Chapman University’s Office of the Provost shares our sad news:
It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of our colleague and dear friend Carol Neblett, Artist-in-Residence at the Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music. She passed away at her home in Los Angeles on Thursday, November 23, after a short illness.
We were very fortunate at Chapman to have an artist of her caliber be on our faculty for the past 13 years. In addition to teaching voice lessons, she held the title of Associate Director of Opera Chapman. Her tireless dedication to her students and to the opera program at Chapman resulted in many success stories, and her students regarded her with deep and lasting affection: they called her Mama Diva, recognizing not only her influence on them as musicians, but also her concern for them as individuals. In addition to her work at Chapman, she taught privately and conducted masterclasses, titled The Complete Singer, throughout the United States.
Carol Neblett was born in Modesto, California. She began violin studies at the age of two with her grandmother Leona Neblett, who played chamber music with Jascha Heifetz, and introduced her to Heifetz. While playing violin for him, she became frustrated and nervous so began singing instead. Mr. Heifetz proclaimed “such a beautiful voice, I think you should be a singer and I will call your father Norman (who was his piano technician) to get you to a good voice teacher.” Jascha Heifetz became her musical mentor for the next 24 years. She studied voice with William Vennard, Esther Andreas and Lotte Lehmann.
Her exceptional talent caused Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Martin Bernheimer of the Los Angeles Times to write, “Tall, lithe and eminently sympathetic, she must be one of the most attractive and formidable Aidas in history. Her vocal capability places her in rarefied company among the world’s greatest sopranos.”
“There never was a moment when she was not in vocal or dramatic command,” wrote Harold Schonberg of The New York Times. Critics and audiences alike acclaimed her as a singing star equally at home in opera, recitals, orchestral concerts, radio, television, recordings, film, and in academic settings.
It is almost impossible to summarize Carol Neblett’s accomplishments adequately: after her Carnegie Hall debut at the age of 19, she embarked on a stellar career. Her first major opera role, Musetta in La bohème, was at the New York City Opera in 1969, and by 1976 Carol was making her debut singing the title role in Tosca at the Lyric Opera of Chicago with Luciano Pavarotti, a role she went on to sing more than 300 times. During her career, Ms. Neblett sang in the major opera houses of the world and was a regular performer at the Met, singing with – besides Pavarotti — Placido Domingo, Herman Prey, and Sherril Milnes, among others, and under the baton of such luminaries as James Levine, Carlo Maria Giulini, Zubin Mehta, Claudio Abbado, and Erich Leinsdorf.
In addition, she sang over a hundred oratorios and symphonic works (many of which are recorded) covering the great composers from the 17th through the 20th centuries. In 2012, she made her musical theater debut as Old Heidi in Stephen Sondheim’s Follies at the Los Angeles Music Center. Her last appearance at Chapman was as a guest in the Opera Scenes production this past October, where her musicality and stage presence were an inspiration to the audience and to all students.
She is survived by her son Stefan Schermerhorn, her daughter Adrienne Akre Spear (Dan), sister Gail Naegle (John), brother Bradley Neblett (Shelly), and four grandchildren, Ian and Dylan Schermerhorn and Marianne and Owen Spear. She was preceded in death by her daughter Marianne Akre, and her parents: nationally prominent piano technician Norman Neblett and Annette Brown, who worked for years as Jascha Heifetz’ personal assistant. Her children Stefan and Adrienne said: “She was a world-renowned singer and brilliant teacher, and the family and much of the music world knew that. She always said that while she was proud of her career, her greatest achievement and joy in life was her children and grandchildren.”
There will be no memorial service. At her request, a celebration of life will be held in 2018. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to Chapman University’s Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music, 1 University Drive, Orange, CA 92866; or to the Los Angeles Ballet, 11755 Exposition Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064.