THE MEZZO-SOPRANO Joann Grillo was a singer designed by nature to sing the title role of Bizet's Carmen, and sing it she did, in opera houses and concert halls from Central City, Colorado to Bangkok, from Paris to Hong Kong. Her Carmen was proud and reserved, in the style of Merimee's original heroine, rather than the flamboyant gypsy of operatic tradition. She also sang Carmen at the Metropolitan, New York, where she clocked up 262 performances in 20 years.
Many of these performances were of supporting roles such as Suzuki in Madama Butterfly, Meg in Falstaff, Pauline in Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades, but elsewhere in the United States and in Europe she sang the star roles: Marguerite in Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust, Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia, Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana, Charlotte in Massenet's Werther, and Saint-Saens' Delilah.
She also tackled the great Verdi mezzo roles - Amneris in Aida, Azucena in Il trovatore, Princess Eboli in Don Carlos, Ulrica in Un ballo in maschera - but her voice was more suited to the French musical style of Berlioz, Massenet, Gounod and Bizet.
Born in 1936 in New York, Joann Grillo studied in that city and in West Germany. She made her debut in Brooklyn in 1958 and two years later was singing Amneris at the Central City Festival, Colorado. Nineteen sixty- two was a seminal year in her career; she sang Azucena and Ulrica in Philadelphia; Adalgisa in Norma in Brooklyn; Emilia in Otello and the Monitor in Puccini's Suor angelica at Dallas, as well as Siebel in Gounod's Faust at the San Carlo, Naples. She also made her New York City Opera debut that year, in the role of Gertrude in Charpentier's Louise. The following year saw her Metropolitan Opera debut as Rosette, one of the "actresses" in Massenet's Manon.
For nearly two decades Grillo's career followed the same pattern: at the Met she sang a great number of lesser roles, including Suzuki in Madama Butterfly, one of her finest characterisations, Olga in Eugene Onegin, Pauline, Meg, Maddalena in Rigoletto and Magdalene in Die Meistersinger, as well as the more substantial roles of Preziosilla in La forza del destino and, of course, Carmen.
During those years she sang Charlotte in Lisbon (1966) and Madrid (1967); Jocasta in Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex in Frankfurt (1968); Maffio Orsini in Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia in Philadelphia (1969); and Delilah in New Orleans and Tel Aviv (1962). She also appeared in Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Geneva, Zurich, Barcelona, Marseilles and Nice in a variety of roles.
Grillo sang Carmen at the Bregenz Festival in 1974, in Vienna in 1978 and in Paris in 1981. That year she and her husband, the tenor Richard Kness, founded the Ambassadors of Opera and Concert Worldwide, a company whose aim was to bring opera and musicals to places where such entertainment is not usually found. In July 1983, for instance, Ambassadors of Opera toured to Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpar and Jakarta, with a repertory of Carmen - in which both Grillo and Kness appeared - Madama Butterfly, Il barbiere and Tosca. In 1985 they turned up in Bangkok, and other out- of-the-way venues visited included Guam, Pakistan and Fiji.
Joann Grillo, opera singer: born New York 14 May 1936; married Richard Kness (one son); died New York 1 February 1999.
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