International Opera Star Janis Martin Has Died at 75
American opera singer Janis Martin, best known for stretching her range from a mezzo-soprano to a soprano star, has died. Having suffered from diabetes for years, she passed away at home in San Antonio on Dec. 14, her son Robert confirmed. She was 75.
She received international acclaim from her work as a leading soprano, particularly famous for her Wagner and Strauss performances in a career that spanned more than 30 years.
Martin was born in Sacramento, California, on August 16, 1939, the daughter of a radio producer. She studied at both California State University, Sacramento and the University of California, Berkeley. She began studying singing in Sacramento with Julia Monroe and later studied in New York with Lili Wexberg and Otto Gruth. She made her operatic debut in 1960 at San Francisco Opera as Theresa in La sonnambula and at 21 was the youngest member of the company that season. She continued to sing a number of comprimario mezzo-soprano roles with the company through 1969, including Sister Anne in the 1961 world premiere of Norman Dello Joio's opera Blood Moon. She returned as a soprano in 1970 in the title role of Tosca and appeared there regularly though 1990, when she sang the role of Brünnhilde in Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung for the company's complete performance of Wagner's Ring Cycle.
On March 23, 1962, she won the National Finals of Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions singing "Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix" from Samson et Dalila'. Her New York City Opera debut that same year was as Mrs. Grose in The Turn of the Screw. Her Metropolitan Opera debut came on December 19, 1962 when she sang Flora Bervoix in La traviata with Anna Moffo as Violetta. She went on to sing 147 performances at the Met between 1962 and 1997, first in mezzo-soprano roles, including Singer in the 1964 US premiere of Menotti's The Last Savage and from 1973 leading soprano roles including Kundry in Parsifal, Marie in Wozzeck, Senta in Der Fliegende Holländer, and the title role in Tosca. Her final appearance with the company was in 1997 when she sang Brünnhilde in Die Walküre with Plácido Domingo as Siegmund and Deborah Voigt as Sieglinde.
Martin sang with the Deutsche Oper Berlin from 1971 to 1988 and at the Bayreuth Festival from 1968 to 1997 as Eva and Magdalena (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg); Fricka, Sieglinde, and Brünnhilde (Die Walküre); Gutrune and 2nd Norn (Götterdämmerung); Fricka and Freia (Das Rheingold) and Kundry (Parsifal). Her performances in other European opera houses include Venus (Tannhäuser), Marie (Wozzeck) and The Woman (Erwartung) at La Scala; Marie at the Royal Opera House; Brünnhilde at the Vienna State Opera, Isolde (1981) and Kundry at the Oper Zürich (1981), and Ariadne at the Staatsoper Hannover (1982). Martin retired from the stage in 2000 to live in Nevada County, California, where she gave singing lessons and occasional recitals and concerts.
Martin and her former husband, the German conductor and choirmaster Gerhard Hellwig, had a son, Robert. The marriage ended in divorce. She is survived by her brother Richard, her son Robert, resident in San Antonio, Texas, and two grandchildren.
Photo credit: Ron Scherl/Redferns