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Sopranos Rita Shane and Anita Cerquetti; composer Stephen Paulus; arts patron Oscar de la Renta.

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Shane as the Queen of the Night at NYCO, 1967
© Beth Bergman 2015
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Cerquetti as Norma
© Private Collection/Lebrecht Music & Arts 2015

New York, NY, August 15, 1936 — October 9, 2014 

A dramatic coloratura much admired for her performances at New York City Opera, the Metropolitan Opera and other theaters, Shane studied at Barnard College and with Beverley Peck Johnson. She was a member of the apprentice program at Santa Fe Opera before making her debut as Olympia in Les Contes d’Hoffmann in 1964 at Chattanooga. Shane made her New York City Opera debut the following year, as Donna Elvira in an English-language performance of Don Giovanni in the company’s last full season at New York City Center. Shane’s performances with NYCO at Lincoln Center in the 1960s included Madame Lidoine in The Dialogues of the Carmelites , Fata Morgana in The Love for Three Oranges , Donna Anna and the Queen of the Night. After an absence of a few seasons, Shane returned to NYCO in 1979 to create Aurelia Havisham in the world premiere of Miss Havisham’s Fire , by Dominick Argento; in later seasons, she sang Dircé in Medée and Giselda in I Lombardi for the company. 

Shane sang seventy-two performances with the Metropolitan Opera in New York and on tour, beginning with her 1973 debut as the Queen of the Night. Her other Met roles in her eight seasons on the roster were Oscar in Un Ballo in Maschera, Musetta, Lucia, Berthe in Le Prophète, Gilda, Pamira in The Siege of Corinth and Violetta. In the U.S. premiere of Aribert Reimann’s Lear, at San Francisco Opera in 1981, Shane was Regan, a role that she later sang at Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich opposite Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s Lear. Shane also appeared with Lyric Opera of Chicago, New Orleans Opera Association, Philadelphia Lyric Opera, the Salzburg Festival, La Scala, De Nederlandse Opera, Opéra du Rhin and Grand Théâtre de Genève, among other theaters.

Shane was a member of the voice faculty at the Eastman School of Music from 1989 to 2014.  

Montecosaro, Italy, April 13, 1931 —  Perugia, Italy, October 11, 2014 

Anita Cerquetti had a career of almost startling brevity. She made her professional debut at twenty and abruptly retired a little more than a decade later, unable to withstand the pressures of a professional career. Many explanations were given over the years — physical exhaustion, mental health issues, marital troubles, family responsibilities, a vocal crisis — but most of these were open to contradiction, often from Cerquetti herself. Whatever her reasons, the soprano’s withdrawal from the stage when she was at the top of her profession was total and unequivocal. For the rest of her life, Cerquetti remained a legend — as much for the mysterious end of her career as for what she had accomplished during her decade as one of the most admired lirico-spinto sopranos of the 1950s. 

Originally trained as a violinist, Cerquetti studied voice at the Conservatory in Perugia before making her professional recital debut in that city in an all-Verdi program the month before her twenty-first birthday. Her opera debut was in September 1951, as Aida at the Teatro Nuovo in Spoleto. The following summer, she made Milan appearances as Leonora in Il Trovatore and sang in recital with the legendary tenor Benia­mino Gigli, an artist whose stardom had been established before the soprano was born. Despite the difference in age, the two singers were well-matched as colleagues: Cerquetti’s singing, while not particularly old-fashioned, had a generosity of scale that recalled the great Italian divas of Gigli’s prime. Her voice was large and billowing, her figure and manner imposing and her musicianship sufficiently well-informed to please such maestros as Tullio Serafin, Carlo Maria Giulini and Dimitri Mitropoulos, all of whom worked with Cerquetti in her early career. 

