Betti McDonald, acclaimed dramatic soprano and voice teacher, has performed as a soloist in opera and oratorio and on the concert stage. She has also given numerous recitals in distinguished venues and is acclaimed for her teaching and mentoring of promising singers.
McDonald was born in Colon in the Republica de Panama to missionary parents. While she was still a child, her parents relocated to Trinidad in the West Indies, where Betti, who had started piano earlier with her mother, continued study on the instrument for nine years. She completed a Final Certificate in Piano from the Royal School of Music, London.
While still a teenager, Betti began studying voice at Andrews University and subsequently continued voice study at the University of Michigan and at Indiana University. From her earliest years, her voice was regarded as extraordinary. She studied singing with Gerald Ferguson and Joseph Klein, widely known vocal scientist, lecturer, conductor, and author of Singing Technique: How to Avoid Vocal Trouble.
McDonald has performed in numerous opera productions and oratorio presentations and sung on the concert stage, appearing with noted conductors Leonard Bernstein, Lorin Maazel, Eric Leinsdorf, William Steinberg, and George Szell. She was a favorite singer of composers Virgil Thompson, Ned Rorem, and Gian Carlo Menotti and was often invited to sing in world premieres of their works.
McDonald premiered numerous works by Rorem, who regarded her voice as "the most beautiful voice in the world," with the composer himself playing the piano. In 1973, she was a featured singer at Roremís 50th birthday celebration in Alice Tully Hall in New York, where she sang his song cycle The Last Poems of Wallace Stevens. Twenty-five years later, McDonaldís daughter, soprano Monique McDonald, was also the featured singer at the very same venue for Roremís 75th birthday celebration.
McDonald has performed throughout the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean, Central America, and Europe to widespread acclaim. A music critic at the Boston Globe regarded her as "one of the finest young singers of our time." A New York Times critic described her voice as "shimmering and warm," while a writer in the Harvard Post observed that "she commands a voice of great sensitivity and power. Her performance was virtually flawless and her ability to cut through above the fortissimo of the entire orchestra was astounding . . . ." She can be heard on the RCA Netherlands Deogram recording of Songs of the Earth, accompanied by pianist Bob Wilson, singing Spanish compositions by Enrique Granados and Fernando Obradors, and Negro spirituals.
McDonald has had extensive teaching experience. She held positions at the Curtis Institute of Music, Albano Ballet and Performing Arts Academy in Connecticut, Caribbean Union College, and Thayer Conservatory at Atlantic Union College. She has also taught voice at Lake Michigan College and has given several lecture recitals, master classes, and workshops throughout the world.
A partial listing of locales for these activities would include the University of Pennsylvania; University of the West Indies in Jamaica; Walla Walla College, now University; and the A Coeur Joie Choral Festival and Le Kleebach, both in France. The government of China invited McDonald to teach pedagogy to a group of their teachers, after which the Bastille Opera in Paris asked her to head its Young Artist Program.
In 1983 McDonald founded The Institute for Musical Arts, an intensive training center for singers in all genres, including classical as well as jazz, pop, and musical theatre. In her role as director and master teacher of IMA, she has established a reputation as a leader in the field of vocal education. She also founded and was General Director of the Waterbury Opera Theater in Connecticut.
Numerous singers have benefited from her insightful teaching, which regards the study of voice as a way to integrate the physical, psychological, and spiritual aspects of singing and life. She is lauded for her understanding and teaching of the physical aspects of respiration and vocal production.
Classical Singer magazine named McDonald as Teacher of the Year in 2004. She was selected from five finalists from around the world, praised for her talent to both teach and nurture her students.
Sources: The Institute for Musical Arts biography (2008); Other online sources; Program biographical Information on file at Walla Walla University. †