Mezzo-soprano Nan Merriman was one of world’s leading opera singers for two decades after World War II. The New York Times critic David Mermelstein describes her as “a beautiful mezzo-soprano who was born in Pittsburgh and whose vibrant timbre impressed such paragons as Arturo Toscanini and Herbert von Karajan” . Nan Merriman became internationally known through radio broadcasts, recordings, and performances with leading opera companies and symphonies. She appeared live on many national radio opera broadcasts performing with Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony between 1944 and 1952. She performed in concert with the major American symphonies in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh. During the 1950s and early 1960s Merriman performed in the leading opera houses in Europe including La Scala. Her dozens of recordings made from 1943 through 1964 were released by RCA, EMI, Deutsche Grammophon, Naxos, Philips, Stradivous, and other labels and have been reissued on CD as recently as 2008.
Among her most memorable roles released on CD are Maddalena in Act IV of Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto, Emilia in Verdi's Otello, Mistress Page in Verdi's Falstaff, and the trousers role of Orfeo in Act II of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice. She is featured as Dorabella in a famous 1956 La Scala performance of Mozart's Così fan tutte. She also released a series of recordings of Spanish and French songs with pianist Gerald Moore.
New York Times music critic David Mermelstein in a 1988 review of the Merriman CD “French and Spanish Songs” on Testament wrote “In the Spanish songs, Ms. Merriman's richly atmospheric readings are even more accomplished. Hear her in Federico Mompou's haunting ''Jo et Pressentia com la Mar'' or Xavier Montsalvatge's lullaby ''Cancion de Cuna Para Dormir a un Negrito,'' and be swept away.
From Pittsburgh to Hollywood
Nan Merriman was born Katherine Ann Merriman in Pittsburgh during 1920. Auburn haired and blue eyed she grew up in Pittsburgh’s East End where she attended St. Mercy Academy. At age 15 she moved with her family to Los Angeles where she attended high school and studied singing. Her music instructors were Alexis Bassian and the legendary German opera diva Lotte Lehmann. Merriman began her singing career in 1940 at age 20 as a chorus member in several Hollywood films. She gave her first solo concert at the Hollywood Bowl in 1940. While working at a film studio she was noticed by actor Sir Laurence Olivier. He hired Merriman to perform with him and his wife actress Vivian Leigh on a national tour of the play Romeo and Juliet. Merriman sang arias by Palestrina and Purcell during scenery changes. Merriman returned to Pittsburgh to appear in the "Follies Bergere of 1941" at the Stanley Theater with Mary Lou Savage. Merriman made her opera debut performing with the Cincinnati Summer Opera during its 1942 season. Her first performance was in the role of La Cieca in "La Gioconda.".
While in Cincinnati Merriman won a singing contest sponsored by the National Federation of Music clubs. With the prize money she bought $1000 of radio time and gave a 15 minute recital that was aired on the NBC radio network. After hearing Merriman’s broadcast Arturo Toscanini sought her out and hired her to perform with the NBC Symphony 1944. She sang with Toscanini 12 times launching her national and international career. The broadcasts were recorded and released by RCA. Her recordings with Toscanini include the title role of Gluck's "Orfeo," Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis," and the Verdi roles of Emilia (in "Otello"), Maddalena (in "Rigoletto") and Meg Page (in "Falstaff").
In May of 1946 Merrriman made her first appearance with the New York Philharmonic. Her popularity grew. In 1948 she performed with NBC Symphony on three broadcasts, three concerts with Leopold Stokowski and the New York Philharmonic, three concerts with Lenard Bernstein and the City Center Symphony and did a coast to coast tour with 40 concert appearances. She was named "Miss Symphony of 1948 by a leading music publication. She became a favorite performer with the Chicago Lyric Opera and the San Francisco Opera. Merriman appeared with the Pittsburgh Symphony in 1951 singing the Messiah at the Syria Mosque.
After World War II Merriman
centered her career in Europe. During
the 1950s she appeared at the leading opera houses in Vienna, Milan, Paris,
Brussels, and Amsterdam. She sang in the British premiere of Stravinsky's
"The Rake's Progress" at the Edinburgh Festival of 1953, as Baba the
Turk. She performed the part of Laura in
world premiere of Dargomizhsky’s ,"The Stone Guest," at Milan's
Piccola Scala in 1958. Her most-repeated
role, which established her strong European reputation, was Dorabella in
Mozart's "Così fan tutte." She was recorded in two complete
recordings of "Così".