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Rise Stevens


Stevens (original name Steenberg) was the daughter of an advertising salesman of Norwegian Lutheran descent. Her mother, who was of Polish and Russian Jewish origin, greatly encouraged her daughter who as a young girl earned a dollar a week singing on a local radio show ‘The Children’s Hour’ and by her late teens had joined the Little Theater Opera Group based in Brooklyn, occasionally taking leading roles. Here she was heard by Anna Schoen-René, who taught voice at the Juilliard School.

Schoen-René began to teach Stevens privately and arranged for her to receive a scholarship from Juilliard. Before beginning studies here in the autumn of 1933, Stevens modelled fur coats during the summer in Manhattan’s garment district and sang on the ‘Palmolive Beauty Box Theater’ radio programme. Under Schoen-René she was able to lighten her voice, moving from contralto to mezzo-soprano; and during 1935, financed by Schoen-René, she studied singing with Marie Gutheil-Schoder and stagecraft with Herbert Graf at the Salzburg Mozarteum. After returning to the USA Stevens entered the first Metropolitan Opera ‘Auditions of the Air’ in the winter of 1935–1936 and although not a winner, was later offered the part of Orfeo /Orfeo ed Euridice (Gluck) by the Met. Realising however that she was not yet ready, Stevens did not accept.

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