Elaine Bonazzi, 89, Mezzo Who Created Roles for a Generation of American Composers, has Died
From Development server
29 January 2019

Elaine Bonazzi, 89, Mezzo Who Created Roles for a Generation of American Composers, has Died 

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Mezzo Bonazzi
Photograph by Gerald Fitzgerald/OPERA NEWS


A BRIGHT, VITAL FORCE in American opera for more than thirty years, the mezzo created roles in new works by Ned Rorem, Thomas Pasatieri, Dominick Argento, Gian Carlo Menotti and David Carlson. Bonazzi was a surpassingly elegant and charismatic artist, as compelling in recital as she was in opera, where her responsive musicianship and gift for characterization extended her personal repertoire from Monteverdi and Purcell to Frank Loesser and Stephen Sondheim. She studied at the Eastman School, where she received her bachelor’s degree in 1951, as well as at the Juilliard School and Hunter College. 

Bonazzi made one of her first important appearances in New York in 1956, as Gertrude S. in the Phoenix Theatre revival of Virgil Thomson’s Mother of All. In 1958, Bonazzi made her Santa Fe Opera debut, as Tisbe in Cenerentola, and continued her association with the company for the rest of her career.  Among her notable Santa Fe roles were Mrs. Linton in the world premiere of Floyd’s Wuthering Heights (1958), Baba the Turk, Countess Geschwitz, Herodias in Salome and the title roles in The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein, Carmen and Regina. At Washington National Opera, where she made her debut in 1960, as Tchaikovsky’s Old Countess, Bonazzi was a regular presence for the better part of thirty years, taking on Death in Stravinsky’s Rossignol, with the composer conducting, Agata in Menotti’s Maria Golovin and the Old Baroness in Vanessa, among other roles. She also sang the Old Baroness at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, where her other assignments included Mistress Quickly and Lady Neville in the world premiere of Carlson’s Midnight Angel (1993).  

Bonazzi made her New York City Opera debut in 1965, as Christine in the world premiere of Ned Rorem’s Miss Julie. Other notable NYCO assignments included Grace-Helen Broome in the world premiere of Dominick Argento’s Miss Havisham’s Fire (1979); Frau von Luber in the NYCO premiere of Der Silbersee (1980); and Marie in The Most Happy Fella (1991), as well as Madame Armfeldt in A Little Night Music, Katisha in The Mikado, Mother in Louise, Arnalta in L’Incoronazione di Poppea, Geneviève in Pelléas et Mélisande, Suzuki in Madama Butterfly and Clairon in Capriccio. Bonazzi’s only performances for the Metropolitan Opera were as the Sorceress in the company premiere of Dido and Aeneas, offered in a thirteen-show run at the short-lived “Mini Met” at Lincoln Center in 1973.

In 1972, Bonazzi created the title role in Pasatieri’s Trial of Mary Lincoln, which was given its world premiere in an NET network television broadcast. In 1976, she was Aunt Lavinia Davenport in the world premiere of Pasatieri’s Washington Square at Michigan Opera Theatre.

A compassionate and supportive voice teacher, Bonazzi was a member of the faculty at SUNY Stonybrook from 1987 until her retirement, in 2012. Prior to Stonybrook, Bonazzi taught at Peabody Institute of Music. —F. Paul Driscoll 

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