Reri Grist is a retired American soprano who was born on February 23, 1932, in New York City. She is known for her performances in opera, operetta, and musical theater, and she was particularly celebrated for her coloratura soprano voice, which is a type of voice that is characterized by its agility, flexibility, and ability to perform rapid runs and trills.
Grist studied music at Juilliard School in New York and made her operatic debut in 1957 at the Zurich Opera House in Switzerland. She quickly gained international recognition for her performances in a wide range of operas, including Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte,” Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann,” and Strauss’s “Die Fledermaus.”
It’s easy to imagine Grist singing Der Hölle Rache from Die Zauberflöte! Grist had an exceptional ability to sing with perfect intonation, even in the most demanding passages, and her voice had a sparkling quality that perfectly suited the music of Mozart, Offenbach, and Strauss, among others.
Grist’s vocal technique was also highly praised by critics and fellow musicians. She had an excellent control of her breathing, which allowed her to sustain long, seamless phrases and to execute complex vocal acrobatics with ease. Her impeccable diction and attention to text made her an outstanding interpreter of both comic and serious roles.
In addition to her operatic work, Grist also appeared in several Broadway musicals, including “The King and I” and “West Side Story.” She was praised for her versatility as a performer and her ability to seamlessly transition between different styles of music.
“During a sightseeing trip to Europe in 1960, Grist auditioned for the Opernahaus Köln in Germany, and was immediately offered her European debut singing the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. She then became the first African American woman to become a permanent member of the Zurich Opera, 1960-1966 in Switzerland.” (- via Blackpast.org)
Throughout her career, Grist received numerous honors and awards, including the Handel Medallion from the City of New York in 1982, the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art in 1994, and an honorary doctorate from the Juilliard School in 2008. She retired from performing in 1991 but has continued to be a mentor to young singers and a judge for several international vocal competitions.
As an African American singer, Reri Grist faced some challenges and obstacles in the opera world, which was historically dominated by white performers. While Grist’s talent and vocal abilities were widely recognized, she was at times subjected to racial discrimination and bias.
In the early years of her career, Grist was sometimes limited to playing secondary or stereotypical roles that were written for black performers. In addition, she sometimes faced resistance or skepticism from conductors and directors who were not used to working with black singers. Despite these challenges, Grist continued to pursue her passion for singing and established herself as a leading performer in her field.
Over time, Grist became an advocate for diversity and inclusivity in the opera world, and spoke out about the need for greater representation of performers from underrepresented groups. She continues to provide financial support and mentorship to young singers, particularly those from diverse backgrounds, through her foundation.
Learn more about Reri Grist: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reri_Grist and https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/grist-reri-1932/
Listen to Reri Grist as Norina in the 1972 German film version of the comic opera, Don Pasquale with music by Gaetano Donizetti:
View our collection of texts from the opera Don Pasquale:
- Ah, un foco insolito by Donizetti, Gaetano
- Bella siccome un angelo by Donizetti, Gaetano
- Cercherò lontana terra by Donizetti, Gaetano
- Com’è gentil by Donizetti, Gaetano
- Quel guardo, il cavaliere… So anch’io la virtù magica by Donizetti, Gaetano
Listen to Reri Grist singing Una voce poco fa, Rosina’s aria from the opera Il barbiere di Siviglia with text by Cesare Sterbini and as set by Gioachino Rossini:
View our collection of texts from the opera Il barbiere di Siviglia:
- A un dottor della mia sorte by Rossini, Gioachino
- Cessa di più resistere by Rossini, Gioachino
- Contro un cor by Rossini, Gioachino
- Ecco ridente in cielo by Rossini, Gioachino
- Il vecchiotto cerca moglie by Rossini, Gioachino
- La calunnia è un venticello by Rossini, Gioachino
- Largo al factotum by Rossini, Gioachino
- Quando mi sei vicina by Rossini, Gioachino
- Se il mio nome saper voi bramate by Rossini, Gioachino
- Una voce poco fa by Rossini, Gioachino
[Image Portrait of Reri Grist by Carl Van Vechten via Library of Congress and Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Portrait_of_Reri_Gristi_LCCN2004662966.jpg]