“She won’t do Tosca or Mimi, but concentrates on the coquettish ‘-ettas’ and ‘-inas’ of the opera repertoire. Next to those like Jessye Norman’s, her voice sounds small. But that sound is so ravishing, the intonations so true, the voice so flexible, and the timbre so pure, that Kathleen Battle is one of our most adored divas, reigning as the finest coloratura soprano of her generation,” wrote Michael Kimmelman in a Vogue profile of the diminutive, black opera star in 1986. An attractive woman dubbed “the undisputed best-dressed concert performer in the business” by Time, Battle confines her roles to the soubrette and coloratura repertoires which accommodate her range. “I won’t stretch or pull my voice beyond its capacity and capability,” the renowned artist with numerous Grammy nominations said to Heidi Waleson in Opera News. “And I know what the limit is.”
Battle was born August 13, 1948, in Portsmouth, Ohio. The daughter of a steelworker, originally from Alabama, and the youngest of seven children, she was reared in a musical household. “I learned to sing listening to my father,” Battle told Bernard Holland in a New York Times Magazine interview. “He was a singer in a gospel quartet. My sister taught me how to read music…. The piano I kind of picked up, getting a fingering here, a chord there, looking over people’s shoulders.” Her first audience was the African Methodist Episcopal Church, where Battle sang from a tabletop at civic functions, banquets, and church affairs. Charles Varney, a Portsmouth High School music teacher and mentor to the adolescent Battle, related to Time reporter Michael Walsh his wonder at first hearing “this tiny little thing singing so beautifully,” referring to the eight-year-old Battle. “I went to her later,” Varney recalled, “and told her God had blessed her, and she must always sing.”
Battle was an excellent student in school, and wavered between a career in math or music. Pressure from Varney persuaded her to pursue music after her graduation from Portsmouth High School in 1966. The winner of a National Achievement Scholarship, she enrolled at the College-Conservatory of Music of the University of Cincinnati, but hesitated to get a degree in performance. She opted for a more secure route in music education, where she took a B.A. in 1970 and an M.A. in 1971. “I never would have dreamed of being a performance major,” Battle explained in Opera News. “Still, I was feeling my way in college. I took art, dance, piano, and languages. I kept promising myself I’d take more math. It gives me a comfortable feeling to keep my options open.”
For the Record…
Born August 13, 1948, in Portsmouth, OH; daughter of a steel worker, the youngest of seven children. Education: University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory, B.A., 1970, M.A., 1971.
Former inner-city elementary school music teacher. Opera and concert singer. Has toured and recorded extensively, and appeared on Grammy Awards shows. Debuted with the Michigan Opera Theatre, 1976; has since appeared in major festivals, including Festival of Two Worlds, Spoleto, Italy, 1972; May Festival, Cincinnati, OH, 1974; New York City Opera, 1976; Metropolitan Opera, New York City, 1978—; Salzburg Festival, 1984; has appeared with major orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, and Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Awards: National Achievement Scholarship; numerous awards and Grammy nominations, including one for Salzburg Recital; honorary doctorate, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory, 1983.
The next two years after graduation Battle taught music to inner-city elementary students while taking private voice studies at the College-Conservatory. In 1972 she auditioned for Thomas Schippers, the conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony. Schippers chose Battle to perform Brahm’s Ein Deutsches Requiem at the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, that year. By 1973 Battle had resigned her teaching position to concentrate on performing music full-time, and soon was introduced to James Levine. The music director and principal conductor of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Levine was a native of Cincinnati who had come home to be the visiting director at the orchestra’s renowned May Festival. He auditioned Battle. “Blown away” by what he heard, he related to Holland, he chose Battle to sing a short soprano role in Mahler’s. Eighth Symphony at the festival the following year. “Some singers have little instinct but do have the intellect to balance technical and musical issues. Some have instinct and a beautiful voice but less intellect,” Levine told Holland. “I had never come across a more complete talent than hers.”
