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Week of 21 November 1997

Vol. I, No. 13

Feature Article

Phyllis Curtin performance photos go to Special Collections

Caught in the act

Phyllis Curtin

SFA Dean Emerita Phyllis Curtin in an undated 1960s photo as she prepares for the part of Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata. Photo by Gene Cook

Phyllis Curtin is entirely clear about why she chose to give BU's Special Collections more than 100 boxes of photographs by her late husband, Eugene Cook. "This is a university that cares enormously about the importance and actuality of people practicing the arts," says the celebrated soprano and SFA dean emerita. "At BU we get music off the page and into the ears of listeners."

Performance is exactly what the photographs are about. Taken over a period of 35 years by one of Life magazine's distinguished photojournalists, they depict Curtin's renditions of leading operatic roles beginning in the 1950s as well as scenes from ballets and other musical performances, from the theater, and from Cook's travels in Europe. Cook taught at COM from 1983 until his death in 1986.

The acquisition was celebrated at a reception held by the Friends of the Libraries of Boston University on November 19. The photographs of Curtin constitute a separate collection, and an exhibition entitled Phyllis Curtin: A Life in Performance will open to the public at Special Collections on November 24. The exhibition includes dramatic shots of Curtin at a 1954 performance at the New York City Opera, where she stunned critics not only with her singing of the title role of Salome, but also with her seductive rendition of the Dance of the Seven Veils. The photos originally appeared in a three-page spread in the April 12, 1954, issue of Life.

After a career in which she starred on stages at the Metropolitan Opera Company, La Scala in Milan, and the Vienna State Opera House and following a tenure of nine years at Yale, Curtin joined Boston University in 1983 as dean of SFA. While dean, she established the Opera Institute, in 1986.

Since her retirement from the deanship in 1991, Curtin has continued to serve as professor of voice and artistic director of the Opera Institute.