Sanford Sylvan

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Sanford Sylvan

Sanford Sylvan (December 19, 1953 – January 29, 2019) was an American baritone.


Sanford Mead Sylvan was born in New York City on December 19, 1953, and grew up in Syosset, New York.[1] Starting at age 13 he participated in the Juilliard School's pre-college program[2] and beginning in 1974 he spent four summers at the Tanglewood Music Center, where he studied with Phyllis Curtin, which he later cited as transforming his career: "I am the singer that I am today because of Phyllis Curtin."[3] He worked as an usher at the Metropolitan Opera while completing his undergraduate degree at the Manhattan School of Music.[1] He made his Glyndebourne Festival debut in 1994 as Leporello in Don Giovanni by Mozart.[4]

He performed with many leading conductors, opera companies and orchestras including Houston Grand Opera, San Francisco Opera, New York City Opera, the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouworkest, Melbourne Symphony and the NHK Symphony. He performed during his career at the Edinburgh, Marlboro, Tanglewood, Vienna, Holland, Oregon Bach and Carmel Bach festivals. He played Chou En-Lai in Nixon in China by John Adams.

By 1997 he had established such a reputation as a recitalist with pianist David Breitman that the New York Times, when calendaring their recital five months hence, wrote: "No program had been announced at press time. With this fine and sensitive baritone and his equally deft pianist, it doesn't matter."[5]

Sylvan received five Grammy nominations for his participation these recordings: Charles Fussell's Symphony for Baritone and Orchestra "Wilde" (2009);[6] Adams's The Wound-Dresser (1990), which was written for Sylvan; Fauré's L'horizon chimérique (1999); Beloved That Pilgrimage (1992), a compilation of songs by Theodore Chandler, Samuel Barber, and Aaron Copland;[1] and the soundtrack for the Penny Woolcock film of Adams' opera The Death of Klinghoffer (2003). Of his performance in that film, chosen for the 2003 Sundance Festival, Anthony Tommasini wrote that Sylvan "should have received an Oscar nomination for his courageous portrayal of the murder victim Leon Klinghoffer".[7] He premiered a number of works by Adams, Philip Glass, Peter Maxwell Davies, John Harbison and Christopher Rouse,[8] including Rouse's Requiem in 2007.[9]

A frequent collaborator with the director Peter Sellars, Sylvan appeared in Sellars' stagings of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte as Alfonso[10] and Le nozze di Figaro in the title role,[11] and operas by John Adams including A Flowering Tree presented in 2009 at Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival.[12] Along with his performing schedule, he was also a professor of voice at the Juilliard School and McGill University Schulich School of Music in Montréal and the Bard Conservatory Graduate Vocal Arts Program. He was also a member of the vocal company at The College Light Opera Company.

In 1993 he came out as a gay man in an interview with the New York Times and in 1996 he married his same-sex partner.[13]

Sylvan died at his home in Manhattan on January 29, 2019, at the age of 65.[14]


  1. ^ a b c Woolfe, Zachary (February 1, 2019). "Sanford Sylvan, Baritone Who Created Major Opera Roles, Dies at 65". New York Times. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  2. ^ Woolfe, Zachary (May 17, 2011). "Classical Music's Prodigal Son: Sanford Sylvan Returns to New York". New York Observer. Retrieved February 3, 2019.
  3. ^ Pincus, Andrew L. (2002). Musicians with a Mission: Keeping the Classical Tradition Alive. UPNE. p. 74. Retrieved February 3, 2019.
  4. ^ "Sanford Sylvan". Nonesuch Records. Retrieved 1 February 2018.
  5. ^ Oestreich, James R. (September 7, 1997). "Classical Music". New York Times. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  6. ^ Pomerance, Shelley. "A Voice to Reckon With". McGill News. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  7. ^ Tommasini, Anthony (April 24, 2004). "Can There Be Too Much of a Good 'Ring'?". New York Times. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  8. ^ "Sanford Sylvan (Bass-Baritone) - Short Biography". Retrieved 19 December 2018.
  9. ^ Swed, Mark (March 27, 2007). "At long last, a fitting American Requiem". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  10. ^ Rockwell, John (July 18, 1985). "Mozart's 'Cosi fan tutte'". New York Times. Retrieved 3 February 2019.
  11. ^ Rockwell, John (July 15, 1988). "A Sellarized 'Figaro' in First Performance". New York Times. Retrieved 3 February 2019.
  12. ^ Tommasini, Anthony (August 14, 2009). "Salvation Through Transformation". New York Times. Retrieved February 2, 2019. The baritone Sanford Sylvan, singing with his admirable combination of resonant sound and utterly natural delivery of words, is the Storyteller, who dominates the opera.
  13. ^ Ulrich, Allan (21 July 1998). "Master Singer". The Advocate. p. 65. Retrieved January 31, 2019.
  14. ^ Huizenga, Yom (January 31, 2019). "Sanford Sylvan, A Baritone On His Own Terms, Dies At 65". NPR. Retrieved January 31, 2019.
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