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[Deathwatch] Eileen Farrell, singer, 82

Thanks to a reader for sending this in - Ed.

Singer Eileen Farrell dies at 82 

AP [ SUNDAY, MARCH 24, 2002  9:13:46 PM ] 
TRENTON: Eileen Farrell, who excelled as both an opera and pop soprano
in a string of successful recordings and performances including five
seasons at the Met, died Saturday. She was 82. 

She died at a nursing home in Park Ridge, said Brian Kellow, who
co-wrote her 1999 autobiography "Can't Help Singing.'' He did not
disclose her cause of death. 

Although her career at opera's top level was relatively brief, she was
considered one of the leading dramatic sopranos of her time. 

Look magazine wrote that ``Note for note (Farrell's voice) is perhaps
as close to a flawless soprano instrument as exists in the world

The New York Post said that when her voice in one 1967 performance
``sounded that first glowing trumpet tone, it was like a fiery angel
Gabriel proclaiming the millennium.'' 

But she was an unusual diva in many ways, not only for her talents in
opera, jazz and pop, but for her down-to-earth lifestyle. She was
married to a New York City policeman, Robert Reagan, and she didn't
hesitate to turn down work if it took her away from their son and

``I was just an ordinary person, a married lady with children, and I
sang,'' she said in a 1992 Associated Press interview. ``I had some
wonderful times. I'm very thankful. Maybe I could have done more
singing if I'd taken off time from my family, but I wouldn't have
enjoyed my family,'' she said. 

Already well known through radio and television appearances, she
debuted at the San Francisco Opera in 1956 and opened the company's
season in 1958 in the title role of Cherubini's ``Medea.'' 

Winthrop Sargeant in the New Yorker magazine wrote, ``I shall remember
her performance as one of the most stunning vocal feats in many a

Rudolf Bing, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, didn't like
singers to be acclaimed elsewhere first. But he finally hired Farrell
in 1960 to sing ``Alceste,'' when she was 40. 

In 1962 she opened the Met season as Maddalena in Giordano's ``Andrea
Chenier,'' with Robert Merrill. 

Farrell sang at the Met in six roles during only five seasons for a
total of 45 performances, and made her finale as Maddalena in March
1966. She said years later that she felt Bing ``was trying to get rid
of me.'' 

But she didn't feel frustrated by her delayed debut there, noting, ``I
was doing very well  radio, TV, concerts, recording.'' 

She was also a favorite soloist on New York Philharmonic programs at
the time, and ranked Leonard Bernstein as one of her favorite
conductors with whom to work. Her acclaimed 1970 performance with
Bernstein of excerpts from Wagner's ``Tristan und Isolde,'' accompanied
by tenor Jess Thomas, was released on a recording in 2000. 

Her national breakthrough in pop music came in 1959 when she was
appearing at the Spoleto Festival in Italy. She gave a classical
recital and sang in Verdi's ``Requiem,'' then filled in for an ailing
Louis Armstrong, singing ballads and blues accompanied by Armstrong's
musicians. Coming so soon after her two acclaimed classical evenings,
it was a sensation. 

Back in New York, a Columbia Records executive who heard her sing some
ballads at a party enlisted her to record. Among her pop albums were
``I've Got a Right To Sing the Blues'' and ``Here I Go Again.'' 

Unlike many opera singers who try to cross over to pop, Farrell sounded
like a good pop singer who understood the words. 

``You can either do it or you can't,'' she said. ``You're born with

She summed up the requirements in ``Can't Help Singing'': ``phrasing,
rhythmic flexibility (and) the ability to tell a story in song.'' 

Throughout the 1970s, Farrell taught at Indiana University and
continued giving concerts until a knee injury slowed her down. She and
her husband moved to Maine in 1980; he died in 1986. 

Farrell said in the 1992 interview that she sometimes missed opera but
didn't keep up with it. 

``Every once in a while I turn on the opera on radio,'' she says.
``Sometimes it's not bad and sometimes it's not good. 

``For me to really enjoy myself, I have to listen to jazz or Wagner.'' 

Farrell was born in Willimantic, Conn., in 1920; her parents were
vaudeville singers. 

Her musical talent became evident early, and by the age of 20 she was
already singing regularly on radio. One of her fans was Reagan. 

Her career also included a brief stint in Hollywood. Her voice was
dubbed for actress Eleanor Parker in the 1955 story of opera star
Marjorie Lawrence, ``Interrupted Melody.'' 

Farrell said she didn't want to sing anymore after her husband died,
but was persuaded to resume her recording career and issue a new series
of pop albums over the next several years. 

``I figured, I still have some voice left,'' she said. ``Doing records
would be an easy job. That's how stupid I am, because it's not easy. I
have to work to get my breath and energy. I have to concentrate so

``But I'm thankful I can still sing at my age.'' 

Farrell is survived by a brother and her two children.