Lili Chookasian

Lili Chookasian is an American contralto of the mid-20th century. Born in Chicago to an Armenian family, Ms. Chookasian began her career as an oratorio singer and only began singing opera in her late thirties, after having studied with Rosa Ponselle. Ms. Chookasian soon became the leading contralto of her day, singing under Bruno Walter, Solti, Bernstein, Karajan, Maazel, and many other great conductors. She was renowned for her sonorous, focused tone as well as her excellent musicianship. She often chose -- against tradition -- to sing oratorios from memory.

She made her debut at the Met in 1962 as La Cieca in Gioconda. Her roles included Geneviève, Mistress Quickly, Ulrica, Maddalena, Azucena, Adalgisa, Erda, Amneris, Auntie (Peter Grimes) and La Frugola, the Princess and Zita (Il trittico). During her career, she sang with, among others, Birgit Nilsson, Carlo Bergonzi, Renata Tebaldi and Zinka Milanov. Under Eugene Ormandy she recorded Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde for Columbia Masterworks, and she opened the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in August 1966, again with Ormandy. With Leonard Bernstein, she was one of the many soloists in his recording of Mahler's Eighth Symphony.

Chookasian retired from the stage in the 1980s and now teaches at the Yale School of Music.

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