RYE, N.Y. – Roberta Peters, the coloratura soprano who was known to opera fans as “The American Nightingale,” died Wednesday, Jan. 18, in her home in Rye after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. She was 86.
Peters was a 35-year veteran of the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York, said to be the longest such association between any singer and an opera company.
A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, Peters chalked up more than 500 performances, according to her obituary in The New York Times.
Among her most popular roles were: the Queen of the Night in “The Magic Flute,” and Rosina in “The Barber of Seville,” The New York Times said.
Peters was born Roberta Peterman in the Bronx to a milliner (hat maker) and a shoe salesman, according to her Wikipedia bio.
Peters started studying music at 13 and, after six years of training, she was taken under the wing of impresario Sol Hurok.
She snagged her first gig at the Met, and was set to sing in 1951 but ended up making her professional debut a teeny bit earlier than expected.
Sans rehearsal, Peters suddenly had to step in as Zerlina in “Don Giovanni” when another singer got sick, The New York Times report said.
John F. Kennedy was the first president to invite Peters to sing at the White House. She went on to perform there for every president since, according to Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians.
President George H.W. Bush appointed her to the National Council on the Arts in 1991, and in 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded her the National Medal of Arts.
She held numerous honorary doctorates from Elmira, Ithaca, Westminster, Colby and New Rochelle Colleges, Lehigh and St. John's Universities and the University of Rhode Island.
Peters’s voice and good looks soon made her a favorite of American audiences.
She also was a great believer in bringing the arts to the masses, her Wikipedia bio said.
She also performed with the Cincinnati Opera and sang at the Royal Opera House in London, the Salzburg Festivals and at the Vienna State Opera.
Later, Peters gained a television audience as well after appearing on The Voice of Firestone and The Tonight Show. She also did a turn or two – actually 65, on The Ed Sullivan Show.
She also was a recitalist and appeared in concert halls all around the country, including Lewisohn Stadium in New York.
In her later years, Peters performed in operettas and musical theater.
She never officially retired and continued singing throughout her life.
She was divorced from her first husband, the baritone Robert Merrill, in 1952. She married Bertram Fields three years later. The couple had two sons, Bruce and Paul.
Fields died in 2010.
The couple also had four grandchildren: Julie, Jessica, Remy and Noah.