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date: 02 June 2020

Curtin, Phyllisfree

  • Peter G. Davis

(b Clarksburg, WV, Dec 3, 1921; d Great Barrington, MA, June 5, 2016). American soprano. She attended Wellesley College and studied with the bass Joseph Regneas, singing in the American première of Peter Grimes (1946, Tanglewood) while still a student. Her first significant opera appearances were with the New England Opera Theater in Boston as Lisa in The Queen of Spades and Lady Billows in Britten’s Albert Herring, followed in 1953 by a début with the New York City Opera in von Einem’s Der Prozess. Her extensive and varied roles at the City Opera over the next ten years included all the major Mozart heroines, Violetta, Salome, Walton’s Cressida, and Susannah in Carlisle Floyd’s opera, a role she created (1955, Talahassee). Engagements in Vienna, Buenos Aires, Frankfurt, and with the Metropolitan Opera (début 1961), La Scala, and Scottish Opera in the 1960s brought her international repute. She made numerous recital and concert appearances throughout the USA and Europe and was particularly known for her singing of contemporary works, many of which were composed for her. Curtin sang in the American premières of Britten’s War Requiem (1963) and Shostakovich’s Symphony no.14 (1969), recording the latter under Ormandy. Although she lacked the star qualities of more celebrated operatic sopranos, her singing was always much respected for its cultivated musicality, interpretative grace, and vocal purity. She taught at the Aspen School of Music and the Berkshire Music Center, and was a member of the faculty of Yale University from 1974 until 1983, when she become dean of Boston University’s School of the Arts. She retired from singing in public in 1984.