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May 4: Roberta Peters

May 3, 2015

roberta-peters-06Metropolitan Opera star Roberta Peters (Peterman), who had the longest tenure of any soprano at the Met and also made a record sixty-five appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, was born in New York on this date in 1930. At 13, she was urged by Jan Peerce to train as a singer; by 19, she was managed by Sol Hurok and signed to a Met contract by Rudolf Bing. Peters was a key popularizer of opera through her many appearances on radio and television and in large concert settings outside the opera house. She has also had an illustrious recording career, and sang for every president since John F. Kennedy. In 1998, Peters was awarded the National Medal of Arts. “Although she received no formal Jewish education,” writes Marsha Bryan Edelman at the Jewish Women’s Archive, “she learned to speak Yiddish as a child from her grandmother, who spent most of the year living with the Peterman family while her husband served as maitre d’ at Grossinger’s Hotel in the Catskill Mountains, and with whom the young Roberta attended an Orthodox synagogue. Yiddish folk songs have always been an integral part of Peters’ many performances for synagogue audiences and other Jewish groups.” To see a “best of Roberta Peters” montage, look below.

“Normal childhood education ceased at 13, and she was thrown into a breathless round of voice lessons, piano, ballet and language tutoring. Miss Peters admits to having not even a high school diploma but credits her early training to her longevity on stage. ‘Higher voices like mine develop earlier,’ she said, ‘and I had a wonderful teacher named William Herman. He gave me the technique and taught me the ability to maintain and hold on to it. One of the things he had me sing was the Klose clarinet studies which require a sense of movement and agility.’ Miss Peters says she is doing the same exercises, almost daily, that she did as a child.” —Bernard Holland, The New York Times