Levine became Battle’s career mentor, encouraging her to develop a repertoire which included sacred music and emphasized Mozart. With performances throughout the United States enhancing her reputation, Battle went to New York when she was offered an understudy part in Scott Joplin’s opera Treemonisha. After making her operatic debut at the Michigan Opera Theatre in 1976, she was summoned back quickly to the Big Apple that same year to debut as Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro with the New York City Opera. Then came an audition at the Metropolitan Opera where, two years later on September 18, 1978, she made her debut under Levine’s direction as the shepherd in Wagner’s Tannhauser.
Critical response to Battle’s performances has rarely varied throughout the ensuing years following her debut. Time magazine, among others, pronounced her “the best lyric coloratura soprano in the world” in 1985. Restricting her lyric fare to the Adinas, Despinas, Norinas, Zerlinas, Paminas, and Rosinas typical of coloratura opera singers, Battle has also added spirituals and suitable works by Schubert, Duparc, Brahms, Haydn, Mahler, and Bach. Her recital at Alice Tully Hall in New York was sold out months in advance in 1986. Averaging sixty performances a year, the artist whose most memorable roles have been the young servants (soubrettes) and heroines of Mozart is not dismayed by the few critics who lament her limitations. The consensus among many critics is akin to Holland who wrote that her “relatively confined set of roles may actually concentrate her talents.” Terry Teachout in High Fidelity was baffled by the criticism of the soprano’s voice as “a vocal fragment” in 1987. In his review of her album Salzburg Recital, he stated, “Artists like Battle should be cherished, and not dismissed with a vulgar sneer.”
“Those who have found her occasionally difficult,” noted Holland in his response to the tag “temperamental” attached to Battle’s reputation, “usually agree that her skirmishes are fought in the name of the music rather than personal aggrandizement.” Battle first earned the tag during rehearsals with opera diva Kiri Te Kawana. They were appearing together in Strauss’s Arabella in 1983 when Battle objected to cuts to her part as Zdenka. Acting on the advice of members of the production staff, she requested her part be restored, but Te Kawana denied her request. The relationship between the two stars subsequently deteriorated, and Battle’s image as “difficult” has persisted to the present. Matthew A. Epstein gave his perspective of the singer in the New York Times Magazine. The producer of Handel’s Semele at Carnegie Hall—in which Battle starred to huge success—said, “She is not a pushover; she’s a professional liberated woman.”
Unmarried, Battle keeps a home in Quogue, Long Island. Eventually, she would like to teach at the conservatory level, or commission music composed for soprano and small orchestra. Performances in all the great opera houses of the world still await the stellar vocalist who has not bent to pressures placed upon her by prestigious conductors to take roles beyond her range. “I’ve accepted my reality,” she declared to Holland. “I was meant to sound the way I do.”
Lulu Suite, 1983.
Symphony no. 2 in C “Resurrection,” 1983.
A German Requiem, 1984.
Arias (Mozart), 1986.
Kathleen Battle Sings Mozart, 1986.
Papst Johannes Paul II, 1986.
Salzburg Recital, 1986.
Pleasures of Their Company, 1986.
A Christmas Celebration, 1986.
Ariadne auf Naxos, op. 60, 1987.
Lieder (Schubert), 1988.
Live in Tokyo 1988, 1989.
Symphony no. 4 (Mahler), 1989.
Arias (Handel), 1990.
High Fidelity, November 1987.
Jet, February 1, 1988.
New York Times, January 26, 1986.
New York Times Magazine, November 17, 1985.
Opera News, March 13, 1982; February 14, 1987.
People, March 7, 1983.
Stereo Review, November 1986.
Time, November 11, 1985.
Vogue, February 1986.
In the 1980s soprano Kathleen Battle became one of the opera world's most celebrated performers, achieving the level of fame previously accorded to such sopranos as Beverly Sills, Maria Callas, and Birgit Nilsson. Battle, however, was one of the few African-American women ever to rank among the top tier of devotedly followed—and richly compensated—female performers who appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Covent Garden in London, and La Scala in Milan. Her specialty was the soubrette, or servant, role. These youngish, often flirtatious female characters usually did not sing the showstopper arias, but they and their songs were always popular with audiences. In the early years of her career, "Battle projected freshness, innocence and a certain ecstatic quality that was difficult to define but was almost unanimously agreed upon," Tim Page noted in Opera News. "Pianist Gerald Moore once wrote that Elisabeth Schumann sang with a smile; Battle, at her best, sang with a delighted shiver."
