World-renowned opera star Samuel Ramey is helping future opera singers at Wichita State University perfect their talents. On Friday evening, he will show off his students’ work and sing in two numbers at a benefit concert.
Ramey is completing his six-week residency as a distinguished visiting artist for master’s level students at WSU.
“It’s thrilling for the students,” said Marie Allyn King, director of opera at WSU. “Sam has such a command of style and the stage.”
A three-time Grammy Award winner, Ramey is one of the top basses in the world. He has sung lead roles at the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Paris Opera and Vienna Opera. In 1995, he was named Kansan of the Year. Three years later, he was awarded a high honor by the French Ministry of Culture.
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Ramey, a Colby native, began singing at home. His mother always hoped for a professional singer in the family. Ramey, the last of four, gave her that wish — and then some.
“I was her last chance,” Ramey said jokingly. “I was the baby.”
After singing in his high school choir, Ramey was encouraged to pursue opera. He eventually made his way to WSU and graduated in 1968.
Since then, Ramey has traveled the world, settling into the role of operatic superstar. But he never lost his love for Kansas, he said, or his passion for the school that taught him the basics.
“I enjoy doing anything to encourage people to study music,” Ramey said. “I’m enjoying what I’m doing at WSU and working with young people. I hope to help these kids live their dream.”
In the 1990s, Ramey started an endowment at WSU to help music students. This year, Andrew Simpson, a bass, is the recipient of the fellowship. Ramey will sing a duet with Simpson, as well as the grand finale with all 12 master’s students. The works performed at the concert are from a wide array of operatic styles, from Bellini to Bernstein. Along with accompanying the students on two numbers, Ramey will host the concert.
“He’s incredibly kind,” King said of Ramey. “He encourages the students and gives them confidence and insight.”
Ramey also shows the students how much energy it takes to perform on a world-class stage and how much commitment the singer must have to perform each role. Ramey is distinguished for his versatility. He can perform bel canto, dramatic, comedic and heroic parts with ease.
“He is one of the greatest operatic singers of the world,” King said. “He has taken the students from young performers to professionals.”
Ramey, who has performed under Bernstein, Simon Rattle and James Levine, understands rigor and encouragement.
“Levine is one of the great conductors. He’s very special,” Ramey said. “He’s one of the great singer’s conductors. He makes you feel really special.”
Ramey is giving that feeling of specialness to these students. The rewards for his efforts will be on display Friday. Money raised from the concert will augment the Samuel L. Ramey Professional Development Fund, which helps WSU instrumental and vocal students launch their careers.
Ramey and WSU hope to continue this partnership for four more years. Although Ramey is still singing on the big stage — he just closed “Turandot” at the Metropolitan Opera in January — he hopes to be able to teach as well.
“He is amazing,” King said. “Ramey is one of the world’s greatest singers, and he is involved in shaping the artists of tomorrow.”