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Kathleen Deanna Battle (born August 13, 1948), is an African-American operatic light lyric-coloratura soprano known for her agile and light voice and her silvery, pure tone. Battle initially became known for her work within the concert repertoire through performances with major orchestras during the early and mid 1970s. She made her opera debut in 1975. Battle expanded her repertoire into lyric soprano and coloratura soprano roles during the 1980s and early 1990s. Although she no longer appears in operas, she remains active in concert and recital performances.
Early years and musical education
Battle was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, USA, the youngest of seven children. Her father was a steelworker, and her mother was an active participant in the gospel music of the family’s African Methodist Episcopal church. Battle attended Portsmouth High School where her music teacher and mentor was Charles P. (Phil) Varney. In a Time Magazine interview with music critic Michael Walsh, he recalled first hearing the eight-year old Battle sing, describing her as “this tiny little thing singing so beautifully.” “I went to her later”, Varney recalled, “and told her God had blessed her, and she must always sing.” In that same interview, Walsh described Battle as “the best lyric coloratura in the world”.
Battle was a good student and was awarded a scholarship to the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music where she studied voice with Franklin Bens and also worked with Italo Tajo. She majored in music education rather than performance in undergraduate school and went on to get a master’s degree in Music Education as well. In 1971 Battle embarked on a teaching career in Cincinnati, taking a position at a Cincinnati inner-city public school. While teaching 5th and 6th grade music, she continued to study voice privately. She later studied singing with Daniel Ferro in New York.
Professional debut: soprano soloist in Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem, Festival dei Due Mondi, Spoleto, Italy, July 9, 1972.
Broadway debut: Treemonisha in Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha (Gunther Schuller, Conductor), (Wednesday and Saturday matinee performances), Uris Theatre, New York City, October 1975.
Operatic debut: Rosina in The Barber of Seville, Michigan Opera Theatre, 1975.
New York City Opera company debut: Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro, 1976.
San Francisco Opera company debut: Oscar in Un ballo in maschera (Kurt Herbert Adler, Conductor), November 12, 1977.
Metropolitan Opera company debut: Shepherd in Tannhäuser (James Levine, Conductor), December 22, 1977.
UK debut and Glyndebourne Festival Opera debut: Nerina in La fedeltà premiata, July 15, 1979.
Lyric Opera of Chicago company debut: Oscar in Un ballo in maschera (John Pritchard, Conductor), November 26, 1980.
Salzburg Festival debut and Salzburg opera debut: Despina in Così fan tutte (Ricardo Muti, Conductor), July 28, 1982.
Salzburg Festival solo recital debut: August 25, 1984.
Royal Opera, London company debut: Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos, June 17, 1985.
Carnegie Hall solo recital debut: April 27, 1991.