The outstanding American mezzo-soprano Marilyn (Benice) Horne’s father was a strong musical influence in her life right up until his death in July of 1956. He encouraged his daughter to persue her musical dreams and she did just that. She studied with William Vennard at the niversity of Southern California in Los Angeles. She also attended Lotte Lehmann’s master classes.
Marilyn made her operatic debut at the age of twenty in the role of Hata in Smetana's The Bartered Bride for the Los Angeles Guild Opera in the fall of 1954. That summer, she sang the voice of Carmen Jones in Oscar Hammerstein's re-creation of Georges Bizet's Carmen.
When her father died, Marilyn travelled to Europe in the hopes of furthering her career. She travelled to Gelsenkirchen, Germany and in 1957 joined the Gelsenkirchen Opera Company. She remained on its roster until 1960, appearing in many of the company's productions as a soprano, singing such roles as Mimi in La Bohème, Giulietta in The Tales of Hoffmann, Minnie, Fulvia in Ezio, and Amelia in Simon Boccanegra. Her first great career success occured at the inauguration of Gelsenkirchen's new opera house on May 22, 1960 as Marie in Alban Berg's Wozzeck. She received rave reviews and Marie, a role she had not wanted to perform, became her ticket back to the USA. Brenda Lewis, engaged to sing Marie in San Francisco, was ill and Marilyn left Gelsenkirchen to perform the role.
On July 1, 1960, Marilyn married conductor Henry Lewis. Their only child, Angela, was born on June 14, 1965. The couple divorced in October of 1974.
Because of her pregnancy, Marilyn was forced to withdraw from a performance of Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia for the American Opera Society in New York City. As a replacement, they hired a new Spanish soprano named Montserrat Caballé, who thrilled the New York audience and became a star overnight.
It was soon after the San Francisco Wozzeck that Marilyn made her first appearance with Joan Sutherland. Marilyn performed Agnese opposite Sutherland in a Town Hall concert version of Bellini's Beatrice di Tenda in February 1961. In 1969, Horne teamed up with Joan Sutherland again when she performed the role of Zerlina in Don Giovanni with the English Chamber Orchestra.
Now that she was an international star, Marilyn began performing regularly in the world's great opera houses. She made her Covent Garden debut was in October of 1964 as Marie in Wozzeck. Her La Scala debut was as Jocasta in Igor Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex on March 13, 1969. Her Metropolitan Opera debut was as Adalgisa opposite Joan Sutherland's Norma in Bellini's Norma. She sang many more times at the Met, and opened the 1972-1973 season as Carmen on September 19, 1972. In 1984, she brought George Frideric Handel's Rinaldo to the Met, the first G.F. Handel opera ever performed there.
Marilyn Horne has been called "probably the greatest singer in the world" (Opera News, 1981). She is, without a doubt, one of the greatest mezzo-sopranos in opera history and is probably the greatest Rossini interpreter ever. She has been singing for over 40 years and her contributions to the opera world live on in her numerous recordings, among which is Meyerbeer's Le Prophète, a role she was also well known for.
Today, Marilyn Horne works as the Vocal Program Director at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara and has also set up The Marilyn Horne Foundation, which helps to support young singers. Ms Horne's last solo classical recital was on November 28, 1999, at the Chicago Symphony Center. The last time she performed classical music was on January 16, 2000, at the Marilyn Horne Foundation concert at Carnegie Hall.