Roberta Peters debuts at the Met

November 17, 1950
Album cover of "Roberta Peters Sings Operatic Arias."

Roberta Peters has achieved international fame for her soprano voice and performing success. Born in 1930 and raised in New York City, Peters began voice lessons at age 13 and auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera at age 19. Though she had no performing experience, she impressed the general manager enough to earn a contract to appear in Mozart's The Magic Flute. Scheduled to debut in February, 1951, Peters in fact made her debut on November 17, 1950, when she was called upon to replace a colleague on only six hours notice. On that day, she sang the part of Zerlina in Mozart's Don Giovanni. The New York Times called her appearance "a very neat, well-sung, intelligent performance." It was the beginning of a long career at the Met, where Peters achieved the longest tenure of any soprano in the Opera's history.

During more than 35 years at the Met, Peters gave over 500 performances in more than 20 roles. Among the most well-known were performances as Gilda in Rigoletto, Rosina in The Barber of Seville, and Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor. Success in New York soon led to performances elsewhere. In 1951, Peters debuted at London's Covent Garden in The Bohemian Girl. Tours in Chicago, San Francisco, Germany, and Austria soon followed. In 1972, she performed at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, where she received the Bolshoi Medal. It was the first time the Medal had been awarded to an American-born artist.

In addition to her operatic career, Peters has been an ambassador of classical music to the general public. In recitals and master classes throughout the world, and in a record 65 appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, Peters has brought her music to the people. In her television appearances and recitals on college campuses and for Jewish groups, Peters sings American, European, and Yiddish folk songs as well as classical arias. She has performed often in Israel and also in specifically Jewish works like Abraham Kaplan's Kedushah Symphony (1982). In 2000, at age 70, she was still singing in about 25 concerts each year.

Peters has also devoted energy to social and philanthropic causes. She has served as chairman of the National Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and on the boards of the Metropolitan Opera Guild and the Carnegie Hall Corporation. She has performed in benefit concerts for AIDS research, and established a scholarship fund at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In 1991, President George Bush appointed her to the National Council on the Arts. She has received awards from the Federation of Women's Clubs (1964) and the Foundation for Jewish Culture (1997). In 2000, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani presented her with the Handel Medallion for enriching New York City's cultural life.

Sources: Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp 1046-1048;;; New York Times, November 18, 1950; New York Daily News, November 3, 2004; Roberta Peters, A Debut at the Met (New York, 1967).


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Jewish Women's Archive. "Roberta Peters debuts at the Met." (Viewed on May 27, 2024) <>.