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Obituaries

Obituaries

Soprano Maralin Niska dies at eighty-nine.

Obituaries Niska lg 1016
Niska as Emilia Marty at NYCO, 1970 
© Beth Bergman

MARALIN NISKA
SAN PEDRO, CA, NOVEMBER 16, 1926—SANTA FE , NM, JULY 9, 2016  

A VERSATILE ARTIST of protean talent and energy, Niska was a mainstay of New York City Opera in the 1960s and ’70s, singing more than two dozen roles for the company at Lincoln Center and on tour. Born in California, Niska graduated from U.C.L.A. with a degree in English literature and taught second grade for seven years before returning to school to study voice at U.S.C. and U.C.L.A. Niska sang with several amateur and professional companies in California during the late 1950s and early ’60s, among them San Diego Opera, where she was Mimì in the company’s inaugural performance, in May 1965.

The following autumn, Niska made her debut with the short-lived Metropolitan Opera National Company, as Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah. The National Company toured throughout the U.S., often visiting parts of the country that had never seen a live opera performance. In a 1970 interview with opera news, Niska said that the Met National Company “gave me my career.” Niska’s other National Company roles during that troupe’s two seasons were Cio-Cio-San, Musetta, Micaela, Frasquita, the Female Chorus in The Rape of Lucretia and Countess Almaviva. 

In September 1967, Mozart’s Countess was Niska’s debut role at New York City Opera, where the soprano made her mark as an artist of rare courage and temperament during the succeeding decade. Although Niska sang a number of standard-repertory roles for NYCO with distinction, it was her bold, fiercely intelligent work in the company premieres of Prince Igor (Jaroslavna, 1969), The Makropulos Case (Emilia Marty, 1970), Medea (Medea, 1974), Idomeneo (Elettra, 1975), La Voix Humaine (The Woman, 1977) and La Fanciulla del West (Minnie, 1977), as well as new productions of Susannah (1971), Ariadne auf Naxos (Composer, 1973), Manon Lescaut (1974) and Salome (1975) that established her unique artistic profile.

Niska’s flamboyant impersonation of the ageless Emilia Marty in Frank Corsaro’s multimedia staging of Janáček’s opera was probably her greatest success in New York. The NYCO production, the work’s New York stage premiere, was sung in Norman Tucker’s English translation and billed as The Makropoulos Affair. Costumed with extravagant glamour by Patton Campbell and keenly directed by Corsaro—one of her frequent collaborators at NYCO—Niska defined the role of Emilia Marty for a generation of operagoers. New York’s Alan Rich called Niska’s Emilia “the culmination of [her] career at City Opera … tense, wise, emotionally frazzling and beautifully in control.” opera news’s Frank Merkling praised Niska’s “incandescence” as Emilia, adding that she was “all rich-toned sinuosity, dominating the stage … like the diva she was supposed to be.” 

Niska made her Met debut in 1970, as Violetta in La Traviata. She sang a total of forty-two performances for the company at Lincoln Center and on tour, including Musetta in the historic 1977 La Bohème with Luciano Pavarotti and Renata Scotto that launched the Live from the Met telecast series on public television. Viewed today, Niska’s Musetta is remarkable for its economy of gesture, dramatic specificity and musical clarity; it is a pity that so little of Niska’s work was telecast or recorded commercially. Musetta was Niska’s most frequent Met assignment, with twenty-six performances; her other Met roles included Tosca, Salome and Elena in I Vespri Siciliani. 

In 1980, Niska took on the title role in Regina in a notable revival of Marc Blitzstein’s opera for Houston Grand Opera. Other U.S. credits for Niska included appearances at Tanglewood, Opera Company of Boston, San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Tulsa Opera, San Antonio Opera, Fort Worth Opera and Santa Fe Opera. She made her Santa Fe debut in 1968, as Cio-Cio-San, and also sang Mimì and Violetta for the company. In 1978, Niska and her husband, conductor William Mullen, settled in Santa Fe, where the soprano maintained a private vocal studio after she retired from the stage.  — F. Paul Driscoll 

Obituaries Pearce lg 1016
Arts executive Pearce
© Dario Acosta

STEWART PEARCE
BROOKLYN, NY, JUNE 1, 1951— NEW YORK, NY, JULY 17, 2016

STEWART PEARCE DEVOTED virtually his entire career to two arts organizations that were intimately connected—the Metropolitan Opera and the Metropolitan Opera Guild. Over a period of almost forty years his service to both institutions was distinguished, marked by intelligence, acumen and a rare degree of discretion. 

