Ruth Falcon, Soprano Turned Master Teacher, Dies at 77

Ruth Falcon, a soprano who sang leading roles at major international opera houses and went on to become a sought-after voice teacher, mentoring prominent artists including Deborah Voigt, Sondra Radvanovsky and Danielle de Niese, died on Oct. 9 in Manhattan. She was 77.

The cause was complications of heart disease, her husband, Douglas W. Meyer, said.

At her death Ms. Falcon was still working remotely with students around the world, including from the Mannes School of Music, where she taught for nearly 30 years.

Following an auspicious 1974 debut with the New York City Opera as Micaela in Bizet’s “Carmen,” Ms. Falcon moved quickly in her career. In 1976 she became a member of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, where her roles included Donna Anna in “Don Giovanni,” Countess Almaviva in “Le Nozze di Figaro” and Leonora in “Il Trovatore.”

She appeared in the major houses of Berlin, Paris, Monte Carlo, Prague and Vienna. Her rich, sizable voice proved well suited to roles requiring more vocal weight and carrying power, like the Empress in Richard Strauss’s “Die Frau Ohne Schatten,” the role of her 1989 debut at the Metropolitan Opera.

Her Met debut was a high-pressured event: She substituted for a soprano who had taken ill. In his New York Times review, the critic Donal Henahan wrote that Ms. Falcon was a “soprano to reckon with” whose “robust and glistening voice easily pierced the lushest orchestration.”

Ms. Falcon sang just 10 more performances with the Met over eight years, in roles including Chrysothemis in Strauss’s “Elektra” and the daunting title role of Puccini’s “Turandot.” During this period she was drawn into teaching, maintaining a private studio and, in 1991, accepting the position at Mannes, which is part of the New School.

She had initially resisted teaching, worried that the work would impede her own career. But the splendid success of an early student, Ms. Voigt, who became a leading dramatic soprano, soon brought other aspirants to her studio.

Ms. Voigt’s career was well underway when she approached Ms. Falcon — who sang similar roles — for coaching during the run-up to her Met debut in 1991 as Amelia in Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera.” She continued to work with Ms. Falcon regularly for some 17 years, Ms. Voigt said in a phone interview.

Ms. Voigt called Ms. Falcon an astute coach and trustworthy mentor.

“Voice teaching has to do with imagery, since you can’t take the instrument out of your throat,” she said. A voice teacher must “create in your mind, as well as communicate in your body, what they are trying to achieve,” she added, and Ms. Falcon excelled at this intangible skill.

“One of the things she got me to understand was that, often, when you get to a high note, you feel, ‘I’ve landed,’ and your instinct is to hold it,” Ms. Voigt said. But, she added, while maintaining breath support and control of the voice, one must develop “the faith to let that note go, to give it the air it needs, to let it spin out, to release the overtones that were there but were being held in by me.”

Other prominent Falcon students included the soprano Nadine Sierra and the mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey, two current Met Opera stars. The noted Spanish soprano Ainhoa Arteta turned to Ms. Falcon in her late 30s during a vocal crisis and credited their sessions with rebuilding her voice, as she explained in an interview with the journal Revistas Culturales in 2004.

Ruth Ann Falcon was born on Nov. 2, 1942, in New Orleans, the only child of Edward Joseph Falcon, a linotype operator for The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, and Ruth (Nelson) Falcon, an administrative assistant at the Army Corps of Engineers in the city. During her childhood, Ruth sang in her church choir. Its director, a local voice teacher, recognized her potential and gave her weekly private lessons. After hearing a recording of the great soprano Renata Tebaldi, young Ms. Falcon set her sights on a career in opera.

She graduated from what is now Loyola University New Orleans in 1964 and earned a master of fine arts degree from Tulane University in 1971. She continued her studies in New York and in Europe, and won prizes in several international competitions, before commencing her career.

She married Mr. Meyer, who worked as a management consultant and is now the president and music director of the Bronx Conservatory of Music, in 1988. He is her only immediate survivor.

Once Ms. Falcon took to teaching, she embraced it, working with young artist programs at the Washington National Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Met and elsewhere.

“I teach students at all different stages of development,” Ms. Falcon said in a 2011 interview with New School News to mark her 20th anniversary at Mannes. “I love teaching advanced students, but I also love teaching babies,” she said. “The unifying quality is their sincere desire to work and fully develop their talent; I’m in there with them.”

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