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Blanche Thebom; was Met Opera star

By Margalit Fox
New York Times / March 29, 2010

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NEW YORK — Blanche Thebom, a mezzo-soprano who was discovered singing in a shipboard lounge as a teenager and went on to sing more than 350 performances with the Metropolitan Opera, died Tuesday at her home in San Francisco. She was 94.

Her death was confirmed by Roger Greenberg, a longtime friend.

In a field long dominated by Europeans, Ms. Thebom was part of the first, midcentury wave of American opera singers to attain international careers. Associated with the Met from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s, she was praised by critics for her warm voice, attentive phrasing, and sensitive acting.

Ms. Thebom was best known for Wagner roles. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in Philadelphia in November 1944 as Brangaene in “Tristan und Isolde’’; the next month she appeared with the company in New York, singing Fricka in “Die Walkuere.’’

At the Met, her other roles included Ortrud in Wagner’s “Lohengrin,’’ Azucena in Verdi’s “Trovatore,’’ and Amneris in his “Aida,’’ and the title role in Bizet’s “Carmen.’’

Ms. Thebom last performed at the Met in 1967. She later directed the opera program at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, and afterward moved to San Francisco, where she taught privately and helped create a training program for young singers.

In later years, Ms. Thebom appeared often in duo recitals with the soprano Eleanor Steber.

Blanche Thebom was born on Sept. 19, 1915, in Monessen, Pa., and reared in Canton, Ohio; the year of her birth is often given erroneously as 1918. Her parents had emigrated from Sweden. As a girl, she sang in a church choir.

While still a teenager, Ms. Thebom traveled to Sweden with her parents in the 1930s. On the crossing, she was heard singing in the ship’s lounge by Kosti Vehanen, a pianist. Vehanen arranged for Ms. Thebom to study in New York, where her primary teacher was Edyth Walker, a former Metropolitan Opera mezzo.

Ms. Thebom’s marriage to Richard Metz ended in divorce. She leaves no immediate family members.