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Down-to-Earth US Diva dies at 82
The great American Soprano, Eileen Farrell died Saturday 24 March at the age of 82 in a nursing home in Park Ridge, New Jersey.

Born in Willimantic, CT, in 1920, she first studied with Merle Alcock and Eleanor McLellan before setting out on a career concentrating on concert singing. Her operatic debut came some time later in 1956 in Tampa, FL and her almost scandalously late Metropolitan Opera debut in New York not until 1960 as Gluck's Alcestis. Her late start gave rise to a brief, at times uncomfortable, but ultimately glory-filled five-year spell in New York where she was accorded the honor of opening the 1962 season opposite another great Met favorite, Robert Merrill, in Giordano's Andrea Chenier.

Despite her relatively brief career at the top of the operatic profession she was a greatly admired singer who was able to span the classics, opera, jazz and pop with an ease all too rare in the singing profession.

She proved her cross-over mettle at the 1959 Spoleto Festival in Italy where after singing a recital program and Verdi's Requiem she stepped in for an indisposed Louis Armstrong, giving a smooth and idiomatic recital of the blues peppered with ballades accompanied by Armstrong's own band. The result was a sensation and led to her signing with Colummbia for a number of popular albums.

Given this remarkable flexibility, her musical credo might be summed-up in by of her many pithy quotes, "For me to really enjoy myself, I have to listen to Jazz or Wagner."

Despite having a massive, warm, vibrant voice and great acting ability, she rarely, in fact, attempted the great Wagnerian roles, and then only in concert performances. Many other suitable Verdi roles, such as Aida, also managed to pass her by.

Not that she was much concerned by such omissions. An individual as un-diva-like as can be imagined, she put her husband and family before her singing, saying in a 1992 interview, "I was just an ordinary person, a married lady with children, and I sang...I had some wonderful times. I'm very thankful. Maybe I could have done more singing if I'd taken off time from my family, but I wouldn't have enjoyed my family."

Her many recordings, classical jazz and pop, remain as a fitting testament to her individuality both as a singer and as a person.

Martin Ross

Sun Mar 24 2002 (11:27:35 PM)