Maria Karnilova, the former ballet dancer and character actress who landed choice roles in Broadway musicals, including playing Tevye's wife, Golde, in Fiddler on the Roof, died April 20 in Manhattan, The New York Times reported.
Ms. Karnilova, who won a Tony Award as the tough but tender Russian-Jewish wife in the famed musical, was 80. She was Tony-Award nominated for playing Madame Hortense in the original Broadway staging of Zorba, and created the role of stripper Tessie Tura in Gypsy.
She was born to immigrant parents in 1920, in Hartford, CT. When her family relocated to New York City, she took dance classes and appeared as a dancer in the children's corps de ballet of the Metropolitan Opera (1927-34). She danced many roles with Ballet Theatre and Metropolitan Opera and became friends with Jerome Robbins, who would go on to stage Gypsy and Fiddler, among other groundbreaking Broadway musicals. Her dance teachers were Michael Mordkin, Michel Fokine, Nenette Charisse and Margaret Craske.
Ms. Karnilova made her first Broadway appearance in the chorus of Stars in Your Eyes (1938) and danced in Hollywood Pinafore, Call Me Mister and toured in High Button Shoes. She was a principal in the revue, Two's Company, performed in stock stagings, appeared in the musical Bravo Giovanni, Jerome Robbins' Ballets: U.S.A. and The Concert. She would play Golde again in a 1981 revival of Fiddler on the Roof, the show about the changing traditions in a Russian shetl. Ms. Karnilova helped introduce Fiddler's well-known "Sunrise, Sunset," "Do You Love Me" and "Sabbath Prayer."
At Robbins' 1999 memorial on Broadway, Ms. Karnilova said, as did others, that Robbins worked in the Method tradition — immersing his companies in the worlds of the works they were performing. They attended Hasidic weddings, for example, to prepare for Fiddler on the Roof. Ms. Karnilova is survived her husband (since 1948), the actor George S. Irving; and son Alexander, daughter Katherine Irving Stark; and three grandchildren.
— By Kenneth Jones