Tuesday, December 11, 2012

NYTimes.com: 'Gloria Davy, First African-American to Sing Aida at the Met, Dies at 81'

[Gloria Davy] 
(Louis Mélançon/ Metropolitan Opera Archives) New York Times)

Sergio Mims sends this link:

Gloria Davy, a Brooklyn-born soprano who was the first African-American to sing Aida with the Metropolitan Opera, died on Nov. 28 in Geneva. She was 81.

Her death, after a long illness, was confirmed by the soprano Martina Arroyo, a longtime friend.

A lirico-spinto (the term denotes a high voice that is darker and more forceful than a lyric soprano’s), Ms. Davy performed mainly in Europe from the 1960s onward. She was equally, if not better, known as a recitalist
In particular, she was an interpreter of 20th-century music, including the work of Richard Strauss, Benjamin Britten and Paul Hindemith.

Though she was praised by critics for the beauty of her voice, the sensitivity of her musicianship and the perfection of her pianissimos — the elusive art of attaining maximum audibility at minimum volume — Ms. Davy sang with the Met just 15 times over four seasons, from her debut in the title role of Verdi’s “Aida,” opposite Leonard Warren, in 1958 to her final performance, as Leonora in Verdi’s “Trovatore,” opposite Giulio Gari, in 1961. She also sang Pamina in Mozart’s “Magic Flute” and Nedda in Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” with the company. In concert, she appeared with the New York Philharmonic and at Carnegie Hall and Town Hall in New York.

The daughter of parents who had come to the United States from St. Vincent, in the Windward Islands, Gloria Davy was born on March 29, 1931. Her father, according to a 1959 article about her in Ebony magazine, worked as a token clerk in the New York City subway system.

She graduated from the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan and in 1951 and 1952 received the Marian Anderson Award. The prize, for young singers, was established in 1943 by Ms. Anderson, the first black singer to appear at the Met.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in 1953 from the Juilliard School, where she studied with Belle Julie Soudent, Ms. Davy embarked on a career as a concert singer.

In January 1954, as a prize for having won a vocal competition sponsored by the Music Education League, Ms. Davy appeared at Town Hall with the Little Orchestra Society, singing Britten’s song cycle “Les Illuminations,” a rigorous undertaking for even a seasoned singer.

Reviewing the concert in The New York Times, Ross Parmenter wrote: “The ease with which she negotiated it immediately stamped her as a singer of unusual technical skill. And skillful accuracy was only the beginning of her story, for she has a voice of wide range that is soft, fresh, clear and warm.”

That May, Ms. Davy replaced Leontyne Price as Bess in an international tour of “Porgy and Bess,” providing her with her first significant stage experience.

When the tour reached Milan, the conductor Victor de Sabata suggested Ms. Davy learn the role of Aida for a forthcoming production at La Scala. Though she was unable to sing it there — political turbulence in Italy caused the performance to be canceled — she made her debut in the role in Nice, France, in 1957 and later sang it elsewhere in Europe.      

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