September 22, 2006

On July 3, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson died, at the age of 52, of complications of breast cancer. She was the greatest classical singer of our day, and I count myself among the luckiest of men to have been able to hear her perform live.

There is a tribute to her in this week’s New Yorker, as well as an audio commentary that includes clips of some of her recordings. This is not her first appearance in The New Yorker; a profile of her in 2004 got it exactly right.

I cried on and off for the whole day when I heard that she’d died; I still haven’t gotten over it. Thank God she recorded as much as she did.

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8 Responses to On July 3, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson died, at the age of 52, of

  1. John says:

    I had the immense pleasure of hearing Lorraine Hunt Lieberson in a solo recital of lieder here in Atlanta back in the fall of, I think, 2002. I remember seeing a profile later in either the Times or the New Yorker that credited her with having the most powerful voice since Maria Callas. I found that an odd comparison, because while she definitely had the same electric (and apparently intuitive) connection with her audience, her voice was a good deal more conventionally beautiful than Callas’ and she also was far warmer and more self-effacing. I would have dug up my dead grandmother and slapped her for a chance to see Hunt Lieberson’s Dido at the Met, but I will always cherish that recital. I think virtually every music critic agrees with you, Joel. Her death at such an obscenely early age and at the height of her powers was an unspeakable tragedy.

  2. The performance I would dig up all of my dead relatives and put them in a blender and drink them to have been able to see was the title character in Charpentier’s Médée at BAM.

    I did see her do Carmen, Serse, and the Bach solo cantatas in Boston, though so I count myself lucky too.

  3. anapestic says:

    I had heard that tickets could be difficult to get in NYC, but, really, I just had no idea.

  4. jockpop says:

    I was incredibly lucky to have heard/seen her in Dec. 04 at an NYPhil concert. Philistine that I am, I had not heard of her, but I knew when she opened her mouth I was in the presence of someone extraordinary. It was a performance I’ll never forget, including a Mozart aria from La clemenza … and then Britten’s Phaedra. I’ve never heard more gorgeous singing. Her passing is heartbreaking. Thanks very much for the tip about the New Yorker.

  5. patrick in nyc says:


    i was actually listening to her arias from theodora this morning, when i read your item. i was lucky enough to hear lorraine live several times (i’m counting nine right now) and meet her once, backstage at the met after ‘the great gatsby’.

    she’s been on my mind, and my stereo so much this summer. my friend who knew her well emailed me while i was on vacation, when lorraine died. devastating, though not entirely unexpected.

    if you haven’t given john adams’ ‘el nino’ a listen, i strongly recommend it. a deeply satisfying piece of music. i swam in the recording for a year after it came out, gave it to several friends, saw and adored the live production when it played at bam, and recently finally purchased the dvd.

    btw, i love your blog, joel. cheers,

    patrick in ny

    np – new yorker commentary on lorraine by alex ross

  6. David says:

    So sorry to hear this. I have no knowledge of her but will check out the New Yorker article as soon as it arrives in my mail box.


    The reference to drinking your relatives has put me off lunch, dinner, and possibly breakfast tomorrow – and that is not a good thing.

  7. Kevin says:


    i know what you mean. i was devastated to hear the news. shortly after, my partner and i devised a memorial listening program for ourselves, and listened to some of her recordings and live performances. i was priviledged enough to hear two Phaedras – those of Benjamin Brittan (in a NYPhil concert) and Rameau (in a performance of Hippolyte et Aricie at BAM). i also saw her as Xerxes and Sesto (in Clemenza di Tito) at the NYCO; saw her Melisande with the Boston Symphony at Carnegie Hall; heard her sing Handel from the orchestra pit for a Mark Morris dance piece (L’allegro), and saw her as Didon in Les Troyens at the Met. this last was one of the most remarkable experiences i’ve ever had at the opera. she was so beautiful and moving and shattering — i have gooseflesh just from the memory. she was a great musician and a passionate artist. thanks for writing about her here.


  8. kell says:

    I am so glad that she is being remembered in this way. She was my favorite singer–such a brave singer. Thank god for the remarkable recordings that she made.


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