Mary Curtis-Verna, a Metropolitan Opera soprano of the 1950s and '60s was born in Salem on May 9, 1921 and died of complications from a broken hip at the age of 88 on Dec. 4th, 2009 at her home in Seattle.
Known to opera aficionados for her large, flexible voice and astute musicianship, she appeared in nearly 100 performances from 1956 to 1966. Time magazine wrote in 1958, that Curtis-Verna was "the Metropolitan's most highly publicized relief aria-pitcher." This was aided by her keen memory, singular good looks and foreign-language ability.
After attending Abbot Academy (now part of Phillips Academy in Andover) she earned her bachelor's degree in music from what was then Hollins College in Roanoke, Virginia. She continued her music studies at Juilliard. She began her career in Europe but later sang with the New York City and San Francisco Operas before joining the Met. Her first husband was Ettore Verna, a respected vocal coach. Her second husband was Giuseppe Basile.
On May 4th, 1957, Curtis-Verna returned to Salem to perform at a benefit concert at the Salem Armory. This highly attended concert (2500 people were said to be there) presented Mary Curtis-Verna as well as the New England Federation of Men's Glee Clubs. The concert was sponsored by the Salem Hospital Aid Association. Mayor Collins proclaimed May 4th as Mary Curtis-Verna day and she was presented with many gifts, which included a silver bowl and a painted tray depicting the occasion as well as events in her life.
In thanking the city of Salem for all she was given, she personally thanked Claude Phillips who gave her a chance to sing in public the first time and the Rotary Club who also supported her passion for singing.
- Vertical File in Salem Collection - Curtis-Verna, Mary
- Salem Women's Heritage Trail Bonnie Hurd Smith, p. 32-3
- Mary Curtis-Verna Univ. Washington site
- "Mary Curtis praises Salem residents for encouragement" Salem Evening News, May 3, 1957, p.1
- "2500 in Ovation to Mary-Curtis-Verna: Met star scores musical triumph in native city" Salem Evening News, May 6, 1957, p.1
- "A Salem voice heard round the world" Salem Evening News, Dec. 26, 2000. p. A1