In conversation with Marilyn Horne


It’s so simple: you dial a phone number. A dark, warm, sweet voice answers the call with: “Hello, with Marilyn”. And gone are the nerves. We talk much longer than the half hour time limit I’ve got. And there is plenty of laughter.

On 16 January 2003 she turned seventy and at the same time she celebrated her official debut fifty years ago. To mark the occasion, she released a CD, which she compiled herself. ” Have you heard it yet?” she asks. ” I’ m quite proud of it. It contains both studio and live recordings. All chosen by myself”.

Horne cd 70

“Seventy, my God, where did the time go? I made my debut in opera when I was twenty years old, but I sang my entire life. I actually made my debut when I was two years old, so I’ve been singing for almost 50 years. My father was a semi-professional singer, a tenor with a beautiful voice. He was my first teacher, my mentor. I started singing lessons when I was 5 years old, something I won’t recommend to anyone. Too early.”

When she was twenty her father died. And she left for Europe. Was there any connection?
“Pure coincidence. My European plans were already fixed for some time. He developed an acute form of leukaemia, and at that time you died of it quickly. He was diagnosed on Sunday and was already dead on Wednesday. But I was on my way to Europe. With a Dutch ship by the way, which was called ‘Maasdam’.”


Marylin Horne started out as a soprano and then became one of the greatest mezzo’s in history.
“Young girls don’t have low notes, and I was a young girl. As I got older, I was asked more and more if I was sure that I was a soprano, well, I was sure of that. In the Gelsenkirchen opera I sang heavy soprano roles, like Minnie in La Fanciulla del West. And Marie in Wozzeck, a role that brought me fame and happiness. I sang it in Covent Garden, and later in Los Angeles. Luckily there are pirate recordings so I can listen to them now. I am very grateful to the ‘pirates’ because I never recorded my own performances. And it’s live. When you’ re an opera singer, you sing opera live, on stage.”

Marilyn Horne sings Marie in Wozzeck in a pirate recording from 1966:

Her repertoire is huge: from Gesualdo to contemporary music, opera, songs and musicals.

“And film” she adds. “In fact, I sang everything that was possible. I was a kind of chameleon, able to change the necessary colours. Looking back at my career, I wonder: why was I in such a hurry? I strongly advise my students against that.”

More good advice?
“Work on your technique, that’s the most important thing”.

Did she have an example? An idol?
“In my childhood Lily Pons. Especially in her aria from Lakmé. And in my puberty, Renata Tebaldi. Still, by the way.”

Does she have an explanation for the immense popularity of opera in recent years?
“Yes, I do! The subtitles!”

The subtitles?
“Absolutely! Listen, a few days ago I was in the MET, for La Bohème. I myself once sang both Mimi and Musetta and now for the first time I could follow what the others had to say”.

Marilyn Horne sings Musetta in 1962:

She laughs and starts coughing. She didn’t catch a cold, did she?
“A little bit. But I do take care of myself. And in a moment I get in a cab and drive to the pool, because I’m addicted to aquarobics”.

Will she ever come to the Netherlands again?
“I’d love to, because it’s been so long! I don’t even remember when it was last! But you have to be asked for that first, don’t you?”

Marilyn Horne sings ‘Somewhere’ from Bernstein’s West Side Story:

Translated with


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