Skip to page content

Samuel Ramey

About this Artist

As he enters the third decade of an extraordinary career, SAMUEL RAMEY continues to reign as the foremost interpreter of bass and bass-baritone operatic and concert repertoire. With astounding versatility he commands an impressive breadth of repertoire encompassing virtually every musical style from the fioratura of Argante in Handel's Rinaldo, which was the vehicle of his acclaimed Metropolitan Opera debut in 1984, to the dramatic proclamations of the title role in Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle, in which he appeared in a new production at the Metropolitan Opera televised by PBS. Mr. Ramey's interpretations embrace the bel canto of Bellini, Rossini and Donizetti; the lyric and dramatic roles of Mozart and Verdi; and the heroic roles of the Russian and French repertoire.

The combination of Samuel Ramey's commanding vocalism, exceptional musicianship, elegant stage presence and uncommon theatrical abilities enable him to pursue portrayals from the troubled preacher Olin Blitch in Carlisle Floyd's Susannah to the terrorized subject of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov; from the sharp-witted protagonist of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro to the somber, tortured King Philip II of Verdi's Don Carlos; from the benevolent Giorgio in I Puritani and Raimondo in Lucia di Lammermoor to the sinister incarnations of the devil in Gounod's Faust, Boito's Mefistofele and Berlioz' La damnation de Faust.

It is for the unique expressiveness of the bass voice that many composers assigned the portrayal of devils and villains, and it is in this repertoire that Mr. Ramey has established a reputation unequaled in the musical world. Méphistophélès in Gounod's Faust has become his most-performed role with over 200 performances in more than twenty productions. He is equally well-known in opera houses and concert halls throughout the world for his performances of Boito's Mefistofele, Berlioz' devil in La damnation de Faust, the sinister Nick Shadow in Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress and for the tour de force of all four villains in Offenbach's Les contes d'Hoffmann. In 1996, Mr. Ramey presented a sold-out concert at New York's Avery Fisher Hall titled "A Date with the Devil" in which he sang fourteen arias representing the core of this repertoire, and he continues to tour this program throughout the world. In 1992 Mr. Ramey sang all of Offenbach's villains for the Metropolitan Opera's opening night, prompting one critic to write "[It was] the best interpretation of the four villains I can remember in the last 25 years. This is the stuff of which operatic legends are made."

Mr. Ramey's unique talents have afforded the world's leading theaters an opportunity to expand their repertoire and present works written specifically for the bass voice, such as Verdi's Attila, Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, Rossini's Maometto II, and Massenet's Don Quichotte. His repertoire of more than forty roles also encompasses the more standard repertoire, for which he is continually in demand, including Mozart's suave libertine, Don Giovanni, for which Newsweek hailed him as "today's perfect, swashbuckling Don;" the title role in the same composer's Le nozze di Figaro, for which one Italian critic described him as "the perfect Mozart singer;" Zaccaria in Nabucco; and Banquo in Macbeth. Samuel Ramey has appeared on the stages of the Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, Vienna Staatsoper, Opéra de Paris, Bastille, Deutsche Oper Berlin, San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, the operas of Munich, Hamburg, Geneva, Florence, Zürich and Amsterdam, among others. In concert, he has performed with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, La Scala Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra and the symphonies of Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco.

Throughout his career, Mr. Ramey has worked with every major conductor including Claudio Abbado, the late Leonard Bernstein, James Conlon, Sir Colin Davis, Valery Gergiev, James Levine, Lorin Maazel, Riccardo Muti, Kent Nagano, Seiji Ozawa, Simon Rattle, Julius Rudel, the late Sir Georg Solti, and the late Herbert von Karajan.

Samuel Ramey has made more than eighty recordings and holds the distinction of being the most recorded bass in history. This includes recordings for every major recording label of works including complete operas, recordings of arias, symphonic works, solo recital programs, and popular crossover albums. His recordings have garnered nearly every major award including Grammy Awards, Gran Prix du Disc Awards, and "Best of the Year" citations from journals including Stereo Review and Opera News. His exposure on television and video is no less impressive, with video recordings of the Metropolitan Opera's Carmen and Bluebeard's Castle, San Francisco Opera's Mefistofele, The Rake's Progress from the Glyndebourne Festival, and the Salzburg Festival's Don Giovanni. Mr. Ramey is seen frequently on television in appearances with "Live From the Met" and "Live From Lincoln Center" as well as other productions taped for PBS.

Following his phenomenal success in opera, concert, and recordings, Samuel Ramey's sold-out Carnegie Hall recital in 1987 added the fourth dimension to his spectacular career. His return to New York's Carnegie Hall for solo recitals in February 1995 and November 1998 was the culmination of extensive, critically acclaimed North American tours which had taken Mr. Ramey from Alaska to Alabama, with appearances on America's finest vocal series. His European recital career is equally notable, with sold-out appearances in all the major cities.

Mr. Ramey's 1999-2000 season begins with his return to San Francisco Opera for a new production of Charpentier's Louise, opposite Renée Fleming. He then travels to New York, where Metropolitan Opera audiences will see for the first time his portrayal of the title role in Robert Carsen's production of Mefistofele, a production created specifically for Mr. Ramey and in which he has been seen in over 60 performances. The bass opens the season for the Opera Company of Philadelphia in Gala Concert performances before he tours his "Date with the Devil" program in places including Lyric Opera of Chicago and London's Barbican Hall. Mr. Ramey then returns to Los Angeles Opera to essay another of his signature roles, Méphistophélès in Gounod's Faust. The bass travels east for a recital appearance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. before he crosses the Atlantic for performances of the Villains in the Opéra de Paris' production of Les contes d'Hoffmann. Mr. Ramey also appears in recital on the stage of La Scala before he returns to Houston Grand Opera as Zaccaria in Nabucco. The Metropolitan Opera brings him back to New York for concert performances of Bluebeard's Castle at Carnegie Hall, under the baton of James Levine, and he is seen again at Carnegie Hall for a program of American Music with Frederica von Stade. Mr. Ramey travels to Switzerland for performances of Olin Blitch in Susannah with Opéra de Genève, and he then resumes his collaboration with Frederica von Stade when they tour the United States in joint concerts with performances scheduled at the Ravinia Festival, the Hollywood Bowl and Brevard Festival, among others. Mr. Ramey's season finishes with concert performances of Berlioz' Roméo et Juliette at the Salzburg Festival.

A native of Colby, Kansas, Samuel Ramey was active in music throughout high school and college. After apprentice programs at Central City and Santa Fe, he came to New York, where his earliest successes took place at the New York City Opera. As his repertoire grew, he spent more time in the theaters of Europe, with particular triumphs in Berlin, Hamburg, London, Paris, Vienna, and the festivals of Aix-en-Provence, Glyndebourne, Pesaro, and Salzburg. Through appearances in venues worldwide, he maintains a non-stop schedule of more than seventy performances each season.