Remembering Brenda Lewis

Brenda Lewis — the soprano whose range of vocal styles brought her great fame in opera houses and on Broadway — died here last weekend. She was 96, and had lived in Westport for many years.

Lewis inspired audiences worldwide — and musicians in our town.

Alexander Platt — the 1983 Staples High School graduate who returned recently to lead the Westport Arts Center’s concert series — posted this remembrance on the influential Slippedisc cultural website blog:

When one loses an especially close friend, one feels as if one has lost a part of oneself. From the moment she discovered me over 30 years ago, as an aspiring conductor fresh out of high school, Brenda Lewis was one of my dearest lifelong friends, “the Jewish grandmother I’d never had” as we used to jokingly recall.

Brenda Lewis (Photo courtesy of New York Times and Opera News)

Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale” and Walton’s “Facade” were just two of the narration projects we undertook together, at Yale and beyond. Throughout, she was a fount of goodness, wit, wisdom, generosity, great knowledge, and tough advice (more of which I wish I’d followed).

Her recording of “Regina” will always be the authoritative interpretation of this great American opera — as with her own career, something always underrated, and it was a relief to see that her work in the first production of Barber’s “Vanessa” was finally acknowledged.

From her earliest days, she was an utterly self-made artist, always mixing Broadway with summer stock and some of the world’s great operatic stages, from New York to Vienna. As I once exclaimed to her, “Brenda, ‘crossover’ — you invented crossover!”

Or as she put it to me once, wistfully, “Wherever I was singing — on Broadway, in a classroom, in a barn somewhere, or singing ‘Carmen’ or ‘Salome’ at the Met — I was just so happy to be performing…..” — such great advice for so many of us, at this difficult time for music.

With Brenda’s death a magnificent mid-century golden age in New York’s operatic history is now gone — to my knowledge, she was the last of that line — but “there will always be a Lionnet,” and there will always be a Brenda, in my heart.

(For Brenda Lewis’ full New York Times obituary, click here.)


4 responses to “Remembering Brenda Lewis

  1. the greatest Salome i ever heard from the pit
    a great backstage intermission friend
    see you soon, Brenda !

    • Mary Cookman Schmerker '58

      Buell, you are making me cry. You can’t see her soon. You still need to walk me through Evergreen as I look for and take pictures. Harvey ( the storm) cancelled my trip to Connecticut and now it looks like I won’t get there until spring. So, we’ll have to talk soon.

  2. Brenda was a lovely lady who was intelligent and very talented. She was a long time patient of my husband and a very dear friend to us both. We had her over for dinner every couple of weeks during her final years. She would entertain us with her memories and stories of her years singing at the Met. She would have lively political conversations with us and always up to date on current issues. We would visit her every time we came back to Westport from Florida. We are so sorry to hear of her passing but she will not be forgotten.

  3. Great story, Dan. I had no idea Westport harbored such a wonder! Her name reflects her life — “flame,” “sword.” She was a flame!