Mezzo-Soprano Risë Stevens Dies at 99

AUDIO: Risë Stevens on The Vocal Scene with George Jellinek in 1983

Thursday, March 21, 2013 - 05:00 PM

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.



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Comments [21]

Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

RISE STEVENS, more than any other singer currently was identifiable by her savvy in her performances as CARMEN and her other mezzo roles and her dramaturgical igniting her scenes with sensual creditable emotion. PATRICE CHEREAU accomplished more by his "capitalizing" on GEORGE BERNARD SHAW's "THE PERFECT WAGNERITE" view that the "RING" truly fit nicely into the schemata scenario of CAPITALISM with all its degenerate "dog eat dog" operating philosophy. Whatever one's own personal view of economics, Wagner himself had to contend with royalty to pay for the mounting of his music dramas and depend on Jewish merchants to finance what royalty did not. VLADIMIR JUROVSKI's conducting passion and skills top my most memorable operatic occasions this year. HE IS A HOLLYWOOD DREAM come true for what the ideal opera conductor should be !!! The passing of singers RISE STEVENS, MARTA EGGERTH, REGINA RESNIK, EVELYN LEAR and DIETRICH FISCHER-DIESKAU and composer MARVIN HAMLISCH and conductor WOLFGANG SAWALLISCH and director PATRICE CHEREAU deserves considerable tributes to their own special talents and accomplishments. My own background with famous MET OPERA opera singer teachers [ FRIEDRICH SCHORR, ALEXANDER KIPNIS, MARGARETE MATZENAUER, FRIEDA HEMPEL, JOHN BROWNLEE, MACK HARRELL and MARTIAL SINGHER ] and acting teachers [ LEE STRASBERG and PHILIP BURTON ] and conductors [LASZLO HALASZ, FAUSTO CLEVA, GEORGE SCHICK and EDWIN MC ARTHUR ] and my own performances consort to evaluate so highly the value of the proper studied approach to singing, acting and composing. ] will sing the four song cycles that are most often performed in their orchestral garb: Wagner's "Wesendonck Lieder," Mahler's "Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen," Mahler's "Das Lied von der Erde" and Schoenberg's "Gurre-Lieder" at the New Life Expo at the Hotel Pennsylvania in NYC on Saturday March 22nd at 6 PM. I have sung four three-hour-long solo concerts in the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall including programming the Wagner and the first named Mahler song cycle. I am an opera composer, Wagnerian romantischer heldentenor and the director at the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute of Boonton, NJ. where I teach voice and train artists in all the Wagner and Shakespeare roles. One may download, free, my singing at CARNEGIE HALL by going to Recorded Selections on my websites, and and

Dec. 28 2013 05:53 PM
robert kimes from oceanshores wa

wow,this music really takes me Bach!

Mar. 27 2013 06:37 PM
robert kimes

Rise Stevens was a true diva in the very best sense of the word. I still get chills down my spine remembering her Carmen.....from 55 years ago! Rest in peace, Rise.

Mar. 24 2013 01:00 AM
George Weston Jr

I had the privilege to sit with Rise at a testimonial dinner to the legacy of Francis Robinson in Boston in the mid 1970's. Rise told wonderful stories about the Met during the "Golden Age". She was one classy star and she devoted so much of her life to the growth of the Mets edu

Mar. 24 2013 12:34 AM
Marlies Wolf

When I was a college student I supered in "Boris Gudonov" with Ezio Pinza in the lead. Rise Stevens was the glorious Marina in that production. She was marvelous to see and hear! I was delighted to super six times in that particular production and always was astounded how relaxed and friendly she was backstage. During her career,I attended many of her Carmens, Cherubinos and most impressive Rosenkavaliers. Oh for the days attending via Standing Room for all of a $1.00

Mar. 23 2013 10:31 PM
Frederick from PRB People's Republic of Brooklyn

It is in my middle age that I begin to love opera with much gratitude for the seeds that public education and other incidental sources planted during childhood. Rise Stevens was one of those seeds. She appeared on a few holiday records issued by the Firestone tire company in the mid 1960's. She will always be part of my internal musical identity.

Mar. 23 2013 02:20 PM
Doris Glazer from Nantucket MA

WHen I was a music education student at West Chester (PA) State Teachers College in the late 40's, Rise Stevens came to our campus to sing a recital. I was already a fan of her "Carmen". She was a beautiful accomplished opera star. It was a thrilling experience for a young music student and life-long opera fan.

