Sanderson, Sybil (1865–1903)

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Sanderson, Sybil (1865–1903)

American soprano. Name variations: debuted under name Ada Palmer. Born Sybil Swift Sanderson on December 7, 1865, in Sacramento, California; died of pneumonia on May 15, 1903, in Paris, France; eldest of four daughters of Margaret Beatty (Ormsby) Sanderson and Silas Woodruff Sanderson (a California state legislator, justice of the state supreme court, and later chief counsel for the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads); educated by governesses and at private schools; studied with Jean-Baptiste Sbriglia and Mathilde Marchesi at Paris Conservatory, and with Jules Massenet; married Antonio Terry (a Cuban millionaire), on December 1, 1897 (died December 1898); children: daughter (died in infancy).

Made debut at The Hague (1888); created the role of Esclarmonde at Opéra-Comique (1889); debuted at Paris Opéra (1894), and Metropolitan Opera (1895).

American-born Sybil Sanderson, whose name is linked with Jules Massenet's operas, is a mystery in the opera world. After Sanderson's debut in Manon at The Hague, Massenet considered her the ideal interpreter of the work. Afterwards, he wrote both Esclarmonde and Thaïs specifically for Sanderson. She also created Saint-Saëns' Phryné. It could be that Massenet was infatuated with the beautiful singer, but he also may have been captivated by her ravishing voice and theatrical instinct. Her success in Paris was enormous. She fared less well, however, in her debut at the Met; critics felt her voice was not "of a kind to be associated with serious opera." Earlier appearances at Covent Garden had produced a similar result. It could be that her voice simply did not fill larger houses. Whatever the reason, Sanderson's career withered at the turn of the century. She married in 1897 and gave birth in 1898, but her husband died that same year and her daughter soon after. Her health undermined, Sanderson contracted influenza and died of complications of the disease in 1903, at age 37. She left no recordings.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia