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Risë Stevens arrangements collection

Identifier: MP-0005-01


Risë Stevens (1913-2013) was an operatic mezzo-soprano, actress, and a music administrator who served as president of the Mannes College of Music from 1975 to 1978. The collection contains performance scores of Broadway and jazz standards of the 1930s and 1940s arranged for her, likely for use in her commercially recorded albums of such standards.


  • 1945-1967



0.6 Cubic Feet (1 box)

Language of Materials


Scope and Content of Collection

The collection consists of voice, conductor, and orchestra part performance scores of Broadway and jazz standards of the 1930s and 1940s arranged for opera mezzo-soprano Risë Stevens, likely for use in her commercially recorded albums of such standards. One score is derived from the Intermezzo of the opera Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni, to which the words of a version of “Ave Maria” have been added. Some scores and parts have been annotated in pencil.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use. Please contact for appointment.

Conditions Governing Use

To publish images of material from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the New School Archives and Special Collections. Please contact:

Biographical Note

Risë Stevens (b. 1913, Bronx, New York - d. 2013, Manhattan, New York) was an American mezzo-soprano opera singer. She was born Risë Gus Steenberg in the Bronx, and as a child she sang on a local radio program. As a teenager, her family moved to Queens and she began appearing in local opera productions, adopting her professional name, Risë Stevens. Anna Schoen-René, a renowned voice teacher at the Juilliard School, noticed Stevens in one of these productions, and began teaching her privately, arranging a scholarship for her to study at Juilliard in 1933.

In 1935, Stevens sang for the first Metropolitan Opera Auditions of the Air, and a few months later, was offered the role of Orfeo in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice at the Met. She declined the role, however, believing that she wasn’t ready, and instead went to Europe for further study. She made her debut at the Prague Opera in 1936 in the title role of Mignon by Ambroise Thomas. It was in Prague that Stevens first sang the title role of Bizet’s Carmen, a role that would figure prominently in her career. While in Europe, she also met her future husband and manager, Walter Surovy, a Hungarian actor whom Stevens married in 1939.

Stevens made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1938 with the touring production of Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier in Philadelphia, later making her debut on the Met’s New York stage in the title role of Mignon. Stevens’ Met career lasted twenty-three years; she sang 337 performances, a third of which were of Bizet’s Carmen. In that time she also sang seventy-four performances of Der Rosenkavalier as Octavian. Besides Carmen, Octavian, and Mignon, Stevens’ most prominent roles were Dalila in Saint-Saens’ Samson et Dalila, Cherubino in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, and Orlofsky in Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. While pursuing her Met career, Stevens also gained fame in Hollywood, appearing in the 1941 film The Chocolate Soldier opposite Nelson Eddy, and the 1944 film Going My Way opposite Bing Crosby. She also made frequent appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show. Despite having the opportunity to continue her film career at MGM studios, Stevens remained with the Metropolitan Opera, although she did use her fame in 1961 to help resolve a labor dispute at the Met by asking President John F. Kennedy to intervene.

Stevens gave her last performance at the Metropolitan Opera in 1961, as Carmen. In 1964, she starred in a Lincoln Center production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, and officially retired from the stage to become the co-manager of the Metropolitan Opera National Company, which toured the United States and Canada until 1967. She was offered a post on the faculty of the Juilliard School in 1975, but instead chose to accept an offer to serve as the president of the Mannes College of Music. Earlier that year, Mannes students and faculty had initiated an emergency fundraising drive to avert the school’s financial collapse. Within the first year of her tenure as president, Stevens balanced Mannes’ budget, brought on new faculty, including the famous pianist Vladimir Horowitz, and initiated the residence of the American String Quartet. Stevens herself also taught a class in voice and role interpretation.

In addition to resolving Mannes’ fiscal problems, Stevens’ focus as president was on preserving Mannes’ reputation for excellence and its character as a smaller school, as well as emphasizing music performance over theory. She was also interested in expanding the opera program at Mannes, but met with resistance from the board of trustees, and due to disagreements with certain members of the board, Stevens resigned in 1978. The following year, with no permanent president in place, the Mannes board of trustees attempted to merge the school with the much larger Manhattan School of Music, but the merger was blocked in court. In the spring of 1979, the New York State Board of Regents removed the entire Mannes board for neglect of duty.

In 1980, Stevens took on a new role at the Metropolitan Opera as an advisor to the Young Artist Development Program and executive director of the National Council Regional Auditions, posts which she held for the next eight years. Also in 1980, the Mannes College of Music, led by its newly appointed president Charles Kaufman, a former faculty member, granted Stevens an honorary doctorate. Stevens was honored by the National Opera Institute in 1982, The Kennedy Center in 1990, and she received the National Endowment of the Arts Opera Honors in 2011. Stevens died in New York City in 2013 at 99 years of age.


Burstein, Patricia. “Risë Stevens: It’s Carmen in the President’s Chair at the Mannes School.” People, April 26, 1976.

Ericson, Raymond. “Rise Stevens Plays Role of Impresario.” The New York Times, March 25, 1977.

Fox, Margalit. “Risë Stevens, 99, Stalwart at the Met for Decades in Carmen Role, Is Dead.” The New York Times, March 21, 2013. Huizenga, Tom, and Anastasia Tsioulcas. “Deceptive Cadence: Remembering Risë Stevens, a Star of Opera and Pop Culture.” Last modified March 21, 2013. Accessed May 1, 2020.

Jackson, Susan. “Risë Stevens 1913-2013.” The Juilliard Journal, May-August 2013.

Kellow, Brian. “Obituaries: Risë Stevens.” Opera News 77, no. 12 (June 2013): 68-69.

Kleiman, Dena. “State Removes Board of Mannes College.” The New York Times, May 25, 1979.

Krebs, Albin. “Notes on People.” The New York Times, February 23, 1978.

Langer, Emily. “Risë Stevens, Opera Star of ‘Carmen’ Who Took Her Talents to Radio and Film, Dies.” The Washington Post, March 21, 2013.

Levine, Jo Ann. “Vivacious Opera Star Head Music School.” The Christian Science Monitor. (December 3, 1975): 43.

“Mannes Merger is Voted, But Opposition Remains.” The New York Times, February 23, 1979.

“NEA Opera Honors: Risë Stevens.” National Endowment for the Arts. Accessed May 1, 2020.ë-stevens.

“Obituaries: Stevens, Risë.” The New York Times, March 22, 2013.

“Risë Stevens Named Mannes President.” The New York Times, July 22, 1975.

Sparks, Karen. “Risë Stevens: American Opera Singer.” In Encyclopedia Britannica. Last modified March 16, 2020. Accessed May 1, 2020.


Arranged alphabetically by name of the composer of the musical work.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred from Harry Scherman Library of the Mannes School of Music to the New School Archives and Special Collections, 2015

Related Materials

The Risë Stevens papers will be found in the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History, Smith College.

Risë Stevens arrangements collection
Jason Adamo
October 30, 2023
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