Maria Ewing, who sang notable soprano and mezzo-soprano roles at main homes, together with the Metropolitan Opera, starting within the mid-Seventies and whose ambiguity about her racial heritage helped drive her daughter, the actress and director Rebecca Corridor, to make the current film “Passing,” died on Sunday at her house close to Detroit. She was 71.
A household spokeswoman mentioned the trigger was most cancers.
Ms. Ewing was a placing presence on opera phases, the place she strove to convey an actor’s expertise and sensibilities to her roles fairly than merely stand and sing.
“I’ve watched how actors work and work at it,” Ms. Ewing, who was as soon as married to the director Peter Corridor, informed The Orange County Register of California in 1997, when she was showing in L.A. Opera’s manufacturing of Umberto Giordano’s “Fedora.”
“I don’t imply to criticize or underestimate the significance of lovely vocalism, which alone can transfer individuals,” she added. “However why is it that opera so usually turns into predictable by way of staging?”
There was definitely nothing staid about her efficiency, below the course of Mr. Corridor, within the title function of “Salome,” first seen in Los Angeles in 1986 and restaged in different cities, included London. Within the preliminary manufacturing she ended the Dance of the Seven Veils carrying solely a G-string; in later ones she allotted with even that. (She just isn’t the one Salome to have ended the dance within the all-together; Karita Mattila did so on the Met this century.)
“Typically you need to put your self on the sting,” she informed The Register. “You go to the precipice and lean over it. You need to. A job like Salome, you’re fully on the sting. You’re over it, in truth.”
Although critics had typically frowned on her main roles — her try on the title function in “Carmen,” additionally below Mr. Corridor, at about the identical time drew some harsh notices — her “Salome” was usually acclaimed. John Rockwell, reviewing a return engagement in Los Angeles in 1989 for The New York Occasions, referred to as it “essentially the most arresting, convincing total account of this unattainable half that I’ve ever encountered.”
Every time Ms. Ewing carried out, critics nearly invariably commented on her unique appears. These had been partly a product of a combined racial heritage that Ms. Ewing tended to not dwell on, even together with her daughter, who was raised in England.
“Once I was rising up, my mom would say issues to me like, ‘Properly, we’re Black,’ after which one other day she’d say, ‘I don’t actually know that,’” Ms. Corridor recounted in an episode of “Finding Your Roots,” the PBS family tree program, filmed final 12 months and broadcast simply final week.
“She was at all times terribly lovely,” Ms. Corridor informed Henry Louis Gates Jr., the host of this system, “however she didn’t seem like everybody else’s mom within the English countryside.”
Her mom recognized as white, she informed Professor Gates, however in interviews through the years Ms. Ewing additionally alluded to doable Black and American Indian ancestry. Ms. Ewing’s father, Norman, for years offered himself as an American Indian, however the researchers on “Discovering Your Roots” decided that this was a fabrication; a DNA take a look at of Ms. Corridor finished for this system confirmed that she had no Indian background. Her grandfather had in truth been Black.
“You, my pricey, are certainly an individual of African descent,” Professor Gates informed Ms. Corridor.
This was greater than a curiosity for Ms. Corridor. She had for a while been growing a movie primarily based on Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel, “Passing,” about two light-skinned Black girls, certainly one of whom passes as white. A part of what her concerning the novel, she mentioned in interviews, was the nagging suspicion that the story was related to her family.
“Once I requested inquiries to my mom about her background in Detroit and her household,” Ms. Corridor told The New York Times last year, “she left it with an, ‘I don’t need to dwell on the previous.’”
The movie, Ms. Corridor’s first function as a director, premiered in November and has been widely praised as one of many 12 months’s finest.
Maria Louise Ewing was born on March 27, 1950, in Detroit. Her father was an engineer at a metal firm and her mom, Hermina Maria (Veraar) Ewing, was a homemaker.
Ms. Ewing studied on the Cleveland Institute of Music. About 1975 she made her debut on the Cologne Opera, and in October 1976 she made her Met debut as Cherubino in Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro.”
“In the intervening time some mixture of nerves and creative immaturity holds her Cherubino wanting the easiest,” Mr. Rockwell wrote in his evaluation. “However she is a singer of huge potential.”
That very same month discovered her on the Carnegie Corridor stage, certainly one of two singers in a Mahler program by the New York Philharmonic carried out by James Levine.
“The voice is one with a great deal of shade, and naturally Miss Ewing will develop into the music,” Harold C. Schonberg wrote in The Occasions.
Amongst her early Met roles was Blanche in John Dexter’s 1977 staging of Poulenc’s “Dialogues der Carmelites.” She was slated for a street manufacturing of that opera in Boston in 1979 when fog grounded the airplane that was alleged to ship her from New York to Boston for an 8 p.m. curtain. At 4:30 p.m. she climbed right into a cab, which delivered her to the Hynes Auditorium at 8:55; the curtain went up at 9:05. The fare: $337.50, not together with a $47.50 tip.
Along with her dramatic roles, Ms. Ewing stood out in comedies like Mozart’s “Così Fan Tutte.”
“Give any ‘Così’ Kiri Te Kanawa’s patrician Fiordiligi, Maria Ewing’s lovably dopey Dorabella and Donald Gramm’s subtly understated Don Alfonso and you should have your self an evening on the opera,” Donal Henahan wrote of the Met’s manufacturing in 1982.
In 1987 a dispute with Mr. Levine over a revival and telecast of “Carmen” led her to withdraw from Met performances.
“I can not work with a person I can not belief, and I can not work in a home that he’s working on this style,” she mentioned on the time.
However she would finally return; her final Met performance was in 1997 as Marie in Berg’s “Wozzeck.”
She and Mr. Corridor married in 1982 and divorced in 1990. Along with her daughter, she is survived by three sisters, Norma Koleta, Carol Pancratz and Francis Ewing; and a granddaughter.
In 1996, when she was singing a live performance with the Philharmonic, The Times asked Ms. Ewing about that well-known dance in “Salome.”
“It was my very own thought to do the dance bare,” she mentioned. “I felt that it was in some way important to precise the reality of that second — a second of frustration, longing and self-discovery for Salome. For me, the scene wouldn’t work some other manner.”