A truly versatile singer, Curtis alumna Irra Petina was well known for both her operatic and Broadway roles
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.
The subject of student life is rarely well documented in archival collections. To find out how students experienced life outside their lessons and practice time, we depend on the personal memorabilia and recollections of alumni. Such contributions are the basis of Curtis’s recent exhibit on student life. Thanks to our most senior alumni and faculty, life at Curtis in the 1940s is well documented, while the late Eleanor Sokoloff (Piano ’38) kindly allowed us to record her personal recollections of student life in the 1930s.