Risë Stevens, a superstar mezzo-soprano who sang with the Metropolitan Opera for more than 20 years, died Wednesday at her home in Manhattan. She was 99.
Rise’s son, Nicolas Surovy, confirmed the death, saying his mother passed away on March 20, just days before her 100th birthday.
Born in New York City, Rise Gus Steenberg began performing at the age of 10 as one of the singers on the children’s hour at Westinghouse Broadcasting Company (now WJZ).
After graduating from high school, about the same time she changed her name to Stevens, Rise earned a scholarship to study at the Little Theater in Brooklyn where she got the leading role in The Bartered Bride.
Stevens studied studied for two years at Juilliard with the legendary Anne Schoen-Rene, a protégé of the great Johannes Brahms, while supporting herself as a fur coat model in the Garment District.
The singer made her professional opera debut in Prague in 1936, where she first showed her mastery in the role of Carmen, before joining the Metropolitan Opera in 1938 on tour in Mignon.
During her 22 years with the Met, Rise appeared in 348 roles ( 124 of which were in the role of Carmen), blessing the audiences with her voice that was so special that, in 1945, Lloyd’s of London insured it for $1 million.
Listen as Rise Stevens performs Habanera from Georges Bizet’s Carmen:
In addition to opera, Stevens also appeared in several Hollywood movies.
Her first film role was in the musical comedy The Chocolate Soldier (1941) with Nelson Eddy and also appeared with Bing Crosby in Going My Way (1944), which won seven Academy Awards, including best picture.
She also appeared often on television, including the “Ed Sullivan Show.”
Stevens retired from performing opera in 1961, saying she wanted to bow out while 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 said.
After retiring from the stage, Stevens had a prominent second career as an arts administrator with the Met and as president of the Mannes College of Music in New York City.
Besides her son, Nicolas, a film and television actor, Ms. Stevens is survived by a granddaughter.