Jan DeGaetani

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Jan (Janice) DeGaetani (July 10, 1933 – September 15, 1989) was an American mezzo-soprano known for her performances of contemporary classical vocal compositions.

DeGaetani was born in Massillon, Ohio. Educated at The Juilliard School with Sergius Kagen, she was best known for her wide range, precise pitch, clear tone, and command of extended techniques that made her voice perfectly suited to the demanding style of modern and avant-garde vocal composition. Her recording of Schoenberg's song cycle Pierrot lunaire is one of the classic recordings of the piece. (Due to its use of atonality, wide range, and virtuoso techniques such as sprechstimme, all while requiring a lyrical sensibility, it is exceptionally difficult to sing.) Her collaboration with George Crumb was also a fruitful one; she premiered his song cycle Ancient Voices of Children, and many of his other works were written for her. Uncommonly for a singer of her caliber (though her voice was not as powerful as most), DeGaetani rarely appeared in opera, instead concentrating on solo recital work in the art song literature.

Her talent at foreign languages also made her an accomplished interpreter of lieder; she sang and recorded works by composers such as Hugo Wolf, Hector Berlioz, and Gustav Mahler and was noted for her intelligence and skillful analytical interpretation. Her interpretive skills also lent themselves to songs in her native tongue of English, such as Aaron Copland's 12 Poems of Emily Dickinson, and the songs of Charles Ives. On the other end of the spectrum, DeGaetani was also a noted performer of the medieval and Renaissance repertoire.

DeGaetani made her New York performance debut in 1958. Afterward, she performed with the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble regularly, and also appeared with several world-famous orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, the BBC Symphony, and the Chicago Symphony, and made numerous recordings with them and in chamber ensembles. She was professor of voice at Eastman School of Music and Artist in Residence at the Aspen Music Festival from 1973 until her death. Notable students include American sopranos Dawn Upshaw, Karen Holvik, Renée Fleming, mezzo-soprano Milagro Vargas, and baritone William Sharp.

DeGaetani died in Rochester, New York, in 1989, aged 56, of leukemia.

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