Opinion

Margaret Tynes, Soprano Who Soared in Verdi and Strauss, Dies at 104

Margaret Tynes, an American soprano who was acclaimed in Europe but neglected in the United States at a time when Black singers were newly breaking into the operatic world, died on March 7 in Silver Spring, Md. She was 104.

The death was confirmed by her nephew Richard Roberts, who said Ms. Tynes died in a nursing home.

In the 1960s and ’70s Ms. Tynes, with her incendiary, full-throated voice, in roles like Aida and Salomé, sang at opera houses in Vienna, Prague and Budapest, earning high praise on the continent — “an exceptional voice, intense in every coloring, vibrant and dramatic,” Milan’s Corriere della Sera newspaper wrote — even while U.S. critics were cooler. The Süddeutsche Zeitung of Munich wrote of her performance in Benjamin Britten’s “The War Requiem” that “What Britten expects of a woman’s voice can only be achieved by a singer of Margaret Tynes’s caliber.”

But she did not make her Metropolitan Opera debut until 1974, when she was 55, in a run of three performances as the title role in Janacek’s “Jenufa” that began and ended her career there.

Ms. Tynes, right, in 1957 with Joya Sherrill and Duke Ellington when they recorded “A Drum Is a Woman,” for which Ms. Tynes gained a measure of American fame.Credit…Everette Collection

Ms. Tynes grew up in the segregated South and gained a measure of American fame in the 1950s, recording “A Drum Is a Woman” with Duke Ellington, singing heartfelt renditions of “Negro Spirituals” on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and appearing with Harry Belafonte in the musical “Sing, Man, Sing.” She also sang at the funeral of the musician W.C. Handy and toured the U.S.S.R. with Mr. Sullivan’s show in 1958.

Her breakthrough in opera, the genre that defined her career, came in Europe in 1961, when she sang Salomé in Luchino Visconti’s production at the Spoleto Festival in Italy. Time magazine described her as “moving about the stage with catlike grace, her rich, ringing voice zooming with ease through the high, precarious lines,” and as a “girl with veins of fire.”

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