Age & hometown: “Oh, say something funny”; Lowell, Massachusetts
Current role: Bringing her powerhouse operatic vocals to her Broadway debut performance as former showgirl Heidi Schiller in Follies.
Black Sheep: The youngest of 13 children of parents from “the old country,” Beirut, Lebanon, Elias didn’t grow up among performers. “Only bad girls go on stage,” she says of her parents’ attitude towards the arts, but she listened to Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts while doing her chores and imagined a career on that stage. “That was my dream,” she says, “and my dream came true.” But it wasn’t an easy sell. “I would talk to my sister who would talk to my mother who would talk to my father," she remembers. “They thought I’d get over it.” At 14, a determined Elias was finally allowed to start studying voice, which led to a degree from New England Conservatory.
Big Break: Elias made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1954, but her big break came four years later as Erika in Samuel Barber’s Vanessa. “I auditioned four times,” she remembers, but the opera wasn’t exactly as she’d imagined. “I went to my boss and said, ‘I’m the only one without an aria.’ He picked up the phone and said, ‘Sam, I’ve got Rosalind Elias here and she wants to talk to you.’” A flustered Elias repeated herself to Barber, and at Vanessa's 1958 debut she sang the now-iconic mezzo-soprano aria, “Must the Winter Come So Soon?” Though Elias' career has taken her to the world's most prestigious venues, the old Met Opera House on 39th Street remains her favorite. “You could feel it in the boards that Caruso had sung there, and Geraldine Farrar, all the greats. Just like the ghosts in Follies.”
Better Late Than Never: After a lifetime in opera, Elias is discovering a new love in musical theater. “It’s the most wonderful experience I’ve had in my whole career,” she says of Follies, “and it’s been a long career! I love Broadway people,” she continues. “They are so wonderful and hard-working. You’d never find a soprano or a tenor working [in rehearsal] the day of a performance.” As for composer Stephen Sondheim, “He’s a genius! I’m so blessed to sing ‘One More Kiss,’” she says of her character's operetta-style song. “If I'd done Follies in 1971, I'd think he’d written it just for me.” As for the future, Elias confides, “I would love to do a play without any singing at all. That’s my next dream!” Whatever follows Follies, this diva can count on support from her husband of 42 years, attorney and law professor Zuhayr Moghrabi. “I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve this,” she says. “When people ask how long we’ve been married, we always say we’re still on our honeymoon.”