Pearce came to the Metropolitan Opera Guild in February 1976, as an intern from the Arts Management master’s program at NYU, where he received his master’s degree in 1977. He was hired full-time at the Guild in July 1976 and was named the Guild’s director of membership in 1979. When the membership program moved to the Met in 1982, Pearce continued to manage it as the Metropolitan Opera’s assistant development director. Two years later, he became the Met’s director of planning and budgets, overseeing the company’s operations, box office, marketing and finance. In 1997, he was named an assistant manager of the Met by general manager Joseph Volpe. During this period of his Met career, Pearce worked on the original development of Tessitura, the customer database created by the Met and launched in 2000, which is now used for fundraising and marketing by hundreds of arts organizations around the world.

In 2006, Pearce was appointed as the Met’s assistant manager for operations by general manager Peter Gelb. In this role, Pearce was involved with the Met’s long-range financial planning, budgeting, season planning, box office, audience development, educational outreach, presentations, merchandising and external relations.

In 2010, Pearce returned to the Metropolitan Opera Guild as its managing director, while continuing his role at the Met until 2014. He retired as the Guild’s managing director in 2015. He died after a brief illness. 

Pearce is survived by his husband, Kevin Kellogg.

Obituaries Nixon lg 1016
Nixon in the 1960s
© NET/Photofest

MARNI NIXON
ALTADENA, CA, FEBRUARY 22, 1930—NEW YORK, NY , JULY 24, 2016  

A SOPRANO BEST remembered for the soundtrack vocals that she provided for Hollywood stars in big-budget musicals of the 1950s and ’60s, Marni Nixon was much more than a vocal “ghost.” She was an artist whose long, rich musical life encompassed every kind of repertoire; Nixon sang everything from Debussy, Stravinsky and Webern to Rodgers and Hammerstein and George Gershwin. She performed it all with exquisite accuracy and surpassing style, her perfect pitch and scrupulous musicianship making her a favorite collaborator of composers and conductors throughout her sixty-year career. 

A native Californian, Nixon started playing the violin at four and decided to devote herself to singing at eleven. Her first significant voice teacher was Austrian soprano Vera Schwarz, an important star in Berlin in the 1920s and ’30s who had emigrated to the U.S. In 1946, Nixon was invited to join Roger Wagner’s Concert Youth Chorus, a forerunner of the Roger Wagner Chorale, based in Los Angeles. She made her solo debut at seventeen at the Hollywood Bowl, singing Carmina Burana under the baton of Leopold Stokowski.

Nixon began singing opera in the opera workshop program at L.A. City College and was active in opera workshops at Stanford, U.C.L.A. and U.S.C. In summer 1950, Nixon joined the opera program at the Tanglewood Music Center, where she worked with Leonard Bernstein, Serge Koussevitzky and Sarah Caldwell. Nixon made her Broadway debut in 1954, as a member of the ensemble in The Girl in Pink Tights, Sigmund Romberg’s final Broadway show, and did West Coast tours of Ariadne auf Naxos (1954) and a double bill of The Telephone and Trouble in Tahiti (1955).

Nixon’s work as a screen “ghost” singer began when she sang a Hindu lullaby for Margaret O’Brien in The Secret Garden (1949). In 1956, Nixon did the first of the dubbing jobs for which she was best known, providing the soundtrack vocals for Deborah Kerr in The King and I. Nixon’s off-screen work as Anna Leonowens—as with her off-screen singing for Natalie Wood’s Maria in West Side Story (1961)—was not credited at the time of the film’s release, but when Nixon sang for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady (1964), the “secret” of her dubbing became well-known in Hollywood and in the media before the film was out, thanks to a TIME feature story. For the rest of her professional life—which continued unabated in concert, opera, recordings, television and stage work until she was in her eighties—Nixon was associated with her work on movie soundtracks.  

Nixon’s late-career performances included the singing voice of Grandmother Fa in the animated film Mulan (1998); Broadway runs in James Joyce’s The Dead (2000), Follies (2001) and Nine (2003); a national tour as Mrs. Higgins in My Fair Lady (2008); and her one-woman show, Marni Nixon: The Voice of Hollywood. She published her autobiography, I Could Have Sung All Night, in 2006. spacer 



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