The greatest "Carmen" and "Delilah" of her generation, and beloved for her operetta and "American Songbook" recordings as well, Rise Stevens (first name pronounced Ree-seh) passed on, March 20th…less than three months shy of June 11th, what would've been her 100th birthday.
As you'd expect from an expert in femme fatale roles, Rise (born Rise Steenberg, father Norwegian, mother Jewish) had a tough beauty. On some album covers, she was so striking that even somebody flipping through the used records looking for pop or country might stop for a moment and think, "Gabba gabba hey…." Which is frankly part of the reason why mezzo-soprano Rise became one of my favorite opera singers. Nice that it turned out she could sing. In the opera world, there tended to be the homely ones with great voices, and the hotties who didn't record much but had packed houses as long as they performed mad scenes or topless scenes (Carol Neblett, everyone!). Probably the best balance between beauty and singing ability was achieved by my other favorite opera singer, soprano Victoria de los Angeles.
Like Beverly Sills a generation later, Rise Stevens (she was married to Mr. Stevens for over 50 years) was a popular opera star, the "go-to" performer when a variety show needed some culture. On both radio and TV, she not only performed classic arias, but show tunes, light opera, and in the samples below, "Ave Maria," the type of popular song often best rendered by a trained classical vocalist. Ms. Stevens lived in Manhattan and was very active in the worlds of culture and music almost to the end. You can even find an interview with her on YouTube, done only a year or two before she passed on.
Rise and Shine On, You Delightful Diamond…
RISE STEVENS AVE MARIA Television Soundtrack 1951
RISE STEVENS AVE MARIA Radio Performance 1954