Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Six Generations Of Sopranos Preserve Grand Tradition Of Singing

Previously this blog discussed the importance of musical lineage and the art of carrying on operatic traditions. This transfer occurs with the passing of experience from conductors and composers on to singers through working relationships. But perhaps the most intimate form of sharing comes directly from a voice teacher. Throughout history singers have traditionally worked with teachers who had a good career themselves on the opera stage. The many upsides to such a relationship include a direct connection to the previous generation's style and musical
Pauline Viardot-García
Natalia Iretskaya
Lydia Lipkowska
knowledge that often times could be linked directly to a composer. A current example of this linked artistry begins over 100 years ago with a leading nineteenth-century French mezzo-soprano, pedagogue, and composer of Spanish descent named Pauline Viardot-García. After a long career on stage, she began teaching young singers. One of those pupils was the Russian soprano Natalia Iretskaya, who would in turn passed her vocal pedagogy down to a fellow country woman named Lydia Lipkowska. This Russian soprano had a career that spanned several decades beginning at the Mariinsky Theatre and eventually crossing the ocean to perform quite often in the United States (Boston, Chicago, New York). At the end of her career she began to teach voice lessons in Romania. It was here that she convinced a young singer named Virginia Zeani that she was not a mezzo-soprano, but rather a soprano. Madame Lipkowska coached her in the roles of Violetta, Mimi, Marguerite and Massenet’s Manon. Romanian dramatic-soprano
Virginia Zeani
Marilyn Mims
Virginia Mims
Virginia Zeani is legendary for a career rivaling Maria Callas and is still connected to the spotlight thanks to a close friendship with current diva Angela Gheorghiu. But it was her engagement at Indiana University's music school in 1980 that allowed her to pass on her talents to another generation of sopranos including Sylvia McNair, Angela Brown, Elizabeth Futral, and Ailyn Pérez. One particular student stands out in the history of her teaching: Marilyn Mims. As fifth generation in this line of skilled singing technique, Ms. Mims went on to win the 1986 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Soon after she made her professional opera debut and began a career filled with roles in La Traviata, Robert le Diable, Die FledermausDie Entführung aus dem SerailDon Giovanni, Così fan tutteRigoletto, Lucia di Lammermoor, Pagliacci and more. Her singing career was cut short after being diagnosed with endometriosis in 1995. She now teaches on the voice faculty at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida. And now the world will soon have another soprano to sing the "Viardot-García technique": Virginia Mims. Yes, daughter to Marilyn, this young lady is emerging as a strong talent in several singing competitions. She will be carrying an artistic torch that is steeped in excellence. With more than a century's worth of technique and musical knowledge being passed down from one stupendous soprano after another, this 18-year old is inheritor to a true treasure. Read about all these extraordinary divas, as well as sample audio and video clips, after the jump.