In 1994, however, Battle was unceremoniously released from her contract with the Metropolitan Opera for what its management termed "unprofessional" actions, a move that sent shock waves through classical-music circles. "Divas are expected to be difficult," wrote Michael Walsh in an article chronicling the dismissal for Time. "Opera lore is rife with tales of their devouring egos and overweening eccentricities." Battle never again appeared in an opera production, although she continued a career as a recitalist and recording artist.
Battle's rise to fame was part of her appeal. Born in 1948, she was the daughter of Grady Battle, an Alabama-born steelworker, and his wife, Ollie Layne Battle, who balanced her role of wife and mother of seven with volunteer work at the African Methodist Episcopal church in Portsmouth, Ohio, a town on the river border with Kentucky. Battle was the youngest in the family and attended segregated schools until the age of twelve. "I learned to sing listening to my father," she told Bernard Holland, whose profile of the singer appeared in the New York Times Magazine in 1985. "He was a singer in a gospel quartet. My sister taught me how to read music, but I'm really not sure where she learned."
Launched to Stardom by a Labor Dispute
Battle's music teacher at Portsmouth High School encouraged her to apply to the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, the top music school in the area and one of the best training grounds for performers in the United States. She earned a bachelor's degree in music education and, while teaching music in the Cincinnati public schools in the late 1960s, received a master's degree in performance. Her professional break came in 1972 when the musicians of the Cincinnati Symphony went on strike and the company held an open audition for singers. Conductor Thomas Schippers was so taken with Battle's talent that he hired her as a soloist for the symphony's engagement at the Festival di Due Monde in Spoleto, Italy, later that year. Wearing a dress she sewed at home, Battle made her debut singing Johannes Brahms's Ein Deutsches Requiem to acclaim. Once back in Cincinnati she began to appear regularly with the symphony.
In the autumn of 1975 Battle made her New York debut on Broadway, in the title role of Scott Joplin's Treemonisha, for which she received favorable reviews. That led to appearances the following season at the New York City Opera, where she was cast as Susanna, the future bride, in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro. It became one of her signature roles.
After that, Ohio connections aided her career trajectory: A Cincinnati native, James Levine, had heard Battle sing in 1973, and when he was named music director of the Metropolitan Opera in 1976, he hired Battle for the following season. She sang the role of the shepherd in Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser. Donal Henahan in the New York Times wrote that "Battle, a Met newcomer, gave a piping quality to her Shepherd's song."
During the next few years Levine, who was one of her most ardent fans—he occasionally blew kisses at her from his podium during performances—cast her in several productions, including Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail in 1980 and Cosi Fan Tutte in 1982. In 1985 she made her Covent Garden debut in a Strauss opera, Ariadne auf Naxos, as Zerbinetta, receiving enthusiastic reviews from London critics.
In 1988 Battle performed with Luciano Pavarotti, inarguably opera's most famous living voice at the time, on an occasion that some music critics cite as the peak of her stage career: The two appeared in Gaetano Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore at one of the free summer concerts in New York's Central Park. "Battle is one of the few sopranos capable of upstaging Mr. Pavarotti's Nemorino," asserted critic Allan Kozinn in the New York Times, "and she did just that with an Adina sung with such ravishing sweetness that no suspension of disbelief was required for one to understand why Nemorino is immediately smitten with her."
In 1992 she performed a song cycle, Honey and Rue, at Carnegie Hall. The writer Toni Morrison composed the sextet of prose poems, which were then set to music by conductor-composer André Previn. The songs became part of Battle's standard recital repertoire at such events as the Tanglewood Festival in Massachusetts.
