Ellen Faull, one of America’s premiere sopranos and a distinguished voice teacher, had a great impact on American Opera. She sang principle roles with the New York City Opera for three decades from 1947 until 1978. Performing in world premieres she originating the roles of Abigail in Lizzie Borden and the mother in Carrie Nation. Faull also performed with most of the major American opera companies, was a solo recitalist, and was heard often on the national radio shows of the Mutual Broadcasting Network. She won wide acclaim for her Mozart roles, such as Donna Anna, Countess Almaviva (Le Nozze di Figaro), and Firordiligi (Così fan Tutte). She has been cited as one of the leading Mozart singers of the 20th century.
As a distinguished voice teacher her pupils included some of the most prominent American opera performers: Dawn Upshaw, Ashley Putnam, Faye Robinson, Veronica Villarroel and Gianna Rolandi. She taught singing at Sarah Lawrence College and the Manhattan School of Music, was the Chair of the Voice Department at the Juilliard School of Music, and taught privately at her home in Camas, Washington. Her performances are captured in CD recordings of the operas “Lizzie Borden” and “Carry Nation”. VAI Audio released a compilation of her recordings in 1998 “Ellen Faull: An American Soprano” and “Conversation Piece [Must Close Saturday]” (2007). Sony Music released recordings of her recital works including: “Schoenberg: Lieder” (1995), “The Glenn Gould Trilogy: Ein Leben” (2007), “The Music of Arnold Schoenberg, Vol. 4” (2007).
“Ellen Faull’s soaring and crystalline voice carried her passionate spirit and unsurpassed vitality, making her a quintessential American opera singer. In most, this would be enough. But the legacy of Ellen Faull is more than her own voice; it lives in the voices of singers who, through her teaching and patronage, are now performing in opera houses and concert halls around the world.” –Black Box Opera Theater Website review of Ellen Faull American Soprano CD.
According to Thor Eckert Jr. of Groves Music Faull was noted for her ability “to deliver the vehement coloratura of Donna Anna’s music with fire and meaning” and “to spin out long, limpid phrases in Verdi with her attractive lirico spinto.”
Brian Kellow, the features editor at Opera News, wrote: “If Ellen were singing today she would be a big, big star… She had a really, really fine voice. It was no-frills, no-nonsense out-there soprano – clean, honest unfussy singing.”
“It’s very rare for someone to be a great opera singer and a great teacher” - Portland Opera General Director Christopher Mattaliano
Ellen Faull was born in Pittsburgh on October 14, 1918 into a blue collar family. She was the youngest of five children, only three of whom survived early childhood. Her family became destitute during the Depression. Ellen along with her brothers and sisters went door-to-door selling their mother's home-baked bread to earn money. She began singing in elementary school where at 10 years old she was selected as soloist and section leader of her school choir. At age 16 she sang for a leading Pittsburgh voice teacher Midlress Lissfelt of Chatham College, the wife of a prominent music critic Fred Lisseft of the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph. With support from the Lissfelts Ellen Faull began formal voice lessons. The Lissfelts encouraged Faull to study voice at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. They also introduced Ellen to Eugene Ormandy, who heard her sing at the Lissfelts’ house. Ormandy was so impressed that he invited Ellen to use his private box to attend all of the Philadelphia Orchestra concerts. Ormandy also hired her to sing with the Philadelphia orchestra while she was studying at the Curtis Institute.
Leaving the Curtis Institute, Ms. Faull moved to New York City to study with Joseph Regnas at Columbia University. In the Spring of 1947 she auditioned at the New York City Opera Hall for Erich Leinsdorf, who was hiring singers to perform in Germany,. The City Opera staff overheard her audition and invited her to return to sing for their artistic director, Laszlo Halasz. In the Fall of 1947 Ellen Faull began her 35 year career with the New York City Opera, making her professional debut as Donna Anna in the company’s first ever performance of Don Giovanni. Over her career with City Opera she performed leading roles in The Marriage of Figaro, Der Rosenkavalier, Der Meistersinger, Madama Butterfly, Bohme, and Faust. She is remembered for her leading roles in the company premieres of Love for Three Oranges, Regina, The Four Ruffians, Trovatore, Capriccio, Dialogues of the Carmelites, Albert Herring. Her most memorable starring performances with the New York City Opera include the American première of Wolf-Ferrari’s I quatro rusteghi in 1951, the world premiere of Beeson’s Lizzie Borden in 1965, Lady Billows in the U.S. premiere of Albert Herring, and the New York première of Douglas Moore’s Carry Nation in 1968.
Faull was one of America’s of premier opera singers. In addition to her work with the New York City Opera she performed in the major opera houses across the country and in Europe. Her voice was heard frequently on national radio broadcasts on the Mutual Network. As a soloist Faull performed recitals of the works of American composers. She often performed the works of Ned Rorem including the premiere of his “The Poet’s Requirem” in 1957. Rorem praised her singing as “"a cloud of peridot chiffon”.
As her national reputation as a performer grew, she was asked to teach others. Upon her retirement from the New York City Opera in 1978 she became a full time teacher. She first taught at Sarah Lawrence College, then at the Manhattan School of Musi. She began teaching at the prestigious Julliard School of Music in 1980 and quickly became the chair of the voice department. She held the chair a position she held until her departure in 1990. She moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1990 to be near hear daughter. She continued giving private lessons and taught at at Portland State University's where she founded the Bel Canto Northwest Vocal Institute summer program in 1992. Her students who achieved prominent national and international careers included Dawn Upshaw, Gianna Rolandi, Audra McDonald, Ashley Putnam, Veronica Villarroel Faye Robinson, Veronica Villaroel, Jianyi Zhang, Hei-Kyung Hong, Michaela Gurevich, Juliana Rambaldi, Tracey Welborn, and Victor Benedetti. Fault taught at her home in Camas, Washington up until her death in 2008 at the age of 90.