Pauline Viardot [née García] (July 18, 1821 – May 18, 1910) was a leading nineteenth-century French mezzo-soprano, pedagogue, and composer of Spanish descent. Born Michelle Ferdinande Pauline García , her name appears in various forms. When it is not simply "Pauline Viardot", it most commonly appears in association with her maiden name García or the unaccented form, Garcia. This name sometimes precedes Viardot and sometimes follows it. Sometimes the words are hyphenated; sometimes they are not. She achieved initial fame as "Pauline García"; the accent was dropped at some point, but exactly when is not clear. After her marriage, she referred to herself simply as "Mme. Viardot". She came from a musical family and took up music at a young age. She began performing as teenager and had a long and illustrious career as a star performer. Her three daughters also pursued careers in music performances. Michelle Ferdinande Pauline García was born in Paris to the Garcías, a Spanish opera family led by her father, tenor, singing teacher, composer and impresario Manuel García . Her godparents were Ferdinando Paer and Princess Pauline Galitsin, who provided her with her middle names. She was 13 years younger than her beautiful sister, diva Maria Malibran, but her father made Pauline his favorite and trained her on the piano and also gave her singing lessons. As a small girl, she travelled with her family to London, New York (where her father, mother, brother and sister gave the first performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni in the United States, in the presence of the librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte) and Mexico. By the age of six she was fluent in Spanish, French, English and Italian; later in her career, she sang Russian arias so well that she was taken for a native speaker. After her father's death in 1832, her mother, soprano Joaquina Sitchez, took over her singing lessons, and forced her to focus her attention on her voice and away from the piano. She had wanted to become a professional concert pianist. She had taken piano lessons with the young Franz Liszt and counterpoint and harmony classes with Anton Reicha, the teacher of Liszt and Hector Berlioz, and friend of Ludwig van Beethoven. It was with the greatest regret that she abandoned her strong vocation for the piano, which she did only because she did not dare to disobey her mother's wishes. She nevertheless remained an outstanding pianist all her life, and often played duets with her friend Frédéric Chopin, who approved of her arranging some of his mazurkas as songs, and even assisted her in this. Liszt, Ignaz Moscheles, Adolphe Adam, Camille Saint-Saëns and others have left accounts of her excellent piano playing. After Malibran's death in 1836, aged 28, Pauline became a professional singer, with a vocal range from C3 to F6. However, her professional debut as a musician was as a pianist, accompanying her brother-in-law, the violinist Charles Auguste de Bériot. In 1837, 16-year-old Pauline García gave her first concert performance in Brussels and in 1839, made her opera debut as Desdemona in Rossini's Otello in London. This proved to be the surprise of the season. Despite her flaws, she had an exquisite technique combined with an astonishing degree of passion. At the age of 17, she met and was courted by Alfred de Musset, who had earlier been taken with her sister Maria Malibran. Some sources say he asked for Pauline's hand in marriage, but she declined. However, she remained on good terms with him for many years. Her friend George Sand (who later based the heroine of her 1843 novel Consuelo on her) had a role in discouraging her from accepting de Musset's proposal, directing her instead to Louis Viardot (1800-1883). Viardot, an author and the director of the Théâtre Italien and twenty-one years her senior, was financially secure and would be able to provide Pauline with much more stability than de Musset. The marriage took place on April 18, 1840. He was 39 or 40, she 18. He was devoted to her and became the manager of her career. Pauline Viardot had a happy and intense family life and her children followed in her musical footsteps. Her son Paul became a concert violinist, her daughter Louise Héritte-Viardot became a composer and writer, and two other daughters became concert singers. Her marriage did not stop the steady stream of infatuated men. The Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev in particular fell passionately in love with her after hearing her rendition of The Barber of Seville in Russia in 1843. In 1845, he left Russia to follow Pauline and eventually installed himself in the Viardot household, treated her four children as his own, and adored her until he died. She, in turn, critiqued his work and through her connections and social abilities, presented him in the best light whenever they were in public. The exact status of their relationship is a matter of debate. Other men closely linked to her included the composers Charles Gounod (she created the title role in his opera Sapho) and Hector Berlioz (who initially had her in mind for the role of Dido in Les Troyens, but changed his mind, which led to a cooling of his relations with the Viardots). Renowned for her wide vocal range and her dramatic roles on stage, Viardot's performances inspired composers such as Frédéric Chopin, Berlioz, Camille Saint-Saëns (who dedicated Samson and Delilah to her, and wanted her to sing the title role, but she declined on account of her age), and Giacomo