Saturday, January 1, 2011

Opera Index Honors George Shirley

Opera Index will presents its 2011 Distinguished Achievement Award to tenor George Shirley at their 27th annual black-tie winter gala on Sunday, January 16. The event will take place at the Jumeirah Essex House in New York City and Spiro Malas will present the award. They will also posthumously award the late mezzo-soprano Shirley Verrett.

The Opera Index is a non-profit organization that has boosted the careers of more than 250 young singers through its annual vocal competition since its inception in 1984. 

Pictures and biography of George Shirley after the jump.

George Shirley (April 18, 1934 - )

Born in Indianapolis, George Shirley began to study music at age six, when his family moved to Detroit. Following his graduation from Wayne State University with a bachelor's degree in music, he was drafted into the military, where he became the first black member of the United States Army Chorus.

After his discharge, he continued his vocal studies with Cornelius Reid in New York, making debuts with small companies in New York and Italy, before his big break. In 1961 he won first prize in the Metropolitan Opera's auditions, which led to an 11-year association with the company.

He was the first African-American tenor and second African-American male to sing leading roles at the Met. Beginning with Ferrando in Così fan tutte in his Met debut, he sang 28 different roles in 26 operas.

He has also performed with other major opera companies worldwide, such as Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; San Francisco Opera; Teatro Colon, and Santa Fe Opera, and in concerts led by such illustrious conductors as Stravinsky, Solti, Ormandy, Klemperer, Muti, Rudel, and von Karajan.

The picture on the left shows Shirley as Oedipus and Verrett as Jocasta in a Washington National Opera production of Oedipus Rex during the 1961-62 season.

The Grammy-winning artist (for RCA recording of Così fan tutte conducted by Erich Leinsdorf) began his teaching career in 1979 when he was selected as the Andrew W. Mellon Humanist-in-Residence at Howard University. From 1980-87 he was professor of Voice at the University of Maryland, and in 1987 joined the faculty of the School of Music of the University of Michigan, where his students included countertenor David Daniels.

In 1991 he was appointed director of the vocal arts division of U of M and named The Joseph Maddy Distinguished University professor of music the following year. He was granted emeritus status upon his retirement in 2007 but continues to teach part-time at the school and privately.

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