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The Fourteenth Annual OPERA NEWS Awards: Rosalind Elias

// MEZZO-SOPRANO //
By F. Paul Driscoll 

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Maurice Seymour
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Rehearsing to sing for President Lyndon B. Johnson at a gala in the 1960s
Photo courtesy Rosalind Elias
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As Countess di Coigny in the Met’s 1996 Andrea Chénier
Winnie Klotz/Metropolitan Opera

WHEN MY FRIEND Rosalind Elias was a child in Lowell, Massachusetts, she dreamed of running away from home to sing in the movies. Hollywood represented a magic world to the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, the youngest of thirteen children, who had a particular passion for the films of Canadian soprano Deanna Durbin. Rosalind never made it to Hollywood, but as she told me in a 2017 interview for OPERA NEWS, “I did go to a lot of other beautiful places—and all because of music.”

Rosalind always sang. On Saturday afternoons during her teenage years, Rosalind sang as she did her household chores, listening to broadcasts from the Met and “fantasizing that I was on that stage, singing. I would just sing in the house. Finally my mother talked my father into letting me take voice lessons. He said, ‘So what, let her sign up for lessons—she’ll never go. She’ll go to the movies instead.’ But I didn’t go to the movies—I stuck with singing!”

Rosalind studied at New England Conservatory and in Rome and spent three summers at Tanglewood, where she worked with the legendary stage director/conductor Boris Goldovsky. In 1954, Rosalind began the most important association of her professional life when she made her Metropolitan Opera debut, as Grimgerde in Die Walküre, the first of her 687 performances with the company in New York and on tour. In her thirty-five Met seasons, Rosalind sang in more than a dozen new productions, including the company premiere of Nabucco and the world premieres of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa and his Antony and Cleopatra, which inaugurated the Met’s home at Lincoln Center in 1966. Her gallery of memorable characterizations at the Met ran the gamut from the lusciously merry Meg Page in Franco Zeffirelli’s beloved 1964 production of Falstaff to the dissolute Countess di Coigny in Nicolas Joël’s 1996 staging of Andrea Chénier. Rosalind made music at the Met with the best conductors in the world, including Leonard Bernstein, Karl Böhm, Erich Leinsdorf, James Levine, Lorin Maazel, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Pierre Monteux, Thomas Schippers, Georg Solti and Bruno Walter.

Rosalind’s breakout performance at the Met was Erika in the 1958 world premiere of Vanessa, which fully tested and proved her formidable talent as a singing actress. When Rosalind protested the score’s lack of a proper solo for Erika, Barber gave her “Must the winter come so soon?,” a two-minute aria that Rosalind invested with the force and truth of a Shakespearean monologue. In a 1964 OPERA NEWS interview with John W. Freeman, Rosalind remembered that at one point Erika “had to walk away from the audience, and [stage director and librettist] Gian Carlo Menotti told me he wanted the audience to see my anguish from the way my back looked!” 

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Relaxing at home
Courtesy Rosalind Elias
 

But Rosalind is more than just part of the Met’s history: her work was and is a fundamental component in the Met’s abiding reputation for excellence. Nobody served the Met better than Rosalind Elias: no other artist honored the Metropolitan Opera with the devotion that she did. Rosalind’s musical integrity, her potent dramatic imagination and her personal glamour made her an invaluable member of the Met roster for more than forty years. Cherished by her audiences and beloved by her colleagues, Rosalind was a manifestly first-class talent, blessed with unshakeable discipline and a rich, ruby-colored mezzo-soprano that sounded authentic and exciting in everything she sang, from Verdi and Mozart to Noel Coward’s Bitter Sweet. Rosalind’s recorded work is a testament to her honesty as a musician: in her 1968 “Baïléro,” from Chants d’Auvergne, Rosalind lets the phrases rise and fall with such spontaneity and freedom that she sounds startlingly modern.

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As Meg Page in the Zeffirelli staging of Falstaff at the Met, 1964, with Gabriella Tucci, Regina Resnik and Anselmo Colzani
Louis Melançon
 

Rosalind’s curiosity, kindness and capacity for friendship remain substantial. She still listens passionately, speaks shrewdly and lives fully. To know her is to admire her—and to love her, as I do. —F. Paul Driscoll 



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