The Life You Give: Rosalind Elias *1931

Mezzo-soprano Rosalind Elias had a long, leading career in opera on the international scene. She was most often heard at the Metropolitan Opera, where she spent more than 40 years as part of its company. There, and elsewhere, she performed in many American and world premieres.

Opera, Blood, and Tears
The Life You Give: Rosalind Elias
celebrating her life in music
March 13 at 10:30pm EST
on Clubhouse

Elias was born on March 13, 1931, in Lowell, Massachusetts. Her professional life began while she was still a student at the New England Conservatory of Music when she was invited to sing in Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea, as Poppea, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She also studied at the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood. She joined the New England Opera Company in 1948, remaining through 1952. She moved to Italy for further studies with Luigi Ricci and Nazzareno de Angelis. She began attracting major attention with appearances at the leading opera houses of San Carlo in Naples and La Scala in Milan before she joined the company of the Metropolitan Opera in 1954.

Among her major roles were Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier, Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro, Carmen, Baba the Turk in The Rake’s Progress, Rossini’s Cenerentola, and the leading mezzo roles in both full-length Samuel Barber operas: Erika in Vanessa and Charmian in Antony and Cleopatra, both of which she created at the Metropolitan Opera world premieres in 1958 and 1963, respectively. She was known for a rich, dramatic voice and good stage presence. She made many recordings and frequently appeared on television and radio. At the turn of the 21st century, she was still singing occasionally, mostly in smaller parts, including as the Mother in Hugo Weisgall’s Six Characters in Search of an Author and the Old Prioress in Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmelites, as well as continuing to appear as Barber’s Erika. In 2007, Elias performed in the world premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon’s The Grapes of Wrath and, in 2008, David Carlson’s Anna Karenina. Another late role, at the age of 82, was as Heidi in a revival of Follies in 2011, which also marked her Broadway debut. Elias, suffering from congestive heart failure, died May 3, 2020, in Manhattan.

by Patsy Morita / Source: all music

Vanessa — Opera in four acts
Composer: Samuel Barber
Libretto: Gian Carlo Menotti
Language: English
Premiere: January 15 1958, Metropolitan Opera, New York

Roles / premiere performance cast:

Vanessa - soprano: Eleanor Steber
Erika, her niece - mezzo-soprano: Rosalind Elias
The Old Baroness, Vanessa's mother - contralto: Regina Resnik
Anatol, the son of Vanessa's original lover, also named Anatol- tenor: Nicolai Gedda
The Old Doctor - baritone: Giorgio Tozzi
Nicholas, the major-domo - bass: George Cehanovsky
The Footman - bass: Robert Nagy

(Conductor: Dimitri Mitropoulos)

Time: About 1905.
Place: Vanessa’s country house in a northern country.

Act 1
Vanessa, Erika, and the Baroness await the arrival of Anatol, a man who had been Vanessa’s lover twenty years before. After his departure, she had covered up all the mirrors of the house until his expected return, unwilling to face looking at her aging self. Thinking that the man who arrives and who is called Anatol is her former lover, Vanessa refuses to reveal her face to him until he says he still loves her. He says that he does, but she does not recognize him. However, it is the young Anatol who has come, his father now being dead. Upset, Vanessa leaves the room, and Erika and Anatol now enjoy the meal and wine meant for Vanessa and his father.

Act 2
Erika tells the Baroness that the young Anatol seduced her on his first night in the house and the Baroness scolds her. Erika has fallen in love with Anatol, but resists his marriage proposal because she doubts his sincerity. Not knowing that Erika loves the young man and in her delusionary state of mind, Vanessa tells her niece that she still loves him, despite Erika’s warning that he is not her former lover. The Baroness tells Erika to fight for Anatol. She is unsure if he is worthy of her efforts. Again, he proposes, and, again, she declines.

Act 3
The doctor is drunk at a New Year’s Eve ball. The Baroness and Erika refuse to come to the party to hear his announcement of Anatol and Vanessa’s engagement. The doctor goes to fetch them, while Vanessa tells Anatol her fears. Finally Erika, who, unbeknownst to everyone else, is pregnant, comes downstairs, but faints, clutching her stomach, while the doctor is making the announcement. She recovers and flees into the freezing weather in order to abort her child. (In the original she says, “His child! It must not be born!” which makes clear her motivation for going out into the cold, but this line is dropped in the revision.)

Act 4
Vanessa is happy when Erika is found alive, and she asks Anatol why Erika is acting so strangely and whether he thinks that she loves him. He explains that she does not. Continuing in her delusionary state, Vanessa begs Anatol to take her away. Meanwhile, Erika confesses to the Baroness that she had been pregnant, but is no longer. As Vanessa and Anatol finalize their preparations to move to Paris, Vanesa asks Erika why she ran away. The niece replies that she was just being foolish, and Vanessa tells her that she may never come back to the house where she has been living. After the couple leaves, Erika covers the mirrors and closes up the house, just as Vanessa had done before her. She says that it is now her turn to wait.

Source: Opera Arias

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