The Reesa Society

Origin of the Name | Origin of the Name, Part 2 | Legends: Risë Stevens | Reesa Society Members | Member Comments | Typing 'e' with an umlaut

The Reesa SocietyFor women named Risa, in all its spellings:
Reesa, Resa, Rissa, Reisa, Riesa, Raesa, Reasa, Riza, Risë, Reza, Reiza, Rhesa, Rhysa...

 

Risë Stevens, Stalwart at the Met for Decades in Carmen Role, Dies at Age 99, March 2013


 

RISE STEVENS ... an exceptional CarmenEven At 88, Risë Stevens Stays Involved with Metropolitan Opera

Conversations with Legends:
Risë Stevens

By Jim McClelland
Contributing Writer

Reprinted from the May 2002 issue of The Golden Times

Back in the days of Edward R. Murrow's popular "Person to Person" television show, a guest on the program was Harry Conover, noted head of the famous model agency. "Who do you consider the most beautiful woman in the world?" asked Murrow. Conover thought for a moment, then said, "Risë Stevens." Murrow, surprised, pressed the point. "It's the all-around woman who counts," explained Conover. "I take into consideration looks, manner, poise, dignity and charm. Miss Stevens has them all."

Today, the lady is still that same beautiful woman at age 88. Even though she gave up her opera career long ago, she is still very much involved with the opera world, especially a the Metropolitan Opera, where she sang over a dozen mezzo-soprano roles to great acclaim becoming a famous Carmen, Delilah, Octavian and Orfeo. She still looks extraordinarily like her younger self.

Why did she give up her career at the peak of her powers and popularity? "I had physical problems," she confesses in a voice unmistakable in its timbre and youthfulness. "My shoulders go out of joint very easily and they started doing that on stage and a good many of my roles were very physical. Especially Carmen. I got handled roughly many times by the tenors. So, I discussed this with my husband (her late husband, Walter Surovy, to whom she was married for 62 years). We talked about it for a long time and I finally decided I would continue to sing concerts, which I did. But physically, I couldn't do the roles.

"That was one reason; the second was, when you've been singing as I had been since age 10 (on The Children's Hour), and when you sing year after year, you get tired! I started looking for other things to do and I had a husband who looked in every direction and he was wonderful at that."

She appeared in a very successful revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "The King and I" at Lincoln Center, which RCA recorded; she also recorded Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin's "Lady in the Dark." There were also many television appearances, both while she was at the Met and afterwards.

It was Surovy looking in all directions that landed her in the movies, early in her career. She reached much wider audiences when she made "The Chocolate Soldier" with Nelson Eddy and "Going My Way" with Bing Crosby. People who had never set foot in an opera house or concert hall came to see her because of her movies. So why did she give up her movie career? "Oh," she replies with her usual candor, "I thought making movies a bore, a total bore! All that standing around, waiting. And so much time wasted. I mean, I enjoyed making movies, but I was not willing to give up my opera career. And in films, there's no audience, so there's no reaction and I really missed that because I love people and having them around me."

She still has people around her today because she is Chairman of the Met's Encore Society, a planned giving effort by the Met. "And, it's very successful," she says proudly. "People interested in opera can leave money to the Met, or there are plans that give the donor income for their investment while they're still alive." What is her role in this effort? "I go and visit with people, have lunches or dinner with them when they come to New York. I used to travel for this, but 1 really can't do that anymore. I enjoy meeting and talking with these people. It's a wonderful opportunity," she says enthusiastically.

It was a long way from the Bronx, where she grew up, to the Metropolitan, which she recounts in her book, "Subway to the Met." She was born Risë Steenberg, and she took the Stevens name from an aunt "who had the good sense to marry a nice man with a nice name." Risë Stevens still leads an active life and she's usually up at 6:30 a.m. "I try to go to the Met for performances as much as I can and I'm a managing director there, which keeps me busy."

Her son, Nicky, is an actor and lives on the West Coast with his family. "I try to see them as many times as possible during the year." What does she consider her greatest achievement? “Having my son,” she answers quickly.