Adelle Addison, one of Opera's best


Adelle Addison
Date: 
Fri, 1925-07-24

*Adelle Addison was born on this date in 1925. She is an African American concert soprano.

From New York City, her early education took place in Springfield, MA. Addison graduated from Westminster Choir College in 1946, and attended Princeton, and the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood. She also took lessons with Povla Frijsh. She made her professional recital debut in Boston, in 1948 while still a student at Princeton. Following graduation she moved to New York City to pursue a career as a classical soprano. Of her 1952 New York City recital debut The New York Times wrote, "The recital season reached a high point last night when Adele Addison, soprano from Springfield, Massachusetts, made her debut in Town Hall."

Following her New York debut, she continued to study voice at the Juilliard School with Beverley Peck Johnson and with Povla Frijsh. In 1955 she made her New York City Opera debut as Mimi in Puccini's La bohème. The New York Post said the following of her debut, "Adele Addison is about the most appealing interpreter of the little Parisian seamstress yet to appear on the City Center stage. Small, frail looking, and pretty, Miss Addison enhanced these assets by acting and singing with moving poignancy and sincerity." That same year, Addison was invited by Aaron Copland to perform the world premiere of his Dirge In Woods at a concert sponsored by the League of Composers. Although Addison was offered more opera roles with several companies, she did not appear in many more opera productions as she preferred to sing in recital and on the concert stage. She did appear in a few more productions with the New York City Opera, the Philadelphia Lyric Opera Company, and the New England Opera Theatre. In 1958, Addison married Norman Berger, a senior research scientist and clinical professor of Prosthetics-Orthotics education in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at New York University. Berger died in 2005 after forty-seven years of marriage.

In 1959, Addison sang the role of Bess in the film version of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. The role was initially supposed to be sung by Urylee Leonardos, but apparently Leonardos' voice sounded too shrill when recorded so they replaced her with Addison at the last minute. Addison made numerous appearances with major orchestras, such as the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, and the Cleveland Orchestra. In 1959 she was chosen by Leonard Bernstein as the soprano soloist in the American premiere of Francis Poulenc's Gloria. She became a favorite of Bernstein and the two collaborated frequently, including on a number of recordings. In 1961 he invited her to sing the soprano solos in the world premiere of Lukas Foss' Time Cycle' with the New York Philharmonic. She performed the work again later that year with Izler Solomon and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. She also sang under Bernstein for the opening of Lincoln Center's Philharmonic Hall.

Towards the late 1960s, Addison's performing career began to slow down as she focused more on teaching. Although retired now, she taught voice on the collegiate level for more than thirty five years. The University of Massachusetts awarded Addison an honorary doctorate in 1963. In a 1996 Opera News interview she said, "Today, young singers are almost forced to make a choice, because they are counseled that becoming established in opera is the way to make a career in music. I never had to make a choice. I loved the song repertoire from the start, and as I began to sing, for even the smallest ladies' clubs, etc., those inviting me expected and accepted that. Even as the years passed, and I sang all the rest of the repertoire opera, oratorio, chamber music, etc. the first love remained. My curiosity, joy and love for song never changed. It still has not."

She has been a voice teacher for SUNY at Stony Brook, Eastman School of Music and Aspen Music Festival and School. For many years, she was also on the faculty, serving for a time as Chair, of the Voice Department at the Manhattan School of Music, which awarded her an honorary doctorate in 2001. Many of her students, such as Dawn Upshaw, have gone on to have successful careers. Addison once said, "What I try to pass on to my own students at the Manhattan School of Music is to make them aware of their own abilities, to know how much they need to know in order to be a singing musician."

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Addison, Adelle