Sylvia McNair is a globe-trotting American soprano with an unusually clear and brilliant sound on the lighter side of the vocal spectrum. She sings a wide range of operatic and concert music, including Mozart (her specialty), Baroque operas of Handel and Monteverdi, modern works by Stravinsky and Britten, and songs of Gershwin and Jerome Kern. Although her operatic career has centered mostly on European houses, she has made selected appearances at New York's Metropolitan Opera, and, particularly since winning the Marian Anderson award in 1992, she has been a dedicated recitalist both in America and abroad. Her many recordings for the Philips and Deutsche Grammophon labels are consistently excellent, and they have been the cornerstone of her success with American audiences.
McNair was born in Mansfield, OH, the daughter of an amateur choral conductor and a piano teacher. She took lessons on both the piano and violin as a child, and continued intensive studies on the violin into her early twenties. McNair credits this early and thorough introduction to music as contributing to her success as a singer. After a bachelor's degree at Wheaton College, she entered the master's program at Indiana University, where she got her first taste of operatic singing in the university's renowned training program. After completing the young artist's program at the San Francisco Opera, she made a swift entry into the professional world, performing at the 1982 Mostly Mozart Festival, singing a range of roles with the St. Louis Opera (1983-1989), and making debuts in Santa Fe, Vienna, Amsterdam, and Berlin.
From the beginning, McNair has been associated with Mozart's Pamina (The Magic Flute) and Ilia (Idomeneo), and Monteverdi's Poppea (L'incoronazione di Poppea), but it was her Anne Trulove in Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, at Glyndebourne in 1989, that launched her into the international spotlight. Since that time she has enjoyed an unbroken chain of critical and musical successes around the world, steadily praised for the beauty, intelligence, and uncommon exactness of her performances. Her work with conductor John Eliot Gardiner has established her as a fine singer of Baroque music, able to negotiate the intricacies of period ornamentation without sacrificing vocal color. Likewise, her concerts and recordings with Robert Shaw, Seiji Ozawa, Bernard Haitink, Kurt Masur, and Neville Marriner show her at ease in everything from Mozart's sacred choral works to Mahler's Symphony No. 2