Frances Ginsberg, noted opera soprano

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-n-Chief Emeritu

Frances Ginsberg, an accomplished opera soprano who grew up in Olivette and graduated in 1973 from Ladue Horton Watkins High School, died Friday, Dec. 24, 2010 at Hebrew Home at Riverdale Nursing Home in New York City, following a battle with brain, spinal and ovarian cancer. She had previously been treated for breast cancer. She was 55, and had been residing in New York in recent years.

Ms. Ginsberg returned to St. Louis several times over the past three years for treatment.

Ms. Ginsberg began her studies under the auspices of the Lyric Opera of Chicago and then traveled to Italy to continue her training. She had her debut in “Mefistofele” in 1980 with the New York City Opera at Lincoln Center. Her roles with the New York City Opera also included Donna Elvira in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” Mimi in Puccini’s “Boheme,” Violetta in Verdi’s “Traviata” and Nedda in Leoncavallo’s “Pagliaci.”

A New York Times obituary last week said that Ms. Ginsberg was “known for her large, bright voice and acting, (and) was most closely associated with the spinto repertory “Sionto”-the past participle of the Italian verb spingere, “to push”-(which) describes roles that demand both the silvery fluidity of a lyric singer and the dark power of a dramatic one.”

In a 1987 review by New York Times writer Bernard Holland, Ms. Ginsberg was praised for “her passionately idiosyncratic ideas on phrasing” and her “desire to say something-to be Mimi-rather than just to make pretty sounds.” Ms. Ginsberg also appeared in Carnegie and Town Halls in Manhattan, at the Mostly Mozart Festival and with the Opera Orchestra of New York. She was also an understudy at the Metropolitan Opera, singing one performance with the company, as Rosalinde in Johann Strauss’s “Die Fledermaus” in 1990.

Frances Helen Ginsberg was born in St. Louis on March 11, 1955, the daughter of the late Louis and the late Evelyn Ginsberg. She earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in theater from the University of Kansas in 1979, and also studied at the Center for American Artists, the training program of the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Her teachers over the years included Carlo Bergonzi, Renata Tebaldi and Eve Queler.

Other opera companies with which she appeared include the Houston and Fresno Grand Operas, the San Diego, Pittsburgh, Utah and Cincinnati Operas; the Welsh National Opera and l’Opera de Nice.

A longtime friend, Dr. Janice Semenkovich, said that while Ms. Ginsberg had portrayed some major tragic figures in opera, she radiated joy, often bursting out in song while she was in the hospital for treatment. She added that Ms. Ginsberg’s personality “could not have been less diva-like. She was a very modest and gentle person, concerned about everyone around her.”

Similar sentiments of affection, admiration and respect were expressed by other longtime friends of Ms. Ginsberg. Vicky Litz, with whom Ms. Ginsberg sometimes stayed while in St. Louis for treatments said, “Fran was truly amazing. She remained positive, upbeat and singing until the very end of her struggles with her illness.” Arlen Chaleff, another longtime friend, said “Fran Ginsberg was a truly unbelievable person.” She said a celebration of her life is being planned for Congregation Shaare Emeth, and details will be announced at a later date.

The funeral was last Tuesday in New York City. Among the survivors is her brother, Michael F. Ginsberg, of Amherst, N.H.