At the height of his career, he was greatly admired for his range and versatility, having possessed a sufficiently accomplished bel canto technique to enable him to sing the music of Handel, Mozart, Rossini, yet power enough to handle the more overtly dramatic roles written by Verdi and Puccini.
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Ramey is a 1960 graduate of Colby High School in Colby, Kansas. He studied music in high school and in college at Kansas State University, as well as at Wichita State with Arthur Newman. In college at Kansas State, he was a member of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity.
After further study in Central City (where he was in the chorus of Don Giovanni in 1963, with Norman Treigle in the title role) and as an apprentice with the Santa Fe Opera, he went to New York City where he worked for an academic publisher before he had his first breakthrough at the New York City Opera, debuting on March 11, 1973 singing the role of Zuniga in the 1875 Bizet opera Carmen, after which, among other roles, he took over the Faustian devils in Gounod's Faust and Boito's Mefistofele left empty by the early death of Treigle.
As his repertoire expanded, he spent more and more time in the theatres of Europe, notably in Berlin, Hamburg, London, Paris, Milan, Vienna, and the summer festivals in Aix-en-Provence, Glyndebourne, Pesaro, and Salzburg.
In January 1984, Ramey made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in Handel's Rinaldo. He has since become a fixture at the Teatro alla Scala, Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, Vienna State Opera, the Paris Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the New York City Opera, and the San Francisco Opera. In July 1985 he was cast as Bertram in the historic revival in Paris of Giacomo Meyerbeer's Robert le diable.
In the bel canto repertoire, Ramey has performed in Mozart's Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro, as well as in Rossini's Semiramide, The Barber of Seville, Il Turco in Italia, L'italiana in Algeri, and La Gazza Ladra; in Donizetti's Anna Bolena and Lucia di Lammermoor and Bellini's I puritani. In the dramatic repertoire, Ramey has been acclaimed for his "Three Devils": Boito's Mefistofele, Gounod's Faust, and Berlioz's The Damnation of Faust.
A number of previously obscure operas with strong bass/bass-baritone roles have been revived solely for Ramey, such as Verdi's Attila, Rossini's Maometto II and Massenet's Don Quichotte. He provided the voice for The Beast, the main antagonist of the 2014 animated miniseries Over The Garden Wall.
He married his third wife, soprano Lindsey Larsen, on June 29, 2002.
Ramey has made an exceptionally large number of recordings that feature nearly all of his main operatic roles as well as collections of miscellaneous arias, other classical pieces and crossover discs of popular American music. He has also appeared on television and video productions of the Met's productions of Carmen and Bluebeard's Castle, San Francisco's production of Mefistofele, Glyndebourne's production of The Rake's Progress and Salzburg's production of Don Giovanni.
In 1996, Ramey gave a concert at New York's Avery Fisher Hall titled "A Date with the Devil" in which he sang 14 arias representing the core of this repertoire, and he continues to tour this program throughout the world. In 2000, Ramey presented this concert at Munich's Gasteig Concert Hall. This performance was recorded live and was released on compact disc in summer 2002.
He has participated in some 70 performances a year. He serves as a member of the faculty at Roosevelt University's Chicago College of Performing Arts and holds the Wichita State University Guest Artist Fellowship in Opera at the Wichita State University School of Music.
Ramey was named an inaugural member of the WSU College of Fine Arts Hall of Fame in 2015. He is a National Patron of Delta Omicron, an international professional music fraternity.
- Ralph Blumenthal, "The Devil? He's a Basso Whose Voice Is Heavenly", The New York Times, February 17, 1998.
- Anthony Tommasini, "An Aw Shucks Manner, but Don't Be Fooled: He's an Absolute Devil", The New York Times, November 5, 1999.
- "About the Performer: Samuel Ramey". Los Angeles Philharmonic. March 2000. Retrieved September 16, 2017.
- Houston, Shannon M. (December 26, 2014). "The Best Animated TV Shows of 2014". Paste. Retrieved September 16, 2017.
- "Flicka and Friends: From Rossini to Show Boat (1990)". Live from Lincoln Center. IMDb. Retrieved September 17, 2017.
- "WEDDINGS; Lindsey Larsen, Samuel Ramey". The New York Times. June 30, 2002. Retrieved September 16, 2017.
- Feeney, Anne. "Samuel Ramey: Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved September 16, 2017.
- Ashley, Tim (July 5, 2000). "A Date with the Devil: Samuel Ramey". The Guardian. Manchester, UK. Retrieved September 16, 2017.
- "Opera star Sam Ramey to be WSU guest artist in residence" (Press release). Wichita State University. August 29, 2012. Retrieved September 16, 2017.
- "College of Fine Arts Hall of Fame selects 12 for inaugural induction class" (Press release). Wichita State University. March 9, 2015.
- "Sam Ramey in Bluebeard's Castle". Opera Omaha. May 18, 2012. Archived from the original on September 5, 2015. Retrieved September 16, 2017.
- Samuel Ramey's website, samuelramey.com; retrieved January 25, 2010.
- Ramey with Bach cantata recordings, bach-cantatas.com; retrieved July 25, 2010.
- List of "Articles on Samuel Ramey", nytimes.com; retrieved July 25, 2010.
- Scovell, Jane, Samuel Ramey: American Bass, Baskerville Publishers, 2010; ISBN 978-1-880909-76-8