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'Million dollar mezzo' dies aged 99

22 March 2013, New York, US

Mezzo-soprano Risë Stevens
Mezzo-soprano Risë Stevens(Photo: Metropolitan Opera Archives)

The American mezzo-soprano Risë Stevens has died in New York, aged 99.

Born in 1913 to émigré parents – her father a Norwegian Lutheran, her mother a Polish Jew – Stevens studied at the Juilliard School while supporting herself as a part-time model for fur coats. She went on to train at the Salzburg Mozarteum and was spotted in Paris by the conductor George Szell, who engaged her to play the title role in a 1935 Prague production of Ambrose Thomas’s Mignon. Over the next three years, she appeared at the Vienna State Opera, sang Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier in Buenos Aires, and made her debut with the Metropolitan Opera.

During the 1940s and 50s, Stevens became known particularly for playing two of opera’s great seductresses – Bizet’s Carmen and Saint-Saëns’ Dalila – both of which became her signature roles. During the Second World War she also enjoyed a brief spell as a minor film star in three films with Bing Crosby, including Going My Way (1944), which won seven Oscars. By 1945, her voice was insured for a record US$1 million by Lloyd’s of London.

Stevens retired from the stage in 1961, but continued to serve as a member of the Metropolitan Opera’s administrative team for many years, supporting the development of young artists.

  • Risë Stevens, mezzo-soprano: born 11 June 1913, died 20 March 2013


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