Acclaimed opera singer's antiques go on the auction block


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She was an acclaimed New York opera singer in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s who led a double life: as an artist and, with her husband, a collector of rare antiques, books and art.

Today and Saturday, much of what Frances Yeend and her husband, James Benner, found while touring around the world goes on the auction block. Starting at 10 a.m., their vast estate collection will be up for bid at the Sagebrush Auditorium at the West Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame in Fairmont, W.Va. Joe R. Pyle Auctions is producing the event.

There will be pieces dating to the 16th century — an English “dressoir,” a storage piece for dining rooms, that’s 7 feet tall and marked with 1560 as the date of manufacture. There is a Dutch oil portrait attributed to Jan Anthoniz van Ravenstein who lived between 1570 and 1657. There is Staffordshire pottery, stained and leaded glass windows, Persian rugs, Spanish traveling chests, Italian credenzas, Asian art, contemporary art, Hogarth engravings and, of course, opera memorabilia kept by Ms. Yeend.

A lyric soprano and “mainstay” at the New York City Opera, according to Opera News, she sang at the Metropolitan Opera from 1961 to 1963 and moved in 1966 with Mr. Benner to Morgantown to teach at West Virginia University.

Ms. Yeend, who died in 2008 at the age of 95, loved hunting down the rare find along with her husband, between performances in “Elektra” “Aida” and “La Boheme” and appearances on the concert stage with some of the 20th century’s greatest conductors — including Bruno Walter and Fritz Reiner.

“This is very emotional for me,” said Mr. Benner, 89, a noted accompanist and voice coach who now lives at a retirement home in Morgantown. “We collected so diligently. We started slowly, then picked up the pace.”

So much so that they had to enlarge their large frame house in Morgantown four times, he added. They also kept a six-room New York apartment for years to house their ever-expanding trove of treasures. Mr. Benner also has a collection of 10,000 books, many of them autographed first editions, which will be sold at a separate auction Oct. 2. There’s even a Mickey Mouse sketch by Roy Disney, which he inscribed and gave to Mr. Benner when he was touring with the Obernkirchen Children’s Choir as a pianist.

It was quite a life — for both of them.

“They were a real team,” said Robert Croan, former classical music critic for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Frances Yeend was an excellent singer and a very respected singing teacher, while he enhanced her teaching as a piano accompanist and coach.”

Mackenzie Carpenter, mcarpenter@post-gazette.com


Mackenzie Carpenter, mcarpenter@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1949 or on Twitter @MackenziePG.

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