Meyerbeer, for whom she created Fidès in Le prophète. She spoke fluent Spanish, French, Italian, English, German,and Russian, and composed songs in a variety of national techniques. Her career took her to the best music halls across Europe, and from 1843 to 1846 she was permanently attached to the Opera in Saint Petersburg, Russia. She spent many happy hours at George Sand's home at Nohant, with Sand and her lover Frédéric Chopin. The warmth of feeling that existed between Viardot and Chopin was based on reciprocal esteem and affinity of temperament. The friendship was also one of mutual artistic benefit. She was given expert advice by Chopin on her piano playing, her vocal compositions, and her arrangements of some of his mazurkas as songs. He in turn derived from her some firsthand knowledge about Spanish music. In July 1847, Sand's and Chopin's relationship came to an end. Viardot tried to heal the rift and get the two back together, but to no avail. She also arranged instrumental works by Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert and Johannes Brahms as songs. She was on very friendly terms with Clara Schumann. She was the mezzo-soprano in the Tuba mirum movement of Mozart's Requiem at Chopin's funeral at Église de la Madeleine in Paris on October 30, 1849, which she performed together with a soprano, incognito behind a black curtain. She sang the title role of Gluck's opera Orphée et Eurydice at Théâtre Lyrique in Paris in November 1859, directed by Hector Berlioz, and she sang this role over 150 times. She was well acquainted with Jenny Lind, the Swedish soprano and philanthropist, who had been a student of her brother's. A notable remark of hers was made to the English soprano Adelaide Kemble when they attended the late concert in London by the great Italian soprano Giuditta Pasta, who was clearly past her prime. Asked by Kemble what she thought of the voice, she replied 'Ah! It is a ruin, but then so is Leonardo's Last Supper'. In 1863, Pauline Viardot retired from the stage. She and her family left France due to her husband's public opposition to Emperor Napoleon III and settled in Baden-Baden, Germany. In 1870, however, Johannes Brahms persuaded her to sing in the first public performance of his Alto Rhapsody, at Jena. After the fall of Napoleon III later in 1870, they returned to France, where she taught at the Paris Conservatory and, until her husband's death in 1883, presided over a music salon in the Boulevard Saint-Germain. Her students included Ada Adini, Désirée Artôt, Selma Ek, Marie Hanfstängl, Yelizaveta Lavrovskaya, Felia Litvinne, Aglaja Orgeni, Mafalda Salvatini, and Raimund von zur-Mühlen. Her pupil Natalia Iretskaya later became the teacher of Oda Slobodskaya and of Lydia Lipkowska, who in turn taught Virginia Zeani. One source claims she persuaded Désirée Artôt not to go through with her idea of marrying Tchaikovsky. She was also the godmother of Artôt's daughter Lola Artôt de Padilla. In 1877, her daughter Marianne was briefly engaged to Gabriel Fauré, but she later married the composer Alphonse Duvernoy. From the mid-1840s, until her retirement, she was renowned for her appearances in Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, an opera with which her family had long been associated. In 1855, she had purchased Mozart's original manuscript of the opera in London. She preserved it in a shrine in her Paris home, where it was visited by many notable people, including Rossini, who genuflected, and Tchaikovsky, who said he was "in the presence of divinity". It was displayed at the Exposition Universelle of 1878, and at the centenary exhibition of Don Giovanni's premiere in 1887. In 1889 she announced she would donate it to the Paris Conservatoire, and this occurred in 1892. In 1910, Pauline Viardot died at age eighty-eight. Her body is interred in the Montmartre Cemetery, Paris, France. The Villa Viardot in Bougival, near Paris, a gift to the Viardots by Ivan Turgenev in 1874, where so many musicians, painters and poets came, was restored in 2001 by the Georges Bizet Association and Patrimoine et Urbanisme. Since then and thanks to the baritone Jorge Chaminé the Villa is an important venue to concerts and Master Classes. Teresa Berganza and Jorge Chaminé are the president and artistic director of the Festival de Bougival. Viardot began composing when she was young, but it was never her intention to become a composer. Her compositions were written mainly as private pieces for her students with the intention of developing their vocal abilities. She did the bulk of her composing after her retirement at Baden-Baden. However, her works were of professional quality and Franz Liszt declared that, with Pauline Viardot, the world had finally found a woman composer of genius. As a young girl she had studied with the musical theorist and composer, Anton Reicha, she was an outstanding pianist, and a complete all-round professional musician. Between 1864 and 1874 she wrote three salon operas - Trop de femmes (1867), L'ogre (1868), and Le dernier sorcier (1869), all to libretti by Ivan Turgenev - and over fifty lieder. Her remaining two salon operas - Le conte de fées (1879), and Cendrillon (1904; when she was 83) - were to her own libretti. The operas may be small in scale, however, they were written for advanced singers and some of the music is difficult. She also wrote instrumental compositions, often for violin and piano. Among her arrangements are vocal arrangements of instrumental works by Chopin, Brahms, Haydn and Schubert. 

