DES MOINES 〓 American bass-baritone Simon Estes has announced his retirement from opera


American bass-baritone Simon Estes has announced his retirement from opera. He is one of the first generation of widely successful black opera singers, and through his nearly 60 years in the opera world, he has contributed significantly to the advancement of black singers.

His last appearance will be in Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” with the Des Moines Metro Opera in Iowa. The New York Metropolitan Opera first presented “Porgy and Bess” in 1985, in which he sang the role of Porgy. In last performance, he will play Attorney Frazier as his 103rd role.

Estes was born in Centerville, Iowa, in 1938, and is 84 years old. He went to the University of Iowa to study medicine, but after joining the university choir as its first black member, he decided to pursue vocal music, and after graduation he went to the Juilliard School of Music.

He then moved to Europe, where discrimination and prejudice were less prevalent than in the U.S., and made his professional debut in 1965 singing the role of Rumphis in Verdi’s “Aida” at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

The following year, he won third prize at the International Tchaikovsky Competition. In 1978, he became the first African American singer to sing the role of the Dutchman in “The Flying Dutchman” at the Bayreuth Festival.

In 1982, he returned to the U.S., where prejudice and discrimination were still strong, and appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. At that time, he sang the role of Hermann in Wagner’s “Tannhäuser. At the Metropolitan Opera, after “Porgy and Bess” in 1985, he was cast as Wotan in the new production of “The Ring of the Nibelung” in 1986.

In addition to his singing, he has been active in humanitarian activities and has sung for such international figures as Presidents Clinton, Yeltsin, and Mandela, as well as the Pope.

He will continue to teach as a professor at Iowa State University and Des Moines Area Community College, while continuing his concert career.
Photo:Iowa State University / Christopher Gannon

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