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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.)