Carmen Balthrop, soprano known for her role in Joplin’s opera, dies at 73

Opera music


Soprano Carmen Balthrop made her Metropolitan Opera debut on April 6, 1977. Thirteen days later, she made a completely different debut in a US Senate courtroom.

On that day, Ms Balthrop, still at the start of a career that would take her to opera and concert stages around the world, was one of many to testify at a meeting of an under -Senate Committee on Appropriations in Support of Arts Funding.

It was a dismal and under-attended meeting, with Oregon Republican Senator Mark O. Hatfield and the subcommittee chair the only panel member present. Sad, that is, until Senator Hatfield, skeptical of the funding request, disputes Ms Balthrop’s claim that opera singers were disciplined and hardworking.

“He said, ‘Come on, are you really that disciplined?’ She told Knight-Ridder afterwards. “And he said he would like to hear some of the results. I said, ‘Why, sure.’ “

She stood up and sang “Signore, ascolta” from “Turandot” by Puccini.

“He was thrilled and declared a break,” she said, “and later we got the money.”

Ms Balthrop, a well-known black star when opera was still in the early stages of its efforts to branch out, died on September 5 at her home in Mitchellville, Md. She was 73 years old.

Her husband, Patrick A. Delaney, said the cause was cancer.

Two years before this impromptu performance in the Senate, Ms. Balthrop’s career took off after wowing audiences at the Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions in April 1975, winning the competition. During the final, she sang this same excerpt from “Turandot”, as well as “Che sento? Dio! Handel’s “Julius Caesar” performances which had been broadcast live on national public radio.

“The announcement of Miss Balthrop’s victory drew cheers from the public, who clearly approved of her singing,” The New York Times reported.

Later that year, she landed perhaps her most important role, the main character in “Treemonisha”, Scott Joplin’s folk opera about an 18-year-old black girl trying to lead her people to a life. better. The opera, written before World War I, was not produced during Joplin’s lifetime, but in 1972 a version of it was staged in Atlanta, and three years later the Houston Grand Opera was staged in Atlanta. set up a production with Ms. Balthrop in mind.

The opera has been performed in Houston seven times as part of a free opera series, with thousands of attendees. During the final performance, the final of the opera, “A real slow trail”, has been picked up three times for the enthusiastic crowd.

This production moved to Broadway. At the time, Elizabeth McCann was Managing Director of Nederlander Productions, which brought the show to New York. (Ms McCann died this month.) She told The Times that Ms Balthrop, then 27, ability to portray a teenage girl was largely the reason.

“Carmen Balthrop, who is playing the title role, is just amazing,” she said. “The role needs an enchanting, innocent girl with strength. How often do you get a suit like this?”

Carmen Arlene Balthrop was born on May 14, 1948 in Washington. Her father, John, worked at the Department of Justice printing press and her mother, Clementine (Jordan) Balthrop, was a housewife.

As Ms. Balthrop has often related, she set her career goal at the age of 8. His father had a hobby: in the basement of the family home, he tinkered with radios and televisions. She had a Saturday assignment: cleaning the house while her mother went to the market.

“One Saturday, I was running the vacuum cleaner and I turned it off because I heard something very unusual coming from the basement,” where his father was testing a radio and speakers, he said. she declared. “The Opera Diva series”, a web interview program, in 2011.

“I went to the top of the stairs and called,” she recalls. “I said, ‘Daddy, what is this?’ He said, ‘This is opera.

More precisely, it was the voice of Leontyne Price, the revolutionary black soprano.

“Something woke up in me,” Ms. Balthrop said, “and from that point on I started trying to recreate that sound myself.”

She graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School in Washington in 1967 and received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland in 1971. The following year, she received a master’s degree in music from the Catholic University of America.

Her Met debut in 1977 was in “Die Zauberflöte”, in which she sang the role of Pamina. She has performed with many other opera and symphonies companies, including the Washington Opera, the Deutsche Oper in Berlin and the Opera Columbus in Ohio, where in 1999 she performed the title role in the world premiere of ” Vanqui “, an opera about the journeys of the souls of two slaves composed by Leslie Burrs and with a libretto by John A. Williams.

Ms. Balthrop began a teaching career at the University of Maryland in 1985. She has also held administrative positions there, including coordinator of the voice and opera division.

A marriage to Dorceal Duckens ended in divorce. Besides Mr. Delaney, whom she married in 1985, Ms. Balthrop is survived by a daughter from her first marriage, Nicole Mosley; his daughter with Mr. Delaney, Camille Delaney-McNeil; and three grandchildren.

In a blog entry On the University of Maryland website, Ms Balthrop wrote that she was surprised by Ms Price, who unexpectedly showed up at a rehearsal as Ms Balthrop prepared to perform in San Francisco .

“There was no one in the lobby,” she wrote of their meeting. “I stood there with the voice that inspired me to sing. Every time I think about it, I feel good, because I don’t think people meet their idols very often.