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Women’s History Month at Curtis: Irra Petina (Voice ’35)

A truly versatile singer, Curtis alumna Irra Petina was well known for both her operatic and Broadway roles

Irra PetinaThis article is sourced from the Rock Resource Center Blog, posted by Kristina Wilson, archivist.

Russian-American mezzo-soprano and actress Irra Petina (Voice ’35) was born on April 18, 1908 in St. Petersburg, Russia. The daughter of wealthy parents, she and her family were forced to flee to avoid persecution following the 1917 Bolshevik uprising. They made their way to China where, for twelve years, Petina received her first formal vocal training, largely from fellow Russian émigrés. When she was 21, Petina traveled to Philadelphia to audition for admission to Curtis. She was accepted as a voice student of Harriet van Emden in 1930.

Irra PetinaPetina studied at Curtis until 1935, although she spent a year in New York singing for the Metropolitan Opera, where she made her debut as Schwertleite in Wagner’s Die Walküre in December 1933. Following her graduation, Petina’s career took off, with professional appearances as Maddalena in Verdi’s Rigoletto, the Marquise of Berkenfeld in Donizetti’s La fille du régiment, Feodor in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, Annina in Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, and the title role in Bizet’s Carmen.

Irra PetinaHer relationship with the Met also continued, with Petina’s portrayal of Marcellina in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (totaling 27 Met performances and 4 radio broadcasts), winning her rave reviews from the New York Times and the New York Herald Tribune. Additional credits included 35 Met performances as Berta in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and Rosalinde in a 1944 national tour of Johann Strauss Jr.’s Die Fledermaus.

In addition to her operatic roles, Petina was also a fixture on Broadway, appearing in Song of Norway, Magdalena, Hit the Trail, and Anya. However, she is perhaps best known for her appearances in Leonard Bernstein’s Candide (1956) as the Old Lady, a role which garnered her a Tony Award nomination for Distinguished Supporting Musical Actress.

Irra Petina died in 2000 in Austin, Texas at the age of 91.

For more information on Petina, see the RU KinoStarz® project blog here