Sharon Sweet


Born: August 16, 1951
One of a handful of dramatic sopranos whose talents prove that large voices of quality still do exist, Sharon Sweet has enjoyed a highly successful career despite persistent issues regarding her physical size. Like Jessye Norman, Alessandra Marc, and Deborah Voigt, Sweet has both an ample figure and a voice to measure up to the grandest roles in the Italian, German, and French repertories. While not the most psychologically penetrating of interpreters, Sweet has consistently sung with power, an appropriate notion of style, and no small measure of musicianship. During her career, she has appeared in leading roles in many of the major world venues, especially in Europe and the United States. While still in prime voice, she assumed a full-time university level teaching position, by no means abandoning her singing career, but being more selective regarding her engagements.

Initially preparing herself for a career as a concert pianist, Sweet suffered an injury that closed the door on that possibility. She turned to singing, studying first in Philadelphia with Margaret Harshaw (noted for providing her students with a strong fundamental technique) and, after a return to New York, with Marinka Gurewich. When she was ready to audition, she met with the first examples of prejudice against full-figured leading ladies: After 150 auditions, she had no offers. Europe, by contrast, proved more enlightened. Following a successful Aida presented in concert form at Munich, Sweet was engaged for Elisabeth in a production of Tannhäuser at Dortmund the following year. In 1987, Sweet made important debuts in Paris and Berlin and in 1988 assumed the title role in Norma for a concert production in Brussels.

Sweet's American stage debut took place in 1989 when she sang Aida in San Francisco. She joined the Metropolitan Opera and had the honor of performing Lina in the company's first-ever production of Verdi's Stiffelio in 1992. Covent Garden heard her for the first time as Aida in 1995; when she returned as Turandot, her Princess was hailed for a lyric sweep and ease sharply contrasted with the shrill, unsteady Turandot of Gwyneth Jones that London had heard earlier. In addition to opera, Sweet has been heard regularly in oratorio. It was in Verdi's Manzoni Requiem that the soprano was first heard at Verona. Aside from that work, for which her voluminous instrument is so well-suited, Sweet's concert repertory spans a century and a half, ranging from Beethoven's Missa Solemnis and Symphony No. 9 to Britten's War Requiem.

Sweet's 1999 move to academia when she accepted a full-time teaching position at Westminster Choir College surprised many, particularly as it was accompanied by little comment on the singer's part. In Brian Kellow's column in the February 2000 issue of Opera News, however, the singer explained her increasing frustration with a system gone awry, one in which appearance too often takes precedence over vocal substance. She cited the example of her having saved a performance by taking over for an ailing colleague, only to be told by the conductor that he would not work with her again due to her physical size. Sweet explained that she has long endured a thyroid condition known as Hashimoto's Syndrome. Sweet has made notable contributions to several recordings, in particular Lohengrin, Der Freischütz, Don Giovanni, and Il trovatore.