Addresses: Home--Paris and New York City.

Considered one of the most talented performers in opera, soprano June Anderson has amassed a wide following throughout Europe and the United States, ranking among the most important singers in the international opera and concert world today. Those within the opera community compare her flawless, seemingly effortless vocal qualities to those of legendary soprano Joan Sutherland. One of her most notable achievements includes winning the prestigious Bellini d'Oro prize, the first non-Italian to do so, and she sang the voice of Queen of the Night in the Milos Forman film Amadeus. Despite her stunning performances and undeniable talent, some directors remain reluctant to work with Anderson because of her sense of perfectionism, her desire to work by her own terms, and her reputation as "difficult" to work with. However, Anderson, who prefers to concentrate on performing at her best rather than indulging in the business of money available to contemporary opera stars through mass and popular music recordings, contends that she only strives for the best for herself as well as for her colleagues. She told David J. Baker of Opera News, in response to critics who denounce her personality and accuse her of acting too demanding, "People don't take things seriously. I don't do the political niceties, I don't do the schmoozing, I don't play the games. I'm too straight. I think my singing should speak for itself--we don't need anything else." Those close to Anderson further dispute her tough reputation. Instead, they claim, Anderson enjoys her privacy, admits to suffering from stage fright, and at times feels shy around strangers.

Likewise, many music and opera directors appreciate Anderson's serious approach to her work, in addition to her well-projected, flexible voice and movie star appearance. Composer Leonard Bernstein deeply admired her singing and acting technique, and Eve Queler, Opera Orchestra of New York director, told Baker that she welcomes working with the impressive soprano. "She's very smart and very, very serious," said Queler. "I've seen her refuse parts if she couldn't identify with the person. She won't do a role just for the sake of the job or for the composer. I considered myself very lucky to work with her. She's such a positive force." Furthermore, director Francesca Zambello commented to Baker that because Anderson holds to such high standards, some of her colleagues often perceive her demands as difficult. Moreover, Zambello described Anderson as one of only a few performers "who are willing to collaborate and who are not afraid of process, not afraid to really dig in and inspire everybody around you. It's difficult, but it's rewarding."

June Anderson was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on December 30, 1952. Anderson enjoyed singing and dancing around the family home as a child, and she decided to take private voice lessons at age 11. Anderson told Kathy Petrere in an interview for the Lyric Opera in Chicago, "My mother had wanted me to dance, and singing seemed to come naturally because I sang all the time. She says that I just wandered around the house, my life was 'en recitatif.'" Within a few short years, at age 17, she became the youngest finalist ever at the Metropolitan Opera National Auditions. Although this success demonstrated her obvious talent, Anderson remained unsure about pursuing professional singing as a career. Thus, in the meantime, she enrolled at Yale University as a French major, graduating cum laude in 1974.

After college, she began to contemplate a career in opera and took instruction from Robert Leonard, a teacher who continued to work with Anderson until his death in the mid-1990s. According to the June Anderson website, she noted, "I decided to go to New York and thought that if in two years' time I was not famous I would go to Law School. Well, at the end of about nine months I was not famous, I'd run out of all my money and it was at that point that I would be a singer if it killed me." However, Anderson, although driven by the challenge to prove herself to the opera world, soon realized that achieving success would not come to fruition so easily as it had in her childhood. "As a youngster and a teenager, studying privately, everything had been easy and I was always being told I was wonderful. All of a sudden, nobody thought I was wonderful any more. So I thought, 'Damn it, I'll show them; I'll prove to them that I am!'"

Eventually, Anderson's determination paid off, and she made her professional debut with the New York City Opera in The Magic Flute in 1978, followed by her European debut in Rossini's Semiramide at the Rome Opera in 1982. Since the time of her debut in New York, Anderson went on to appear in every major opera house across Europe and the United States. Some of her stage appearances include performances with the opera companies of Vienna, Paris, Hambourg, Madrid, Florence, Geneva, La Scala, the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, Venice, Rome, Bologna, Metropolitan Opera (New York), Chicago, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. And Anderson has collaborated with some of the most notable conductors, such as Leonard Bernstein, James Colon, Charles Dutoit, Daniele Gatti, James Levine, and many others.

