Carol Neblett, one of the most glamorous American sopranos of her generation, has died at the age of 71. Born in Modesto, California on February 1, 1946, she made her operatic debut with New York City Opera in 1969 as Musetta. She went on to perform over 25 leading roles with the company over the next five years, with triumphs in Boito’s Mefistofele and Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt, the latter which she recorded with Erich Leinsdorf to great acclaim.
Carol Neblett as Manon Lescaut.
Though her instrument was essentially a lyric one, the role she was perhaps most identified with was the titular girl in La Fanciulla del West. Her Minnie was feminine and warm, more Italian donna than American tomboy – and audiences lapped it up. Her most famous Dick Johnson was Plácido Domingo, both onstage (most memorably as part of Queen Elizabeth’s 25th Jubilee Celebration at Covent Garden) and in the recording studio. Their account under Zubin Mehta with a tough-as-nails Sherrill Milnes as Jack Rance remains the gold standard. Puccini’s ultimate diva role, Tosca, also became one of her signature roles: she made her Lyric Opera of Chicago debut in 1976 in the role opposite Luciano Pavarotti, and would sing it more than 400 times.
Neblett made her Metropolitan Opera debut shortly afterwards in 1979 as Senta in Jean-Pierre Ponelle’s production of Der fliegende Holländer, conducted by James Levine. She sang with the Met until 1993, in operas such as La Bohème, Un ballo in maschera, Don Giovanni, Manon Lescaut, and Falstaff. Throughout the world’s major houses, Neblett sang more than 85 leading roles and more than 100 oratorio and symphonic works. She also appeared on television a number of times, most notably on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
Before her death, she was artist in residence and a vocal teacher at Chapman University in Southern California.