As a leading soprano in the New York Metropolitan Opera, Judith Blegen earned a reputation as the singer whose appearance was as pretty as her voice. Blegen, the American beauty of the U.S. opera, made a name for herself in Nuremberg, Germany and in Vienna, Austria before conquering her homeland. Critics never cease to applaud her talent, and there is much to praise—from her light, “canary-like” tremolo, to her pleasing charm and dearth of ego bouts. Blegen, a surprisingly petite diva of Norwegian heritage, projects a sweetness equaled only by her musical talent and attractive appearance.
Blegen was one of five children born to Dr. Howard Martin Blegen and Dorothy Mae Anderson Blegen. Born in Lexington, Kentucky, she was raised in Missoula, Montana. Her father, a surgeon, and her mother, a violin teacher, reared their children in a musical environment. Several of the Blegen children were musically inclined; one of Blegen’s sisters, an accomplished pianist, was naturally gifted with a sense of perfect pitch, which Blegen herself would develop over time as she learned to play the violin from her mother. Among Blegen’s fondest childhood memories were of days spent around the house with the sounds of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra playing from the radio in the background.
Blegen’s musical talent was enhanced by her dedication, and energy, while her budding vocal talent was nurtured through voice lessons from the age of 14 and by singing soprano in her church choir. At 17, she weathered a hapless audition for the New York Metropolitan Opera during on-the-road tryouts held in Washington State but the experience left her undeterred and by her senior year at Missoula High School she was enrolled in music lessons at the University of Montana Missoula Campus. Blegen’s childhood focused on music, to be sure, but by most standards she lived a very normal and typical life, active in her school life and congenial with her friends and peers.
After high school graduation in 1959 she enrolled at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she chose to major in voice, although she continued her violin studies as well. At Curtis Institute, Blegen studied voice with Euphemia Gregory and advanced her violin skills under the instruction of Toshiya Eto and Oscar Shumsky. Blegen also worked with Martial Singher, formerly of the Metropolitan Opera, who coached her through her first operatic role of Susanna from the Marriage of Figaro as a project during a workshop at Curtis Institute. She spent her summers in enrichment programs, enhancing her skills in theater and opera through classes and apprenticeships in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Kansas City, Missouri and, again with
Born April 27, 1941 in Lexington, KY; father, Dr. Howard Martin Blegen, (surgeon); mother Dorothy Mae Anderson Blegen, (music teacher); one of five siblings; married Peter Singher, 1967, one son, Thomas Christopher, born April 27, 1970, divorced, 1975; married Raymond Gniewek, 1977; Education: Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Music Academy of the West (Santa Barbara, CA);
Career:Performed at Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, 1964, 1965, 1966 (with the late Thomas Schippers); Nuremberg Opera, 1965-1968, lead soprano; Vienna State Opera, 1968-1970, debuted in role of Rosina in Barber of Seville; played Norina in Don Pasquale; Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos Aennchen in Der Freischütz; Adina in L’Elisir D’Amore; Metropolitan Opera, 1970; debuted as Papagena in Magic Flute; Marzelline in Fidelio; Sophie in Werther; Mélisande in Pelléas et Mélisande; and Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier; Juliette in Roméo et Juliette; Susanna in Marriage of Figaro; Opera Society of Washington, 1970, Monica in The Medium; San Francisco Opera, 1972; Edinburgh Festival, 1976, Salzburg Festival, 1974; first recital, 1974; Paris Opera, 1977.
Awards: Philadelphia Award, 1962; Fulbright Scholarship, 1964.
Addresses: Opera company —Artistic Department, Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center, New York, NY 10023.
Singher, at the distinguished Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California. In 1962 Blegen participated in, and won, the student auditions of the Philidelphia Orchestra, and in so doing, made her debut with the orchestra a year later.
In 1964, Blegen received her bachelor’s degree from Curtis Institute and a Fulbright Scholarship which enabled her to travel to Rome to advance her voice studies under the guidance of Luigi Ricci. During her stay in Rome the fledgling soprano performed at the Festival of Two Worlds in nearby Spoleto. She sang at Spoleto from 1964-65, and again in 1966 when she performed as Mélisande in Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. Blegen also took advantage of her opportunity to learn to speak Italian, a skill she would find most useful in her future career.
