Nell Rankin

Mezzo-soprano
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The Independent Online

Nell Rankin started her career as a concert singer and recitalist. For some while after she had taken to the opera stage the critics, first praising the beauty of her warm mezzo-soprano voice, then commented that it was a pity she did not show more dramatic energy in her performances. After a few years, however, the same critics were using adjectives such as "fiery" and "compelling" to describe her interpretations of Carmen, Amneris and Laura in La gioconda.

Nell Rankin, concert and operatic singer: born Montgomery, Alabama 3 January 1926; married 1951 Hugh Davidson; died New York 13 January 2005.

Nell Rankin started her career as a concert singer and recitalist. For some while after she had taken to the opera stage the critics, first praising the beauty of her warm mezzo-soprano voice, then commented that it was a pity she did not show more dramatic energy in her performances. After a few years, however, the same critics were using adjectives such as "fiery" and "compelling" to describe her interpretations of Carmen, Amneris and Laura in La gioconda.

Rankin was born in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1926. She studied at the Birmingham, Alabama, Conservatory with Jeanne Lorraine, and then in New York with the famous Swedish mezzo Karin Branzell. She made her concert début in New York in 1947, then in 1949 she went to Europe, where she was engaged at the City Theatre in Zurich. After her début as Ortrud in Lohengrin, she gave 126 performances during the season. Nineteen fifty-one was the 150th anniversary of the death of Verdi, and Rankin sang the alto soloist in the Verdi Requiem at La Scala and made her début at the Vienna State Opera, singing Amneris in Aida.

Amneris was also her début role at the Metropolitan later that year. During the 19 seasons Rankin was engaged at the Met, she also sang Ortrud, Laura, Marina in Boris Godunov, Ulrica in Un ballo in maschera, Azucena in Il trovatore, Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana and Princess Eboli in Don Carlos. During the 1953/54 season she sang at Covent Garden, making her début as Carmen, and also appearing as Amneris and Ortrud. All these performances were superbly sung, and dramatically appropriate, if not yet as involved as they later became. The finest was Ortrud, to which she brought a genuine feeling of malevolence.

In 1956 at Cincinnati she took part in the US premiere of Britten's Gloriana, singing Frances (Lady Essex). She scored a great success at La Scala in 1960 as Cassandra in Les Troyens, a role that not only lay perfectly for her voice, but suited her temperament.

The last few years of her career were devoted to Wagner: in 1971 she was praised for her Brangaene in Tristan und Isolde at San Antonio, and the same year in splendid voice she sang the Third Norn and Gutrune in Götterdämmerung at the Metropolitan, repeating the roles the following year. Finally, in 1977 she sang Fricka in Die Walküre in New Orleans.

Elizabeth Forbes

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