RRC Blog

Women's History Month at Curtis: Irra Petina (Voice '35)

Posted by Kristina Wilson on 3/2/21 12:34 PM

A truly versatile singer, Curtis alumna Irra Petina was well known for both her operatic and Broadway roles

ph2_petina.irra.01 Russian-American mezzo-soprano and actress Irra Petina (Voice ’35) was born on April 18, 1908 in St. Petersburg, Russia. The daughter of  wealthy   parents, she and her family were forced to flee to avoid persecution following the 1917 Bolshevik uprising. They made their way to  China where, for twelve years, Petina received her first formal vocal training, largely from fellow Russian emigres.  When she was 21,  Petina traveled to Philadelphia   to audition for admission to Curtis. She was accepted as a voice student of Harriet van Emden in 1930.


Petina studied at Curtis until 1935, although she spent a year in New York singing for the Metropolitan Opera, where she made her debutph2_petina.irra.03 as Schwertleite in Wagner's Die Walküre in December 1933. Following her graduation, Petina’s career took off,  with professional appearances as Maddalena in Verdi's Rigoletto, the Marquise of Berkenfeld in Donizetti's The Daughter of the Regiment, Feodor in Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, Annina in Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, and the title role in Bizet's Carmen.

Her relationship with the Met also continued, with Petina's portrayal of Marcellina in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro (totaling 27 Met performances and four radio broadcasts), winning her rave reviews from the New York Times and the New York Herald Tribune. Additional credits included 35 Met  performances as Berta in Rossini's The Barber of Seville and Rosalinde in a 1944 national tour of Johann Strauss Jr.'s Die Fledermaus.

 In addition to her operatic roles, Petina was also a fixture on Broadway, appearing in Song of Norway, Magdalena, Hit   the Trail, and Anya.   However she is perhaps best known for her appearances in Leonard Bernstein’s Candide (1956) as the Old Lady, a role which garnered her a Tony   Award nomination for Distinguished Supporting Musical Actress.  

ph2_petina.irra.07Irra Petina died in 2000 in Austin, Texas at the age of 91.

  (For more information on Petina, see the RU KinoStarz® project blog here)

Topics: Curtis Archives and Library, History, Alumni