• Born 1952
Often appears with
By dint of exceptional vocal talent and conscientious musicianship, Carol Vaness has risen through the ranks of her contemporaries to become one of the pre-eminent spinto sopranos of the day. With a warm, rounded vocal timbre, a vibrato that pulses with excitement, thrilling top notes, and a generous measure of self-discipline, she commands a broad swath of the repertory. When doors seemed initially closed to Verdi and the works of the bel canto composers, she became an exemplary Mozartian, gaining a near monopoly on the role of Donna Anna in many houses. As her reputation grew, she was afforded opportunities for those parts at first denied her and there, too, she has distinguished herself. A slender and agile stage figure, she offers a credible theater persona, the more so in works that do not require outsized emotions and gestures.
Vaness began study of the piano while in her teens. When she entered California State Polytechnic College, she continued her keyboard training and began to show an interest in voice as well. In graduate school, she studied voice with David Scott, head of the opera and voice departments at California State University, Northridge. Although Vaness at first believed herself to be a mezzo soprano, Scott wisely guided her to the soprano register. In 1976, she was one of six singers selected for the first year of the Merola Opera Program for young singers at the San Francisco Opera. During her two-year apprenticeship, she worked with the company's director, Kurt Herman Adler, who urged her to decline major roles at so early a point in her career.
During a 1977 San Francisco Opera production of I Puritani, Beverly Sills was attracted by the voice of the young soprano singing the small role of Henrietta. Sills made arrangements for Vaness to audition for Julius Rudel at the New York City Opera; Rudel, similarly impressed, engaged Vaness for the role of Vitellia in an October 1979 production of La clemenza di Tito. Additional productions brought her Donna Anna and Frau Fluth (Nicolai) to the N.Y.C.O. stage, but it was her Antonia in Offenbach's Les contes d'Hoffmann that most clearly indicated her singular talent in October 1980.
That winter, Vaness made her European debut in Bordeaux as Vitellia, later returning to New York to reprise Vitellia and Frau Fluth and to add Mimi and Leila in Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles. In November 1981, the N.Y.C.O. assigned her Gilda, suggesting that management was still in doubt regarding her vocal fach. In January 1982, Vaness sang her first Mozart Countess (Philadelphia) and that summer received acclaim for her Donna Anna at England's Gyndebourne Festival. After having stepped into the roles of Mimi and Vitellia as last-minute Covent Garden replacements, Vaness was subsequently engaged by the Royal Opera for Rosalinde and Mozart's Countess.
Vaness appeared at the Metropolitan Opera as Armida in Handel's Rinaldo on February 14, 1984, beginning a long association with the company. Her roles there have, among others, embraced all of the larger Mozart soprano parts. Elsewhere, she has sung extensively throughout Europe, making her La Scala debut as Elettra in 1990. Her repertory has steadily broadened to include Verdi's Amelias (both Un ballo in maschera and Simon Boccanegra), Elisabeth de Valois, Desdemona, Violetta and Leonora, and the title roles in Anna Bolena and Iphigénie en Tauride.