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Mezzo-soprano Nan (born Katherine-Ann) Merriman was one of America's leading opera singers for two decades following World War II.
She studied singing in Los Angeles with Alexis Bassian and Lotte Lehmann. Before she was 20 she was earning money as a singer for film soundtracks. In that capacity, she attracted the attention of Laurence Olivier. When the great British actor put together a touring company (including his wife, Vivian Leigh) to perform Romeo and Juliet around the United States he engaged Merriman to join. Her part was to sing arias by Palestrina and Purcell during scenery changes.
Her debut in opera was at the Cincinnati Zoo, where the Cincinnati Summer Opera had its regular season. The role was La Cieca in La Gioconda. Then she entered a singing competition sponsored by NBC Radio, winning the top prize, which included being given 15 minutes of national network airtime to sing a brief recital.
Looking for new talent, conductor Arturo Toscanini listened to that broadcast, liked Merriman's voice, and engaged her for several broadcast concerts and recordings which included the title role of Gluck's Orfeo, Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, and the Verdi roles of Emilia (in Otello), Maddalena (in Rigoletto) and Meg Page (in Falstaff).
In the decade after the War she established herself as a successful singer on international stages, including opera houses in Vienna, Paris, Milan, Brussels, and Amsterdam, and was a favorite at the Chicago Lyric Opera and the San Francisco Opera. She sang in the British premiere of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress at the Edinburgh Festival of 1953, as Baba the Turk. An even more unusual role was the part of Laura in The Stone Guest, by the nineteenth-century Russian composer Dargomizhsky, in its century-delayed world premiere at Milan's Piccola Scala in 1958.
But her favorite and most-repeated role, on which she built a strong reputation in Europe, was Dorabella in Mozart's Così fan tutte. She debuted in that part at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 1953, repeating it there in 1955 and 1959. She also sang it at the Piccola Scala and in the Glyndebourne Festival in 1956. She participated in two different complete recordings of Così.
These appearances established a strong demand for her in Europe as a concert and recital singer, particularly in the Netherlands. She had a rich, warm, and strong mezzo-soprano voice. In 1965, she retired voluntarily from singing, wishing to go out while still at the top of her vocal powers.
She continued to live in the Netherlands for eight years, but returned to the United States in 1973.