Katy Wright

Deputy Editor, Classical Music

Roberta Peters (4 May 1930 – 18 January 2017)

12:19, 20th January 2017

American coloratura soprano Roberta Peters has died aged 86 from Parkinson’s disease.

Peters made her Metropolitan Opera debut aged 20 as Zerlina in Don Giovanni, a role which she would sing more than any other soprano in the Met’s 134-year history. She went on to sing with the company 515 times over 35 years.

Born in New York, Peters studied with William Herman, who insisted that she pursued intensive study of the operatic repertoire. As a result, she knew 20 operas by the book by the age of 19.

In late 1949, she was taken on by impresario Sol Hurok, who arranged an audition with the Met for January 1950. Peters sang ‘Der Hölle Rache’ to incoming general manager Rudolf Bing, who asked her to repeat it four times, and signed her later that year.

She was due to make her company debut as the Queen of the Night in January 1951, but when soprano Nadine Conner fell ill on 17 November 1950, Peters was drafted in to replace her as Zerlina in Don Giovanni.

Her other best-known roles include the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, Rosina in The Barber of Seville, Gilda in Rigoletto and Oscar in Un Ballo in Maschera.

Peters performed at Covent Garden, the Vienna Staatsoper, the Bolshoi and the Salzburg Festival, but the Met remained her home. She also frequently gave recitals, and marked the fiftieth anniversary of her Met debut with a performance at Alice Tully Hall on 17 November 2000.

In 1981, Peters joined the board of directors of the Metropolitan Opera Guild, remaining an active member until 2013, when she was appointed to the Guild’s artists council. She was appointed to the National Council on the Arts in 1991, and awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Bill Clinton in 1998.

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