Natalia Alexandrovna Iretskaya (1845 – 15 November 1922) was a Russian singer and teacher of singing. Vocally, she is best described as a soprano. She was born in 1845 and graduated from the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, where studied with Henriette Nissen-Saloman (a pupil of Manuel Patricio Rodríguez García). She also studied in Paris with Pauline Viardot (a daughter and pupil of Manuel García). In 1874, she taught singing in the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, and became a professor in 1881. 

"Lydia [Yakolevna] Lipkowska (1882–1958) was a Russian operatic soprano. Born in Babino, she was trained at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. She was committed to the Mariinsky Theatre from 1906–1908 and again from 1911–1913. She was a member of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City from 1909 -1911. Lipkowska's debut with the Metropolitan was as Violetta in La Traviata on November 18, 1909, with Caruso as Alfredo. She sang as a guest artist at the Boston Opera Company in 1909 and the Chicago Grand Opera Company in 1910. While in Boston, Lipkowska was honored by The Lenox Hotel, which put on its menu the 'cup Lydia' and the 'Souffle a la Lipkowska.' She petitioned a judge for an injunction against the hotel, claiming that the menu items were 'injuring her reputation and holding her up to ridicule.' In 1911 she made her debut at the Royal Opera House in London as Mimì in Giacomo Puccini's La bohème. In 1912, Lipkowska charged New York gangster Sam Schepps with usury over his refusal to return two diamonds worth $80,000 that she'd pawned to him. Lipkowska said that she'd borrowed $12,000 from Schepps, had left the diamonds with him as security, and that he sought $5000 in interest before he would return the jewels. In 1914 she sang in the world premiere of Amilcare Ponchielli's I Mori di Valenza at the Opéra de Monte-Carlo. Lipkowska escaped from the Soviet Union with her then husband Pierre Bodin in 1920, arriving in New York on the Adriatic of the White Star Line on February 8. In September 1920, Lipkowska sang Gilda in Rigoletto with the San Carlo Opera Company in Manhattan. After retiring from the stage she lived in Romania where she was active as a voice teacher. One of her students was the soprano Virginia Zeani. She died in Beirut at the age of 75. For part of her life she was married to baritone Georges Baklanoff."

