Margaret Tynes, soprano who took flight in Verdi and Strauss, dies at 104

Margaret Tynes, an American soprano acclaimed in Europe but overlooked in the United States at a time when black singers were just breaking into the world of opera, died March 7 in Silver Spring, Maryland, at age 104.

Her nephew Richard Roberts said she died in a nursing home.

In the 1960s and 1970s Ms. Tynes's incendiary, full voice was heard in roles such as Aida and Salomé in the opera houses of Vienna, Prague and Budapest, earning her high praise on the continent – “an exceptional, intense voice in every colour, vibrant and dramatic,” wrote Milan's Corriere della Sera, although American critics were colder. Munich's Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote of her performance in Benjamin Britten's “The War Requiem” that “what Britten expected from a woman's voice can only be achieved by a singer of Margaret Tynes' caliber.”

But she didn't make her Metropolitan Opera debut until 1974, when she was 55, in a run of three performances in the title role of Janacek's “Jenufa.” That run began and ended his career there.

Ms. Tynes grew up in the segregated South and gained some American fame in the 1950s, recording “A Drum Is a Woman” with Duke Ellington, singing heartfelt renditions of “Negro spirituals” on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and appearing with Harry Belafonte in the musical “Sing, Man, Sing”. She also sang at the funeral of WC Handy, the musician known as “the father of the blues”, and in 1958 she toured the USSR with Mr. Sullivan's show.

Her breakthrough in opera, the genre that defined her career, came to Europe in 1961, when she sang Salomé in Luchino Visconti's production at the Spoleto Festival in Italy. Time magazine described her as “she moved across the stage with feline grace, her rich, ringing voice darting with ease across the high, precarious lines” and as a “girl with veins of fire.”

American opera would prove a more difficult obstacle for Mrs. Tynes.

In the history of black American opera singers, Ms. Tynes belonged “to a lost generation,” Naomi André, a musicologist and opera specialist at the University of North Carolina, said in an interview.

Born 22 years after Marian Anderson, who did not make her Metropolitan Opera debut until she was 57 in 1955, Ms. Tynes was nevertheless older than black opera stars such as Leontyne Price, Grace Bumbry, Shirley Verrett and Jessye Norman.

Those singers reached their peak as the marches and demonstrations of the civil rights movement broke down racial barriers. Mrs Tynes, by contrast, was already in Europe.

She was therefore “an interesting bridge” between Ms. Anderson and the new generation of black opera singers, said Ms. André, who has written about black opera singers. Ms. André noted that Ms. Tynes, despite her negligence, had an “incredible” voice and suggested that her success in Europe was a testament to her singular talent.

Her only major recital on record, an explosive collection of arias by Verdi and Richard Strauss, was released on the Qualiton label in Hungary in 1962. In a 2021 episode of the “Counter Melody” podcast dedicated to her, the American singer Daniel Gundlach noted that Tynes reached the sulphurous high C of Aida's aria “O Patria Mia” with ease.

A recording of Pergolesi's “Stabat Mater” earned a favorable review in 1972 in Gramophone magazine, where she was praised for her “creamy-voiced soprano,” although the publication said she “sounds uncomfortable in the high notes” and “is not always accurate.” in pitch.”

But his most important recordings, though little known, have earned unreserved praise from connoisseurs. In an email, Peter Clark, former archivist of the Metropolitan Opera, called them “impressive singing by any standard,” adding: “Its expressiveness and dramatic involvement are thrilling to listen to.”

In the 1960s and 1970s, Ms. Tynes sang for seven seasons with the Vienna State Opera, for eight seasons with opera companies in Prague and Budapest, and in Barcelona for another four, according to Mr. Roberts and the singer Kevin Thompson, a friend of Mrs Tynes. “Once she was invited to perform in Europe, her skill and recognition grew,” Mr. Roberts said.

She was seen in “Norma,” “Tosca” and “Carmen” and played Lady Macbeth in Verdi, as well as Leonora in “La Forza del Destino,” among other roles. In Hungary and Czechoslovakia she was always “received quite warmly,” Mr. Roberts recalled. The Budapest weekly Film Szinhaz Muzsika (Film Music) said of her performances of Aida: “she is a rare and singular phenomenon on the opera stage.”

In the United States the reception was different. Of her performance at the Met, New York Times critic Donal Henahan wrote: “It would be pleasant to report that Miss Tynes, an American soprano who has had notable success in European homes, has won over all before her . Unfortunately, she seemed badly miscast, and only intermittently could one detect any real quality in her voice or much evidence of dramatic grip.

Ms. Tynes was not fazed by her brief career in the United States, Roberts said, because “the path to performance in Europe was so well paved.” In her time, Mr. Thompson said, “you had to go to Europe,” adding that “racism is real.” She continued to perform into her 70s.

Margaret Elinor Tynes was born on September 11, 1919, in Saluda, a small town in eastern Virginia, one of 10 children of Joseph Walter Tynes, pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, and Lucy (Rich) Tynes, a teacher . Ms. Tynes grew up in Greensboro, she sang in the church choir and won a singing competition at age 6.

She attended Dudley High School in Greensboro and earned a bachelor's degree from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in 1939 and a master's degree in music education from Columbia University in 1944. Her first break came in 1946 when she sang Bess for a U.S.O. (United Service Organizations) production of “Porgy and Bess.”

In 1961 she married Hans von Klier, a German aristocrat and industrial designer. They lived in Milan and Lake Garda until her death in 2000, when she returned to the United States.

He leaves behind nieces and nephews, including Mr. Roberts, a retired federal judge.

Whether her career in the United States was hampered by race, “I never heard Aunt Margaret complain about having doors slammed in her face,” Mr. Roberts said. “I remember her saying that she went from opportunity to opportunity.”

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