Marilyn Horne Stays Busy After a Classical Career


Marilyn Horne says it’s a matter of “been there, done that.”

“The big roles are behind me. It’s a lot of sitting in hotels. I decided I don’t need this anymore,” says Horne, who said goodbye to opera in 1996 and to classical recitals in 1999.

She hasn’t given up singing altogether, though, and she’s active as a teacher at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara and, most of all, as the head of her own foundation, which is devoted to helping young singers.

On her 66th birthday Sunday, Horne and other opera stars including Renee Fleming, Bryn Terfel and Deborah Voigt--as well as two young singers chosen by the Marilyn Horne Foundation--will sing in a free concert at Carnegie Hall.


The concert comes exactly six years after the launch of the Horne Foundation. But neither the foundation’s anniversary nor her birthday is the main reason for the concert.

“My foundation is giving the concert to the city of New York to celebrate the millennium. Somebody told me nobody gives free concerts very much,” says Horne, who last sang in an opera production as Dame Quickly in Verdi’s “Falstaff” at the Metropolitan Opera, where she was a leading singer for 26 seasons.

Last year, she completed a recital tour, and a concert date in Laramie, Wyo., fulfilled her goal of singing in all 50 states.

From now on, she’ll sing mainly lighter music, which she enjoys.

“Last summer I sang Bloody Mary in ‘South Pacific’ at the Hollywood Bowl. I had a fine time,” she says.


Interviewed in her apartment near Lincoln Center, she expresses little nostalgia or regret about leaving her classical singing career.

Horne--known as Jackie since she was a baby because “my brother wanted a boy”--has been singing since she was a small child.


“I started to sing with talking. I remember my first appearance in public; I think I was less than 4. It was a fund-raising picnic for FDR. My parents were small-town politicians in Bradford, Pa. I did a tremendous amount of singing through World War II at defense stamp rallies, bond rallies and band concerts.”

Her family moved to Long Beach when she was 11. She eventually studied at USC, and joined the Gelsenkirchen Municipal Opera in Germany, singing soprano and mezzo-soprano parts for three seasons, starting in 1956.

The day she returned to the United States to start her career here, July 2, 1960, she married conductor Henry Lewis, who had been at USC. Their only child, Angela, was born in 1965, and the couple divorced in 1974. Angela has a 15-month-old daughter, Daisy.

Horne’s career was one small step after another, she says, but her return to the United States in 1960 with “Wozzeck” at the San Francisco Opera was a leap forward, as was 1964’s “Semiramide,” with Joan Sutherland at Carnegie Hall.

In the 35 years since then, audiences have remained devoted to Horne, appreciating her warm personality and ready wit as well as her vocal artistry--a rich mezzo with a big range, from stentorian contralto to exciting soprano tones, with coloratura in all areas.


Horne, who’s won three Grammy Awards and is considered a great interpreter of Rossini, spends a lot of time on the Marilyn Horne Foundation, and she’s seen it progress from an initial season of three recitals in three states to the current 1999-2000 season of 20 recitals in 11 states and the District of Columbia.

“We go to a person who has a classical music series and suggest to them they present a young singer and we’ll pay for it,” she explains. “They don’t want to take the risk of putting on an unknown person.”

She also relishes her 2-year-old role as chairman of the voice department at the Music Academy of the West, where she does a lot of hands-on instruction despite her lofty title.

“I really love teaching. I’m amazed. I didn’t think of myself as a teacher. I was so busy doing my own thing,” she says.

“I don’t sit and do scales with singers. I start from the interpretive point of view. If there’s something technically I think is in the way, I will stop and go for the technical. There’s no question that is the foundation. I remember a Dick Cavett interview of Laurence Olivier years ago. He asked Olivier how he’d like to be remembered. Olivier said he’d like people to say, ‘He was a great technician.’ ”

She says the feeling of reward is great since her students are really serious. “They’re there to drink up everything they can get from all of us.”