As Bizet’s Carmen returns to the Metropolitan Opera in November, it’s instructive to look back at one of the all-time great singers who was affiliated with that role: mezzo-soprano Risë Stevens. In this 1983 appearance on The Vocal Scene, she tells George Jellinek about her unlikely rise to fame, her major roles, and some of her classic recordings.
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.
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.
Courtesy of NYPR Archives