4 October 2010
Lyric Coloratura Dolores Wilson, 82, Original Baby Doe, Has Died
Wilson as Rosina in 1954
Bruno of Hollywood/OPERA NEWS Archives
Philadelphia, PA, August 9, 1928 — Englewood, NJ, September 28, 2010
Dolores Wilson’s singular career path took her from the lyric coloratura heroines of Donizetti and Rossini to character parts on Broadway. Born in Philadelphia and raised in the Bronx, where she attended Catholic schools before graduating from Jamaica High School, the soprano took private lessons in piano, ballet and tap as well as studying voice in the studio of William Hermann. Wilson appeared on radio and television in New York before she turned twenty, and attracted the attention of some important supporters, among them soprano Lucrezia Bori and Edward Johnson, general manager of the Met. Although Johnson expressed interested in her progress, Wilson opted to leave New York — where she probably would have started off in comprimario roles — in favor of starting her career in Italy, where her maternal grandparents had been born. She made her professional debut in Brescia in November 1948, as Rossini’s Rosina; Cesare Siepi was her Basilio. Billed as Dolores “Vilsoni,” Wilson spent the next few seasons gaining experience in regional Italian theaters. In 1951, she sang Gilda at La Fenice; engagements followed in Rome, Catania, Trieste, Aix-en-Provence, Bordeaux, Nice, Barcelona and Lisbon. Wilson made her South American debut in 1952, singing Gilda and Rosina in Rio de Janeiro. By 1954 — the year of her Met debut, as Donizetti’s Lucia — Wilson had recorded Lucia di Lammermoor in Italy and her opera-house resumé held lyric-coloratura specialties such as Amina in La Sonnambula, Linda di Chamounix, Norina in Don Pasquale, Marie in La Fille du Régiment and Philine in Thomas’s Mignon. A confident, attractive artist, Wilson was generally greeted with favor by Met audiences in her twenty-six performances with the company, save for her Lucia of December 11, 1956, when police were called to disperse claimants for refunds after the announcement that Wilson would be substituting for the originally scheduled Lucia, Maria Callas.
On July 7, 1956, at Colorado’s Central City Opera, Wilson was Baby Doe in the world premiere of The Ballad of Baby Doe, alternating the role with soprano Leyna Gabriele during the original run of Douglas Moore’s opera. The following November, Wilson made her Lyric Opera of Chicago debut, as Musetta. In 1957, she was Verdi’s Violetta in a twenty-three city U. S. tour presented by NBC Opera Theatre. After a period of ill health — she was hospitalized for a neck injury in the late 1950s —Wilson shifted the focus of her career to musical theater, which she reportedly found less stressful physically than opera. Wilson acted in regional productions of Fiddler on the Roof, The Merry Widow, The King and I and Gypsy, among other vehicles, and on Broadway, where she appeared as Golde in Fiddler on the Roof and Miss Hannigan in Annie and created the roles of Ora Baxter in The Yearling (1965), Maria Haggerty in Cry for Us All (1970) and Aunt Jenny in I Remember Mama (1979).
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