27 November 2017

American Soprano Carol Neblett, 71, New York City Opera Stalwart of Abundant Vocal Gifts, has Died

News Neblett lg 1217
Neblett as Marietta in Frank Corsaro's 1975 staging of Die Tote
Stadt
at New York City Opera

© Beth Bergman
CAROL NEBLETT
Modesto, CA, February 1, 1946 — Los Angeles, CA, November 23, 2017

A SOPRANO OF RARE GENEROSITY, with abundant vocal gifts and all-American beauty, Neblett made her professional solo debut at nineteen, singing the Angel in Respighi’s Laud to the Nativity with the Roger Wagner Chorale at Carnegie Hall and at Los Angeles Music Center. Neblett’s ambition to be an opera singer began when she saw the New York City Opera on tour in Los Angeles in 1968; the following year, scarcely a month after her twenty-third birthday, Neblett made her NYCO debut, as Musetta in La Bohème. Neblett’s strikingly lush good looks and boldly conceived, powerfully delivered acting choices made her a key player in a golden age of opportunity for ambitious American-born singers at New York City Opera, at a time when the company’s theatrical values were world-class. Neblett’s notable successes in new productions for NYCO included the dual assignment of Margherita and Elena in the company premiere of Mefistofele (1969), directed by Tito Capobianco; Poppea in the company premiere of Monteverdi’s Incoronazione di Poppea (1973), staged by Gerald Freedman; the title role in Ariadne auf Naxos (1973), directed by Sarah Caldwell; and Marietta/Marie in Frank Corsaro’s staging of Korngold’s Tote Stadt (1975), an opera that Neblett recorded for RCA Victor that same year. Neblett’s other roles at City Opera included Massenet’s Manon, Louise, Violetta, Donna Elvira and The Queen of Shemakha in Le Coq d’Or.

In 1973, Neblett attracted international attention when she did a nude scene in Bliss Hebert’s production of Thaïs for New Orleans Opera Association, winning as much praise for her lithe figure as for her performance as Massenet’s courtesan. But it was Neblett’s singing that kept her star on the rise, and brought her engagements at the opera world’s most important theaters. She sang Countess Almaviva at Cincinnati Opera, Minnie in Turin and Mozart’s Vitellia at the Salzburg Festival. She arrived at Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1975 as Chrysothemis; the following year she returned to the Chicago company to sing Tosca to Luciano Pavarotti’s Cavaradossi. In 1977, Neblett was Minnie to Plácido Domingo’s Dick Johnson in Piero Faggioni’s Covent Garden staging of La Fanciulla del West, paced by Zubin Mehta; Neblett, Domingo, Mehta and Sherrill Milnes recorded the opera the following year for Deutsche Grammophon. The Covent Garden Fanciulla was also broadcast on television, raising Neblett’s visibility in the mainstream media: her charisma and self-mocking sense of fun brought Neblett several guest appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. 

Neblett’s significant association with San Francisco Opera began with her 1977 company debut, as Elettra in Mozart’s Idomeneo. She returned to San Francisco for Minnie in La Fanciulla del West (1979), Chimène in a concert staging of Le Cid (1981), Chysothemis in Elektra (1984), Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera (1985) and Elena in Mefistofele (1994).

Neblett made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1979, as Senta to José van Dam’s Dutchman in the controversial Jean-Pierre Ponnelle staging of Der Fliegende Holländer. In her ten seasons on the Met roster, Neblett sang eighty-four performances with the company in New York and on tour; her most frequent assignments were Musetta, Donna Elvira, Tosca and Alice Ford. In 1983, Neblett joined Simon Estes for Holländer’s “Wie aus der Ferne” in the Met’s internationally televised Centennial Gala. 

In the 1990s, when Neblett was still in her forties, her career momentum stalled. In a 2003 OPERA NEWS interview with Eric Myers, Neblett admitted that personal problems, including her own alcoholism, contributed to a vocal and professional crisis. Neblett came through the crisis and reimagined her career in music as a teacher and coach. For the last thirteen years of her life, Neblett was a beloved member of the faculty at Chapman University in Southern California, and maintained a private voice studio in Los Angeles. At Chapman, Neblett held the title of artist-in-residence in the Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music. She also served as associate director of Opera Chapman and worked as a master voice teacher.  

In 2012, Neblett’s singing career completed a full circle when she made her musical theater debut, as Heidi Schiller in the West Coast transfer of Eric Schaeffer’s Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies. Neblett was centerstage once more at the Los Angeles Music Center, where she had first sung almost fifty years earlier; her touching rendition of “One More Kiss” proved that she could still perform with authority and glamour.  —F. Paul Driscoll 



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