Sylvia McNair

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Sylvia McNair
Born (1956-06-23) June 23, 1956 (age 62)
Mansfield, Ohio
Genres Classical, Broadway, and jazz
Occupation(s) opera, classical, Broadway, and jazz singer
Instruments Vocals, violin

Sylvia McNair (born June 23, 1956) is an American opera singer and classical recitalist who has also achieved notable success in the Broadway and cabaret genres. McNair, a soprano, has made several critically acclaimed recordings and has won two Grammy Awards.

Early life and musical training[edit]

Sylvia McNair was born in Mansfield, Ohio, the daughter of George and Marilou McNair. As a youth, she studied violin. She originally enrolled in the undergraduate music program at Wheaton (Ill.) College as a violin major, but was encouraged by a violin instructor there to study voice as well. She commenced vocal studies at Wheaton with Margarita Evans, and finding herself more suited to singing, discontinued violin as her major. She earned a Bachelor of Music degree in 1978 from Wheaton and subsequently a Master of Music with Distinction in 1983 from Indiana University (whose music school is now the Jacobs School of Music), where she studied voice with Virginia MacWatters, John Wustman, and Virginia Zeani.


McNair made her professional concert debut in 1980 with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Her operatic debut, in 1982, was as Sandrina in Haydn's L'infedeltà delusa with the Mostly Mozart Festival. She appeared regularly at the Vienna State Opera, the Salzburg Festival, Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, the Santa Fe Opera, the San Francisco Opera, and at the Metropolitan Opera, and has soloed with many major European and American orchestras.

Since the late 1990s, McNair has changed the focus of her singing career to Broadway and jazz styles. In these genres she has achieved considerable critical acclaim and commercial success.

In 2006, McNair joined the voice faculty of the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, her alma mater. She teaches English diction (IPA), opera workshop, and private lessons.

From 2012 to 2017, McNair has served as a judge and mentor for the Songbook Academy, a summer intensive for high school students operated by the Great American Songbook Foundation and founded by Michael Feinstein.

Critical commentary[edit]

"Her phrasing is exemplary. Her modulations are inspired. Her time is enviable. . . . I could get used to this kind of ecstasy." —Rex Reed, 2005


McNair married conductor Hal France in 1986. The couple are now divorced.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. Her treatments have included mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

In December 2017, McNair came forward as one of several women accusing famed conductor Charles Dutoit of sexual assault. McNair said that Dutoit "tried to have his way" with her after a March 1985 rehearsal with the Minnesota Orchestra.[1]

Recorded repertoire[edit]

Sylvia McNair has made over 70 recordings, including many complete operas (including Ilia in Mozart's Idomeneo, re di Creta, Poppea in Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea, both under the direction of Sir John Eliot Gardiner with the English Baroque Soloists for the ARCHIV label, and Samuel Barber's Knoxville Summer of 1915. She has also recorded a number of recitals, ranging from "Mozart arias" with Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields to CDs with André Previn of music by Jerome Kern and Harold Arlen (Sure Thing and Come Rain or Come Shine).

Awards and honors[edit]

McNair's awards and honors include the following:


With André Previn


  1. ^ Cooper, Michael (21 December 2017). "Charles Dutoit, Noted Conductor, Accused of Sexual Assault". New York Times. Retrieved 21 December 2017. 
  • "McNair, Sylvia" in Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Eighth Edition, ed. Nicolas Slonimsky. New York: Schirmer Books, 1992. ISBN 0-02-872415-1
  • Sylvia McNair Biography at
  • "Sylvia McNair Recovering From Breast Cancer, Joining Indiana University Faculty" by Matthew Westphal. Playbill Arts, 7 August 2006. (link)
  • Sylvia McNair to join Jacobs School of Music faculty from Indiana University Media Relations
  • "Michael Feinstein, Sylvia McNair, et al. to Judge Songbook Vocal Competition, 6/12" by BWW News Desk., 4 June 2012. (link)
  • "High School Vocalists Set for Michael Feinstein's 2014 Great American Songbook Competition Tonight" by BWW News Desk., 25 July 2014. (link)
  • "Songbook Academy Mentors, Clinicians, and Musical Directors". The Great American Songbook Foundation (link)

External links[edit]