Mezzo-soprano Rise Stevens, who sang with the Metropolitan Opera in Manhattan for more than 20 years, has died in New York three months shy of her 100th birthday.
Among Rise Stevens’ greatest roles was the title character in Carmen in the 1950s, which she sang for 124 performances.
Rise Stevens also had a brief Hollywood film career in the 1940s, starring in Oscar-winning Bing Crosby film Going My Way.
The Metropolitan Opera called her “a consummate artist, treasured colleague, and devoted supporter of the company”.
Born Rise Steenberg on 11 June 1913, she first began singing at the age of 10 on a radio children’s hour in New York.
She received a scholarship to study at the renowned Julliard School and turned down an invitation to audition for the Met in 1935 – instead choosing to continue her training in Europe instead.
Rise Stevens made her professional opera debut in Prague, where she first showed her mastery in the role of Carmen, before joining the Met in 1938 on tour in Mignon.
Her first film role was in the Oscar-nominated 1941 film The Chocolate Soldier opposite Nelson Eddy, leading to her role in Bing Crosby’s Going My Way which won seven Oscars including best picture.
Rise Stevens turned her back on Hollywood shortly after because of her love for opera.
“I probably would never have reached that vast public had I not done films,” Rise Stevens had once said.
“At least, I won a lot of people over to opera.”
Among her other celebrated roles were Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier, Orfeo in Orfeo ed Euridice, Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro and Dalila in Samson et Dalila.
Such was her skill, Lloyds of London insured her voice for $1 million in 1945.
Rise Stevens retired from performing opera in 1961, saying she wanted to bow out while she still had a great voice.
“It always bothered me, these great singers when I heard them again and again, remembering how magnificent they sounded once and no more,” she said.
Rise Stevens spent three years as director of the Met’s touring company. She was also a managing director of the Met, board member of the Metropolitan Opera Guild and president of the Mannes College of Music from 1975 to 1978.
She received the Kennedy Center Honour in 1990, where she was hailed as a singer “who raised the art of opera [in the US] to its highest level”.
Rise Stevens is survived by her son, the actor Nicholas Surovy, and a granddaughter.
Nicholas Surovy said a private memorial had been planned.