Maria Ewing

Maria Louise Ewing (March 27, 1950 – January 9, 2022) was an American opera singer. In the first half of her career she performed as a lyric mezzo-soprano, but she later assumed full soprano parts. Her signature roles were Blanche, Carmen, Dorabella, Rosina and Salome. She was regarded as one of the most compelling singing actresses of her generation.[1]

Maria Ewing
Maria Louise Ewing - Finney HS - 1968.jpg
Ewing in 1968
Born(1950-03-27)March 27, 1950
DiedJanuary 9, 2022(2022-01-09) (aged 71)
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Alma materCleveland Institute of Music
OccupationOpera singer
(m. 1982; div. 1990)
ChildrenRebecca Hall
RelativesBazabeel Norman (great-great-great grandfather)

Early life and educationEdit

Maria Louise Ewing was born in Detroit, Michigan, on March 27, 1950.[2] She was the youngest of four daughters of Hermina Ewing, née Veraar, a Dutch-born homemaker, and Norman Ewing, an electrical engineer at a steel company.[2][3] Her father claimed to be of Sioux descent,[2][3] but his ancestry was in fact part European, part African; an episode of the genealogical television show Finding Your Roots devoted to Ewing's daughter, the actress Rebecca Hall, revealed that he was the grandson of John William Ewing, born into slavery, a prominent figure in the African-American community of Washington DC, and the great-great-grandson of Bazabeel Norman, a notable African-American veteran of the American Revolutionary War.[4] (Rebecca Hall's interest in her father's ethnicity inspired her to make a film, Passing, the protagonist of which is an African-American woman whose skin is light enough for her to be perceived as white.[2]) According to Ewing's husband, her father's African roots caused her family so much anxiety that a particularly dark-skinned relative of theirs was forbidden from visiting their home during the hours of daylight.[5] Ewing herself was unembarrassed by her racial make-up, regarding her African roots not with shame but with pride.[5]

Ewing's parents were both musical enthusiasts: her mother was a keen collector of classical recordings, and her father played the piano well enough to attract an audience of admiring neighbors.[6] Ewing's own musical education began with piano lessons when she was thirteen.[6] As well as playing solo piano pieces, she sometimes acted as an accompanist for one of her sisters, Frances, occasionally singing duets with her; their mother was sufficiently impressed by her voice to encourage her to complement her keyboard work by studying singing too.[6] Coached by a local voice teacher, Ewing joined the alto section of the chorus at her Detroit high school—Jared W. Finney High School[3]—and was soon participating in and winning singing competitions.[6] When she was seventeen, she became a pupil of Marjorie Gordon, a coloratura soprano (not to be confused with an English Gilbert and Sullivan soprano of the same name).[6] After only a year of teaching her, Gordon suggested that she should apply to take part in Oakland University's Meadow Brook Music Festival.[6] She auditioned for the role of Maddalena in a production of Rigoletto that was to be conducted by a young James Levine.[6] Their meeting proved to be wonderfully serendipitous: Levine was so struck by her expressive power that he assured her that she had the potential to become a major artist,[6] while for her part, she found in him a teacher, mentor, guide, champion and friend.[6] It was in order to study with Levine that she sought and won a scholarship at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where her other instructors included the soprano Eleanor Steber.[6] And after her graduation in 1970, it was at Levine's urging that she continued her training in New York City as a private pupil of the great mezzo-soprano Jennie Tourel, supporting herself by working in offices and clothing stores.[6]


Ewing made her professional debut in Detroit in 1970, singing the role of Rosina in an English-language production of Il barbiere di Siviglia staged by a company that later became known as the Michigan Opera Theatre.[7] (Rosina was to be one of the parts with which she was most closely associated: she sang the role at Houston Grand Opera in 1976 and 1983,[8] at Glyndebourne Festival Opera in 1981 and 1982[9] and at the Metropolitan Opera in 1982.[10]) But it was in a performance at the Ravinia Festival on June 29, 1973 that she first won significant critical recognition, singing a program of songs by Alban Berg accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Levine. "I cannot remember a young singer who has excited me more on a first hearing", wrote the Chicago Tribune's Thomas Willis. "Still in her early twenties, she has the clear stamp of greatness in every movement and tone".[11]

