Ariel Bybee (born January 9, 1943) is a mezzo-soprano who has had a distinguished career as a soloist, voice teacher and university opera director. According to Opera News (June 2000), she was "a prominent mezzo at the Metropolitan Opera for eighteen seasons." She sang over 460 performances at the Metropolitan Opera.
Bybee sang at the Met in every season from 1977 through 1995. She first earned accolades at the Met for her performance as Jenny in Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny when she replaced Teresa Stratas on very short notice. Further acclaim came from her performances as Annio in the Met's premiere of Mozart's La clemenza di Tito. Bybee has sung numerous leading roles at the Met including Hansel in Hänsel und Gretel, Niclausse in Les contes d'Hoffmann and Suzuki in Madama Butterfly. She made her highly successful debut at the Washington, D.C. Opera in a new production of Menotti's The Consul and her European opera debut as Melisande at the Sofia Music Weeks in Bulgaria. She made her debut with the Vienna Philharmonic (Lorin Maazel, conducting) in a concert performance of Elektra at Carnegie Hall.
Bybee's professional talents were discovered by Maestro Maurice Abravanel of the Utah Symphony and later by Kurt Herbert Adler of the San Francisco Opera. Adler invited Bybee to sing in San Francisco for several seasons, during which she appeared in many roles, including the title roles in Carmen, Musetta in La bohème and Inez in La favorita. She first performed on the East Coast when she sang the title role of Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea at the Tanglewood Music Festival. In the spring of 1985, Bybee appeared on stage with the New York City Ballet in its production of Songs of the Auvergne, and she debuted at the Ravinia Festival in Elektra conducted by James Levine. She made her debut in Kuhmo, Finland in Pergolesi's Stabat Mater and Vivaldi's Gloria.
Teaching history and voice
Before making her debut with the San Francisco Opera Company, Bybee taught junior high school music for five years, first in Utah and then in California. Starting in 1993, Bybee began teaching private students in her New York studio, as well as teaching both at the Lee Strasberg Institute and the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City. For ten years, she was Artist-in-Residence and Associate Professor of Voice at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, teaching voice and directing operatic productions. In 2007, her UNL production of Frank Loesser's The Most Happy Fella won the International Trophy (Grand Prize) in competition at the Waterford (Ireland) International Festival of Light Opera. When she became an emerita professor at UNL, the university endowed the Ariel Bybee Chair of Opera Performance in her honor. In 2008, she moved to the Salt Lake City area where she teaches voice at the University of Utah.
Bybee can be heard in Franco Zeffirelli's 1983 motion picture of La traviata, singing the role of Flora. As well as being heard on numerous Live from Lincoln Center telecasts, Bybee has recorded two solo albums: O Divine Redeemer and Eternal Day.
"Hats off, gentlemen, a Carmen!—Her name is Ariel Bybee…." Martin Bernheimer, Los Angeles Times review of Carmen, San Francisco Opera, 1973.
"The stars for the concert of international reputation were Beverly Hoch and Ariel Bybee. The soloists conquered by clear, clean, pensive presentations." Newspaper review of Stabat Mater at the Kuhmo Festival, Helsinki, Finland, 1992.
"[T]he fresh, centered voices of Dawn Upshaw and Ariel Bybee, in tandem with the skillful conducting of James Levine, provided most of the joy at the Metropolitan Opera Tuesday night." Tim Page, New York Times review of Carmen, 1986.
"Filling in for…Murray was Ariel Bybee in the role of Annio. She does things with roles, thinking through each action and note to arrive at movements and phrasing that are always right on the mark and which appear natural for the character. She looks and sounds awfully good this season….One of those magic moments happened during the Tito premier: the first act duet between Annio (Bybee) and Servillia (Robinson) was exquisite. You had to be there—I can’t describe it adequately." WBAI-FM review of La clemenza di Tito, Metropolitan Opera, 1984.
"[In her debut as Jenny in Mahagonny] Bybee was sensational, not only vocally but in her look and her grasp of the role…. Her vocal command…was superb…. The role of Jenny tops with a C and she handled everything with a bright, focused tone and a tight but not unpleasant vibrato that added urgency to the part…. From now on, the role of Jenny will have to be judged against her definitive interpretation." Barton Wimble, New York Daily News review of The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Metropolitan Opera, 1981.
- The Modern Singing Master: Essays in Honor of Cornelius L. Reid. Edited by Ariel Bybee and James E. Ford. Lanham, MD & London: Scarecrow Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8108-4241-6