From Development server
20 June 2021

Gianna Rolandi, 68, Soprano Who Found Acclaim on the New York City Opera Roster and Later as a Mentor to Young Singers at Lyric Opera's Ryan Center, has Died

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New York, NY, August 16, 1952— Chicago, IL, June 20, 2021 

GIANNA ROLANDI WAS ONE OF THE BRIGHTEST stars in the impressive cadre of American-born and American-trained opera singers who achieved professional success in the 1970s. After two decades as an important soprano in North America and Euroape, Rolandi transitioned to a new role as teacher, guide and inspiration to a new generation of singers.

Shortly after her graduation from the Curtis Institute of Music, in 1975, Rolandi made her professional debut at New York City Opera, beginning an association with the company that would last fifteen years and include more than thirty roles. Rolandi’s first NYCO role was Olympia in a revival of Les Contes d’Hoffmann, conducted by Julius Rudel. A few days later, her performance as Zerbinetta in a NYCO revival of Ariadne auf Naxos, also paced by Rudel,established Rolandi as one of the most accomplished young sopranos on the company’s roster. Many of Rolandi’s early NYCO assignments were standard-repertory lyric-coloratura roles that benefitted from her charisma, youthful confidence and dramatic flair, such as Adele in Die Fledermaus, Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Oscar in Un Ballo in Maschera and Gilda in Rigoletto. Rolandi’s NYCO career also included revivals of several productions that had been vehicles for Beverly Sills during her time as the company’s prima donna, among them Giulio Cesare, (Cleopatra), Le Coq d’Or (Queen of Shemakha), Lucia di Lammermoor (Lucia), I Puritani (Elvira) and The Daughter of the Regiment (Marie); Rolandi invested her distinguished predecessor’s roles with her own sympathetic grace, potent charm and impressive musical intelligence. 

In 1976, Rolandi appeared as Daughter in NYCO’s U.S. premiere of Josef Tal’s Ashmedai, directed by Hal Prince; the following year, Rolandi was a beguiling Mabel Stanley in a new NYCO staging of The Pirates of Penzance. Rolandi also sang leading roles in the first NYCO performances of Naughty Marietta (Marietta, 1978) and The Cunning Little Vixen (Vixen Sharp-Ears, 1981), as well as the world premiere of Dominick Argento’s Miss Havisham’s Fire (Aurelia Havisham as a Young Woman, 1979). Rolandi also starred in three of NYCO’s Live from Lincoln Center telecasts—La Cenerentola (Clorinda, 1980), Lucia di Lammermoor (1982) and The Cunning Little Vixen (1983).

Rolandi made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1979, as Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier, conducted by Erich Leinsdorf. Her subsequent roles during her four seasons on the Met roster were Olympia, the Nightingale in Le Rossignol and Zerbinetta. Patrick J. Smith’s review of the Met’s 1984–85 revival of Ariadne auf Naxos for Opera had special praise for Rolandi’s Zerbinetta, calling her interpretation, “less an over-active minxish soubrette than a reflective young lady, and it seems exactly right both for her temperament and voice, and in the specific context of [Jessye] Norman's Ariadne. [Rolandi’s] treatment of her big scene gave it a measure of warmth and grace it seldom possesses.” The Met run of Ariadne was Rolandi’s professional introduction to conductor Andrew Davis, whom she married in 1989, and who survives her, along with their son, composer Edward Frazier Davis.

Zerbinetta was also the role of Rolandi’s European debut, in 1981 at Glyndebourne. Rolandi returned to Glyndebourne in 1984 for Arabella (Zdenka) and Le Nozze di Figaro (Susanna). Rolandi’s other European engagements included Cleopatra and Ginevra in Ariodante in Geneva; Almirena in Rinaldo at the Châtelet; Constanze in Die Entführung aus dem Serail at Opéra de Lyon and Paris Opéra; Amenaide in Tancredi in Turin and Elcia in Mosè at the Pesaro Festival. 

Rolandi made her San Francisco Opera debut in the 1986 summer season, as Lucia, and returned to the company as Mozart’s Susanna (1986) and Despina (1988). Other North American theaters that welcomed Rolandi included Santa Fe Opera, Canadian Opera Company, Washington National Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago, where she made her debut as Dorinda to Marilyn Horne’s Orlando in the 1986 company premiere of Handel’s opera. Rolandi marked her retirement from the stage at Lyric, as Despina in a 1993 revival of Così, conducted by Davis.

In 2001, Rolandi was named director of vocal studies at Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center. She directed the program from 2006 until her retirement, at the end of the 2012–13 season. In her role at the Ryan Center, Rolandi was a beloved mentor to scores of the company’s young artists, offering them the benefit of her professional experience, wisdom and boundless generosity of heart. —F. Paul Driscoll 

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