The first leading opera company that engaged Ewing was San Francisco's. She was their Mercédès in Carmen in 1973, and their Sicle in Francesco Cavalli's Ormindo in 1974.[12] In 1975, she sang the first of her five Mozart roles when she was Dorabella in Così fan tutte in Santa Fe[13]; she reprised the part at Glyndebourne in 1978[9]. and at the Metropolitan Opera, with Levine on the podium, in 1982.[10] In his history of Glyndebourne, Spike Hughes remembered Ewing's Dorabella as "a particular joy, with a natural gift of timing and an enchantingly comical face"[14] For Levine, Ewing was "the funniest, most stylish Dorabella you could imagine, absolutely sensational".[15]

It was as Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro that Ewing first appeared in Europe, playing the farfallone amoroso at Salzburg in 1976; she repeated the role there in 1979 and 1980.[16] It was as Cherubino too that she first sang at the Metropolitan Opera on October 14, 1976 in a production to which she returned in 1977.[10] In his autobiography, the director Lotfi Mansouri remembered Ewing at this stage in her career as "an alluring mezzo who could convince audiences possibly better than anyone else that her enchantingly sung Cherubino was really a boy".[17] She offered another Mozart trousers role in 1977, when she sang Idamante in his opera seria Idomeneo at the San Francisco Opera.[12] In 1980 and 1984, she appeared in his second da Ponte work when she was Zerlina in Don Giovanni at the Geneva Opera[18] and the Met respectively.[10]

Other parts that she assumed were the title role in La Périchole (San Francisco Opera, 1976;[12] Geneva Opera, 1982 and 1983[18]); Blanche in Dialogues des Carmélites (Metropolitan Opera, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1987[10]); Mélisande in Pelléas et Mélisande (La Scala, 1977;[19] San Franciso Opera, 1979[12]); Charlotte in Werther (San Francisco Opera, 1978[12]); Angelina in La Cenerentola (Houston Grand Opera, 1979;[20] Geneva Opera, 1981[18]); the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos (Glyndebourne Festival Opera, 1981;[9] Metropolitan Opera, 1984 and 1985[10]); Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro (Geneva Opera, 1983;[18] Lyric Opera of Chicago, 1987[21]); Poppea in L'incoronazione di Poppea (Glyndebourne Festival Opera, 1984 and 1986[9]); the title roles in Carmen (Glyndebourne Festival Opera, 1985 and 1987;[9] Metropolitan Opera, 1986;[10] Royal Opera House, 1991[22]), Salome (Los Angeles Opera, 1986;[23] Royal Opera House, 1988;[22] Lyric Opera of Chicago, 1988;[21] San Francisco Opera, 1993[12]), Die lustige Witwe (Lyric Opera of Chicago, 1986 and 1987[21]), Tosca (Royal Opera House, 1991[22]) and Madama Butterfly (Los Angeles Opera, 1991[1]); Didon in Les Troyens (Metropolitan Opera, 1993 and 1994[10]); Katerina Ismailova in Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (Metropolitan Opera, 1994[10]); Dido in Dido and Aeneas (Hampton Court, 1995[24]); Marie in Wozzeck (Metropolitan Opera, 1997[10]); the title role in Fedora (Los Angeles Opera, 1997[1]); and the Queen of the Fairies in Iolanthe (Gielgud Theatre, London, 2008[3]).

Although primarily a theatrical artist, Ewing performed as a concert singer and recitalist too. Among the orchestral works that she sang were Berg's Sieben Frühe Lieder,[16] Berlioz's La damnation de Faust,[19] Mozart's Great Mass in C minor,[25] Maurice Ravel's Shéhérazade[3] and Verdi's Quattro pezzi sacri.[25]

Ewing was particularly well known for her portrayal of Salome. Oscar Wilde's stage directions for the play from which the opera's libretto was adapted specify that, at the end of the Dance of the Seven Veils, Salome lies naked at Herod's feet: Ewing appeared nude at the end of this sequence, in contrast to other singers who have used body stockings.[26][27]

Ewing's starring performance in the Metropolitan Opera's 1987 production of Dialogues of the Carmelites was recorded and made available as a stream.[28]

Ewing also sang jazz in live performance, including with the band Kymaera at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in London.[29]

