Episode 5: Shirley Verrett: La Nera Callas I. Falcon or Verdi soprano?
This episode is the first of two on one of my favorite singers, the Zwischenfachsängerin Shirley Verrett. Renowned in the United States for her performances of Verdi mezzo-soprano parts, particularly Azucena in Il Trovatore and Eboli in Don Carlo, the late singer commanded an enormous repertoire, comprising bel canto and French roles, on which she left her indelible stamp. I focus in particular on the French roles she performed at the Opéra de Paris from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s, as well as her Verdi soprano roles, including Amelia in Un ballo in maschera and the title role in Aida. Known in the Italian press as La Nera Callas [The Black Callas], Verrett is heard in this episode singing Brahms, Gluck, Saint-Saëns, and Verdi roles for both soprano and mezzo-soprano. Special attention is paid to her newsworthy appearances with fellow African American mezzo-cum-soprano, Grace Bumbry, the first of which, a joint Carnegie Hall concert in 1982, honored the iconic contralto Marian Anderson on the occasion of her 80th birthday.