Repertoire Spoke for Itself

By the 1990s, Anderson's extensive operatic repertory spoke for itself; she had mastered nearly 50 roles in various operas, from Mozart to Puccini. One of her most celebrated, as well as most challenging, performances arose from singing the lead (Norma) in Vincenzo Bellini's Norma,an opera known for its emotionally intense range of both music and drama. Following the premiere of Norma at the Lyric Opera in Chicago on February 6, 1997, Chicago Tribune reviewer John von Rhein wrote that the soprano's "clear, bright upper range was at its clarion best" and "dramatically, Anderson was exceptional, drawing out all the conflicting emotions with an intensity tempered by dignity." Anderson herself felt an affinity to the role also, as the told Baker, "Working on Norma has been the greatest experience of my life, because it's the most extraordinary role. It's hard to do anything after Norma, because everything else pales." Moreover, Anderson's success with Norma provided a much needed boost to her career, which had suffered after the 1992-93 season; during a series of shows for a production of Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor with the Metropolitan Opera, the director dropped Anderson from the title role and replaced her with another singer. Although some critics blamed Anderson's less than perfect performances and ill temperament for her leaving the show, Anderson pointed to the director's reinterpretation of the opera as the cause of her inability to grasp the role and thought that the Metropolitan production strayed too far from the original work. And in support of Anderson's claim, a significant number of critics noted her performance as Lucia as one of her greatest accomplishments.

Upon the success of Norma, Anderson planned to tackle another demanding role in 1998, again with the Metropolitan Opera for a production of Il Trovatore, an opera composed by Giuseppe Verdi. Anderson took the lead, playing Leonora, a role for which she won favorable reviews. Directors, such as Queler, expressed no doubt in Anderson's ability to master Leonora, as she told Baker, "She is growing, maturing, and she always had the top notes.... For the top voice, which is very strong, there's no challenge." However, Anderson, although thrilled at the opportunity to return to the Metropolitan Opera, continued to prefer tackling her personal favorite, Norma. Leonora lacks what she called, as quoted by Baker, "the incredible double whammy of Norma," meaning the music combined with the drama.

Remained Independent

Throughout her professional career, Anderson remained truly independent in promoting her talent. She preferred to manage her own affairs and lacked exclusive recording contracts or any personal connections with opera companies or directors. Rather, she determined her own schedule and operatic direction. In addition, since the death of her former teacher, Anderson chose to coach herself, believing that most modern-day voice instructors fail to hand down valuable traditions and performance practices to their students. Anderson, who remains single and lives alone, keeps apartments in both Paris and New York City. Her hectic travel schedule, which takes her to cities around the globe, leaves her little time for leisure activities, and she admits to often feeling lonely, although not bored.

When Anderson does finds time away from preparing for her next role, she enjoys shopping, exercising, spending time with friends, and dining at a designer McDonalds restaurant in New York City for the french fries, one of her favorite foods. She also collects opera memorabilia, especially old musical manuscripts and paintings of famous opera singers, and considers herself an avid film buff, boasting an enormous video collection of classic Hollywood movies. "If I could have been anything in the world," she told Baker, "I would have been a movie star in the thirties." But with this dream not likely to come true for Anderson, she plans to continue to perfect her singing and add a new dimension to every role she undertakes. Undoubtedly, the gifted diva has achieved her desire to rise to the top of the opera world--by her own terms.

by Laura Hightower

June Anderson's Career

Started taking private singing lessons at age 11; became youngest finalist ever, at age 17, in the Metropolitan Opera National Auditions; made professional debut with the New York City Opera in Mozart's The Magic Flute, 1978; gave European debut performance in Rossini's Semiramide at the Rome Opera, 1982; debuted at the Paris Opera in Robert le Diable, 1985; recorded Candide with Leonard Bernstein and the London Symphony Orchestra, sang in Berlin at concert celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall, 1989; won critical praise for role of Lucia in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, 1986 at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden (London), 1992 with the Metropolitan Opera of New York; sang leading part for first time in Bellini's Nora at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, 1997; gave first performance as the lead, Leonora, in Il Trovatore by Verdi, 1998.

June Anderson's Awards

First non-Italian singer to win the Bellini d'Oro Prize.

Famous Works

Further Reading

Sources

PeriodicalsOnline

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 5 years ago

Having seen June Anderson perform a few times at the Lyric Opera in Chicago, I still consider her to be one of the most talented and moving sopranos of this age. I find it ashame that she has not performed in the Chicago area for quite some time. I truly miss not seeing her perform and listening to her exceptional voice.

almost 6 years ago

I came upon the Anderson/Bartoli collaboration by "Chance" in a music store last week .....The Salve Regina made me weep......if there is a god ,it is to be found in the melding of your two voices .....just magical ....thank you .....

over 6 years ago

I have just listened, after many years to what I believe was Anderson's first recording. An absolutely delightful performance of Prokofiev's THE UGLY DUCKLING (after Hans Christian Anderson). Why has this wonderful recording never been transferred to CD ? She sings it beautifully and has great fun with the English translation. (MMG LP paired with PETER AND THE WOLF narrated by Don Harron. The recording features Eric Kunzel and The Cincinnati Pops.