Skip to main content
Mezzosoprano

Nan Merriman, American Mezzo

By October 13, 2023No Comments

Nan Merriman had one of the most beautiful voices that I have ever heard. She was born in Pittsburgh and was taken to LA for study when she was in her teens. She appeared as a chorus member or understudy in several musical films, and she made her solo debut in an Easter Sunrise Service at the Hollywood Bowl when she was 20. By May 1946, when Merriman made her first appearance with the New York Philharmonic, she had become well-known through broadcasts and recordings.

I think that what impresses me most about this singer is her musicality. By this, I mean that she is faithful to what the composer wrote, in terms of phrasing and dynamics, and she allows the music to speak, rather than forcing an interpretation. She had a light mezzo voice, and she used it beautifully.

Chausson, “Le temps de lilas”

Le temps des lilas et le temps des roses
Ne reviendra plus à ce printemps-ci ;
Le temps des lilas et le temps des roses
Est passés, le temps des œillets aussi.

Le vent a changé, les cieux sont moroses,
Et nous n’irons plus courir, et cueillir
Les lilas en fleur et les belles roses ;
Le printemps est triste et ne peut fleurir.

Oh ! joyeux et doux printemps de l’année,
Qui vins, l’an passé, nous ensoleiller,
Notre fleur d’amour est si bien fanée,
Las ! que ton baiser ne peut l’éveiller!

Et toi, que fais-tu ? pas de fleurs écloses,
Point de gai soleil ni d’ombrages frais ;
Le temps des lilas et le temps des roses
Avec notre amour est mort à jamais.

Chausson, “The time for lilacs”

The time for lilac and the time for roses
Will will not return to this spring;
The time for lilac and the time for roses
Has past, the time for carnations too.

The wind has changed, the skies are unhappy,
And no longer shall we run to gather
The flowering lilacs and beautiful roses;
The spring is sad and cannot bloom.

Oh! sweet and joyous spring of the year
That came last year to fill us in with sunlight,
Our flower of love is so far withered,
That your kiss, alas, cannot awaken it!

And you!, what do you do? No blossoming flowers,
No bright sun, and no cool shade;
The time for lilacs and the time for roses
With our love has died forever.

Sait-Saëns, Samson et Dalilah, “Amour! viens aider ma faiblesse!”

Samson, recherchant ma présence,
Ce soir doit venir en ces lieux.
Voici l’heure de la vengeance
Qui doit satisfaire nos dieux!

Amour! viens aider ma faiblesse!
Verse le poison dans son sein!
Fais que, vaincu par mon adresse,
Samson soit enchaîné demain!
Il voudrait en vain de son âme
Pouvoir me chasser, me bannir!
Pourrait-il éteindre la flamme
Qu’alimente le souvenir?
Il est à moi! c’est mon esclave!
Mes frères craignent son courroux;
Moi seule, entre tous, je le brave,
Et le retiens à mes genoux!
Amour! viens aider ma faiblesse!
Verse le poison dans son sein!
Fais que, vaincu par mon adresse,
Samson soit enchaîné demain!
Contre l’amour, sa force est vaine;
Et lui, le fort parmi les forts,
Lui, qui d’un peuple rompt la chaîne,
Succombera sous mes efforts!

Saint-Saëns, Samson and Delilah, “Love! come to help my weakness!”

Samson, looking for my presence,
Tonight must come to these places.
Now is the hour of revenge
Which must satisfy our gods!

Love! come to help my weakness!
Pour the poison into his breast!
Make it that defeated by my skill,
Samson be in chains tomorrow!
He would like in vain that his soul
Be able to hunt me, banish me!
Could he put out the flame
that is fed by memory?
He is mine! he’s my slave!
My brothers fear his wrath;
I alone, among all. I defy him,
And I bring him down to my knees!
Love, come to help my weakness!
Pour the poison into his breast!
Make it that defeated by my skill,
Samson be in chains tomorrow!
Against love, his strength is vain;
And he, the strong among the strong,
He, who who breaks the chain of a people,
Will yield to my efforts!

Continues from previous video.

Saint-Saëns, Samson et Dalilah, “Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix”

Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix comme s’ouvrent les fleurs
Aux baisers de l’aurore
Mais, ô mon bien-aimé, pour mieux sécher mes pleurs
Que ta voix parle encore
Dis-moi qu’à Dalila tu reviens pour jamais
Redis à ma tendresse
Les serments d’autrefois, ces serments que j’aimais
Ah, réponds à ma tendresse
Et verse-moi, verse-moi l’ivresse
Réponds à ma tendresse
Réponds à ma tendresse
Ah, verse-moi, verse-moi l’ivresse
Ainsi qu’on voit des blés les épis onduler
Sous la brise légère
Ainsi frémit mon cœur, prêt à se consoler
À ta voix qui m’est chère
La flèche est moins rapide à porter le trépas
Que ne l’est ton amante, à voler dans tes bras
À voler dans tes bras
Ah, réponds à ma tendresse
Et verse-moi, verse-moi l’ivresse
Réponds à ma tendresse
Réponds à ma tendresse
Ah, verse-moi, verse-moi l’ivresse

Saint-Saëns, Samson and Delilah, “My heart opens itself to your voice”

My heart opens itself to your voice
Like the flowers opent o the kisses of the dawn!
But, oh my beloved, to better dry my tears,
Let your voice speak again!
Tell me that you are returning to Delilah forever!
Repeat to my tenderness
The promises of old times, those promises that I loved!
Ah! respond to my tenderness!
Fill me with ecstasy!
Like one sees the blades of wheat that moves
In the light wind,
So trembles my heart, ready to be consoled,
By your voice that is so dear to me!
The arrow is less rapid in bringing death,
Than is your lover, to fly into your arms!
Ah! respond to my tenderness!
Fill me with ecstasy!

Nan Merriman
April 28, 1920 – July 22, 2012

The American mezzo-soprano, Nan (actually, Katherine-Ann) Merriman, studied with Alexia Bassian and Lotte Lehmann. In 1940, Nan Merriman took part in a tour together with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh: during set changes of Romeo and Juliet, she sang Palestrina and Purcell arias. She had been making regular concert appearances for five years before she made her operatic debut as La Cieca (La Gioconda) at the opera of Cincinnati. Later, after she had won 15 min of NBC broadcasting time at a singing competition, Arturo Toscanini heard her on the radio. In 1944 he engaged her for his broadcasts and recordings of Gluck’s Orfeo (as Orpheus), Falstaff (as Meg Page), Rigoletto (as Maddalena) and Otello (as Emilia).

Soon after World War II, Nan Merriman came to Europe where much of her career was to be centered. She was an admired Dorabella (Cosi fan tutte) at Aix-en-Provence in 1953/55/59, the Piccola Scala (1955/56) and Glyndebourne (1956). She appeared as Baba the Turk in the British premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress at Edinburgh (1953) and Laura in Dargomizhsky’s The Stone Guest in 1958. Throughout the 1950’s she also appeared at many of the leading European opera houses, including Vienna, Milan and Paris. Other notable roles were Gluck’s Orfeo, Maddalena in Rigoletto, Emilia in Othello, and Meg in Falstaff. She was not engaged at the Met. She was much admired in the Netherlands, where she became a particular favourite singer in recitals and on the concert platform.

Nan Merriman married and retired completely from stage in April 1965. Unfortunately, her husband, Tom Brand died of a heart attack in October 1970.