Olean's Prima Donna was 60's Opera Star

From the Olean Times Herald's "State and Union: Olean's prima donna was 60s opera star"

Culture and arts enthusiasts of the Twin Tiers surely are familiar with the career of Bradford, Pa.-born opera star Marilyn Horne, but the area reared another opera talent of note: Beverly Bower, a soprano who once sang the lead at the first performance in the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center.

Born in Olean on Sept. 20, 1925, as Beverly Bowser, she was the daughter of Archie and Esther Bowser. As a little girl she sang solos at the First Presbyterian Church and she took piano and voice lessons with Olean native Henry Hill.

Olean Times Herald archives note that in 1941 Bower won a scholarship to Chautauqua Institution, and in 1943 she moved to Philadelphia to study under Clarence Reinhart. During this time she also studied foreign languages, drama and opera at the University of Pennsylvania and was mentored by famed soprano Helen Jepson, who bequeathed many of her costumes on retirement to Bower.

Bower began her career singing on radio and television, including on Jack Paar’s ‘’Tonight’’ show. She joined the New York City Opera in 1956. Her roles there included Donna Anna in ‘’Don Giovanni,’’ Micaëla in ‘’Carmen’’ and the title character in Gian Carlo Menotti’s ‘’Amelia Goes to the Ball.’’

On Oct. 23, 1963, she made a triumphant return to Olean as a member of the traveling New York City Opera, playing the lead role of Violetta in “La Traviata” in front of 1,300 people packed into the Olean High School auditorium.

The Times Herald coverage of the night reads: “Beverly Bower … was truly a prima donna, the first lady of Olean. As the final curtain on ‘La Traviata’ closed on the death scene of the heroine, a very much alive and jubilant opera star stepped onstage to receive the resounding bravos and unanimous adulation of her hometown.”

“‘It was the greatest thing that ever hit Olean,’ cheered Chester Klee, president of the Civic Music Association which sponsored the New York City Opera’s performance of one of Verdi’s greatest and haunting works.

“Klee presented red roses to Beverly, a talented lady who had returned to her native Olean to star in the first grand opera ever staged here.”

Bower spent a day in Olean and then moved on with the opera to perform in “Don Giovanni” in Montreal.

In her career, she also sang at the Vienna State Opera under Herbert von Karajan in 1963, as well as other international performances.

According to her obituary in the New York Times, Bower’s debut at the Met was as Ortlinde, a Valkyrie in Wagner’s ‘’Walküre,’’ in 1965. She also sang Musetta in ‘’La Bohème,’’ Senta in ‘’Der Fliegende Holländer’’ and Micaëla at the Met.

On April 11, 1966, Ms. Bower sang in the first public performance at the new Met, an acoustical test run, Puccini’s ‘’Fanciulla del West,’’ which was attended by 3,000 high school students. Bower sang the role of Minnie. The program began with the national anthem followed by a series of sound tests that included a blast from a gun and a loud chord from the orchestra.

She also toured with the American National Opera Company in 1967-68 and performed with the Opera Company of Boston in 1968.

She was married for many years to John C. Kaufmann; the couple had one son. After she retired, she joined the board of the New Jersey Pro Arte Chorale and was a voice teacher.

Beverly Bower died March 24, 2002, at her home in Washington Township, N.J. She was 76.

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