Episode 127. Maria Ewing

Episode 127. Maria Ewing in Memoriam (Black History Month 2022)



The exceptional, distinctive Maria Ewing died of cancer on January 9 at her home outside of her native Detroit at the age of 71. Even before her death, I had been planning an episode on Maria Ewing, who last fall received an enormous amount of press as the mother of actor and director Rebecca Hall, whose latest film, Passing, was hitting the screens in a big way. The film is about two light-skinned Black friends in the 1920s, one of whom makes the conscious decision to present as white. The implication in much of the press was that Maria Ewing had done the same and was being taken to task for having done so. In actuality, Maria Ewing spoke frequently about her father’s apparent African American roots, and never actively tried to hide her (at times murky) family history. But, I submit to you, this is not the real story. In this episode, the first of my Black History Month 2022 series, I attempt to present as full a musical portrait of the artist as possible, allowing listeners to experience the unique musical and dramatic genius (and I use the term advisedly) of this fascinating artist. Few singers can survive comparison with Maria Callas. Maria Ewing, for all her demonstrable flaws, was one of the few artists that merit such a comparison. In this episode we hear Ewing in a wide range of material, from Purcell’s Dido to Puccini’s Tosca, with a nod to her two most famous roles, Carmen and Salome; an emphasis on both her Mozart portrayals and a focus on her aplomb with French music; and a sampling of her flair for pop music and jazz. I also discuss her sometimes controversial vocalism and role assumptions which in turn led to her blanket dismissal by her detractors. But in the end, it is her fascinating combination of carnality and innocence which made her unique. I remain, as I always have been, a devoted member of Club Ewing. This is a long-overdue Countermelody tribute to a unique and irreplaceable singer.

P.S. For those wishing to hear and read some interviews with Maria Ewing, I refer you to the following:

Interview with Michael Hackett of UCLA for the LA Opera’s oral history project, 09 November 2015.

Maria Ewing’s appearance on Desert Island Discs with host Sue Lawley, 21 February 1999.

Maria Ewing interview with Erica Jeal for The Guardian, 11 March 2003.

Maria Ewing interview with Barbara Isenberg of the Los Angeles Times, 08 November 1992.


Henry Purcell, Nahum Tate: When I am laid in earth (Dido and Aeneas). Maria Ewing, Richard Hickox, Collegium 90 [1985]

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Lorenzo da Ponte: Voi che sapete (Le nozze di Figaro). Maria Ewing, Karl Böhm, Wiener Philharmoniker [1976 film]

Richard Strauss, Hedwig Lachmann (after Oscar Wilde): Dein Haar ist grässlich!… Deinen Mund begehre ich, Jokanaan (Salome). Maria Ewing, Siegmund Nimsgern, Leonard Slatkin, Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra [live  25.XI.1988]

Jule Styne, Bob Merrill, arr. Gordon Rose: Don’t Rain on My Parade (Funny Girl). Maria Ewing, Iain Sutherland, BBC Concert Orchestra [live London 10.V.1997]

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Laudamus te (Mass in c minor, K.427). Maria Ewing, James Levine, Boston Symphony Orchestra [Tanglewood 15.VIII.78]

Gioacchino Rossini, Cesare Sterbini: Una voce poco fa (Il barbiere di Siviglia). Maria Ewing, Sylvain Cambreling, London Philharmonic Orchestra [Glyndebourne 1981]

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Giambattista Maresco: Deh, resta, o cara… Andrò ramingo e solo (Idomeneo). Maria Ewing, Christiane Eda-Pierre, Carol Neblett, Eric Tappy, John Pritchard, San Francisco Opera Orchestra [23.IX.1977]

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Lorenzo da Ponte: Là ci darem la mano (Don Giovanni). Maria Ewing, Ruggero Raimondi, Horst Stein, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande [Genève 10.80]

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Lorenzo da Ponte: Ah! fuggi il traditor! (Don Giovanni). Maria Ewing, Bernard Haitink, London Philharmonic Orchestra [1984]

