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Samuel Ramey (Bass)

Born: March 28, 1942 - Colby, Kansas, USA

The American bass, Samuel (Edward) Ramey, whom Time Magazine referred to as "a basso of extraordinary dramatic and lyric gifts," has had an astonishingly rapid rise to stardom. He can be found regularly on the stages of the world's great opera houses, including La Scala, Covent Garden, Vienna Opera, the Paris Opera, the New York City Opera, the San Francisco Opera and, since his spectacular debut ten years ago, the Metropolitan Opera.

Commenting on his Met debut in January 1984, the New York Times said: "Ramey made a tremendous impression with his powerful, pliable bass voice, particularly at his dazzling first entry in a wonderful Baroque chariot. After throwing a big, steely tone out into the house in the aria "Sibilar", he opened the following scene with a dulcet "Vieni o cara" demonstrating his great vocal as well as expressive, range".

Samuel Ramey was active in music throughout high school and college. He attended Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, then studied voice with Arthur Newman at Wichita State University (Bachelor of Music, 1968). After singing with the Grass Roots Opera Company in Raleigh, North Carolina (1968-1969), he continued his studies with Armen Boyajian in New York.

After apprentice programmes at Central City and Santa Fe, he went to New York where his earliest successes took place at the New York City Opera. His operatic debut was at that opera house in March 1973 as Zuniga in Carmen. Within few seasons he established himself as its principal bass. As his repertoire grew, he spent more and more time in the theatres of Europe, with particular triumphs in Berlin, the Hamburg State Opera (1978), Milanís La Scala (1981), the Vienna State Opera (1981), Paris, the Netherlands Opera in Amsterdam (1978), the festivals of Aix-en-Provence and Glyndebourne (1976). During the late 1970ís he made his debuts at other important American opera houses, such as the Chicago Lyric Opera (1979) and the San Francisco Opera (1979).

From 1981 to 1989 Samuel Ramey appeared in various Rossini roles in the Pesaro Festival. In 1982 he made his first appearance at Londonís Covent Garden as Mozartís Figaro. In January 1984 he made his above-mentioned brilliant debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York as Argante in George Frideric Handelís Rinaldo. In 1987 he made his debut at the Salzburg Festival as Don Giovanni. He subsequently appeared with leading opera houses around the world, and was engaged as a soloist with the major orchestras.

One of the qualities that has made Samuel Ramey so much in demand is his versatility. On the one hand, he can fulfil the demands of the G.F. Handel, Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini repertoire with its stress on speed, flexibility and range. On the other, he can fully meet the demands of the dramatic bass voice which became the vogue later in the 19th century, through the operas of Verdi, Wagner, Meyerber, Moussorgsky, Arrigo Boito and Puccini - demands which emphasise power to rise above heavier orchestrations and the ability to project in ever-larger auditoriums.

That Samuel Ramey functions with rare success in both areas is manifested by the acclaim he has won in both repertoires. In the bel-canto repertoire he has been acclaimed for Mozart's Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro; in Rossini's Semiramide, Barber of Seville, Turco in Italia, Italiana in Algieri; in Donizetti's Anna Bolena and Lucia Di Lammermoor and Bellini's I Puritani. In the dramatic repertoire he has been acclaimed for his three devils - Arrigo Boito's Mefistofele, Charles Gounod's Faust, and Berlioz' Damnation of Faust; for Verdi's Attila, Nabucco, Don Carlo, I Lombardi and Jerusalem; and Offenbach's Tales of Hoffman (all 4 villains).

Samuel Ramey is riding a crest of public and critical success unique to lower male voices. His commitments throughout the world's major opera houses, symphonies, and recording companies extend into the 21st Century.

Samuel Ramey is frequently the focal point of new productions at La Scala, Covent Garden, the Vienna Staatsoper, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the San Francisco Opera, the Metropolitan Opera and every other important theatre in the world. He has single-handedly expanded the repertoire of each of these companies by offering a reason to present works written specifically for basses, such as Verdi's Atilla, Rossini's Maometto II and Massenet's Don Quichotte.

Samuel Ramey has made so many important recordings over the span of his career that he can safely be called the most recorded bass in history. He has recorded nearly all of his operatic roles as well as aria albums, symphonic works and crossover discs of popular American music. His exposure on television and video is no less impressive, with films of the Met's Carmen and Bluebeard's Castle, San Francisco's Mefistofele, Glyndebourne's The Rake's Progress and Salzburg's Don Giovanni, to name but a few, to his credit.

More Photos

Source: Sony Classical Website; Samuel Ramey Website (Photos); Bakerís Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (May 2001, August 2004)

Recordings of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works




Raymond Leppard


BWV 80, BWV 140

Neville Marriner


BWV 232

Links to other Sites

Opera Bass-Baritone Samuel Ramey, Singer and Musician (Official Website)
Samuel Ramey - Biography (Sony Classical)
About Samuel Ramey (John Pierce)
Decca Music Group: Samuel Ramey

Samuel Ramey - encyclopedia article about Samuel Ramey
Samuel Ramey (Wikipedia)
Ramey, Samuel on
San Francisco Opera: Samuel Ramey In Concert
Cheery bass Samuel Ramey brings right pitch to dark roles (SFGate)

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Last update: Monday, May 29, 2017 17:43