Cerquetti arrived on the Italian opera scene during the years when there was a renewed interest in nineteenth-century repertoire, music for which she was ideally suited vocally and temperamentally. Her notable early successes included Aida and Leonora at Arena di Verona (1953); Aida at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome (1955); and Florence appearances as Abigaille in Nabucco (1954), Bellini’s Norma (1955), Noraime in Cherubini’s Les Abercérages (1956) and Elvira in Ernani (1957). In December 1957, she made her debut at Teatro San Carlo in Naples, as Norma. The following month — while she was still under contract to Naples — Cerquetti agreed to replace Maria Callas in a run of Norma at Rome Opera after the Greek–American soprano had withdrawn halfway through the opening-night performance. Cerquetti sang Norma at the next scheduled performance in Rome, then sang the role again in Naples the following night before returning to Rome for two more Normas there. Cerquetti’s accomplishment was front-page news all over Italy. Six months later, when Cerquetti made her La Scala debut, as Abigaille, it appeared as if her success was unstoppable. But the La Scala Nabucco was to be her last important Italian engagement. There seem to have been no public Cerquetti performances in 1959, and after a few more engagements — among them some 1960 concerts at La Scala and a Nabucco in the Netherlands — the soprano chose to end her singing career. 

Although most of Cerquetti’s performances were in Europe, she made a few appearances in North America. She made her U.S. debut in 1955, as Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera at Lyric Opera of Chicago, and returned to the company in 1957 as Amelia and as Elisabetta di Valois. In 1957, Cerquetti made her New York debut in an American Opera Society concert performance of Gluck’s Paride ed Elena, in the small role of Pallas Athena. Philadelphia Grand Opera presented her as Norma (1957) and the Trovatore Leonora (1958).

After she left the stage, the Cerquetti legend was kept alive through recordings, among them a complete Gioconda, a 1957 recital disc and a number of live captures of her stage performances. In 1997, as charismatic as ever, Cerquetti appeared as herself in Werner Schroeter’s Poussières d’Amour, discussing her career and singing along with a recording of “Casta Diva” she made during her great years.

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Success story: composer Paulus
© Ken Howard 2015

Summit, NJ, August 24, 1949 — Arden Hills, MN, October 19, 2014 

A versatile, prolific and appealing composer, Paulus created more than 500 works in a career that lasted more than thirty-five years. Educated at the University of Minnesota, Paulus was one of the few composers to make a living by writing classical music; his pieces were highly popular with choral groups, orchestras and opera companies. Paulus maintained a lyrical, often lush style in his works for the stage, which included twelve operas, as well as in his choral music. 

Paulus had a long association with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, where four of his operas were given their world premieres — The Village Singer (1979); The Postman Always Rings Twice, based on the novel by James M. Cain (1982); The Woodlanders (1985); and The Woman at Otowi Crossing (1995). His other works included the opera Summer, first heard at Berkshire Opera in 1999; Heloise and Abelard, which had its premiere at the Juilliard School in 2002; and To Be Certain of the Dawn, a 2005 oratorio about the Holocaust written for the Minnesota Orchestra, which recorded the work for the BIS label. Paulus also enjoyed productive long-term relationships with Atlanta Symphony, the Robert Shaw Festival Singers and VocalEssence. 

Paulus’s “Pilgrims’ Hymn,” from his 1997 opera The Three Hermits, was performed at the funerals of Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald R. Ford. 

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De la Renta at the Met’s opening night, 2012
© Fairchild Photo Service/Condé Nast/Corbis 2015

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, July 22, 1932 — Kent, CT, October 20, 2014 

One of the most admired and influential clothing designers of his generation, de la Renta was also a singularly generous patron of the arts. He joined the board of the Metropolitan Opera in 1987 and served as a managing director from 1990 to 2004. De la Renta was also a former board member and life trustee of WNET; a founding board member of Venetian Heritage Inc.; and a member of the Carnegie Hall board of trustees for more than twenty-five years, beginning in 1987. De la Renta was a board member of the Metropolitan Opera Guild, which publishes OPERA NEWS, from 1985 until his death. During de la Renta’s tenure on the MOG board, he served on the merchandising committee and was an enthusiastic supporter of the Guild’s public programs, including the annual membership luncheon.  spacer   

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