Obituary: Contralto Beatrice Krebs at home in opera or musical theater

BEATRICE KREBS | March 12, 1924 - Feb. 5, 2011


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Beatrice Krebs' voice inhabited the low contralto range, but her career hit high note after high note.

A singer in opera and musical theater, with symphonies and with choruses, she performed at New York City Opera and Carnegie Hall in New York, the Shubert Theater in Chicago and with the Pittsburgh Opera and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on many occasions.

She had an influential professorship at Carnegie Mellon University starting in the 1960s and also sang weekly at Mass in St. Paul Cathedral.

The only thing Ms. Krebs couldn't do was hold back her potent voice.

"She would out-sing the entire congregation at church," said her niece Katherine Krebs, of San Francisco. "People would look back at us. She tried to tune it down, but she didn't know how to do subdued. She only knew one way."

Ms. Krebs died Saturday of pneumonia in Golden Valley, Minn. She was 86.

The singer was born in Cleveland and studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music (she earned its Distinguished Alumni Award in 2001), and the Musikhochschule in Munich.

Conductor Robert Shaw gave Ms. Krebs her first break. She made her stage debut with his Collegiate Chorale at Carnegie Hall in 1948.

She later joined his professional ensemble, the Robert Shaw Chorale.

"Robert Shaw liked her very much for the color of her voice," said Mildred Miller Posvar, who was a classmate of Ms. Krebs at the Cleveland Institute and who briefly was on the CMU faculty with her. "It was a rich, big, heavy contralto sound."

Ms. Krebs began teaching at CMU in 1963, introducing vocal pedagogy, among other programs.

In 1973, the Pennsylvania Music Teacher Association named her its outstanding teacher.

She moved from Squirrel Hill to Minnesota in 2002.

Prior to her academic work, her career overflowed with performances in many genres. She debuted in 1952 with New York City Opera as Miss Todd in Menotti's "The Old Maid and the Thief."

In 1956, she took the role of Mama McCourt in the world premiere of Music by Douglas Moore's "The Ballad of Baby Doe" at Central City Opera House in Colorado and then reprised it at New York City Opera alongside Beverly Sills in 1958. She also sang in operas such as "The Marriage of Figaro," "Troubadour," and "Street Scene."

Her career often included working with orchestras and she did so with 18 of them, including the Pittsburgh Symphony, the New York Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony, and performed in oratorios, including singing "Messiah" more than 70 times with various choruses and orchestras.

Ms. Krebs also was asked to sing at the funeral of Oscar Hammerstein II, symbolic of her long connection with the librettist and his composer colleague Richard Rodgers in their popular musicals. Richard Rogers cast her as "Mother Abbess" in the "Sound of Music" for the National Company, which toured in 1960-61. She performed this role more than 1,000 times.

In 1960, Ms. Krebs sang "The Star Spangled Banner" at the Fourth of July ceremonies in Rockefeller Plaza in the presence of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller.

"It was a proud moment," said her niece. "She was very talented and able to adapt to all these different opportunities that came to her."

The funeral will be at 10 a.m. today in Golden Valley.


Andrew Druckenbrod: adruckenbrod@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1750. Blog: Classical Musings at post-gazette.com/music. Follow him at http://twitter.com/druckenbrod . First Published February 11, 2011 10:30 PM


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