Considered one of the most talented performers in opera, soprano June Anderson has amassed a wide following throughout Europe and the United States, ranking among the most important singers in the international opera and concert world today. Those within the opera community compare her flawless, seemingly effortless vocal qualities to those of legendary soprano Joan Sutherland. One of her most notable achievements includes winning the prestigious Bellini d’Oro prize, the first non-Italian to do so, and she sang the voice of Queen of the Night in the Milos Forman film Amadeus. Despite her stunning performances and undeniable talent, some directors remain reluctant to work with Anderson because of her sense of perfectionism, her desire to work by her own terms, and her reputation as “difficult” to work with. However, Anderson, who prefers to concentrate on performing at her best rather than indulging in the business of money available to contemporary opera stars through mass and popular music recordings, contends that she only strives for the best for herself as well as for her colleagues. She told David J. Baker of Opera News, in response to critics who denounce her personality and accuse her of acting too demanding, “People don’t take things seriously. I don’t do the political niceties, I don’t do the schmoozing, I don’t play the games. I’m too straight. I think my singing should speak for itself—we don’t need anything else.” Those close to Anderson further dispute her tough reputation. Instead, they claim, Anderson enjoys her privacy, admits to suffering from stage fright, and at times feels shy around strangers.
Likewise, many music and opera directors appreciate Anderson’s serious approach to her work, in addition to her well-projected, flexible voice and movie star appearance. Composer Leonard Bernstein deeply admired her singing and acting technique, and Eve Queler, Opera Orchestra of New York director, told Baker that she welcomes working with the impressive soprano. “She’s very smart and very, very serious,” said Queler. “I’ve seen her refuse parts if she couldn’t identify with the person. She won’t do a role just for the sake of the job or for the composer. I considered myself very lucky to work with her. She’s such a positive force.” Furthermore, director Francesca Zambello commented to Baker that because Anderson holds to such high standards, some of her colleagues often perceive her demands as difficult. Moreover, Zambello described Anderson as one of only a few performers “who are willing to collaborate and who are not afraid of process, not afraid to really dig in and inspire everybody around you. It’s difficult, but it’s rewarding.”
June Anderson was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on December 30, 1952. Anderson enjoyed singing and
Born December 30, 1952, in Boston, MA. Education: Graduated cum laude from Yale University, 1974; majored in French; studied with vocal instructor Robert Leonard from 1974 until mid-1990s.
Started taking private singing lessons at age 11; became youngest finalist ever, at age 17, in the Metropolitan Opera National Auditions; made professional debut with the New York City Opera in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, 1978; gave European debut performance in Rossini’s Semiramide at the Rome Opera, 1982; debuted at the Paris Opera in Robert le Diable, 1985; recorded Candide with Leonard Bernstein and the London Symphony Orchestra, sang in Berlin at concert celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall, 1989; won critical praise for role of Lucia in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, 1986 at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden (London), 1992 with the Metropolitan Opera of New York; sang leading part for first time in Bellini’s Nora at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, 1997; gave first performance as the lead, Leonora, in II Trovatore by Verdi, 1998.
Awards: First non-Italian singer to win the Bellini d’Oro Prize.
Addresses: Home —Paris and New York City.
dancing around the family home as a child, and she decided to take private voice lessons at age 11. Anderson told Kathy Petrere in an interview for the Lyric Opera in Chicago, “My mother had wanted me to dance, and singing seemed to come naturally because I sang all the time. She says that I just wandered around the house, my life was ‘en recitatif.’” Within a few short years, at age 17, she became the youngest finalist ever at the Metropolitan Opera National Auditions. Although this success demonstrated her obvious talent, Anderson remained unsure about pursuing professional singing as a career. Thus, in the meantime, she enrolled at Yale University as a French major, graduating cum laude in 1974.
After college, she began to contemplate a career in opera and took instruction from Robert Leonard, a teacher who continued to work with Anderson until his death in the mid-1990s. According to the June Anderson website, she noted, “I decided to go to New York and thought that if in two years’ time I was not famous I would go to Law School. Well, at the end of about nine months I was not famous, I’d run out of all my money and it was at that point that I would be a singer if it killed me.” However, Anderson, although driven by the challenge to prove herself to the opera world, soon realized that achieving success would not come to fruition so easily as it had in her childhood. “As a youngsterand a teenager, studying privately, everything had been easy and I was always being told I was wonderful. All of a sudden, nobody thought I was wonderful any more. So I thought, ’Damn it, I’ll show them; I’ll prove to them that I am!’”
Eventually, Anderson’s determination paid off, and she made her professional debut with the New York City Opera in The Magic Flute in 1978, followed by her European debut in Rossini’s Semiramide at the Rome Opera in 1982. Since the time of her debut in New York, Anderson went on to appear in every major opera house across Europe and the United States. Some of her stage appearances include performances with the opera companies of Vienna, Paris, Hambourg, Madrid, Florence, Geneva, La Scala, the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, Venice, Rome, Bologna, Metropolitan Opera (New York), Chicago, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. And Anderson has collaborated with some of the most notable conductors, such as Leonard Bernstein, James Colon, Charles Dutoit, Daniele Gatti, James Levine, and many others.
By the 1990s, Anderson’s extensive operatic repertory spoke for itself; she had mastered nearly 50 roles in various operas, from Mozart to Puccini. One of her most celebrated, as well as most challenging, performances arose from singing the lead (Norma) in Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma, an opera known for its emotionally intense range of both music and drama. Following the premiere of Norma at the Lyric Opera in Chicago on February 6, 1997, Chicago Tribune reviewer John von Rhein wrote that the soprano’s “clear, bright upper range was at its clarion best” and “dramatically, Anderson was exceptional, drawing out all the conflicting emotions with an intensity tempered by dignity.” Anderson herself felt an affinity to the role also, as the told Baker, “Working on Norma has been the greatest experience of my life, because it’s the most extraordinary role. It’s hard to do anything after Norma, because everything else pales.” Moreover, Anderson’s success with Norma provided a much needed boost to her career, which had suffered after the 1992-93 season; during a series of shows for a production of Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor with the Metropolitan Opera, the director dropped Anderson from the title role and replaced her with another singer. Although some critics blamed Anderson’s less than perfect performances and ill temperament for her leaving the show, Anderson pointed to the director’s reinterpretation of the opera as the cause of her inability to grasp the role and thought that the Metropolitan production strayed too far from the original work. And in support of Anderson’s claim, a significant number of critics noted her performance as Lucia as one of her greatest accomplishments.
Upon the success of Norma, Anderson planned to tackle another demanding role in 1998, again with the Metropolitan Opera for a production of II Trovatore, an opera composed by Giuseppe Verdi. Anderson took the lead, playing Leonora, a role for which she won favorable reviews. Directors, such as Queler, expressed no doubt in Anderson’s ability to master Leonora, as she told Baker, “She is growing, maturing, and she always had the top notes…. For the top voice, which is very strong, there’s no challenge.” However, Anderson, although thrilled at the opportunity to return to the Metropolitan Opera, continued to prefer tackling her personal favorite, Norma. Leonora lacks what she called, as quoted by Baker, “the incredible double whammy of Norma,” meaning the music combined with the drama.
Throughout her professional career, Anderson remained truly independent in promoting her talent. She preferred to manage her own affairs and lacked exclusive recording contracts or any personal connections with opera companies or directors. Rather, she determined her own schedule and operatic direction. In addition, since the death of her former teacher, Anderson chose to coach herself, believing that most modern-day voice instructors fail to hand down valuable traditions and performance practices to their students. Anderson, who remains single and lives alone, keeps apartments in both Paris and New York City. Her hectic travel schedule, which takes her to cities around the globe, leaves her little time for leisure activities, and she admits to often feeling lonely, although not bored.
When Anderson does finds time away from preparing for her next role, she enjoys shopping, exercising, spending time with friends, and dining at a designer McDonalds restaurant in New York City for the french fries, one of her favorite foods. She also collects opera memorabilia, especially old musical manuscripts and paintings of famous opera singers, and considers herself an avid film buff, boasting an enormous video collection of classic Hollywood movies. “If I could have been anything in the world,” she told Baker, “I would have been a movie star in the thirties.” But with this dream not likely to come true for Anderson, she plans to continue to perfect her singing and add a new dimension to every role she undertakes. Undoubtedly, the gifted diva has achieved her desire to rise to the top of the opera world—by her own terms.
Operas (with others)
Rossini: Mose in Egitto (Anderson is Elcia), Philips, 1981.
Albinoni: II Nascimento dell’Aurora (Anderson is Dafne), Erato Num, 1983.
Rossini: Maometto (Anderson is Anna), Philips, 1983.
Thomas: Hamlet (Anderson is Ophelie), EMI, 1983.
Wagner: Die Feen (Anderson is Lora), Orfeo, 1983.
Adam: Le Postillion de Lonjumeau (Anderson is Madeleine), EMI, 1985.
Bizet: La Jolie Fille de Perth (Anderson is Catherine), EMI, 1985.
Meyerbeer: Robert le Diable (Anderson is Isabelle), Legendary, 1985.
Auber: La Muette de Portici (Anderson is Elvire), EMI, 1986.
Donizetti: La Fille du Regiment (Anderson is Marie), EMI CMS, 1986.
Halevy: La Juive (Anderson is Princess Eudoxie), Philips, 1986 and 1989.
Bernstein: Candide (Anderson is Cunegonde), Deutsche Grammophon, 1989.
Verdi: Rigoletto (Anderson is Gilda), London, 1989.
Massenet: Cherubin (Anderson is L’Ensoleillad), RCA, 1991.
Mozart: Die Zauberflote (Anderson is Queen of the Night), Telare, 1991.
Rossini: La Donna del Lago (Anderson is Elena), Philips, 1992.
Recitals and concerts
June Anderson Dal Vivo In Concerto, Bongiovanni, 1984.
Bellini Opera Arias, EMI, 1987.
Rossini —Soirees Musicales, Nimbus Records, 1987 and 1988.
June Anderson and Alfred Kraus Live from the Paris Opera, EMI, 1987.
French Opera Arias, EMI, 1989.
Rossini Scenes, London, 1991.
(with others) Orff: Carmena Burana, Deutsche Grammophon, 1984.
(with others) Beethoven: Symphonie Nr. 9 d-moll op. 125 —“Ode an die Freiheit,” Deutsche Grammophon, 1989.
Opera News, February 14, 1998, pp. 20-25, p. 48.
Time International, December 21, 1992, p. 52; May 31, 1993, p. 58; February 21, 1994, p. 48.
“An Hour with June Anderson,” http://members.iquest.net/-kpetrere/june.htm, (June 21, 1999).
June Anderson website, http://www3.sympatico.ca/balza/junecara.htm, (June 21, 1999).
“OperaWeb Singers: June Anderson,” http://www.opera.it/English/Cantanti/Anderson.html, (August 6, 1999).
An American opera singer, June Anderson (born 1953) specialized in roles from operas by Donizetti, Rossini, and Bellini that require bel canto singing, although she sang operas by many other composers.
June Anderson was born in 1953 in Boston and raised in Connecticut. When she was 11 she began taking voice lessons at her mother's urging. At the age of 14 she performed in her first opera, The Princess and the Pea by Ernst Toch. At the age of 17 she sang the part of Gilda in Rigoletto and, in the same year, was a finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Although she was the youngest singer to be named a finalist at these auditions, she decided not to continue training for a professional career and instead went to Yale University where she majored in French and graduated cum laude. She then challenged herself to become a well-known singer in two years, and if she failed to do so, to enter law school.
It was at this point that she began working with the vocal coach Robert Leonard, with whom she studied for many years. He was able to depend on her hard work and high standards to develop excellent breath control, which allowed the natural quality of her voice to project itself unhampered by lack of support. His approach was to build a great voice over time and not to rush the process of growth. Anderson agreed with this approach and frequently declined offers to sing roles that she felt were not suited to her vocal development even though they posed no technical difficulties for her. She worked hard to develop her voice, even though there were many discouraging moments, and as she said, " … without a touch of luck, hard work doesn't necessarily pay off." It did, however, and she became a member of the New York City Opera Company, with which she made her debut in 1978 as Queen of the Night in Mozart's Magic Flute.
There were many operas in which she sang while at the New York City Opera Company, including Le coq d'or by Rimsky-Korsakov, Rigoletto by Verdi, the role of Donna Elvira in Mozart's Don Giovanni, three different roles in LesContes d'Hoffmann by Offenbach, Il barbiere di Siviglia by Rossini, Giulio Cesare by Handel, La traviata by Verdi, and a concert version of I puritani by Bellini. Although she received good reviews from New York critics, she felt that she was not being given the roles she felt ready for. As she put it, "I sang very few performances and covered just about everything for other singers!"
It was through the recommendation of Sherrill Milnes that Anderson was brought to the attention of Giovanni Lupetin, an agent for European opera houses. He arranged for her to sing in several provincial houses, where she was heard by Italo Gomez, the manager of La Fenice in Venice. He was so impressed by her voice that he offered to mount a production of her choice. Without hesitation she chose La sonnambula by Bellini, which she felt "was written for me." Anderson also signed a contract with La Scala, the opera house in Milan, to perform La sonnambula and with the opera house in Rome to perform Semiramide by Rossini.
It was at this point that June Anderson decided to move to Italy as she perceived her career to be developing more rapidly abroad than at home. Once she had made her debut in the major houses of Italy (she was the first non-Italian to win the prestigious Bellini d'Oro prize), offers to record and to perform came from all over the world. She sang Die Feen by Wagner in Munich in 1983. Her strong lyric vocal quality meant that repertoire outside the difficult bel canto style was possible for her, but she selected her roles with care. She sang in Canada and on the West Coast in the same year, performing I puritani in Edmonton and Il barbiere di Siviglia in Seattle.
In 1984 she again sang Il barbiere di Siviglia, this time in New Orleans; then La sonnambula in Venice; La fille du regiment by Donizetti in Parma; Lucia di Lammermore, also by Donizetti, in Geneva. In 1985 she began to sing operas that were not in the standard repertoire. In Pittsburgh she sang Verdi's La battaglia di Legnano; in Paris, Meyerbeer's Robert le diable; she also sang two Handel operas, Samson in Chicago and Giulio Cesare in Washington, D.C.
Although her life was centered in Italy, Anderson was acclaimed internationally both for the quality of her singing and the intelligence and willingness to work for the sake of the music rather than for herself. As she put it, "I attack the music from the inside out."
The following year Anderson made her debut at Covent Garden where she sang Semiramide to critical praise. She returned in 1987 to sing Lucia in Lucia di Lammermore. Her desire to explore further the lesser known works of the bel canto composers led her to accept roles in Beatrice di Tenda by Bellini in Venice, Maometto II by Rossini for San Francisco, and Armida by Rossini at Aix-en-Provence. She did not confine herself totally to unusual operas, however. During the same period she sang two standard works by Verdi—La traviata in Santiago and Rigoletto for both Covent Garden and for her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1989.
Recordings and Concerts
Throughout her career Anderson recorded and gave concert performances of several operas. By her own admission, the difficulties she encountered in finding adequately staged productions of bel canto operas caused her to consider whether she should increase the number of her recordings and concerts, avoiding the frustrations of the stage and permitting her to exert more control over the final result. In 1983 she presented Albinoni's Il nasciemento dell' Aurora in Vicenza and in Venice in concert form. In the same year she filled in for Monserrat Caballe in a concert performance of Semiramide at Carnegie Hall. That performance was very widely acclaimed, but resulted in no significant new offers for roles in the United States and was a contributing factor in her decision to move abroad to further her career. She returned to Carnegie Hall many times singing Handel's Ariodante and Beatrice di Tenda and Berlioz' Nuits d'Ete. She sang Bernstein's Candide in concert in London and planned to record the work.
Her recordings followed the thrust of her career, including some of the lesser known operas of the early Romantic period. She also recorded some of the French repertoire, which endeared her to the French, so much so that she was asked to perform in July of 1989 at the opening concert of Paris' new Opera Bastille. The French operas she recorded include Bizet's La jolie fille de Perthe, Adam's Le postilion de longjumeau, Auber's La muette de portici, and Halevy's La juive. In addition, she recorded Rossini's Mose in Egito, Maometto II, Les soirees musicales, Il naciemento dell' Aurora, and, for variety, Carl Orff's Carmina burana (a 20th-century work based on medieval Latin texts) and Bernstein's Candide.
Anderson's vocal qualities were admired by many critics on both sides of the Atlantic, even when her dramatic skills were not. She was compared to Joan Sutherland, Jennie Tourel, and Nellie Melba. Peter G. Davis in New York magazine wrote that her singing "shows off the clarity, evenness and facility of an agile voice with an easy upper extension." Words such as "creamy," "lush," "brilliant," and "assured" have been used to describe her voice. In her own words, she was "a big lyric (soprano) with high notes and agility."
