Barbara Hendricks' voice -- particularly suited to Mozart, Debussy, Fauré, and the lighter roles of Puccini and Richard Strauss -- has a warm, crystalline quality that has kept her in demand on stage and in recording studios. Her performances have embraced everything from contemporary music to popular standards, including songs of Duke Ellington and several world premieres. She has been careful with her choices of repertoire, avoiding roles thatRead more would overextend her essentially lyric instrument. Aside from music, she is deeply committed to humanitarian work, with a particular concern for refugees and those in war or poverty zones. She sang a concert in Sarajevo in 1993 while the city was being shelled, in which she had to wear a bulletproof vest and helmet.
As a child, Hendricks sang in church choirs, but believing her talent for math and science would be more likely to lead to solid employment, she did not choose to study music; instead she went to the University of Nebraska and graduated with a double major in Mathematics and Chemistry. However, after singing in a community event at the Aspen Institute, she was invited to attend the summer music festival there. Doing so brought her into contact with Jennie Tourel, whose teaching -- both there and at the Juilliard School -- would eventually lead her into a singing career. Tourel, who was Jewish, fled France during World War II, escaping on the last boat that was allowed to leave. Hearing Tourel's descriptions of those events piqued Hendricks' interest in the plight of refugees; later, when her daughter was born, she named her Jennie, after Mme. Tourel.
Hendricks' first opera role was at the Mini-Met chamber-opera arm of the Metropolitan Opera in 1973 as St. Settlement in Virgil Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts. In 1974, she made her Glyndebourne debut as Cavalli's Calisto and was also in the world premiere of David Del Tredici's Final Alice. She appeared in the United States premiere of Penderecki's Desiree in 1976.. In 1982, she debuted at the Paris Opera as Juliette in Gounod's Romeo et Juliette (she was also offered, but turned down, the lead of the film Diva that year). Her Met debut was as Sophie in Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier in 1986, and she was awarded the title of Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres by the French government, the youngest ever recipient of that title. The next year she made her La Scala debut as Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro. 1987 was the year when she first began to work with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and became a Goodwill Ambassador. In 1996, she sang the world premiere of Tobias Pickers' The Rain in the Trees. The Ensemble Intercontemporain commissioned Das Erschaft der Dichter nicht from Bruno Mantovani specifically for her, which work she premiered in 2002.
Hendricks has appeared on nearly 80 recordings spread over a variety of major labels, including DG, Decca, EMI, Sony, Philips, RCA, and Arte Verum.In 1975 she made her first recording (Decca), singing Clara in Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. Her first of many recordings for EMI was in the small part of the Celestial Voice in Don Carlo in 1978. In 2006 Hendricks did not renew her contract with EMI, but formed her own label, Arte Verum. Via this new enterprise she appeared on five recordings in 2008, including an acclaimed disc of Poulenc works. A citizen and resident of Sweden, Hendricks married her manager Martin Engström in 1978, and the couple have three children. Read less