Carol Neblett singing

Chapman University mourns Carol Neblett, opera star and artist-in-residence

Editor’s Note

A Celebration of Life for Carol Neblett will be held Sunday, April 8, at 4 p.m. in Musco Center for the Arts. This special event will include performances by her colleagues and former students, as well as remembrances and recordings of her career. Free tickets are available online at or by calling the box office at 844-626-8726.

Carol Neblett, a world-renowned opera star who shared the stage with Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo before becoming “Mama Diva” to Chapman students as an artist-in-residence at the Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music, died at her home in Los Angeles on Nov. 23 after a short illness. She was 71.

Carol Neblett, opera
Carol Neblett

“We were very fortunate at Chapman to have an artist of her caliber on our faculty for the past 13 years,” said Provost Glenn M. Pfeiffer, Ph.D.

In addition to teaching voice lessons at Chapman, Neblett held the title of associate director of Opera Chapman. Her final appearance at the University was as a guest in the Opera Scenes production in October.

The tall, striking soprano made her Carnegie Hall debut at 19 and landed her first major opera role as Musetta in La Bohème with the New York City Opera in 1969. In 1976, she sang the title role in Tosca alongside Pavarotti at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. It was a role she would perform more than 300 times.

Neblett, who made international headlines in the 1970s with a brief nude scene in Thaïs, sang with Domingo at Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee celebration in 1977 and regularly graced the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

“There never was a moment when she was not in vocal or dramatic command,” wrote New York Times critic Harold Schonberg, a Pulitzer Prize winner. Martin Bernheimer of the Los Angeles Times, another Pulitzer winner, wrote that Neblett’s vocal abilities placed her “in rarefied company among the world’s greatest sopranos.”

Born in Modesto, Calif., Neblett is survived by her son Stefan Schermerhorn, daughter Adrienne Akre Spear, sister Gail Naegle, brother Bradley Neblett and four grandchildren, Ian and Dylan Schermerhorn and Marianne and Owen Spear. She was preceded in death by  daughter Marianne Akre.

“She was a world-renowned singer and brilliant teacher, and the family and much of the music world knew that,” her children said in a joint statement. “She always said that while she was proud of her career, her greatest achievement and joy in life was her children and grandchildren.”

A celebration of Neblett’s life will be held in 2018.  In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music or the Los Angeles Ballet.

Robyn Norwood

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