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Lorenzo da Ponte: Deh, vieni, non tardar (Le nozze di Figaro). Maria Ewing, Andrew Davis, Orchestra of the Lyric Opera of Chicago [live 14.XI.1987]

Claudio Monteverdi, Giovanni Francesco Busenello: Deh non più rinfacciarmi (with Dale Duesing); Signor, hai giusto cagione (with Dennis Bailey) (L’incoronazione di Poppea). Maria Ewing, Raymond Leppard, London Philharmonic Orchestra [Glyndebourne 1984]

Rehearsing Werther with Kathleen Battle, San Francisco, 1978

Jules Massenet, Edouard Blau, Paul Milliet, Georges Hartmann (after Johann Wolfgang von Goethe): Va! laisser couler mes larmes; Ah! mon courage m’abandonne… Seigneur Dieu! (Werther). Maria Ewing, Antonio de Almeida, San Francisco Opera Orchestra [live 18.X.1978]

Claude Debussy, Maurice Maeterlinck: Je vais me coucher sur le marbre (Pelléas et Mélisande). Maria Ewing, François Le Roux, Claudio Abbado, Wiener Philharmoniker [1992]

Ewing with her daughter Rebecca

Claude Debussy, Gabriel Sarrazin (after Dante Gabriel Rossetti): Elle-même nous amènera (excerpt from La Damoiselle élue). Maria Ewing, Claudio Abbado, London Symphony Orchestra [1986]

Maurice Ravel, Tristan Klingsor [né Léon Leclère]: Je voudrais voir des pauvres et des reines (excerpt from Asie [Shéhérazade]. Maria Ewing, Simon Rattle, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra [1991]

Jacques Offenbach, Henri Meilhac, Ludovic Halévy (after Prosper Mérimée): Tu n’es pas beau (La Périchole). Maria Ewing, Neil Rosenshein, Marc Soustrot, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande [Genève 12.82]

Georges Bizet, Henri Meilhac, Ludovic Halévy (after Prosper Mérimée): En vain pour éviter les réponses amères (Carmen). Maria Ewing, Elizabeth Collier, Jean Rigby, Bernard Haitink, London Philharmonic [Glyndebourne 1985]

Dmitri Shostakovich, Alexander Preis (after Nikolai Leskov): В девках лучше было [It was better when I was single] (Леди Макбет Мценского уезда [Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk]. Maria Ewing, Myung-Whun Chung, Orchestre de l’Opéra Bastille [1992]

Giacomo Puccini, Giuseppe Giacosa, Luigi Illica: Vissi d’arte (Tosca). Maria Ewing, Romano Gandolfi, Real Orquesta Sinfonica de Sevilla [Sevilla 03.XI.1991]

Claudio Monteverdi, realized Carl Orff, Dorothée Günther (translated and adapted from Ottavio Rinuccini): Klage der Ariadne. Maria Ewing, Kurt Masur, New York Philharmonic [New York 03.IV.97]

Francis Poulenc, Jean Cocteau: Oh! moi, tu sais, il est possible que je reste (La voix humaine). Maria Ewing, Orchestra conducted by Patrick Devin [Nederlandse Reisoper, 01.2011]

Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler: When the Sun Comes Out. Maria Ewing, Richard Rodney Bennett [1990]

Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II: All the Things You Are (Very Warm for May). Maria Ewing, Simon James, Shane Hill [live London 2001]

Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II: Bali Hai (South Pacific). Maria Ewing, John Wilson, The John Wilson Orchestra, Maida Vale Singers [2012]

Gustav Mahler, folk text collected by Clemens Brentano, Achim von Arnim: Kein’ Musik ist ja nicht auf Erden (excerpt from “Das himmlische Leben,” final movement of Symphony No. 4). Maria Ewing, Bernard Haitink, Concertgebouw Orchestra [Amsterdam 25.XII.1982]

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