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US opera singer Verrett mourned

Shirley Verrett, an acclaimed American mezzo-soprano and soprano praised for her blazing intensity during a career that spanned four decades, has died aged 79.

Verrett, one of the top black opera singers of the 1970s and 1980s, was suffering from heart trouble, said Jack Mastroianni of IMG Artists, who was notified of her death in Michigan by the Metropolitan Opera Guild.

Born in New Orleans, she was renowned for a blazing intensity in her performances as a mezzo for much of her career and a soprano in her later years.

She battled racial prejudice in a predominantly white European-centred art form during a 40-year biracial marriage, according to her autobiography.

Verrett studied at the Juilliard School in New York and was a 1961 winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

Known early in her career as Shirley Verrett-Carter, she made her professional debut in 1957 and a year later appeared for the first time at the New York City Opera as Irina in Weill's Lost in the Stars.

She also appeared in the first televised Young People's Concert by conductor Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic from the Lincoln Centre for the Performing Arts.

A debut followed at London's Royal Opera in 1966 as Ulrica in Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera, and two years later she made her Metropolitan Opera debut in the title role of Bizet's Carmen, a role she sung to acclaim at the Spoleto Festival in 1962.

A year later, she appeared at Milan's Teatro alla Scala in Saint-Saens' Samson et Delilah. In 1988, she opened the San Francisco Opera season with Placido Domingo in Meyerbeer's L'Africaine.

Verrett's Met career lasted until 1990, and she sang soprano roles that included Puccini's Tosca (opposite Luciano Pavarotti), Bellini's Norma, Leonore in Beethoven's Fidelio and the title role in Verdi's Aida and Desdemona in Verdi's Otello. Verrett performed Dido at the opening of Paris' Bastille Opera in 1990 and sang Nettie Fowler on Broadway in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel in 1994.

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