Opera singer Maria Ewing dies aged 71

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Maria Ewing, the opera singer who was noted for intense performances and became the wife of director Sir Peter Hall and the mother of actress Rebecca Hall, has died at the age of 71.

Soprano and mezzo-soprano Ewing died on Sunday at her home in the US city of Detroit, her spokeswoman Bryna Rifkin said.

Born in Detroit to a Dutch mother and an African American father, Ewing was the youngest of four daughters.

“She was an extraordinarily gifted artist who by the sheer force of her talent and will catapulted herself to the most rarefied heights of the international opera world,” her family said in a statement.

Rebecca Hall, Maria Ewing and Leslie Caron
Rebecca Hall leaves her father’s memorial service with her mother Maria Ewing and Leslie Caron (Yui Mok/PA)

She sang 96 Met performances until her finale as Marie in Berg’s Wozzeck in 1997, a span that included a six-year interruption triggered by a spat with Met artistic director James Levine.

Ewing met Sir Peter Hall in 1978 when she sang Dorabella in a staging of Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte at Glyndebourne Festival, directed by Sir Peter and led by conductor Bernard Haitink.

Sir Peter Hall
Sir Peter Hall (Yui Mok/PA)

Four years later, her husband directed her at the Met where she sang the title role in a new staging of Bizert’s Carmen.

“Far from the usual attempt at a fiery sexpot, her Carmen was easily bored, even sullen, her come-hither being a challenge to men to awaken her interest,” Associated Press critic Mary Campbell wrote.

But Ewing severed ties with the Met after the company scrapped a contemplated telecast of Carmen with her, then broadcast a 1987 performance of the production starring Agnes Baltsa.

Ewing responded by withdrawing from appearances at the Ravinia Festival outside Chicago, where Levine was music director.

“The Met has no manners,” Ewing and Sir Peter told the Chicago Tribune.

Maria Ewing at Westminster Abbey
Maria Ewing was married to Sir Peter Hall from 1982 to 1990 (Yui Mok/PA)

The staging travelled in 1988 to London’s Royal Opera and the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and a telecast of the production was released commercially on DVD.

“Maria Ewing, who ventured the title role in Richard Strauss’ Salome for the new Music Centre Opera on Thursday night, is a Theatreviech,” Martin Bernheimer wrote in the Los Angeles Times, using a German word for “theatre beast”.

Rebecca Hall
Rebecca Hall (Ian West/PA)

“She also happens to command a rather soft, slender and reedy mezzo-soprano that thins out a bit at the extended top.”

Sir Peter also directed Ewing in Nozze in Chicago in 1987.

They divorced in 1990 and Sir Peter died in 2017 at the age of 87.

Their daughter Rebecca Hall, born in 1982, has starred in films including Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon and horror movie The Awakening. She also starred in last year’s blockbuster monster movie Godzilla Vs Kong.

Her directing debut, Passing, was released last year.

Ewing is also survived by her sisters Norma Koleta, Carol Pancratz and Francis Ewing.

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