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Nan Merriman was born Katherine Ann Merriman and grew up in Pittsburgh’s East Side, attending the St Mercy Academy, before moving with her parents when she was fifteen to Los Angeles. Here she attended high school and studied singing with Alexia Bassian and Lotte Lehmann. She began her singing career in 1940 as a chorus member in several Hollywood films, singing in concert at the Hollywood Bowl during the same year, and made an uncredited singing appearance in the film Smilin’ Through (1941).

In Hollywood Merriman was noticed by Laurence Olivier, who engaged her for a national tour of Romeo and Juliet with himself and his wife Vivien Leigh: she sang arias by Palestrina and Purcell during the scene changes. Returning to Pittsburgh to appear in the Folies Bergère of 1941, Merriman made her operatic stage debut in 1942 with the Cincinnati Summer Opera as La Cieca / La Gioconda. While in Cincinnati she won a singing competition sponsored by the National Federation of Music Clubs and with the prize money bought $1,000’s-worth of radio time to give a fifteen-minute recital which was broadcast on the NBC radio network; on hearing this Toscanini engaged her to perform with the NBC Symphony.

Between 1944 and 1952 Merriman sang with Toscanini on twelve occasions, several of the broadcasts being recorded and released by RCA. Her national and international career thus established, she became increasingly popular, giving her first performance with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1946 and in 1948 appearing with the NBC Symphony, the New York Philharmonic under Stokowski and the New York City Symphony under Bernstein, as well as making a coast-to-coast concert tour involving forty appearances and being named ‘Miss Symphony of 1948’ by a leading music publication. She also sang with the opera companies of San Francisco and Chicago.

Merriman made her European debut in 1950 in concert in Paris, going on to give concerts in Vienna and singing in Beethoven’s ‘Choral’ Symphony in Florence in 1952. She took the part of Baba the Turk / The Rake’s Progress when it was performed by the Glyndebourne Festival Opera at the Edinburgh Festival in 1953, and in the same year sang Dorabella / Così fan tutte at the Aix-en- Provence Festival. This was to become one of her signature roles: she returned to Aix with it in 1955 and 1959; and sang it at the Piccola Scala, Milan under Cantelli and at Glyndebourne under Gui, both in 1956, as well as recording it under Karajan and Jochum. She returned to the Piccola Scala in 1958 to sing in a production of Dargomyzhsky’s The Stone Guest.

In Holland Merriman was especially popular, singing there frequently in recital and in concert (there was a Missa Solemnis under Klemperer in 1957 in Amsterdam). She married the Dutch tenor Tom Brand in 1965, giving up her own career in favour of her husband and his children by an earlier marriage. Her farewell recitals took place at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam in 1965, but following Brand’s unexpected death in 1970 she returned to Los Angeles in 1973 and settled in America.

Although Merriman’s voice was not large (a fact which explains her absence from the Metropolitan Opera) it was lustrous and she used it with great sophistication as well as passion.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).

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Role: Classical Artist 
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