At a Glance …
Born Kathleen Deanne Battle on August 13, 1948, in Portsmouth, OH; daughter of Grady (a steelworker) and Ollie Layne (a volunteer) Battle. Religion: African Methodist Episcopal. Education: University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, bachelor's degree, 1970, master's degree, 1971.
Career: Music teacher in the Cincinnati, OH, public schools, late 1960s-early 1970s; opera singer and recitalist, 1972—; recording artist, 1984—.
Awards: Grammy Award for best classical vocal soloist performance, 1986, for Kathleen Battle Sings Mozart, 1987, for Salzburg Recital, and 1992, for Kathleen Battle at Carnegie Hall; Grammy Award for best opera recording, 1987, for Richard Strauss: Ariadne Auf Naxos, and 1993, for Handel: Semele.
Addresses: Agent—Ronald A. Wilford, Columbia Artists Management Inc., 1790 Broadway, New York, NY 10019-1412.
Dismissed by the Met
While she was receiving accolades for her singing, Battle was gaining a reputation for being tempestuous during rehearsals and demanding of support staff. In 1993, after she walked out of a rehearsal for Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, Joseph Volpe, replaced Battle with her understudy. Almost a year to the day later, in the midst of rehearsals for Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment, the Met announced that it had released Battle from her contract—"an extraordinary statement from an institution that usually maintains an air of patrician diplomacy," according to a New York Times article by Kozinn. The article included a brief interview with Volpe, who claimed that "Battle's unprofessional actions during rehearsals for the revival of ‘La Fille du Regiment’ were profoundly detrimental to the artistic collaboration among all the cast members, which is such an essential component of the rehearsal process." Kozinn's report also included a statement from Battle, released through her management company. "I was not told by anyone at the Met about any unprofessional actions," it read. "To my knowledge, we were working out all of the artistic problems in the rehearsals, and I don't know the reason behind this unexpected dismissal."
Some of Battle's fans and other observers raised the issue of race in discussions about Battle's dismissal. In his article for Time, Walsh acknowledged that backstage at the Met the soprano had been referred to in racially charged language. But he also noted that "sources inside and outside the Met agree" that the cause for her dismissal was her behavior during rehearsals, especially the way she treated fellow performers. He explained that Battle's "diva" quirks were far from uncommon, and that opera singers—whose voices are their instruments, which are trickier and even more temperamental than the rarest seventeenth-century violin—could be uncompromising during rehearsals or nerve-wracked prior to performances. Many great artists "are difficult in their search for perfection in their craft," Peter Gelb, a Sony executive who had worked with Battle on several occasions, told Walsh. "The role of the Met is to support great talents. Nothing a producer does comes close to the challenge and difficulty great artists face when they go onstage." Still, Walsh reported, "The cast of The Daughter of the Regiment applauded when it was told during rehearsal that Battle had been fired."
Battle never again appeared in an opera production, although she continued to be in demand as a recitalist. In 1997, for example, she sang to some eight hundred admirers in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Temple of Dendur. She also appeared on several sold-out occasions at Carnegie Hall. In 2008 she sang "The Lord's Prayer" at the White House in honor of the first visit to the United States by Pope Benedict XVI.
Battle's recordings were well received and earned several Grammy Awards, presented by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. A 1984 RCA issue of Brahms's Ein Deutsches Requiem, which she sang with Levine conducting the Chicago Symphony, was often cited as one of the year's best classical recordings. Sir Georg Solti, another conducting legend, recorded Battle and Pavarotti in Giuseppi Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera a year later. One of her best-known recordings, So Many Stars (1995), is a collection of folk songs, African-American spirituals, and lullabies recorded with such notables as jazz great Grover Washington Jr. In 2002 Sony Classical released Classic Kathleen Battle: A Portrait, which included some of her career highlights plus four new songs, two of which were spirituals sung a cappella. Writing in Opera News, Judith Malafronte commended the songs as "very beautifully sung and compellingly shaped…. The appeal of this CD is not in the nonsensical program, it's in the singer. She makes you listen and follow along. And that's why she's a star."
Brahms: Ein Deutsches Requiem, Chicago Symphony, RCA, 1984.
