Celebrating Black History: Gwendolyn Bradley (Opera '77)

The internationally renowned soprano and educator studied at Curtis from 1974–77

Internationally acclaimed soprano, vocal instructor, and Curtis alumna Gwendolyn Bradley (Opera ’77) grew up in Bishopville, South Carolina, and became one of the foremost operatic artists of the 1980s and 1990s. The daughter of public school educators and civil rights activists, she began voice lessons at Coker College in Hartsville after her high school music teacher recognized her remarkable gifts. From there, she continued her training at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. She graduated in 1974 and attended Curtis from 1974 to 1977, followed by additional studies at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia.

In 1976, Ms. Bradley made her operatic debut as Nannetta in Giuseppe Verdi’s comic opera Falstaff with Lake George Opera (now Opera Saratoga). She became a finalist in the National Metropolitan Opera Competition and, subsequently, the youngest singer on the roster. In 1981, she made her MET debut as the Nightingale in L’Enfant et les sortilèges and gave 108 performances at the Metropolitan Opera. For nine seasons, the coloratura soprano was heard in leading roles such as Gilda in Rigoletto, Blondchen in Die Entführung auf dem Serail, the title role of Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol, Clara in Porgy and Bess, Fiakermilli in Arabella, and Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos. She also appeared as the mechanical doll Olympia in Les contes d’Hoffman, which was aired on a PBS special broadcast.

Gwendolyn Bradley performs the dazzling, acrobatic aria, “Les oiseaux dans la charmilles” from Jacques Offenbach’s opera, Les contes d’Hoffman at the Metropolitan Opera in 1988. 

Ms. Bradley made her European debut in the title role in George Frideric Handel’s opera Rodelinda in 1983 with the Netherlands Opera. From there on, she performed roles such as Zerbinetta, Susanna, Pamina, Blondchen, Adina, Despina, and Rodelinde in opera houses in cities across Europe, including Paris, Montpellier, Nice, Monte Carlo, Madrid, Barcelona, Munich, Hamburg, Vienna, and Amsterdam.

In 1987, she made her Deutsche Oper Berlin debut as Gilda, becoming one of their leading international stars for 15 years from 1988 to 2003. In the United States, she performed roles with Memphis Opera, Michigan Opera Theatre (now Detroit Opera), Central City Opera in Colorado, Cleveland Opera, and LA Opera. A renowned concert singer, performing works that spanned from Baroque to the 20th century, she also appeared as a soloist with many distinguished orchestras and as a recitalist, working with such conductors as Zubin Mehta, Riccardo Muti, André Previn, and Lorin Maazel, from Carnegie Hall to Tokyo. Praised by the New York Times for a voice with a “distinctly radiant timbre,” Ms. Bradley performed for Queen Elizabeth II and queens of Spain and Sweden throughout her illustrious career.

An audio recording of Gwendolyn Bradley performing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s florid concert aria, “Sol nascente” K.70 in Paris, France, 1987.

Throughout the early to mid-2000s, Ms. Bradley made numerous appearances at the International Music Festival Krystyna Jamroz in Busko-Zdrój, Poland, and in 2004, began teaching at The Masters School, a private, coeducational boarding school and day college preparatory school in the Hudson River Valley north of New York City. A year later, in September 2005, she joined the faculty of Alliance University (formerly Nyack College), where she continues to teach voice and coach the next generation of talented young classical singers.

Please visit the Curtis Institute of Music Open Archives and Recitals (CIMOAR). Learn more about Curtis’s library and archives HERE.

Photo Credits: 1.) Portrait of Gwendolyn Bradley courtesy of the South Carolina African American History Calendar. 2.) Gwendolyn Bradley on May 19, 1994 as a soloist with the L’Orchestra Symphonique Français, courtesy of the Festival D’Auvers. 3.) Ms. Bradley as Fauno in Mozart’s pastoral opera, Ascanio in Alba in Paris (left), and a promotional photo as Olympia in Le conte d’Hoffman with the Metropolitan Opera (right); courtesy of the Gwendolyn Bradley fan club page. 4.) Ms. Bradley as Zerlina in Don Giovanni with LA Opera (left) and as Fiakermilli in Arabella with the Metropolitan Opera; courtesy of the Gwendolyn Bradley fan club page. 5.) Image courtesy of Ms. Bradley’s official X account (formerly known as Twitter). 6.) Ms. Bradley at the XIV. International Music Festival of Krystyna Jamroz, Poland, Busko-Zdrój, July 2008; courtesy of Jarosław Roland Kruk/wikipedia.org.

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