Saturday, March 23, 2013

Rise Stevens (June 11, 1913 - March 20, 2013)

Rise Stevens was an internationally famous mezzo-soprano. She worked at the Metropolitan Opera in New York for 23 years, and she is considered one of the greatest (if not the greatest) interpreters of the opera Carmen. She could not only sing, but she was also a good actress. Her death scene in Carmen was so realistic that the audience really thought she had been killed by Don Jose!

Like many opera stars, Rise Stevens went to Hollywood to try her hand at films. She didn't like working on pictures, but the couple that she made are fabulous. She felt that film directors were too concerned about "looks", and rightfully so. She recorded all of the songs for her films, but when it came time to actual shoot the scene, the director made her sing an octave lower --- so that her face looked pretty and not contorted with singing. There was no audience to react to the songs or performance, and that was a hard change from someone used to performing on stage.

She appeared in two well-remembered films: The Chocolate Soldier (1940) with Nelson Eddy and Going My Way (1944) with Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald. You can't get better than that! In fact, it was thanks to her role in Going My Way that she studied and sang the role of Carmen. She sings one song from the opera in the film, and so many people sent fan mail and compliments about the song that she decided to pursue the role.

Rise Stevens passed away on Wednesday, at the age of 99 (missing her one-hundredth birthday by less than three months!). Everyone seems to be remembering her for her operatic roles --- Carmen and Samson et Delilah. But I'll always think of her laughing as Nelson Eddy sings The Song of the Flea. Or singing Ave Maria in the basement with Bing Crosby and the Robert Mitchell Boys Choir. Thanks to these film appearances she will be seen and heard by future generations. So, if you haven't seen Going My Way, then be sure to do that soon!