Mar. 23 2013 12:28 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

RISE STEVENS had it all ! A DISTINCTIVE VOCAL TIMBRE, PHYSICAL BEAUTY, EXTRAORDINARY MUSICIANSHIP AND ACTING PROWESS. As a member of the Metropolitan Opera National Company for two years at which she was the general manager and Michael Manuel the business manager, I saw firsthand how she revealed still another talent for organizing and inspiring co-workers. Her huband, Mr. Surovy, was personable and a good friend and advisor to we singers She will be remembered for her opera nad film performances and her unique warmth and empathy for others. R.I.P. REise STEVENS !!! Today [March 23rd] I am singing a program , The Greatest Love Songs of Broadway Musicals, Movies and Grammys at the New life Expo at the New Yorker Hotel at 6 PM. I intend to dedicate my program to her. I am a Wagnerian heldentenor, an opera composer, "Shakespeare" and "The Political Shakespeare" and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute. My websites where one may download, free, my singing of 37 out of the 100 selections that I have sung in four solo concerts at the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall by going to Recorded Selections;, and
Roles that are represented in my singing to be heard on my websites are: Tristan, Siegfried, Goetterdaemmerung Siegfried, Lohengrin, Parsifal, Siegmund, Walther von Stolzing, Florestan, Federico, Eleazar. and Judas Maccabaeus.

Mar. 23 2013 12:12 PM
Pearl from Old Bridge, NJ

I was sorry to hear of the passing of Rise Stevens. She was one of my favorite operatic singers. She will definitely be missed.

Mar. 23 2013 11:45 AM
Caroline Huber

Thank you for the glorious days/hours of Bach. It is a real treat.

Mar. 22 2013 08:11 PM
Robert St.Onge

I only heard Rise Stevens live once, a recital at UMass/Amherst - in the gym! In the dead of winter! During a very soft number the heating system kicked in, radiators clanking. Ms Stevens stopped, laughed, paused dramatically when the din ceased, then began at the beginning - only to be defeated by a new peal of clanking. Eventually, silence was restored and she was at last able to sing the song in full. Still laughing, she announced, "For that, you deserve an extra encore," and sang "Voi che sapete" from "The Marriage of Figaro". Bless you, Ms Stevens and rest in peace.

Mar. 22 2013 05:59 PM

A legend. A singer for the ages. A lady with class. AND SHE WAS OURS. RIP.

Mar. 22 2013 05:26 PM
Archie Steenburgh from Pike, NH

My mother and I always listened and watchedThe Voice Of Firestone especially when Risa Stevens and Roboert Merrill were appearing - great team,

Mar. 22 2013 04:59 PM
Jean P.Rinaldo from union city NJ.

Rise Stevens was the greatest Carmen because beside having a wonderful instrument and being absolutely beautiful she made you understand and believe why Don Jose was ready to give up everything for her. It makes perfect sense in the drama.

Mar. 22 2013 04:58 PM
June Taylor from New York Ciry

I am saddened at her loss. When I was about 5 or 6 years old I went to the films with my family. Yes, it was a family event. But at that age I admit I would get bored and walk up and down the movie house aisles. All of a sudden I heard this great woman start to sing "Come, Come, I Love You Only" from the Chocolate Soldier. It stopped me dead in my tracks. I stared at the screen and just was mesmerized by her singing. Ever since that day I have been a lover of opera. She changed my life and fortunately I was able to actually work (not as a singer) in some of the leading opera houses. May she rest in peace.

Mar. 22 2013 10:41 AM
Thomas from NWNJ

Ms Stevens is in fact the reason I became a fan of opera. My Mom was a huge Bing Crosby fan. When I heard her singing in Going My Way I just fell in love. Rest in peace Rise' and thank you.

Mar. 22 2013 09:47 AM
Arden Anderson-Broecking from connecticut

Rise Stevens was the greatest Carmen and the greatest Octavian ever!
She also a gracious lady, always prepared to greet her admirers with charm no matter how tired she might have been after a performance. I met her several times as a starry-eyed student, and she gave me encouragement and wished me "all the luck in the world!" A great singer, a great lady!

Mar. 22 2013 09:13 AM
Les from Miami, Florida

Recordings of "Carmen", "Samson et Dalila", "Der Rosenkavalier" and "Orfeo ed Eurydice" document some of her greatest roles; and her role in the Metropolitan Opera National Council is one that allowed singers beginning their careers chances to perform.

Mar. 22 2013 08:57 AM
Tim from Washington, DC

She was a great star, great singer, and a great Carmen.

Mar. 22 2013 06:31 AM


Mar. 21 2013 07:02 PM
Johanna Roman from Manhattan

I am old enough to remember hearing Rise Stevens in CARMEN! What luck -- and I have never forgotten the sound of her voice -- have heard mamy others since --but she was Carmen! JR

Mar. 21 2013 05:57 PM

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