprano, who wowed audiences for her brilliant technique and vocal fireworks, died of  Parkinson’s disease.

The soprano was widely recognized at the Metropolitan Opera, where she made her debut earlier than expected on Nov. 17, 1950. Peters was phoned by General Manager Rudolph Bing who asked her to step in to replace Nadine Conner, who was ill and sing the role of as Zerlina in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” Even though she had never performed the role on stage, the soprano performed under Fritz Reiner. The result was a major success.

Peters would go on to sing 515 performances at the Metropolitan Opera where she sang  the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” Rosina in Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” Gilda in Verdi’s “Rigoletto” and Oscar in his “Un Ballo in Maschera. She also sang Susanna in Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro,” Despina in Mozart’s “Così fan tutte,” Amore in Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice” Marzeline in Beethoven’s “Fidelio,” Adina in Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore,” Norina in Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale,” Nanetta in Verdi’s “Falstaff,” Olympia in Offenbach’s “Les Contes d’Hoffmann,” Sophie in Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier,” Zerbinetta in Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos” and Adele in Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus.” She also sang the title roles of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” and Bellini’s “Amina. She gave her farewell at the Met in 1985 in the role of Gilda.

Peters’ career also extended from the Met as she also sang at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera and Cincinnati Opera. She appeared at the Vienna State Opera, Salzburg Festival, the Bolshoi Theater and numerous Italian theaters.

The soprano was also a popular icon on television as she appeared regularly on “The Voice of Firestone” and “The Tonight Show.” She also appeared a record of 65 times on Sunday Night’s “The Ed Sullivan Show for CBS.

While she retired from many of the operatic stages, Peters never officially retired and she sang musicals and operettas in the later part of her career with Lehar’s “The Merry Widow” and “The King and I.” In 1998 she was award the National Medal of the Arts.

Peters also left a legacy of recordings for RCA Victor and Columbia including Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia,” Strauss’ “Ariadne of Naxos” and Donizetti’s “Lucia Di Lammermoor.” The Metropolitan Opera has also released a number of archived performances for Sony Classical.

Peters is survived by her  two sons, Bruce and Paul and 4 grandchildren: Julie, Jessica, Remy, and Noah.

The aria above is one of Peter’s staples as she was the first soprano to perform it at the Metropolitan Opera.