"Virginia Zeani was born Virginia Zehan, on or about the 21st October 1925, in Solovastru, a village in central Transylvania, Romania. From an early age she was always singing, at home, at school and in choirs, and at the age of nine she fell in love with opera after seeing a production of Madama Butterfly. At thirteen she began taking serious vocal lessons with Lucia Anghel in Bucharest who, because of the richness of her sound, considered her to be a mezzo soprano. Unconvinced she moved on to study with the famous coloratura soprano Lydia Lipkowska who swiftly and expertly opened up Zeani’s full range and moulded her into a fine lirico leggero soprano. She also coached her in the complete roles of Violetta, Mimi, Marguerite and Massenet’s Manon, which became the calling cards of her early career. Her singing for the Italian Cultural Society in Bucharest so impressed the Italian Ambassador, the Italian Consul and the Press Attaché that they arranged permission for her to study in Italy. In March 1947 aged twenty one, and with an established range from low g to top f, she travelled to Milan to work with the legendary veteran tenor Aureliano Pertile. In addition to the great help he gave her, Zeani also learned from Toscanini’s coaches at La Scala. The traditions passed on to her by Narducci, Fornarini, Gennai and Tonini in Milan and by Piazza, Marini and especially Luigi Ricci, the former repetiteur of Puccini and Mascagni, in Rome aided her dramatic ability to create characters with her voice. Pertile considered her vocally well prepared and ready to make her debut and he encouraged her to audition for some of the regional opera companies. In May 1948 an opportunity arose when the soprano Margherita Carosio fell ill and the Teatro Duse in Bologna needed a replacement. So, at the age of twenty two and with no previous stage experience, Zeani made her professional debut in what was to become her greatest role, that of Violetta in La traviata. The performance was so successful that the stunned conductor immediately offered her a tour of thirty more performances. Violetta was a role she would sing over 600 times around the world during her career. Her partner that evening was tenor Arrigo Pola (Alfredo), the voice teacher of Luciano Pavarotti. Her career was at first primarily focused in Italy, where she sang in many of the regional opera houses. She describes these years as 'making the bones,' singing many performances of big roles in smaller houses to gain strength and experience. In January 1950 she was invited to star in a three month 'tournee,' or season, in Cairo and Alexandria in Egypt, singing Violetta, Nedda, Michaela and most significantly Adina in L’elisir d’amore opposite the great Italian tenor Beniamino Gigli. She was 24, he was 60. In 1952 came an important step when, again at short notice, conductor Tullio Serafin chose her to replace the great Maria Meneghini Callas as Elvira in I Puritani in the Teatro Communale in Florence. Zeani retired from the operatic stage in 1982, but, together with her husband, Nicola Rossi Lemeni, in 1980 began to teach singing at the music school in Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. The couple were later both honoured as 'Distinguished Professors.' After her husband’s death in 1991 she taught at IU for many more years before moving in 2002 to Florida. In 2010, having now taught for thirty years, the magazine Classical Singer named her Teacher of the Year."

"Born in 1954 and raised in Collins, Mississippi, Mims earned a bachelors degree in music from the University of Southern Mississippi and a masters degree in vocal performance from the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. At IU she was a pupil of renowned soprano Virginia Zeani. In 1986 Mims won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. She made her professional opera debut the following year at the New York City Opera as Violetta in Verdi's La traviata. In 1988 she sang the role of Isabelle in Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable with the Opera Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall. That same year she made her debut at the Met as Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus opposite Thomas Allen as Eisenstein and Judith Blegen as Adele. She notably sang the role of Ortlinde on the Met's 1990 recording of Die Walküre which won the Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording. She continued to sing roles at the Met annually through 1992, portraying Constanze in Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte, Gilda in Rigoletto, Violetta in La traviata, and the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor. In 1990 Mims made her debut at the San Francisco Opera as Nedda in Pagliacci. She returned to San Francsico in 1991 to portray Donna Anna in Don Giovanni. Other American companies she sang leading roles with included the Michigan Opera Theatre and the Santa Fe Opera. Her singing career was cut short after being diagnosed with endometriosis in 1995. She currently teaches on the voice faculty at Palm Beach Atlantic University." 

"Her career as a professional operatic soprano included appearances with major opera companies and orchestras spanning five continents including major appearances with San Francisco Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Grand Theatre of Geneva, Teatro Colon of Buenos Aires, Canadian Opera, and the New Israeli Opera. In 1995 she retired from full-time professional stage pursuits to start a family; and prior to coming to PBA she taught voice at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. She is a member of Mu Phi Epsilon, the National Association of Teachers of Singing and the National Opera Association. She is a judge and master class clinician for numerous vocal events; she presently serves as a master teacher for Intermezzo Opera and presented a Master Class at the Classical Singer Convention in New York City in 2008. At Palm Beach Atlantic she teaches voice and is producing director of the Opera Workshop program; recent productions include Gianni Schicchi, Amahl and the Night Visitors, and Hansel and Gretel. She has students who perform with New York City Opera, the Metropolitan Opera, and numerous other companies. Former students have gone to graduate school at Juilliard and other prestigious institutions. She and her husband, Lloyd, along with their daughter, Virginia, are participants in the music program of Royal Poinciana Chapel in Palm Beach."