Personal lifeEdit

In 1982, Ewing married the English theatre director Sir Peter Hall; during her marriage she was formally styled Lady Hall. The couple divorced in 1990.[1] Their daughter is the actress and director Rebecca Hall. In 2003, Ewing lived in Sussex, England.[30] She died of cancer at her residence near Detroit on January 9, 2022, at the age of 71.[2][31]





  1. ^ a b c d Millington, Barry (January 12, 2022). "Maria Ewing obituary". The Guardian.
  2. ^ a b c d e Genzlinger, Neil (January 12, 2022). "Maria Ewing, Dramatically Daring Opera Star, Dies at 71". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 13, 2022.
  3. ^ a b c d e Anonymous (January 11, 2022). "Maria Ewing obituary". The Times.
  4. ^ "Hidden in the Genes". Finding Your Roots. PBS. Retrieved January 13, 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. ^ a b Hall, Peter (2000): Making an Exhibition of Myself; Oberon Books; p. 247; ISBN 9781840021158
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Moritz, Charles, ed. (1991). Current Biography Yearbook 1990. H. W. Wilson Co. pp. 227–230. ISBN 9789990006766.
  7. ^ Stewart, Henry (January 10, 2022). "Maria Ewing, 71, One of Her Generation's Most Charismatic and Versatile Opera Singers, has Died". Opera News.
  8. ^ Giesberg, Robert I., Cunningham, Carl, Rich, Alan and Sanders, Jim (2005): Houston Grand Opera at Fifty; Herring Press; pp. 272 and 275; ISBN 0-917001-24-9
  9. ^ a b c d e "Maria Ewing". Glyndebourne Festival Opera archive.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Home". Metropolitan Opera archive.
  11. ^ Willis, Thomas (July 2, 1973): A weekend of wonders at Ravinia; Chicago Tribune.
  12. ^ a b c d e f "Maria Ewing". San Francisco Opera archive.
  13. ^ Huscher, Phillip (2006): The Santa Fe Opera: An American Pioneer; The Santa Fe Opera; p. 144; ISBN 978-0-86534-550-8
  14. ^ Hughes, Spike (1981): Glyndebourne: A History of the Festival Opera, 2nd edition; David & Charles; p. 269; ISBN 0-7153-7891-0
  15. ^ Metropolitan Opera (2011): James Levine: 40 Years at the Metropolitan Opera; Amadeus Press; p. 84; ISBN 978-1-57467-196-4
  16. ^ a b "Maria Ewing". Salzburg Festival archive.
  17. ^ Mansouri, Lotfi and Arthur, Donald (2010): Lotfi Mansouri: An Operatic Journey; Northeastern University Press; p. 261; ISBN 978-1-55553-706-7
  18. ^ a b c d "Home". Geneva Opera archive.
  19. ^ a b "Maria Ewing". Teatro alla Scala archive.
  20. ^ Giesberg, Robert I., Cunningham, Carl, Rich, Alan and Sanders, Jim (2005), p. 273
  21. ^ a b c Skrebneski, Victor (1994): Bravi: Lyric Opera of Chicago; Abbeville Press; ISBN 9781558597716
  22. ^ a b c "Maria Ewing". Royal Opera House archive.
  23. ^ Bernheimer, Martin: Music Center stages a dazzling 'Salome'; Los Angeles Times, October 11, 1986
  24. ^ "Dido and Aeneas, BBC Two, November 4, 1995". BBC Genome Project.
  25. ^ a b "Home". Boston Symphony Orchestra archive.
  26. ^ John Rockwell (April 20, 1989). "Review/Opera; Maria Ewing in Strauss's 'Salome' in Los Angeles". New York Times. Retrieved September 14, 2008.
  27. ^ Anthony Holden (February 24, 2008). "Don't go and lose your head..." The Observer. Retrieved September 14, 2008.
  28. ^ "The Met Opera's Two Weeks Of Black Opera Performances". KPBS Public Media. Retrieved February 11, 2021.
  29. ^ "Kymaera DVD". Retrieved January 13, 2022.
  30. ^ Jeal, Erica (March 11, 2003). "I feel I belong". The Guardian. Retrieved September 14, 2008.
  31. ^ "Opera singer Maria Ewing, wife of Peter Hall, dead at 71". Edwardsville Intelligencer. January 10, 2022. Retrieved January 10, 2022.

External linksEdit