A day with Camilla Williams

Elizabeth Nash

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Her friend and colleague, Todd Duncan, creator of George Gershwin's Porgy on Broadway in 1935, called her "Diva". She is Camilla Williams, lyric soprano, who in 1946 was the first AfricanAmerican to receive a regular contract with a major American opera company. Her debut role at New York's City Center Opera was as Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Other leading roles Miss Williams was to perform with this company for the next six years were Nedda in Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, Mimì in Puccini's La bohème, and Verdi's Aida. Then, in 1954, she appeared as Butterfly with London's Sadler's Wells Opera and later the Vienna State Opera. Miss Williams was also a distinguished concert artist, performing throughout the United States, in fourteen African countries, and in South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, New Zealand, and Australia. From 1977 to 1997, she was professor of voice at Indiana University's School of Music. Although Miss Williams has officially retired, she is still teaching privately. Recently, Sony reissued the thrilling 1951 Columbia recording of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess starring Lawrence Winters and Camilla Williams. Once again we can hear her vocally and theatrically exciting Bess. Winters is a superb partner, and the performance is further enhanced by the beautiful singing of June McMechen, Helen Dowdy, and Eddie and Inez Matthews, as well as the luminous conducting of Lehman Engel. In 1995, I had the privilege of spending a day with this charming, elegant, and courageous pioneering opera diva at both her lovely apartment and memorabiliaenriched studio in Bloomington, Indiana. Miss Williams is a delightful raconteur and graciously shared many of her fascinating experiences with me.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-230
Number of pages12
JournalOpera Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002

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