Verdi: Un Ballo in Maschera, Decca, 1985.
Kathleen Battle and James Levine: Salzburg Recital, Deutsche Grammophon, 1987.
Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos, Deutsche Grammophon, 1987.
A Carnegie Hall Christmas Concert, Sony, 1992.
Kathleen Battle at Carnegie Hall, Deutsche Grammophon, 1992.
Verdi: Don Carlo, Sony, 1993.
Handel: Semele, Deutsche Grammophon, 1993.
Kathleen Battle: So Many Stars, Sony, 1995.
Kathleen Battle: French Opera Arias, Deutsche Grammophon, 1996.
Kathleen Battle: Grace, Sony, 1997.
Classic Kathleen Battle: A Portrait, Sony Classical, 2002.
The Best of Kathleen Battle, Deutsche Grammophon, 2004.
New York Times, December 24, 1977, p. 12; June 22, 1988; February 8, 1994.
New York Times Magazine, November 17, 1985.
Opera News, April 2, 1994, p. 16; August 2002, p. 58.
Time, February 21, 1994, p. 60.
August 13, 1948
The opera singer Kathleen Battle was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, the daughter of Ollie Battle, a community and church activist, and Grady Battle, a steelworker. A National Merit Scholar in mathematics, Battle majored in music education at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (B.M. and M.M.). She taught music for two years in Cincinnati elementary schools before embarking on her professional career.
A lyric soprano noted for her small, sweet voice, she made her professional singing debut in 1972 in Johannes Brahms's German Requiem with the Cincinnati Orchestra at the Spoleto Festival in Italy. Her opera debut came soon after as Rosina in Gioacchino Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia with the Michigan Opera Theater. In 1974 she met James Levine, later to become artistic director of the Metropolitan Opera, who became her mentor. The following year she appeared on Broadway in Scott Joplin's opera Treemonisha.
In 1976, Battle appeared as Susanna in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the New York City Opera, and she made her Metropolitan Opera (the Met) debut in 1978, singing The Shepherd in Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser. Her professional career flourished with leading roles at the MET, among them Mozart's Pamina (Die Zauberflöte ), Richard Strauss's Sophie (Der Rosenkavalier ), and George Frideric Handel's Cleopatra (Giulio Cesare ). Subsequent to her European operatic debut as Despina in Mozart's Così fan tutte in Salzburg in 1982, Battle performed there several times as Despina, as Susanna, and as Zerlina (Don Giovanni)—the last for American national television—as well as in many other places. In 1993 she attracted sellout audiences during a Metropolitan Opera tour of Japan.
Battle, whom Time magazine in 1985 called "the best lyric coloratura in the world," shifted effortlessly between the opera stage and the concert hall. However, in 1994 she was dismissed in a statement issued by the Met for "'unprofessional actions … profoundly detrimental to the artistic collaboration among all the cast members" (Walsh, 1994, pp. 61–62). Unprofessional behavior reported by the Baltimore Sun newspaper included: rude behavior to colleagues, showing up late for rehearsals … and demanding that the director change the production so that all her exits and entrances were on the side of the stage closest to her dressing room (Wigler, 1994, p. C2). The news of her firing was met with swift reactions of glee, jokes, and applause within the music industry. Although hugely popular with audiences, she incited a maelstrom of ill-wishers among her associates (singers, conductors, stage hands, technicians, costumers, etc.) because of her mistreatment of her colleagues. According to Schuyler Chapin, the former general manager of the Met, "She's the only artist that I know of in my 43 years of dealing with artists who has managed to alienate practically everyone in every single place where's she's ever been" (Swan, 1994, p. 80). Other opera companies followed the Met's lead, thus ending her operatic career. Nonetheless, she continued performing in concerts and on recordings.
