45 years ago Sarah Caldwell was the first woman to conduct at the NYC Metropolitan Opera House as she led the orchestra in a performance of “La Traviata”.
Caldwell was born in Maryville, Missouri, on March 6, 1924, but grew up in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She was a child prodigy and gave public performances on the violin by the time she was ten years old. She graduated from Fayetteville High School at the age of 14.
Caldwell graduated from Hendrix College in 1944 and attended the University of Arkansas as well as the New England Conservatory of Music. She won a scholarship as a viola player at the Berkshire Music Center in 1946. In 1947, she staged Vaughan Williams‘s Riders to the Sea. For 11 years she served as the chief assistant to Boris Goldovsky.
Caldwell moved to Boston, Massachusetts, in 1952 and became head of the Boston University opera workshop. In 1957 she started the Opera Company of Boston, where she staged a wide range of operas and established a reputation for producing difficult works under pressure. She was also known for putting together interesting variations on standard operas.
In the 1980s, Opera New England, a branch of Ms. Caldwell’s Opera Company of Boston, was the touring ambassador of opera to the New England states. She employed young professional singers in productions that were fully staged and with orchestra. She organized financing through local, state and federal funding.
At the New York City Opera, Caldwell staged Der junge Lord and Ariadne auf Naxos (with Carol Neblett), both in 1973. She became the second woman to conduct the New York Philharmonic in 1974 with an all-female programme of composers including Ruth Crawford Seeger, Lili Boulanger and Thea Musgrave.
On 13 January 1976, Caldwell became the first female conductor at the Metropolitan Opera, with La traviata (with Beverley Sills). In 1976, she both conducted and directed Il barbiere di Siviglia (with Sills and Alan Titus), which was televised over PBS. She also directed John La Montaine’s U.S. Bicentennial opera Be Glad Then, America with Odetta.
In 1978, she led L’elisir d’amore at the Metropolitan, with José Carreras and Judith Blegen. She appeared with the New York Philharmonic, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Sarah Caldwell was zo dik dat ze zittend moest dirigeren. Ze viel in ongenade nadat ze aanpapte met president Marcos op de Filippijnen en met de Israëlische regering, juist op het moment van de Intifada. She died, aged 82, at Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine, from heart failure. (Wikipedia)