Maria Ewing

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Maria Ewing
Maria Louise Ewing - Finney HS - 1968.jpg
Ewing in 1968
Born(1950-03-27)March 27, 1950
DiedJanuary 9, 2022(2022-01-09) (aged 71)
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Alma materCleveland Institute of Music
OccupationOpera singer
(m. 1982; div. 1990)
ChildrenRebecca Hall
RelativesBazabeel Norman (great-great-great grandfather)

Maria Louise Ewing (March 27, 1950 – January 9, 2022) was an American opera singer. In the first half of her career she performed as a lyric mezzo-soprano, but she later assumed full soprano parts. Her signature roles were Blanche, Carmen, Dorabella, Rosina and Salome. She was regarded as one of the most compelling singing actresses of her generation.

Early life and education

Maria Louise Ewing was born in Detroit, Michigan, on March 27, 1950. She was the youngest of four daughters of Hermina Maria (Veraar) Ewing, born in the Netherlands, a homemaker, and Norman Isaac Ewing, an electrical engineer at a steel company. Her father purported to be of Sioux descent, but an episode of the genealogical television show Finding Your Roots established that he had no Native American DNA but was in truth the son of mixed-race African-American parents; his grandfather, John William Ewing, born into slavery, was a prominent figure in the African-American community of Washington DC, and his great-great-grandfather, Bazabeel Norman, was a free African-American veteran of the American Revolutionary War. He was aware of his African roots, but deeply anxious about them—a conspicuously dark-skinned aunt was forbidden from visiting his home during the hours of daylight. Ewing, by contrast, regarded her diverse ethnic composition not with embarrassment but with pride.

Ewing was educated at Detroit's Jared W. Finney High School, although according to her husband, her photographic memory enabled her to learn more autodidactically than from her teachers. Her musical life began with piano lessons; that she might become a singer was not something that occurred to her until she was in her late teens. After graduating in 1968, she went to Michigan's Meadow Brook Music Festival to audition for the part of Maddalena in a production of Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto, and—despite having had no help in her preparation—made a very favorable impression on the young James Levine. He found her strikingly expressive, and told her that if she worked hard, she had the potential to become a great artist. She later studied with Eleanor Steber at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and subsequently with Jennie Tourel and O. G. Marzolla.


Ewing's professional debut was at the Ravinia Festival in 1973. Her operatic repertoire included Mercédès in Georges Bizet's Carmen (San Francisco Opera, 1973); Sicle in Francesco Cavalli's Ormindo (San Francisco Opera, 1974); Dorabella in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Così fan tutte (Santa Fe Opera, 1975; Glyndebourne Festival Opera, 1978; Metropolitan Opera, 1982); La Périchole in Jacques Offenbach's La Périchole (San Francisco Opera, 1976; Geneva Opera, 1982 and 1983); Cherubino in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro (Salzburg 1976, 1979 and 1980; Metropolitan Opera, 1976 and 1977); Rosina in Gioachino Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia (Houston Grand Opera, 1976 and 1983; Glyndebourne Festival Opera, 1981 and 1982; Metropolitan Opera, 1982); Blanche in Francis Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites (Metropolitan Opera, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1987); Idamante in Mozart's Idomeneo (San Francisco Opera, 1977); Mélisande in Claude Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande (La Scala, 1977; San Franciso Opera, 1979); Charlotte in Jules Massenet's Werther (San Francisco Opera, 1978); Angelina in Rossini's La Cenerentola (Houston Grand Opera, 1979; Geneva Opera, 1981); Zerlina in Mozart's Don Giovanni (Geneva Opera, 1980; Metropolitan Opera, 1984); the Composer in Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos (Glyndebourne Festival Opera, 1981; Metropolitan Opera, 1984 and 1985); Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro (Geneva Opera, 1983; Lyric Opera of Chicago, 1987); Poppea in Claudio Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea (Glyndebourne Festival Opera, 1984 and 1986); Carmen in Carmen (Glyndebourne Festival Opera, 1985 and 1987; Metropolitan Opera, 1986; Royal Opera House, 1991); Salome in Richard Strauss's Salome (Los Angeles Opera, 1986; Royal Opera House, 1988; Lyric Opera of Chicago, 1988; San Francisco Opera, 1993); Hanna Glawari in Franz Lehár's Die lustige Witwe (Lyric Opera of Chicago, 1986 and 1987); Tosca in Giacomo Puccini's Tosca (Royal Opera House, 1991); Cio-Cio-san in Puccini's Madama Butterfly (Los Angeles Opera, 1991); Dido in Hector Berlioz's Les Troyens (Metropolitan Opera, 1993 and 1994); Katerina Ismailova in Dmitri Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (Metropolitan Opera, 1994); Dido in Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas (Hampton Court, 1995); Marie in Alban Berg's Wozzeck (Metropolitan Opera, 1997); Fedora in Umberto Giordano's Fedora (Los Angeles Opera, 1997); and the Queen of the Fairies in Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe (Gielgud Theatre, London, 2008).

Although primarily a theatrical artist, Ewing performed as a concert singer and recitalist too. Among the orchestral works that she sang were Berg's Sieben Frühe Lieder, Berlioz's La damnation de Faust, Mozart's Great Mass in C minor, Maurice Ravel's Shéhérazade and Verdi's Quattro pezzi sacri.

Ewing made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1976 as Cherubino in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. She was particularly well known for her portrayal of Salome. Oscar Wilde's stage directions for the play from which the opera's libretto was adapted specify that, at the end of the Dance of the Seven Veils, Salome lies naked at Herod's feet: Ewing appeared nude at the end of this sequence, in contrast to other singers who have used body stockings.

Ewing's starring performance in the Metropolitan Opera's 1987 production of Dialogues of the Carmelites was recorded and made available as a stream.

Ewing also sang jazz in live performance, including with the band Kymaera at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in London.

Personal life

In 1982, Ewing married the English theatre director Sir Peter Hall; during her marriage she was formally styled Lady Hall. The couple divorced in 1990. Their daughter is the actress Rebecca Hall. In 2003, Ewing lived in Sussex, England. She died of cancer at her residence near Detroit on January 9, 2022, at the age of 71.




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