Roberta Alexander established herself as one of the leading American sopranos in the latter quarter of the twentieth century, both on the operatic stage and as an orchestral soloist. She has recorded with several major labels, including BMG, Philips, Sony, and Teldec, and has remained an active performer in the new century.
Born in Lynchburg, VA, on March 3, 1949, Roberta Alexander was raised in a musical family, regularly attending her mother's vocal concerts. She enrolled at the University of Michigan, where she studied voice from 1969-1971. She had further studies in the early '70s with Herman Woltman at The Hague's Royal Conservatory.
As a member of the Netherlands Opera Studio, Alexander made her professional debut in February 1975 singing Fanny in Rossini's La cambiale di matrimonio. She also appeared that same year in the Netherlands Opera premiere of Viktor Ullman's Der Kaiser von Atlantis. Alexander also appeared in that production when it was taken to Israel for several successful performances.
Other smaller roles soon followed -- Princess Ninetta in Prokofiev's The Love for Three Oranges and the fifth maid in Strauss' Elektra. By the early '80s, however, she was making her mark on the major operatic stages in a string of successful debuts: Pamina in Mozart's The Magic Flute at the Houston Grand Opera in 1980; Zerlina in Mozart's Don Giovanni at the Metropolitan Opera in 1983; and Mimi in Puccini's La bohème at Covent Garden in 1984. She made her Vienna debut in 1985 and by then had developed an international reputation. Her recordings soon began to appear and would include a wide range of repertory: Mozart's Don Giovanni and Idomeneo, Handel's Giulio Cesare, Strauss' Elektra, and songs of Mahler, Ives, Bernstein, and many others.
By the mid-'90s, Alexander was generally ranked among the most important American sopranos. Yet she acknowledged that as a black singer she still encountered prejudice, citing an occasion in 1996 when she was advised not to do the Marschallin in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier because it was for "white" singers. In 1999 Alexander sang in highly acclaimed concert performances in Philadelphia and New York of the Second Act from Janácek's Jenufa, a role she had sung complete on the stage at Glyndebourne in 1989. In the new century Alexander has been active largely in the orchestral and song recital venues. She has lived in Amsterdam since the mid-'70s.