In 1995 Battle released her first crossover album, So Many Stars, with jazz musicians such as Grover Washington Jr. and Christian McBride. The record rose to the top on Billboard magazine's Classical Crossover lists. She has won five Grammy Awards, including one for her recital album Kathleen Battle at Carnegie Hall (1992). In 1991, Battle and the soprano Jessye Norman gave a concert of spirituals at Carnegie Hall, which was shown on national television and prompted a best-selling recording. In 1993, Battle recorded the premiere of a song cycle, Honey and Rue, she had commissioned from the African-American writer Toni Morrison and the composer André Previn. Her many CDs include: Pleasures of their Company (1990) and Angels' Glory (1996), both with the guitarist Christopher Parkening; Grace (1997); Baroque Duet (1991), with African-American trumpeter Wynton Marsalis; Vangelis: "Mythodea"—Music for the NASA Mission: 2001 Mars Odyssey (2001); and Classic Kathleen Battle: A Portrait (2002).
Battle has used tenacity, intelligent musicianship, and a stunning voice to build a diverse career that has lasted more than three decades. She elevated soubrette opera roles (usually relegated as secondary) to star status, while presenting sold-out concerts and successfully recording classical and crossover repertoire.
Alfano, Vincent. "The Sweet Song of Kathleen Battle." Fanfare 10 (1986): 380-385.
Story, Rosalyn M. And So I Sing: African-American Divas of Opera and Concert. New York: Warner Books, 1990.
Swan, Annalyn. "Battle Royal." Vanity Fair (May 1994): 80.
Walsh, Michael. "Battle Fatigue." Time (February 21, 1994): 61–62.
Wigler, Stephen. "Temperamental Diva Deserves Her Fate." Baltimore Sun (February 9, 1994): C2.
louise toppin (1996)
Updated by author 2005
American soprano Kathleen Battle (born 1948) divided her career between the opera and concert singing. Her light, sweet voice and charming stage presence were especially suited to operatic ingénue roles.
Lyric coloratura soprano Kathleen Battle was born on August 13, 1948, in Portsmouth, Ohio. The youngest of seven children whose father was a steel worker, she attended public schools in a segregated school system. She remained relatively unexposed to opera until her teens and, no doubt aware of the limited opportunities afforded to African Americans, steered a practical course for herself, studying typing and shorthand in high school. Although she took the advice of a high school music teacher to study music at the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory, she opted not for the performance curriculum but for an education degree, which would enable her to teach. Her voice teacher during her college years was Franklin Bens.
Having received a bachelor's degree in 1970 and a master's in 1971, Battle taught grades four through six for the next two years in the Cincinnati public school system. Meanwhile, she continued to take voice lessons and also to study German and acting while taking singing jobs in and around Cincinnati.
In 1972 she auditioned successfully for Thomas Shippers, then the director of both the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the Spoleto Festival. He arranged for her professional debut that year in a performance of the Brahms Requiem in Spoleto. Her American debut followed as a repeat performance of the piece with the Cincinnati Orchestra later that year.
The following year Battle came to the attention of James Levine while singing at the Cincinnati May Festival. He immediately engaged her in his guest-conducting tour around the United States. Included in this tour was the Ravinia Festival, to which she returned for several summers as an artist in residence. She moved to New York in 1975 after an engagement in a Broadway production of Scott Joplin's Treemonisha.
She made her professional operatic debut as Rosina in Rossini's Barber of Seville with the Michigan Opera Theater, and her New York debut followed in 1976 with the City Opera as Susanna in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. But it was again Levine who brought her rapidly to stardom. In 1977 he offered her the role of the shepherdess in Wagner's Tannhauser at the Metropolitan Opera, where her debut took place on December 22, 1977. Battle's physical beauty, captivating stage presence, and a seemingly effortless virtuosity quickly made her a favorite there; and the following years secured her reputation.
Possessing a light, sweet voice of extreme agility, Battle wisely avoided the heavier operatic roles. Among composers she favored Mozart for his precision and clarity of line, his rhythmic vitality, and the appropriateness of the color and weight of his music to her voice. Mozart roles included Pamina in The Magic Flute, Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro, Despina in Cosi fan tutte, and Blonde in The Abduction from the Seraglio. Other important parts were Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos and Zdenka in Arabella, both by Richard Strauss, another favorite composer; Oskar in Verdi's Un ballo in maschera; and Norina in Donizetti's Don Pasquale.
