Maria Ewing, a soprano and mezzo-soprano noted for intense performances who became the wife of director Peter Hall and the mother of actor-director Rebecca Hall, has died at age 71.
Ewing died Sunday at her home in Detroit, spokeswoman Bryna Rifkin said Monday.
Born in Detroit to a Dutch mother and an African American father, Ewing was the youngest of four daughters.
“She was an extraordinarily gifted artist who by the sheer force of her talent and will catapulted herself to the most rarefied heights of the international opera world,” her family said in a statement.
Ewing made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1976 in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) and starred as Blanche de la Force in a new John Dexter production of Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites in 1977. She sang 96 Met performances until her finale as Marie in Berg’s Wozzeck in 1997, a span that included a six-year interruption triggered by a spat with Met artistic director James Levine.
Ewing met Peter Hall in 1978 when she sang Dorabella in a staging of Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte at Britain’s Glyndebourne Festival directed by Hall and led by conductor Bernard Haitink. Ewing married Hall, a founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company and then director of Britain’s National Theatre, in 1982.
Four years later, her husband directed her at the Met where she sang the title role in a new staging of Bizert’s Carmen.
“Far from the usual attempt at a fiery sexpot, her Carmen was easily bored, even sullen, her come-hither being a challenge to men to awaken her interest,” Associated Press critic Mary Campbell wrote.
But Ewing severed ties with the Met after the company scrapped a contemplated telecast of Carmen with her, then broadcast a 1987 performance of the production starring Agnes Baltsa. Ewing responded by withdrawing from appearances at the Ravinia Festival outside Chicago, where Levine was music director.
“The Met has no manners,″ Ewing and Hall told the Chicago Tribune.
Hall directed Ewing in 1986 in the title role of Strauss’ Salome at the LA Opera, in which she stripped to fully nude at the end of the Dance of the Seven Veils. The staging traveled in 1988 to London’s Royal Opera and the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and a telecast of the production was released commercially on DVD.
“Maria Ewing, who ventured the title role in Richard Strauss’ Salome for the new Music Center Opera on Thursday night, is a Theaterviech,” Martin Bernheimer wrote in the Los Angeles Times, using a German word for “theater beast.” “She is, in fact, a prime and wondrous example of the rare breed. She is a lovely, frail, seemingly nervous young woman blessed with a devastating pout, hypnotic eyes and a searing mind. She also happens to command a rather soft, slender and reedy mezzo-soprano that thins out a bit at the extended top.”
Hall also directed Ewing in Nozze in Chicago in 1987.
They divorced in 1990 and Peter Hall died in 2017 at age 87.
Rebecca Hall, born in 1982, has starred in films that include Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon and The Awakening. Her directing debut Passing, starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga, was released last year.
Ewing also is survived by sisters Norma Koleta, Carol Pancratz and Francis Ewing.