Equipped with her formal education and special training in Rome, Blegen joined the Nuremberg Opera in 1965, where she became the lead soprano. In time Blegen, was offered a position with the illustrious Hamburg State Opera. She declined the offer, choosing to remain in Nuremberg until 1968 when she was offered a position at the Vienna State Opera. Unlike many operatic performers, Blegen was of the opinion that the crucial stepping stone to her success would be not in Milan at La Scala, but in Vienna which, in her estimation, was the music capital of the world.
From 1968 until 1970, Blegen performed in a variety of roles in Vienna, including Rosina in Barber of Seville, Norina in Don Pasquale, Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos, and Aennchen in Der Freischütz. At the Staatsoper in Austria, Blegen also sang the part of the comic heroine Adina in Gaetano Donizetti’s L’Elisir D’Amore, one of her most popular roles, which she later performed at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. In August of 1969 during a brief stay in the United States, Blegen performed with the Santa Fe Opera in a modern program by Menotti, Help! Help! the Globolinks! She ressurected the role in New York the following December, just prior to her debut with the Metropolitan Opera.
Blegen ultimately returned to the United States to become a leading soprano with the Metropolitan Opera Company, by far her longest affiliation with any opera house. She debuted at the Lincoln Center on January 19, 1970 as Papagena in Mozart’s the Magic Flute. In December of that year, she sang as a stand-in in the more substantial role, of Marzelline in Fidelio, and by 1972 she played the lead role of Mélisande in Pelléas etMélisande. Upon her return to the United States, Blegen also performed with the Opera Society of Washington, including a 1970 production of Gian-Carlo Menotti’s macabre work, The Medium, which was released as a soundtrack by Columbia Records. Blegen’s performance in the role of Monica was declared, “[S]pectacular… most effective,” by reviewer Justin Herman in American Record Guide.
Blegen established herself in a number of roles at the Metropolitan Opera, beginning with her Marzelline in Fidelio. She went on to perform as Sophie in Werther, and she added a new role to her repertoire, Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier. In 1972, she revived her popular Susanna in Marriage of Figaro for a performance in San Francisco and again at the Edinburgh Festival in 1976. In 1973, she brought her Sophie (Der Rosenkavalier) to the Chicago Lyric Opera. Blegen also returned to Europe, to the Salzburg Festival in 1974 as Blondchen in Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio. She performed her first recital in New York in 1974 and soloed with the New York Philharmonic that same year. She is further remembered for her Metropolitan Opera performances as Juliette in Roméo et Juliette and as Susanna in Marriage of Figaro in the late 1970s. Among her most memorable performances at the Metropolitan Opera was her 1981 portrayal of the fickle Adina, opposite the great tenor Luciano Pavarotti, in Donizetti’s amusing bel canto comedy L’Elisir D’Amore, which was released on video tape.
Blegen characterizes herself as a coloratura (providing elaborate embellishment) soprano, but admits to her preference for the masters Mozart and Beethoven. She married Peter Singher, son of Martial Singher, in 1967 during her tenure at the Nuremberg Opera. Their son, Thomas Christopher was born on April 27, 1970 (Blegen’s own birthday), just a few months after her Metropolitan Opera debut. The couple divorced in 1975. Blegen re-married in 1977 to Raymond Gniewek.
(with the Opera Society of Washington) The Medium, Columbia, 1970.
(with Leonard Bernstein) Mahler, Symphony No. 8 in E flat major, Polygram.
(with the Metropolitan Opera Company) Un Ballo in Maschera, 1980.
(with the Metropolitan Opera Company) Hansel and Gretel, Paramount, 1982.
(with the Metropolitan Opera Company) L’Elisir d’Amore, 1981.
American Record Guide, January-February 1997, p. 143(2); January-February 1998, p. 131(2).
Opera News, 18 March 1995, p. 10(5); 14 December 1996, p. 40(4); 28 December 1996, p. 28(4).
Blegen, Judith, American soprano; b. Lexington, Ky, April 27, 1940. She studied violin and voice at the Curtis Inst. of Music in Philadelphia (1959–64). In 1963 she went to Italy, where she studied with Luigi Ricci; then sang at the Nuremberg Opera (1963–66). She made a successful appearance at the Santa Fe Opera on Aug. 1, 1969, in the role of Emily in Menotti’s satirical opera Help! Help! the Globolinks!, which was written especially for her. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut on Jan. 19, 1970, in N.Y. as Papagena, returning there regularly in subsequent seasons to sing such roles as Zerlina, Marzelline, Gilda, Sophie, Blondchen, Adele, Oscar, and Juliette. In 1975 she made her first appearance at London’s Covent Garden, and in 1977 at the Paris Opéra.
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire