Farrell, Eileen (1920—)

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Farrell, Eileen (1920—)

American soprano. Born on February 13, 1920, in Willimantic, Connecticut; daughter of Michael John Farrell and Catherine (Kennedy) Farrell (erstwhile vaudeville performers, known as "The Singing O'Farrells," and music teachers); studied with Merle Alcock and Eleanor McLellan; married Robert V. Reagan, in 1946; children: Robert V. Reagan; Kathleen Reagan .

Made debut as singer on CBS (1941); sang with the San Carlo Opera in Tampa, Florida (1956); made San Francisco debut in Il Trovatore (1957); made Metropolitan Opera debut (1960); was Distinguished Professor of Music at Indiana University's School of Music (1971–80); was Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of Maine (1984).

As the daughter of ex-vaudeville performers ("The Singing O'Farrells") turned music teachers, Eileen Farrell received musical training at an early age, especially from her mother Catherine Kennedy Farrell . After graduating from high school in 1939, Eileen enrolled in art school, but her passion for music eventually led her to New York, where she began vocal instruction with the former Metropolitan Opera contralto Merle Alcock , who remained her vocal coach until 1944. After failing an audition for the "Major Bowes' Original Amateur Hour," in 1940, she successfully auditioned for the CBS radio choruses and ensembles. Her impression of the renowned soprano Rosa Ponselle on a "March of Time" broadcast eventually led to her own weekly half-hour show, "Eileen Farrell Sings," which lasted for six years.

In 1944, Farrell began studying under Eleanor McLellan , to whom she attributed much of her success. She transferred to concert work in 1947, making her first extensive U.S. tour during the 1947–48 season and performing in South America two years later. During the 1950–51 season, Farrell made 61 appearances with the New York Philharmonic, establishing a record and beginning a long association with that organization. She remained on the concert circuit for a number of years, also making recordings and guest appearances on popular television shows. In 1955, Farrell sang the role of Medea in a concert performance of the Italian opera on the stage of New York's Town Hall. She subsequently added several additional operatic roles to her repertoire, although her official debut as a member of a major operatic company did not occur until 1957, when she performed in Il Trovatore with the San Francisco Opera. On November 9, 1959, Farrell again performed IlTrovatore, with the Richmond Opera Company of Staten Island, where she also made her home. Her neighbors cheered, and Ross Parmenter of The New York Times (November 10, 1959) observed: "She was a handsome, appealing, dignified and natural figure on the stage, and she did the greatest part of her acting in the place where it counted most—her voice."

Farrell initiated her professional career in Europe in 1959, with a performance at Gian-Carlo Menotti's Festival of Two Worlds (Spoleto, Italy), where she gave a recital of French and German art songs, and also sang in Verdi's Requiem. One exacting Italian critic observed: "We find ourselves witnessing a miracle." Her long-overdue debut with the Metropolitan Opera occurred in December 1960, some 15 years after Edward Johnson, the managing director, had invited her to sing. Her performance in Gluck's Alcestis firmly established her as one of America's leading dramatic sopranos, although critics found the overall production disappointing, and a few noted that she had some strain in her upper register. Her recordings, which embraced an eclectic variety of music from opera to the blues, added to her popularity. In 1960, Columbia released three separate Farrell recordings: Puccini arias, French and German art songs, and American popular songs.

Eileen Farrell married a policeman in 1946 and had two children. Choosing to put family concerns before her career development, she explored other media for public performance. Radio and recording better suited her personal needs. Later, she combined singing with teaching, serving as a distinguished professor of music at Indiana University (1971–80) and the University of Maine (1984).

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Farrell, Eileen (1920—)

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