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The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family remembers the extraordinary soprano Roberta Peters, who died yesterday at her home in Rye, New York. She was 86.

Barely nineteen years old in 1949, Peters was introduced to impresario Sol Hurok, who arranged for her to audition for Metropolitan Opera general manager Rudolf Bing. At the audition, she sang “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen”—the Queen of the Night’s second aria from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Bing apparently asked her to perform the aria (with four Fs above high C) seven times, as he listened from different areas of the opera house. Satisfied, he booked Peters to debut in the role in February 1951.

However, on November 17, 1950, Bing called Peters to see if she would be able to step in that evening for an ailing Nadine Conner as Zerlina in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Peters had learned the role and accepted, even though she had not yet performed onstage, let alone with a full orchestra. She made her debut under the guidance of the evening’s conductor—Fritz Reiner—and her career was launched.

November 1953

November 5 and 6, 1953

During Reiner’s first season as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s sixth music director, he wasted no time in engaging Peters. She made her debut with the Orchestra during the fourth subscription week on November 5 and 6, 1953, singing Mozart’s concert aria Ma che vi fece, O stelle (K. 368); “Grossmächtige Prinzessin” from Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos; and “No word from Tom” from Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress.

Peters later appeared again with Reiner and the Orchestra, on February 27 and 28, 1958, in Mozart’s concert aria Mia speranza adorata (K. 416) and four songs—Wiegenlied; Säusle, liebe Myrte; Ständchen, and Amor!—by Richard Strauss.

Peters's November 1953 program biography

Peters’s November 1953 program biography

At the Ravinia Festival, Peters appeared numerous times with the Orchestra between 1966 and 1984, performing songs and arias under conductors Josef Krips, Franz Allers, Erich Kunzel, and James Levine. Also under Levine, she appeared as Despina in concert performances of Mozart’s Così fan tutte on July 16 and 18, 1975.

Numerous tributes have been posted online, in The New York Times and Opera News, among others.

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Theodore Thomas

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  • May 25, 1893: William L. Tomlins leads the @ChicagoSymphony and a chorus of 1,250 in Haydn's Creation at the World's Columbian Exposition. 4 hours ago
  • May 24, 1924: Frederick Stock leads the @ChicagoSymphony in the US premiere of Respighi's La primavera at the Ann Arbor May Festival. 1 day ago
  • May 23, 1894: Theodore Thomas leads the @ChicagoSymphony in the US premiere of Goldmark's Sappho Overture at the @CincyMayFest. 2 days ago
  • May 22, 1924: At the Ann Arbor May Festival, the @ChicagoSymphony presents the US premiere of Delius's Sea Drift. Royal Dadmun is soloist. 3 days ago
  • May 21, 1992: James DePreist leads the world premiere of Blackwood's Fifth Symphony, commissioned for the @ChicagoSymphony's centennial. 4 days ago

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Available June 16, the latest #CSOResound release features #RiccardoMuti and the CSO in an acclaimed performance of #Bruckner’s formidable Ninth Symphony! Preorder your copy today on @iTunes, @Amazon or


The opinions expressed here are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.


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