William Olvis; Operatic Tenor Starred in ‘50s, ‘60s


William Edward Olvis, whose tenor voice rang from Hollywood to Broadway to the New York Metropolitan Opera, has died of throat cancer. He was 70.

Olvis, who was born in Hollywood and reared in Glendale, died Nov. 27 at his home near Redlands, where he had retired, according to an announcement Monday by his son, motion picture composer William Patrick Olvis.

Educated at USC and Occidental College, Olvis set out to become a lawyer but became interested in music instead. Earning the Atwater Kent Award, a major prize for voice, in 1949, he decided to make singing his career. He studied at the Music Academy of the West, then in Los Angeles, and later won a Fulbright scholarship to study in Rome.


Drafted into the Navy, Olvis was a sailor in 1949 when an admiral’s wife who heard him sing told him prophetically: “In 10 years you’ll be singing at the Metropolitan Opera.”

Right on schedule, in 1959, he sang the starring role of Don Jose in “Carmen” at the Met.

Olvis first gained national attention in 1954 when he was hired to replace tenor Mario Lanza in the film “Deep in My Heart,” the story of composer Sigmund Romberg.

The developing tenor later sang the lead in “Song of Norway” on Broadway and toured with the stage company.

During his tenure with the Metropolitan Opera in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, Olvis sang the tenor lead not only in “Carmen” but also in such classic operas as “Aida,” “Madame Butterfly,” “La Boheme” and “The Flying Dutchman.”

In later years, he sang with the Dusseldorf Opera Company in Germany.

After returning to California, Olvis continued to make special appearances. In 1988, he sang in quartet with Anita Protich, Jacalyn Bower and James Patterson at a Pacific Symphony concert in Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, launching the Orange County Centennial.

A Times reviewer praised Olvis after that concert for his “healthy, full-throated and nicely gauged vocalism.”


Olvis debuted at the Hollywood Bowl in 1953 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a pops concert highlighting the music of “Showboat.”

When he sang in concert five years later at the San Gabriel Civic Auditorium, a Times critic praised the tenor’s vocal range: “The Olvis voice is a fledgling heldentenor with an amazing lower register, a rich, robust instrument, yet one that can shave itself down to engaging softness.”

In addition to his son, Olvis is survived by his wife, Noreen; two daughters, Yvette and Natasha Olvis; a sister, Gloria Carlson; and one grandson.

A memorial service is being planned for Dec. 28 at 2:30 p.m. at Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Calimesa, Calif.