By Sandra Birungi
Opera star, Rise Stevens has died aged 99 years.
The Mezzo-soprano opera star sang with the Metropolitan Opera for more than 20 years. She died on Wednesday at her home in Manhattan according to her son, Nicolas Surovy.
Stevens started singing with the Met in 1938, on tour in Philadelphia. Her greatest roles was the title character in the opera “Carmen,” which she sang for 124 performances. She was called “a consummate artist, treasured colleague, and devoted supporter of the company for 75 years.”
Her son said that his mother knew that the soaring notes and huge themes of opera “was her medium”. “She knew it, felt it, lived it.”
Stevens turned her back on Hollywood in the 1940s after roles in two successful films because she loved opera. She retired in 1961 saying she wanted to bow out when she still had a great voice. “It always bothered me, these great singers when I heard them again and again, remembering how magnificent they sounded once and no more,” she once said.
She however remained active in performing opera as an administrator of a touring opera company and as an educator. “While I was a young singer, people always talked to us about a golden age of opera,” she told the Washington Times in 1990. “Now they tell me that I was part of a golden age. It’s all a little ridiculous. We are actually living in a golden age right now, an age of great American voices.”
She was chosen for the Kennedy Center Honors and hailed as a singer “who raised the art of opera in this country to its highest level”
Stevens was not only hailed for her role as Carmen but other roles such as Octavian in “Der Rosenkavalier,” Orfeo in “Orfeo ed Euridice,” Orlovsky in “Die Fledermaus,” Cherubino in “The Marriage of Figaro” and Dalila in “Samson et Dalila.”
She stirred opposite Nelson Eddy in 1941 “The Chocolate Soldier”, the 1944 Bing Crosby smash “Going My Way,” which won several Academy Awards, including best picture. “I probably would never have reached that vast public had I not done films,” she said. “At least, I won a lot of people over to opera.”
Stevens was born Rise Steenberg in New York City. “In school, I was called everything but Rise,” she once recalled. “I would have arguments with the teachers. I would say, `I should know how to pronounce my own name.’”
She made her professional opera debut in Prague, and it was there she met her husband of more than a half-century, actor Walter Surovy. Nicolas Surovy was their only child.
She is also survived by her granddaughter. Surovy says no funeral will be held, but a private memorial is planned.