William Pell (August 16, 1947 – July 26, 2003) was an American opera singer who had a major international career during the 1980s and 1990s. He began his career as a baritone in the early 1970s before transitioning into the dramatic tenor repertoire in 1975. He was particularly admired for his interpretations of the works of Richard Wagner.
Born in Denver, Colorado, Pell studied at the Peabody Conservatory (1965–1967) and the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University (1967–1970). While at IU he performed in student productions of Andrea Chénier (Roucher), Deidamia (Fenice), L'italiana in Algeri (Haly), and Love on Trial (Count Asdrubale). After graduating, he pursued graduate studies at the Manhattan School of Music. While studying at the Manhattan School of Music in the mid-1970s, Pell sang as a baritone with the professional choir of nearby Riverside Church, under the direction of Frederick Swann.
Career in opera
Pell began performing in professional operas with mostly secondary houses throughout North America during the early 1970s as a baritone. He notably sang Figaro in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro with the Canadian Opera Company and Germont in Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata in San Francisco. In 1975 he made his first foray into the tenor repertoire with a portrayal of Rodolfo in Giacomo Puccini's La bohème. In 1977 he became an Affiliate Artist at San Francisco Opera where he sang the role of the officer in Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos and Procolo in Gaetano Donizetti's Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali.
In the late 1970s he went to Europe where his career thrived. From 1982-1989 he was a principal tenor at the Deutsche Oper Berlin where he was much admired in Wagner roles. He notably starred in the world premiere of Wolfgang Rihm's Oedipus on October 4, 1987. He also performed with the company in performances of Rudolf Kelterborn's Ophelia at the Schwetzingen Festival. He had two major triumphs with the company in 1988 as Siegfried in The Ring Cycle and Váňa Kudrjáš in Leoš Janáček's Káťa Kabanová.
Pell was also highly active as a guest artist with opera companies on the international stage. In 1980 he returned to the Canadian Opera Company to sing Laca Klemeň in Janáček's Jenůfa and in 1981 he returned to the San Francisco Opera to portray Romeo in Charles Gounod's Roméo et Juliette. At Oper Frankfurt he sang in the world premiere of Hans Zender's Stephen Climax on April 16, 1986. He had a major triumph at the Festival dei Due Mondi in the title role of Wagner's Parsifal in 1987, returning there the following year to sing Laca Klemeň. In 1988 he was an admired Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos at the Teatro Lirico Giuseppe Verdi in Trieste and gave successful performances of Alwa in Alban Berg's Lulu at the Teatro Carlo Felice and Staatsoper Hannover.
Pell gave several performances at the Bayreuth Festival where he was heard as Parsifal (1989) and as Walther in Tannhäuser (1989–1991). In 1990 he sang Florestan in Ludwig van Beethoven's Fidelio in Trieste and returned to Frankfurt to perform in York Höller's The Master and Margarita. He also made several guest appearances at the De Nederlandse Opera, Staatsoper Stuttgart, La Fenice, and the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma during his career.
Having never retired, Pell died in Nashville, Tennessee in 2003 at the age of 55. Other roles in his extensive repertoire included Desportes in Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Die Soldaten, Jean in Antonio Bibalo's Miss Julie, Matteo in Strauss's Arabella, and Zinoviy Borisovich Izmailov in Dmitri Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. His voice is preserved on a complete opera recording of Tannhäuser made in 1988 under the direction of Giuseppe Sinopoli.