Grace Bumbry, 1937–2023
The Metropolitan Opera mourns the death of one of its most illustrious singers of the last century, Grace Bumbry, who sang 216 performances over two decades with the company. Her rich, powerful, and sensuous voice straddled the traditional categories of mezzo-soprano and soprano, and in all of her 15 Met roles, she was an intense, thrilling performer. Her company debut came as Eboli in Verdi’s Don Carlo at the old opera house on 39th Street, and she was an immediate sensation. An eminent critic praised her “spacious voice,” “gift of temperament,” and “individuality”—all of which became hallmarks of her performances. The following season, the Met’s first at Lincoln Center, Bumbry sang Amneris in Aida (pictured above), her most frequently performed role and one which led another critic to write: “The finest Amneris in decades turned last night’s Aida into a dramatic experience unmatched in this reporter’s memory.” In succeeding seasons, she headlined five new productions, including the title role in a new Carmen in 1967 and as Bess in the Met premiere of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in 1985. Her appearance as Venus in a heralded new production of Wagner’s Tannhäuser in 1977 was her first Met performance of the role that brought her to international fame at the 1961 Bayreuth Festival. In her final Met appearance at a 1996 gala honoring James Levine’s 25th anniversary with the company, she astounded the audience with an aria from Samson et Dalila that showed her voice was still plush and potent some 30 years after her debut.
Below are a selection of photos from some of her most-performed Met roles.
As Eboli in Verdi’s Don Carlo (1965)
In the title role of Bizet’s Carmen (1967)
As Santuzza in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana (1970)
In the title role of Puccini’s Tosca (1971)
In the title role of Strauss’s Salome (1973)
As Bess with Simon Estes as Porgy in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (1985)