OPERA NEWS - Obituaries
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Depression-era screen soprano Deanna Durbin dies at ninety-one; singers Albert Lance and Richard McKee; Crucible composer Robert Ward.

Obituaries Durbin lg 713
Durbin with costar Leopold Stokowski on the set of the 1937 hit 100 Men and a Girl
© Universal Pictures/Photofest 2013

Winnipeg, Canada, December 4, 1921 — Neauphle-le-Château, France, April 20, 2013 

Long before Luciano Pavarotti made a classical pop anthem of Turandot's "Nessun dorma," international movie audiences heard the aria — in English, as "None Shall Sleep Tonight" — sung by Deanna Durbin in her 1943 film, His Butler's Sister.  Durbin, who became a top box-office draw in her early teens and was one of Hollywood's highest-paid stars when she chose to retire at twenty-seven, made a string of hit films in the 1930s and '40s, most of which featured the radiant Canadian-born soprano singing "light classical" vocals. The phenomenal success of Durbin's Three Smart Girls (1936) and 100 Men and a Girl (1937), which costarred Leopold Stokowski, was credited with saving her studio, Universal, from bankruptcy, but Durbin loathed the "nice girl" image that Hollywood concocted for her. After her third marriage, she retired to the French village of Neauphle-le-Château and refused all offers to make a return to performing, although she remained beloved by her fans. Her death, at ninety-one from undisclosed causes, was announced in the newsletter of the Deanna Durbin Society. 

Menindie, Australia, July 12, 1925 — Colomars, France, May 15, 2013 

Born Lance Ingrim and orphaned as an infant, the tenor was raised on a South Australian farm. He performed in vaudeville and night clubs and on radio in Australia before he made his debut, as Cavaradossi, with Melbourne Opera in 1950. When he was in his late twenties, Ingrim immigrated to France to study voice. In 1955, now renamed Albert Lance, he made his debut at the Opéra Comique in Tosca. Lance remained with the Comique and the Paris Opéra until 1972, establishing himself as France's leading tenor with his performances as Roméo, Don José, Werther, des Grieux, Hoffmann and other French roles, as well as leading parts in the Italian repertory. He also sang in Strasbourg, London, Vienna, Moscow, Leningrad and at San Francisco Opera, where he made his U.S. debut, in 1961, in Blood Moon. After he retired from the stage in 1977, Lance taught voice in France.

Hagerstown, MD, December 28, 1941 — Chittenango, NY, April 14, 2013 

A stalwart and popular member of New York City Opera for many seasons, the bass-baritone made his company debut in 1975, as Zuniga in Carmen. During his tenure there, McKee took on leading roles in the NYCO premieres of Lucrezia Borgia (Gubetta, 1976), La Belle Hélène (Calchas, 1976), La Fanciulla del West (Ashby, 1977) and Naughty Marietta (Pierre La Farge, 1978), as well as a range of characters from the King of Clubs in The Love for Three Oranges and the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance to Frank in Die Fledermaus, Mozart's Bartolo, and Sulpice in La Fille du Régiment. McKee also sang and stage directed for many other companies in North America, where his favorite roles included Leporello, Falstaff, and both Pooh-Bah and the title role in The Mikado. He was appointed artistic director of Syracuse Opera in 1990 and served in that capacity until his retirement, in 2007.

Cleveland, OH, September 13, 1917 — Durham, NC, April 2, 2013 

The composer studied with Howard Hanson at the Eastman School of Music and went on to postgraduate studies at the Juilliard School. Concurrent to his studies in New York, Ward began his professional academic career teaching a music-appreciation course at Queens College, New York, where he would later be appointed an assistant professor of music. In 1941, while he was still a graduate student at Juilliard, Ward's Symphony No. 1 had its premiere with the Juilliard Orchestra. 

Ward's career and studies were interrupted by military service in World War II, during which time he served as the conductor of the Seventh Infantry Division Band. After his term of service ended, Ward returned to New York, completed graduate work in composition and conducting at Juilliard, gained a teaching position there and produced a steady stream of compositions, all of them characterized by dramatic facility and a firm, distinctly American rhythmic sense. He was also on faculty at Columbia University (1946–48) and was music director of the Third Street Music Settlement (1952–55).

Ward's first opera, Pantaloon — based on the Leonid Andreyev play He Who Gets Slapped — had its world premiere at Juilliard in 1956. Featuring a libretto by Ward's Juilliard classmate Bernard Stambler, Pantaloon — eventually retitled after its source material — received its professional premiere at New York City Opera in 1959, as part of the company's "All American" opera season.

The Crucible, which became the best-known of Ward's eight operas, had its world premiere at NYCO in 1961, with Emerson Buckley conducting. Adapted from Arthur Miller's 1953 play about the witch trials in seventeenth-century Massachusetts, The Crucible went on to win the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Music, as well as the New York Music Critics' Circle Award. Although Ward wrote several orchestral and chamber works, as well as a number of songs, he remained most identified with opera, and with The Crucible in particular, thanks to the regularity with which the workwas performed in the U.S. Ward's other pieces for the opera house included The Lady from Colorado (1964) and Claudia Legare (1978).

In 1956, Ward left Juilliard to serve as executive vice president and managing editor of music publisher Galaxy Music Corporation, where he remained until 1966. In 1967, Ward was appointed chancellor of the North Carolina School of the Arts. In 1974, he stepped down from that position but remained a presence on the school's composition faculty. From 1978 until his 1987 retirement, Ward served as a composition professor at Duke University. spacer 

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