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In the last couple of years, Samuel Ramey's status in the opera world has changed: he's moved from young lion to old lion to somewhat unsteady lion. The leonine presence and the on-stage authority are still there, as evidenced in WNO's recent Hamlet, but the firm sound is not. This doesn't diminish memories of him in his prime; and his whole life is now the subject of a new biography by Jane Scovell, who has written books about Oona Chaplin, Ginger Rogers, and, familiar to opera-lovers, Marilyn Horne, among others.

The book will come out on Monday. Washington residents, however, can have an early look, because after the matinee of Hamlet on Sunday, Ramey will sign copies of it in the Kennedy Center lobby.

There's a kind of intimacy about watching artists mature. Ramey used to put me off with what I saw as his schtick: the "Date with the Devil" approach seemed to me posed and unnecessarily hokey. And for at least the last decade, his singing has been seriously hampered by an increasing vocal wobble. But even despite that, there have been a couple of performances that helped me grasp the power and smoothness and presence that made him so strong in his prime. This was a major American career. One feels slightly protective of him on stage now, working to make the most of what he has.

By Anne Midgette  |  May 28, 2010; 2:55 PM ET
Categories:  Washington , opera  
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I have been and admirer of Samuel Ramey for many years.
I will always remember his rendition of King Phillip in Verdi's Don Carlo as being truly great.
I am sorry for his vocal problems, so evident in the recent performances of Hamlet, but I agree, a great singer and a brilliant career!

Posted by: Zurga | May 28, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

"One feels slightly protective of him on stage now, working to make the most of what he has."

Is that really a good idea (to be "protective" of him, I mean)?

I think not.


Posted by: ACDouglas1 | May 28, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Samuel Ramey is a National Treasure (so wrote the Los Angeles Times a few years ago). He still is! I saw him in Boris Godunov two years ago. The voice wobbled a bit, but his stage presence and brilliant cxharacterization made his performance marvelous. Keep on singing, Sam. I'll come to hear you any chance I get!

Posted by: xander0529 | May 29, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse

I didn't much like him when he was a superstar on his game, but now that he's fading I write patronizing reviews that are worse than a pan. Ms. Midgette never disappoints.

Posted by: markfromark | May 29, 2010 11:33 PM | Report abuse

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