Rosemary Kuhlmann, Soprano Star of Television Opera Amahl and the Night Visitors, Dies at 97

Obituaries   Rosemary Kuhlmann, Soprano Star of Television Opera Amahl and the Night Visitors, Dies at 97
 
Kuhlmann originated the role of Amahl’s mother in the ground-breaking 1951 world premiere broadcast of the Gian Carlo Menotti opera.
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Rosemary Kuhlmann, the mezzo-soprano best-known for playing Amahl’s mother in the 1951 world-premiere broadcast of Amahl and the Night Visitors, died August 17 in Warren, Rhode Island. Ms. Kuhlmann was 97.

During World War II, Ms. Kuhlmann joined WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), a unit of the U.S. Naval Reserve, where she was taught Morse code. She returned to New York where she used the skill to communicate with ships at sea. Ms. Kuhlmann also hosted the weekly radio show Navy Serenade on WNEW.

Following the war, Ms. Kuhlmann was accepted on full scholarship to the Juilliard School, where she graduated in 1950. She made her Broadway debut in 1950 as a replacement, playing the role of the Secretary in Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Consul, which was followed by appearances in the 1951 musicals Courtin’ Time and Music in the Air.

Ms. Kuhlmann’s opera career launched that same year when was chosen by Menotti to play Amahl’s mother in the world premiere of Amahl and the Night Visitors, an experimental project commissioned by NBC that marked the first opera written for American television.

Broadcast live December 24, 1951, as part of Hallmark Hall of Fame, critics praised Amahl and the Night Visitors, singling out Ms. Kuhlmann’s performance. The 45-minute opera was the first Christmas special to become an annual tradition on network television. Ms. Kuhlmann would reprise her performance for the next 12 years.

READ: How Amahl and the Night Visitors Established 'Television Opera'

In 1952 Kuhlmann toured Europe with Menotti, reprising her performance as the Secretary in The Consul, and made her New York City Opera debut later that year in a stage production of Amahl and the Night Visitors. Ms. Kuhlmann starred in several NYCO productions thereafter, including Bizet’s Carmen, Verdi’s Falstaff, and Offenbach’s Contes d’Hoffmann.

Ms. Kuhlmann returned to musical theatre in 1956, when she was cast as Meg in the national tour of Damn Yankees. She departed the tour in 1957 to marry Hugh Evans.

Ms. Kuhlmann appeared in three more operas for NBC, including Menotti’s The Saint of Bleecker Street, Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelite, and Kastle’s Deseret in 1961—which was her final opera appearance for the network.

In the years that followed, Ms. Kuhlmann scaled back her performing career to focus on raising her children. Following her divorce from Evans in 1978, Ms. Kuhlmann began a new career as executive assistant to the international vice president of PepsiCo. She retired from PepsiCo in 1994 to take on a new role as executive assistant to the director of the Westchester Conservatory of Music in White Plains, New York. Ms. Kuhlmann officially retired in 1999.

Rosemary Kuhlmann was born January 30, 1922, in Staten Island, New York. She is survived by her children, Susan E. Burke and Peter K. Evans, and five grandchildren.

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