Battle did not limit her career to the opera, but divided appearances rather equally between opera, song recitals, and performances of vocal works involving larger ensembles. She achieved much commercial success for recordings of her song recitals, which were additionally attractive in that they frequently offered music other than the standard fare. Among her most popular song recordings are those with the guitarist Christopher Parkening (The Pleasure of Their Company), the violinist Itzhak Perlman (The Bach Album), and the trumpeter Winton Marsalis (Baroque Duet). In 1990 she presented a concert of spirituals, also recorded, with Jessye Norman (Spirituals in Concert). Although the concert received some criticism for its "pseudo-Gershwin" arrangements, both singers triumphed over what could have been an inappropriate artificiality. Battle often closed song recitals with a group of spirituals.
Other popular recordings are Kathleen Battle Sings Mozart, Salzburg Recital, and At Carnegie Hall. In June 1986 she gave a command performance, nationally televised, for President Reagan at the White House. She was awarded an honorary Doctorate from the University of Cincinnati in 1983.
Battle's reputation as a temperamental singer was wellknown and was documented along with her rise to fame. In February 1994 she was dismissed from the Met's production of Donizetti's Fille du Régiment for what officials cited as her "unprofessional actions during rehearsals." At the same time the company withdrew all other offers for future engagements.
Battle has been pursuing other avenues through a variety of professional performances. In 1995, Battle's voice was heard on four albums, and she appeared on the television special An Evening with Kathleen Battle and Thomas Hampson. She opened Lincoln Center's 1995-96 jazz season with a concert, and has appeared on tour throughout the United States. With Christopher Parkening she released Angels Glory, a compilation of Christmas songs for the 1996 season. A Christmas Celebration was released in 1997, and also includes music for the holidays.
One of the few opera singers to achieve commercial success, Kathleen Battle continued to be charted by all of the music magazines and journals, including Billboard, Stereo Review, and Opera News. Among the most substantial articles on Battle's career are "Fortune's Favorite: A Conversation with Kathleen Battle" in Opera News (March 13, 1982) and "The Sweet Song of Kathleen Battle" in Fanfare (1986). The circumstances surrounding her dismissal from the Met are detailed in The New York Times (February 8, 1994). □
Born: Portsmouth, Ohio, 8 August 1948
Best-selling album since 1990: Baroque Duet (1992)
Kathleen Battle emerged from humble beginnings to become a world-renowned opera diva. Once regarded as the most promising lyric soprano in the world, her erratic behavior in the later periods of her career cast a shadow over what she had previously accomplished. However, she continues to attract a large concert and recital audience with her ample classical abilities, and through her performances of spirituals and jazz works.
Battle grew up as the youngest of seven children in Portsmouth, Ohio. Her father was a steel worker who sang in a gospel group and her mother introduced the children to spiritual music through the Methodist Church. Although her extraordinary vocal gift was recognized and developed during her youth, Battle decided to attend the University of Cincinnati to major in mathematics. However, she graduated with a master's degree in music education in 1971 and afterward taught sixth grade in Cincinnati's gritty inner city. She also auditioned for classical singing roles and the heralded conductor, Thomas Schippers, selected Battle to perform Brahms's "Requiem" at the Spoleto Festival in Italy. Following excellent reviews, Battle began getting opera roles at the best houses in the world and her career rose fast. She managed a wide range of classical music and was especially noted for her roles in Mozart and Strauss operas. Battle's debut with the New York City Opera came in 1976 and two years later conductor James Levine brought her to the New York Metropolitan Opera where she went on to play numerous leading roles until her abrupt dismissal from the venerated opera institution on February 7, 1994.
As her career progressed the tales of her abusive treatment of fellow cast members, sporadic rehearsal attendance, and unreasonable demands became legendary opera gossip fodder. After her dismissal from the Met, Battle found it difficult to get work in any of the world's major opera houses and her career depreciated to mostly recitals and concerts. She was no longer the critic's darling by any stretch; however, her public audience was larger than ever.
