The American counter-tenor, Derek Lee Ragin, was born in West Point, New York and raised in Newark, New Jersey. He first studied the piano, and went on to begin his formal vocal training at the Newark Boys Chorus School. He later attended the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, where he majored in piano and music education. He was first place winner in the 1983 Purcell-Britten Prize for Concert Singers in England, the Prix Spécial du Jury du Grand Prix Lyrique de Monte Carlo in 1988, and in 1986 the First Prize at the 35th International Music Competition in Munich.
With a swiftly moving career, Derek Lee Ragin made a series of highly acclaimed debuts, notably at the Metropolitan Opera in 1988 in George Frideric Handel's Giulio Cesare; in recital at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1991, and at the Salzburg Festival in Gluck's Orfeo with the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra in 1990. He made his London recital debut at Wigmore Hall in 1984, and was immediately re-engaged for the following year.
Derek Lee Ragin is regarded as one of the foremost counter-tenors of our day. In great demand as a master of Baroque vocal style, he is also an inspired interpreter of contemporary music. He has performed throughout North America and Europe, including recitals at Wigmore Hall and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. His performances of such diverse repertoire are characterized by an unusual warmth and expressivity. He has received unanimous accolades from critics and audiences throughout the world. He has been described as "a rare performer who sets a new standard," [Financial Times of London] and "A soloist who simply overwhelms the audience," [Cleveland Plain Dealer].
Derek Lee Ragin sang in Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms at Tanglewood with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He has appeared at the Schleswig-Holstein Festival and at Salzburg, most recently in Györgi Ligeti's 1978 opera Le Grand Macabre, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen and directed by Peter Sellars. The production was also presented in Paris at the Théâtre du Châtelet. He appeared in recital at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; sang the role of Arsamenes in G.F. Handel's Xerxes at the Seattle Opera, and in a return engagement at the Metropolitan Opera, sang the role of Oberon in Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream. He has worked with many of the world's great conductors, including Leonard Bernstein, William Christie, Péter Eötvös, Christoph Eschenbach, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, René Jacobs, Kurt Masur, Seiji Ozawa, Helmuth Rilling, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Robert Spano, among others.
In recent seasons, Derek Lee Ragin sang the 1739 (first performance) version of G.F. Handel's Israel in Egypt in Budapest, debuted Enjott Schneider's Der Name der Rose, written specifically for Ragin, and appeared in the world premiere of Jonathan Dawe's Prometheus at the Guggenheim Museum. He appeared in the Munich Opera's production of Rinaldo, toured Austria and Germany with the Vienna Konzertverein, and toured with the Baroque ensemble Florilegium in Israel, Germany, France and Spain. Recent USA appearances include a tour with the Baroque ensemble Rebel, G.F. Handel's Messiah in Cleveland with Appolo’s Fire, a collaboration with The Aulos Ensemble in a Christmas program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and appearances in San Francisco with the American Bach Soloists.
Other highlights include the New York Philharmonic Orchestra world premiere of Kancheli's And Farewell Goes Out Sighing; performances of J.S. Bach's St. John Passion (BWV 245) with the London Philharmonic Orchestra; Gluck's Orfeo ed Eurydice in Vienna and at the Rheingau Music Festival; and Kancheli's Diplipito with the Stuttgarter Kammerorchester at the Lucerne Festival and again in Stuttgart when the work was recorded for ECM. Derek Lee Ragin sang Belize and several other roles in the world premiere of Péter Eötvös' Angels in America at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. He performed G.F. Handel's Alexander Balus in St. Paul, Minnesota; concerts with the Kölner Kammerorchester in Cologne and Munich; and Bach cantatas with the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra in Milan and London which were recorded for Deutsche Grammophon. Other engagements include performances of The Messiah with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra and Louisville Bach Society; and the role of Anfinomus in Monteverdi's Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria with the Netherlands Opera in Sydney.
Derek Lee Ragin has recorded for the Telarc, Philips, EMI, Erato and Capriccio labels. His discography includes Italian lute songs, G.F. Handel cantatas, and a disc of spirituals entitled Ev'ry Time I Feel the Spirit, all for Channel Classics. He recorded the role of Orfeo in Orfeo ed Euridice for Philips Classical, the title roles in G.F. Handel's Tamerlano and Teseo for Erato, and the role of Poro in the world premiere recording of Johann Adolf Hasse's Cleofide on the Capriccio label. With the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Robert Shaw, he performed and recorded Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms and the world premiere of the composer's Missa Brevis. The recording subsequently won a Grammy Award, and his recording of Giulio Cesare with Concerto Köln received a Gramophone Award in 1992. He also lent his voice to Farinelli, a film about the famed 18th century castrato which won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film in 1995. The soundtrack won the Golden Record award the following year in Cannes.