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Master Class with Legendary Opera Singer Reri Grist ’54


Reri Grist, '54, had a notable operatic career as one of the most sparkling, delightful, and lovable sopranos on stage, particularly in soubrette parts. As a concert artist she had an unusually wide repertory. Her voice was routinely described as "silvery" and was very flexible and accurate.

She was an entertainer as a child, singing and dancing in Broadway musicals. She received solid voice training from Claire Gelda while she was still continuing her theater work. She sang in Carmen Jones (Oscar Hammerstein's adaptation of Bizet's Carmen set in an African-American cultural milieu), and created the role of Consuela in the original production of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim's classic, West Side Story.

Bernstein engaged her to sing the soprano part in the final movement of Mahler's Fourth Symphony in his Columbia recording, one of the classic early stereo recordings of the work, and she sang it on a national CBS broadcast in the "Who was Gustav Mahler?" program of Bernstein's Young People's Concerts series, a program that was the introduction to this great composer for millions.
Her opera debut was with the Santa Fé Opera in 1959. She sang Adele in Die Fledermaus and Blonde in Die Entführung as dem Serail on tour with Santa Fé Opera, and was soon invited to join the roster of the Cologne Opera. In 1960, she made her European debut there as the Queen of the Night in Mozart's The Magic Flute.

In 1961 she also received a contract from the Zürich Opera, appearing for the first time as Zerbinetta in Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos, a role seemingly tailor-made for her kind of vocal sparkle and flirtatious stage presence. She remained in the Zürich Opera company from 1961 to 1964.

She debuted at Covent Garden in Rimsky-Korsakov's The Golden Cockerel, chose Zerbinetta for a hit debut at the Vienna State Opera in 1963, becoming a member of the august company in 1964. She was one of the hits of the Salzburg Festival of 1965 when she sang two of the leading Mozart soubrette roles (Blonde and Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro) and, once again, Zerbinetta.

Her 1966 debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York was as Rosina (in its soprano version) in Rossini's Barber of Seville. Notable additional opera roles have been Despina in Così fan tutte (1972 at the Salzburg Festival) and Adina in L'elisir d'amore (1973 in the Vienna Festival), Oscar in Un ballo in maschera, Gilda in Rigoletto, Zerlina in Don Giovanni (which she recorded under Karl Böhm), and Iphis in Handel's Jephtha. In 1970, she became a member of the Munich State Opera. As a concert singer she sang repertory from the Baroque to Alban Berg and Anton Webern.

She is married to the noted musicologist Ulf Thompson and makes her home with him in Berlin, where she teaches. She has also taught at the Steans Institute at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, and until 1997 at the Munich Conservatory of Music.

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