"The sixth and last child of James Williamson, a truck driver, and his wife, Louise, a seamstress, she said of her family: ''They all doted on me. From the time I was born they gave me center stage.' The parents and all the children loved music. 'Any of my brothers and sisters could have made a career of it,' Ms. Mims said. Growing up in Collins, Mississippi, and various other small towns in the state, they played the piano and sang at home and in Baptist choirs. 'When we went to see father's big family in Sumrall, Miss., nobody left until we sang,' said Ms. Mims. When she was in first grade, the little girl flabbergasted the grown-ups by belting out five verses of 'Que Sera, Sera.' Not until she met Robert Mesrobian, a professional singer who had worked with Renata Tebaldi and Sarah Caldwell, had taught Samuel Ramey, and was directing student operas at the University of Southern Mississippi, did Ms. Mims think seriously about becoming an opera singer. She was a piano major at the university. 'My only role models in voice were pop stars,' she said. Then she went to see Mr. Mesrobian's production of Benjamin Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream. She went four times. She auditioned for Mr. Mesrobian. 'You were born to sing opera,' he told her. From then on she studied opera and sang in one student production after another of the works of Mozart, Verdi, Strauss, Puccini and Verdi. She met and married Lloyd Mims. In 1979, she went with him to Louisville, Kentucky, still their home, where he conducts and teaches voice at Southern Seminary. She finds Louisville 'rich in arts life' and sang with the Kentucky Opera, among other companies. After a while, she said: 'I was just saturated with secondary roles. I wanted to make the transition to leading roles.' Someone told her about Virginia Zeani, the great Rumanian soprano who had performed in 60 roles in Italy, including 700 times as Verdi's Violetta, and was teaching at the University of Indiana at Bloomington. It was only two hours away from Louisville. 'After auditioning for her, I asked her, 'Do you think I can be somebody in opera?'' Ms. Mims recalled. 'She replied: 'My God! You will sing all over the world. You look like a singer. You have the pianissimo, the personality.'' Ms. Mims added, softly but fiercely: 'Do you know how badly I wanted to hear those words? In a sentence -it was my turning point.' That was in 1984. 'I worked like I had never worked in my life,' she said. 'I still study with her.' Almost immediately, Traviata and its great Act I aria 'Sempre libera' became a Mims signature. She loves the role of Violetta. 'It's a dream role,' she said. 'It's athletic. You don't get through a night of 'Traviata' without thinking. It's a tremendous emotional task. You're painting with your voice.' Ms. Mims has at least two 'five-year plans' for herself. For the next five years, she wants to sing 'the high parts,' such as Violetta, Constanze in Mozart's Abduction From the Seraglio' and Lucia di Lammermoor. 'By age 40,' she said, 'I want to do a Tosca. I think Tosca has to be a woman who has lived.' And to the end of her life, she said, 'I want to feed my voice with the milk of Mozart.'"

Click here to hear Marilyn Mims sing "Robert c'est toi qui j'aime" from Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable.

In addition to her operatic mother, her father is Lloyd Mims, the former dean of the School of Church Music and Worship at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. A West Palm Beach native, the soprano attends the Dreyfoos School of the Arts. "She studies with her mother, Marilyn Mims, Professor of Voice at Palm Beach Atlantic University. She was a chorus member of the Palm Beach Opera, and plays piano and violin in addition to singing. Virginia also enjoys dancing and acting. She teaches younger singers and is a member of the music honor society at her high school." By the age of 16, she was winning the first place scholarship prize of $3,000 at the 2013 Competition for Voice hosted by the Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota in Florida. The soprano, now 18-years old, has sung in a number of international competitions. 


  1. I hope that Virginia isn't pushed too far too soon and becomes the next Danielle de Niece who sung better as a 19 year old than she does today.

  2. This is a great venue. I was here for a party and there was so much food and it was all done so well! The decor and food at event space NYC were amazing. Personally, I think the space is laid out really well and the size of the venue keeps pulling great parties.