Opera Pioneer Gloria Davy Dies

Louis Mélançon/Metropolitan Opera Archives (via the New York Times)

Gloria Davy, the first African American to perform Aida with the Metropolitan Opera, died on Nov. 28 in Geneva. Her New York Times obituary chronicles a career during which she was only the fourth African American to perform at the venue, taking on the role of Aida, an Ethiopian princess who had, until that point, been played by white singers in dark makeup. Davy was 81 years old.

Her death, after a long illness, was confirmed by the soprano Martina Arroyo, a longtime friend.

A lirico-spinto (the term denotes a high voice that is darker and more forceful than a lyric soprano's), Ms. Davy performed mainly in Europe from the 1960s onward. She was equally, if not better, known as a recitalist.

In particular, she was an interpreter of 20th-century music, including the work of Richard Strauss, Benjamin Britten and Paul Hindemith.

Though she was praised by critics for the beauty of her voice, the sensitivity of her musicianship and the perfection of her pianissimos — the elusive art of attaining maximum audibility at minimum volume — Ms. Davy sang with the Met just 15 times over four seasons, from her debut in the title role of Verdi's "Aida," opposite Leonard Warren, in 1958 to her final performance, as Leonora in Verdi's "Trovatore," opposite Giulio Gari, in 1961. She also sang Pamina in Mozart's "Magic Flute" and Nedda in Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci" with the company. In concert, she appeared with the New York Philharmonic and at Carnegie Hall and Town Hall in New York.

The daughter of parents who had come to the United States from St. Vincent, in the Windward Islands, Gloria Davy was born on March 29, 1931. Her father, according to a 1959 article about her in Ebony magazine, worked as a token clerk in the New York City subway system.


Read more at the New York Times.

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