Battle's uniquely high voice is regarded for its striking charisma, pure timbre, and superior technical edge. While not considered strong by opera standards, it is genuine and aided by her acting skills and strong physical presence. Battle's numerous recordings have documented her busy schedule of opera and concert performances and she has released eleven albums since 1991.
Battle recorded the works of Bach, Handel, Scarlatti, and other baroque composers in collaboration with trumpet genius Wynton Marsalis in the popular Baroque Duet (1992). The results are spectacular as Marsalis's horn skills perfectly complement Battle's incredible artistry. A documentary film on the recording of this album produced by the Public Broadcasting Channel won her an Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Classical Program on Television in the USA. Battle followed with a much anticipated crossover album of jazz and spirituals, So Many Stars (1995), in which she recorded with distinguished jazz artists Grover Washington Jr. and Cyrus Chestnut. She continued the crossover with classical guitar virtuoso, Christopher Parkening, in an intimate collection of Christmas and rarely heard folk songs titled Angels' Glory (1996). In 2002 she released Classic Kathleen Battle: A Portrait. This compilation album features some baroque favorites in addition to spiritual and ethnic folk songs that she has enjoyed singing through the years. The album contains four previously unreleased selections including her rendering of Puccini's "Omio bibbino Caro" and Duke Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss."
Battle has been awarded five Grammy Awards and has been the recipient of honorary degrees from six major American colleges. In 1999 Battle was inducted into the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Image Award Hall of Fame for her remarkable achievements as an African-American woman.
Although Battle's perfectionist ways altered her opera career, she remains vastly popular throughout the world for her pure voice and distinctive style.
Kathleen Battle Sings Mozart (Sony, 1990); Baroque Duet (Sony, 1992); Kathleen Battle at Carnegie Hall (Sony 1992); Bel Canto (Sony, 1993); Kathleen Battle in Concert (Sony, 1995); Battle amd Domingo Live (Sony, 1995); French Opera Arias (Sony, 1996); Angels' Glory (Sony, 1996); Grace (Sony, 1997); Classic Kathleen Battle: A Portrait (Sony, 2002).
Battle, Kathleen (Deanna)
Battle, Kathleen (Deanna)
Battle, Kathleen (Deanna), outstanding black American soprano; b. Portsmouth, Ohio, Aug. 13, 1948. She studied with Franklin Bens at the Univ. of Cincinnati Coll.-Cons. of Music (B.Mus., 1970; M.Mus., 1971). After making her professional debut as a soloist in the Brahms Requiem at the Spoleto Festival in 1972, she pursued further taining with Italo Tajo in Cincinnati. In 1974 she captured first prize in the WGN-III. Opera Guild Auditions of the Air and in 1975 first prize in the Young Artists Awards in Washington, D.C. In 1975 she made her formal operatic debut as Rosina with the Mich. Opera Theatre in Detroit, and later that year her first appearance at the N.Y. City Opera as Mozart’s Susanna. On Dec. 22, 1977, she made her Metropolitan Opera debut in N.Y. as the Shepherd in Tannhauser, and quickly established herself as one of its most esteemed artists via such roles as Massenet’s and Strauss’s Sophie, Despina, Blondchen, Zerlina, and Pamina. She also appeared with other major opera houses in the U.S. and Europe, and toured extensively as a soloist with leading orchs. and as a recitalist. On June 17, 1985, she made her Covent Garden debut in London as Zerbinetta. In 1987 she appeared as soloist at the New Year’s Day Concert of the Vienna Phil, conducted by Karajan, which was telecast throughout the world. Although Battle’s vocal gifts were undeniable, she acquired a reputation as an extremely temperamental artist. In Jan. 1993 she quit the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Der Rosenkavalier during rehearsal. During rehearsal for her starring role in its revival of La Fille du Régiment on Feb. 7, 1994, general manager Joseph Volpe found her behavior so objectionable that he summarily dismissed her from the Metropolitan Opera roster. She subsequently pursued an active concert career.
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire