Scope and arrangement
The Roberta Peters papers contain office files, photographs, programs, clippings, datebooks and diaries, scrapbooks, scores and audio/video recordings documenting every phase of Peters's long career at the Metropolitan Opera and beyond. The office files hold correspondence, subject files, management files, touring files and itineraries, publicity materials, repertoire lists, and Metropolitan Opera files documenting her Met career and her membership in and leadership of the Metropolitan Opera Guild. Programs, photographs, clippings and scrapbooks span the 1930s to the 1990s.
The audio portions of the collection contain performances and radio appearances. The performances include such operas as Bohemian Girl (Covent Garden, 1951), Il Barbiere Di Siviglia (the Metropolitan Opera, 1954), The Merry Widow (Cleveland Opera, 1986), La Traviata (Utah Opera, 1987), and La Boheme (Providence Opera, 1980); concert performances in Nagoya, Japan and Seoul, Korea (1989); and orchestral performances with the St. Louis Symphony (1982) and New York Pops (1992). The radio appearances include a Larry King interview (1994), a WNYC segment (1994), and Peters's testimony in defense of funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (1993).
The video portions of the collection date from the late 1950s to the late 1990s. They consist of performances and television/film appearances and interviews. The performances include four opera performances, including a duet with Robert Merrill in La Traviata (but only a single appearance with the Metropolitan Opera in 1976); two editions of the Voice Of Firestone program in 1959 and 1963; appearances with symphony orchestras; solo vocal recitals; footage of Peters's tours of China in 1980 and Korea in 1987; and special performances such as the 1989 Presidential Inaugural Gala and at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1993.
The television and film appearances include talk and entertainment shows such as Edward R. Murrow's Person To Person (1957); The Jack Benny Program (1962); The Ed Sullivan Show (undated); the Mike Douglas Show (1970s); Dinah (1977); and the Merv Griffin Show (1978 and 1985). They also include her appearances on the news programs 60 Minutes (1981) and CBS Sunday Morning (1986); Captain Kangaroo (1975); several public service announcements for the United Jewish Appeal and public television; a program produced about Peters called Roberta Peters In Opera And Song (1990); her hosting appearances on the Bravo Network in the 1980s; two Kennedy Center Honors appearances in 1984 and 1986; acting roles in the soap opera One Life To Live (1982), the television series Hotel (1986) and the film City Hall (1996); and commercial appearances for Weight Watchers, American Express and Chock Full O'Nuts.
Inquiries regarding audio and video in the collection may be directed to the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound (firstname.lastname@example.org). Audio and video materials will be subject to preservation evaluation and migration prior to access.
The Roberta Peters collection is arranged in seven series:
The office files consist of correspondence and subject files, publicity materials, management files, touring files, repertoire lists, awards and honors, an oral history, speech texts, and film/television scripts, among other items. The correspondence is with a wide array of friends, colleagues and people with whom Peters and her husband/manager Bert Fields were doing business. Among the friends and colleagues with significant correspondence are Jan Peerce, Max Rudolf (whose letters contain musical performance suggestions), and Charles Nelson Reilly. The subject files document performances or other events held in particular locations or associated with particular people or organizations. These include Peters's activities with Jewish and other charities, and her role in the National Council on the Arts and advocacy for the National Endowment for the Arts. The White House files document Peters's invitations to and/or performances in the White House for Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton. Publicity materials are mainly filed under biographies. One biographical essay, A Debut At The Met, is filed under its author, Louis Biancolli.
The bulk of the documents are concerned with the Metropolitan Opera; Peters's agents and managers, Sol Hurok and ICM Artists, Ltd.; and her concert tours. The Met files list all her appearances from 1950 to 1972, highlighting special occasions such as the anniversaries of her debut with the company and her activities with the Metropolitan Opera Association, the Metropolitan Opera Club and the Metropolitan Opera Guild. Documents include information on her tours with the company in the late 1950s. The Hurok and ICM Artists files contain correspondence between the managers and local presenters and between management and Peters regarding her career and performances. Executed contracts for her appearances, repertoire lists and other managerial correspondence are held here. (Contracts not negotiated by either Hurok or ICM are in box 12, folder 2.) Other managerial and business figures with files in this series include managers Thea Dispeker, Jim Murtha (filed under Gurtman and Murtha), Phil Schapiro and the William Morris Agency; Lester Lewis and Norman Reich, who represented her for commercial endorsements; publicists Lillian Libman and Maurice Feldman; and Harold Stern, the attorney for Peters and her husband.
The touring files document Peters's United States tours of the late 1950s, her European tours of the 1960s and 1970s, and her trips to China and Japan in the 1980s. These files include presenter and travel correspondence and tour diaries.
The oral history transcript in this series was produced by the William E. Weiner Oral History Library of The American Jewish Committee. That transcript, along with the collection of speech texts (which includes an index of speeches), provides many biographical details and reflections on Peters's career, performances and music industry matters.
Portions of this collection were originally donated to Ithaca College. Those files document Peters's involvement with that institution, including a scholarship that she funded, as well as a partial history and description of this collection.
The photographs are divided into publicity, performance, images of Peters with other people, and family/personal. The series consists mostly of prints but also includes a small amount of slides and negatives. Office files in series I also occasionally contain photographs with correspondence.
The publicity photographs were produced by the Metropolitan Opera, Sol Hurok management, ICM Artists, newspapers and local presenters. They consist of general headshots as well as promotional photos of Peters in particular opera roles. Roles include Zerbinetta in Ariadne Auf Naxos, Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor, Gilda in Rigoletto, Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Rosina in The Barber of Seville, Amina in La Sonnambula, Adele in Die Fledermaus, Oscar in The Masked Ball, Susannah in The Marriage of Figaro, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, the title role in Lakme, and Novina in Don Pasquale.
The performance photographs vary in quality; some are professional, while others are obviously amateur. Few to none are from the Metropolitan Opera; most come from appearances with local opera companies on tour. They do include many photographs of Peters in orchestral and recital appearances.
The photographs of Peters with other notable people are voluminous and feature her with musicians and singers such as Louis Armstrong, Andrew Lloyd Weber, Harry Belafonte, Lena Horne, Ezio Pinza, Rudolf Bing, Gian Carlo Menotti, Luciano Pavoratti, Paul Creston, Dmitri Mitropolis, Max Rudolf, Marian Anderson, Robert Merrill, Liberace, Jan Peerce, Isaac Stern, Yo Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax; actors and entertainers such as Ginger Rogers, Lauren Bacall, Johnny Weismuller, Bob Keeshan (Captain Kangaroo), Jimmy Durante, Jack Benny, Ed Sullivan, Danny Kaye, Bob Hope, Charles Nelson Reilly and Vincent Gardenia; the impresario Sol Hurok; the Jewish and Israeli figures Golda Meir, Shimon Peres, Elie Wiesel, and Simon Wiesenthal; U.S. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton; and other political figures such as New York mayors Ed Koch and David Dinkins, Spiro Agnew, Henry Cabot Lodge and Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Artwork and posters include an undated painting of Peters (artist unknown, ca. 1950s); two color sketches of Peters dressed for a television appearance in Cologne, Germany (artist unknown, 1967); two pencil sketches of Peters by Marvin Perry (1967); three sketches of Peters in costume for a production of The Sound of Music by Webb Catherwood (1982); a drawing of Peters in costume for a production of The Merry Widow, also by Webb Catherwood (1977); an undated sketch of Peters in costume (artist unknown); and a promotional bus poster featuring a photo of Peters and a recipe (ca. 1968).
This series contains an extensive collection of concert programs spanning Peters's entire career, including opera, orchestral and recital performances around the world, benefit appearances, White House events and presidential inaugurations, synagogue and memorial performances, and award ceremonies. With the exception of a few signed programs, no Metropolitan Opera programs dating from after 1965 are included (the Music Division holds all Lincoln Center programs). Many of the programs contain Peters's notes on what she wore at the event, and some contain performance notes or signatures of Peters or other performers. For further performance information, see touring, repertoire lists, and Hurok and ICM Artists files in Series I.
The newspaper and magazine clippings in this series may duplicate content found in the scrapbooks in Series VI, but many of them come from smaller towns in the United States and abroad and may not have been deemed significant enough for scrapbook inclusion
Most of this series consists of datebooks with extensive daily information on Peters's schedule. Only the earliest books, dating from her adolescence to the early 1950s, consist of diaries, although they do not contain many entries. Further information about Peters's travels and touring itineraries can be found in Series I under itineraries, touring, and in her Hurok and ICM Artists management files
The scrapbooks consist of bound clippings, photographs, programs and other memorabilia. They are arranged in two sections: numbered and unnumbered. The 76 numbered books, which are available for viewing only on microfilm under call number *ZB-3429, are in general chronological sequence (1931-1992). The unnumbered scrapbooks consist of photo albums documenting Peters's appearances and performances at the White House, as well as more general books with content similar to the numbered books. Further White House documentation is in both the Series I office files and in the Series II photographs.
The scores are in two parts: marked and unmarked. The marked scores consist primarily of published piano/vocal reductions of operas, operettas and musicals. These include Beethoven's Fidelio; Bellini's La Sonnambula; Debussy's Pelléas Et Mélisande; Donizetti's Don Pasquale, Lucia Di Lammermoor, Lucrezia Borgia and The Elixir Of Love; Gluck's Orpheus; Gounod's Romeo Et Juliette; Mendelssohn's Elijah; Meyerbeer's Dinorah, Gli Ugonotti and La Pardon De Ploërmel; Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte; Puccini's La Bohéme, Rodgers & Hammserstein's Carousel; Rossini's Il Barbiere Di Siviglia; Strauss's Die Fledermaus; and Verdi's La Traviata.
Other marked scores consist of pieces used by Peters in performance with orchestras or in piano/vocal recitals. These consist of copyist scores and parts for unpublished (or limited publication) pieces for soprano and orchestra or piano. These include A Dream of Venice by H. Rauscher; Thema und Variazionnen, Op. 164 by H. Proch; Sacred Songs For Pantheists by Robert Ward; The K'dusha Symphony (Sanctification) by Abraham Kaplan; and Lieder un Duette by Engelbert Humperdinck.
The unmarked scores consist of more pieces used by Peters in non-operatic performances. These include copyist scores and parts for From Dawn To Night (A Cycle of Five Poems with Orchestral Accompaniment), music by Dalmazio Santini, words by Paul Lawrence Dunbar; Il Bacio by S. Arditi; Six Songs for High Voice and Orchestra by Ned Rorem (piano/vocal score only); and Partitur of Long Long Ago by Thomas Haynes.