The Kennedy Center

Rise Stevens


(singer, born June 11, 1913–March 20, 2013, New York, New York) Mezzo-soprano Rise Stevens saved not only the day at more of than one performance of the Metropolitan Opera--in 1961 she saved the entire season. After the company had canceled its entire 1961-62 schedule due to stalled labor negotiations, a persuasive telegram from Rise Stevens convinced President Kennedy to intervene, and he ordered the Secretary of Labor to arbitrate the dispute. Just three weeks later, the entire season was reinstated on schedule. President Kennedy and the nation had been devoted fans of the Met's reigning mezzo for almost a quarter of a century.

A pupil of Anna Schoen-Rane at the Julliard School, Stevens showed her famous independence and good judgement early on when she tuned down a tempting contract offer from the Met in the mid-30s in favor of developing her artistry in Europe. She returned to this country in 1938, making her debut with the Met on tour in Philadelphia as Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier. Later that same year, she made her New York Met debut as Mignon. From then until her retirement in 1961, she virtually owned many of the great mezzo roles, including Orpheus, Mozart's Cherubino and Dorabella, Delilah of Biblical fame, La Giocanda's Laura, and Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus. Her Carmen, a role she performed more often that any of her Met predecessors, was described as voluptuous, earthy, and white-hot in her alternating moods of passion and anger. Millions more fell in love with Stevens through her frequent radio appearances and the films The Chocolate Soldier with Nelson Eddy and Going My Way with Bing Crosby.

After her 1961 retirement from the Met as a performer, Stevens assumed several important roles in developing the future of opera in this country. She was named director of the Met's brand new National Company, which was dedicated to taking opera to hundreds of American cities where opera was not available and to giving many young singers--and designers, conductors, and directors--their first chance at professional opera performances. She also served as president of the Mannes College of Music (1975-78) and rejoined the Met to direct its National Council Auditions from 1980 to 1988. For her numerous activities "in the discovery, training, and championing of young American singers," Stevens was honored by the National Opera Institute in 1982.
Image for Rise Stevens