I instead put together this tribute to the late mezzo/soprano spanning a decade of her Mozart portrayals beginning with Idamante in Idomeneo co-starring Christiane Eda-Pierre, Carol Neblett and Eric Tappy through samples of her Cherubino, Zerlina and Dorabella and finally to her only Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro with Samuel Ramey, Felicity Lott, Ruggero Raimondi and Frederica von Stade.
In addition to being Mozart’s birthday, today is also the 40th (gulp!) anniversary of my Met “debut” with La Bohème with Teresa Stratas and José Carreras. Two nights later—January 29, 1982–came the more important reason for my New York City trip: the premiere of Colin Graham’s new Così fan Tutte starring Kiri Te Kanawa (returning to the company after seven years), Kathleen Battle and Ewing as Dorabella. I had never heard Ewing before and I recall that her hilariously over-the-top “Smanie implacabili” brought down the house.
Two years later I’d hear her again even though I hadn’t planned to. I had eagerly bought a ticket for Teresa Berganza performing Les Nuits d’été with the Cincinnati Symphony under Jesús López-Cobos. But it was not to be as the Spanish mezzo canceled, and Ewing replaced her to sang a beautifully intense song cycle, a much happier Berlioz experience than her misguided Didon at the Met years later.
I might have seen her as the Komponist at the Met in 1985 when I came to the city primarily for Tatiana Troyanos in Ariodante, but Ariadne is my favorite Strauss and I wanted to hear Jessye Norman in a perfect role for her. The performance I could squeeze in, however, featured Brenda Boozer instead of Ewing. I did get to see Ewing’s acclaimed Blanche in Dialogues but I was crushed when my performance included cover Mignon Dunn substituting for Régine Crespin as Croissy.
Yes, I attended one of Ewing’s Met problematic Carmens with the premiere’s Don José, Luis Lima, rather than the originally scheduled Placido Domingo. It was my first-ever Carmen, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of her decidedly unusual take on the role. I was also at the premiere of the Met’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk which proved an enthralling experience and Ewing’s fierce commitment was exciting if vocally… unruly. The last time I heard Ewing was her controversial “My Man’s Gone Now” at the Levine Gala in 1996. Her performance puzzled everyone around me.
My happiest Ewing experience however came nearly a decade earlier when I attended Peter Hall’s new Nozze at Lyric Opera of Chicago. I have seen that run described as “Glyndebourne comes to the Midwest” and it was as fine a Mozart performance as I have ever attended. It even included Marcellina and Basilio’s arias and it was a delight to have the wonderful Patricia Kern and Ugo Benelli sing them—the only chance I got to hear them live.
Ewing’s witty, sensual Susanna couldn’t have been more different from Battle’s which I had heard during the previous two Met seasons. Today’s Trove Nozze from Chicago is a broadcast of the premiere; I attended the second show on November 18, 1987. I don’t believe Ewing, a noted Cherubino, ever sang Susanna again.
One Ewing item that got away from me was her only Gluck Orfeo ed Euridice from the 1976 Cincinnati May Festival. It was conducted, of course, by James Levine with Carmen Balthrop and Kathleen Battle. I recorded the broadcast myself on my trusty reel-to-reel machine, but I used a cheap Radio Shack tape. When I went to digitize it years later, the tape (unlike many I’d kept) had disintegrated. And, alas, I’ve never seen that performance show up on any list!
San Francisco Opera
23 September 1977
Ilia: Christiane Eda-Pierre
Idamante: Maria Ewing
Elettra: Carol Neblett
Idomeneo: Eric Tappy
Arbace: Frank Little
High Priest: George Shirley
Voice of the oracle: Aldo Bramante
Conductor: John Pritchard
Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro/Don Giovanni/Così fan Tutte—exc.
Cherubino/Zerlina/Dorabella: Maria Ewing
Don Giovanni: Ruggero Raimondi
Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro
Lyric Opera of Chicago
14 November 1987
Countess: Felicity Lott
Susanna: Maria Ewing
Cherubino: Frederica von Stade
Marcellina: Patricia Kern
Barbarina: Joan Gibbons
Figaro: Samuel Ramey
Count: Ruggero Raimondi
Dr. Bartolo: Arthur Korn
Don Basilio: Ugo Benelli
Antonio: Donald Adams
Don Curzio: Bernard Fitch
Conductor: Andrew Davis
Today’s Ewing/Mozart material can be downloaded by clicking on the “ccloud” button on the audio player above.
Another Ewing-Mozart performance arrived on Trove Thursday last month: the “Great” Mass in C-minot, K.427 with Kathleen Battle, Philip Creech and John Cheek.
In addition, more than 400 other podcast tracks are always available from Apple Podcasts for free, or via any RSS reader. The archive which lists all Trove Thursday offerings in alphabetical order by composer was up-to-dated late last year.