Mezzo-Soprano Risë Stevens Dies at 99

Email a Friend

Mezzo-soprano opera star Risë Stevens, who sang with the Metropolitan Opera for more than 20 years spanning the 1940s and 1950s, has died. She was 99.

Her son Nicolas Surovy says Stevens died Wednesday night at her Manhattan home.

Born Risë Steenberg in the Bronx in 1913, Stevens studied with Anna Schoen-Rene at the Juilliard School, and began working in Prague in the 1930s after being discovered by George Szell. She traveled to the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, continuing to mature and to draw increasing attention.

She finally sang with the Met in one of its touring appearances in Philadelphia, as Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier. This led to a contract with the company, and she made her New York Met debut on December 17, 1938, as Mignon.

Among her greatest roles was the title character in the opera Carmen, which she sang for 124 performances. The Met released a statement calling her "a consummate artist, treasured colleague, and devoted supporter of the company for 75 years."

Stevens also made a name for herself in Hollywood, appearing in Bing Crosby's film Going My Way (1944), in which she sang the Habañera from Carmen. This led to her first actual stage performance as Carmen at the Met, in 1945. Her saucy approach to the role  allowed her to sing it there some 75 times. She debuted at Milan's La Scala in 1954.

Stevens retired from singing in 1964, though remained affiliated with the Met as director of its new Metropolitan Opera National Company and later as director of its National Council Auditions.

She is also survived by her granddaughter. Surovy says no funeral will be held, but a private memorial is planned.

With reporting from the Associated Press


In the above 1983 appearance on WQXR's The Vocal Scene, Stevens tells host George Jellinek about her unlikely rise to fame, her major roles, and some of her classic recordings.