After establishing herself as a prima donna in the United States and in Europe, June Anderson finally reached a level of achievement that placed her among the top international opera singers. Her special affinity for and ability to perform bel canto roles gave her career a direction and focus that served her well. The operas that require bel canto singing are written in a highly ornamented style that emphasizes the agility of the singer. The style flourished in the early Romantic period in Europe, particularly in Italy from about 1811 to 1843. Many singers find the unusual technical demands of the repertoire, particularly the high range and the rapid runs and ornaments, to exceed their ability to perform it well.
Throughout the 1990s, Anderson performed many roles for the first time, including Elena of La Donna del Lago in Milan (1992), Maria in Mazeppa at Carnegie Hall (1993), Desdemona in Otello in Los Angeles (1995), Rosalinde inDie Fledermaus at the Metropolitan Opera (1995), Giovanna in Giovanna d'Arco in Barcelona and New York (1996), and Tatiana in Tokyo (1996). In 1997 Anderson assumed the role of Norma the Druid priestess for the first time at Chicago's Lyric Opera and received many good reviews. John von Rhein of the Chicago Tribune gave Anderson credit for "not only taking on such a tough role at this stage of a comfortably settled career but—amazingly—pulling it off so well" and asserted that her first playing of Norma "had to be reckoned a qualified success."
Anderson's talent was not narrowly confined, however. She appeared in many operas outside of the bel canto repertoire. Whatever period of music she sang, her performances were of exceptional quality.
Although some of her critics characterized her as tempermental and moody, her reaction to the impression that people are terrified of her is laughter. She described herself to Kathy Petrere of the New York Times in a 1995 interview as "Jell-O with chilies. A really distinct flavor, but in the end it's Jell-O." She admitted to being a perfectionist who "can't stand it" when she made mistakes. Anderson also defined what she deemed most important in life as "friendships," and noted, "If I never sang another note in my life [my friends] would still be there." As she commented in the same interview, "Singing is my job, it's not who I am."
Anderson has been reviewed frequently in magazines and articles. In the August 1986 issue of Opera News she appeared on the cover. In the New York Times on October 29, 1989, Walter Price wrote an article discussing her career and her debut at the Metropolitan Opera House. See also Chicago Tribune (February 7, 1997), New York Times (November 6, 1995; April 8, 1997), and Opera News (June 1997). Also see the June Anderson page online by Laurent Lacoquelle at http://pages.infinit.net/balza/junea.hmt. □
Anderson, June, admired American soprano; b. Boston, Dec. 30, 1952. She received singing lessons as a child and at age 14 made her first appearance in opera in a production of Toch’s Die Prinzessin aufder Erbse. In 1970 she was the youngest finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Auditions. After taking her B.A. in French literature at Yale Univ. in 1974, she pursued vocal training in N.Y. with Robert Leonard. In 1976 she attracted favorable notice as soloist in Mozart’s Mass in C minor, K.427, with the N.Y. Choral Soc, and then sang at the Chicago Lyric Opera in 1977. On Oct. 26, 1978, she made her debut at the N.Y.C. Opera as the Queen of the Night, and continued to appear there until 1982 when she made her European debut as Semiramide in Rome. In 1983 she scored a major success in N.Y. when she sang Semiramide in a concert performance at Carnegie Hall. In 1984 she was tapped to sing the soundtrack for the Queen of the Night for the film version of Amadeus. She made her first appearance at the Paris Opéra as Isabelle in Robert le diable in 1985; in 1986 she won accolades at her debut at Milan’s La Scala as Amina, and later that year sang for the first time at London’s Covent Garden as Lucia. In 1988 she appeared with the Opera Orch. of N.Y. as Beatrice di Tenda with fine success. On Nov. 30, 1989, she made her Metropolitan Opera debut in N.Y. as Gilda to critical acclaim. Her debut at N.Y.’s Carnegie Hall followed on Dec. 12, 1991. In 1992 she sang Lucia at the Metropolitan Opera. In 1993 she was heard as Bellini’s Elvira at the San Francisco Opera. In 1996 she appeared as Giovanna d’Arco at Covent Garden, and in 1997 as Norma in Chicago. She also was active as a concert singer.
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire