Gail Robinson would have cried, not out of sadness, but because hearing beautiful music always made her cry, said her husband, Henno Loh-meyer.
For two hours on Sunday, Lexington's First Presbyterian Church was filled with the kind of music that Robinson, a former New York Metropolitan Opera soprano-turned-music teacher, loved. The songs were in tribute to Robinson, who died in October at age 62 after a decades-long battle with rheumatoid arthritis.
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Robinson's former students and longtime friend Frederica von Stade, who made her mainstage Met debut with Robinson in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) in 1970, were among those who performed before the packed crowd at the memorial service.
Robinson, a Meridian, Miss., native who ended her singing career in 1988 and went on to become director of the Met's National Council Auditions and Young Artist Development Program, came to Lexington in 1999, joining the University of Kentucky faculty as a voice professor. She held the endowed chair for vocal performance at UK.
Everett McCorvey, UK's director of opera, said that Robinson was, without a doubt, "the most important hire that the university ever made."
Von Stade, a legendary operatic mezzo-soprano, sang Johannes Brahms' Wiegenlied, better known as Brahms' Lullaby, at the service.
Von Stade noted that she played Robinson's "boyfriend" in a couple of operas in which women were cast in male roles — she was Hansel to Robinson's Gretel.
Von Stade said that other Met performers could not believe the magnificence of Robinson's singing voice and her courage.
"It was very clear that every man in the Metropolitan Opera was in love with her, and every woman wanted to be her," von Stade said.
"I really had to practice not touching her because she was in so much pain," von Stade said of her final performances with Robinson at the Met. The two women were in about five operas together, she said after the memorial service.
Jonathan Friend, the artistic administrator of the Metropolitan Opera for the past 25 years, told the audience how Robinson, who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 19, played Gretel, a role in which she had to dance, despite being in constant pain.
One thing about Robinson that never changed, he said, was her laugh.
The memorial service program was changed at the last minute so the audience could hear Amanda Balltrip, one of Robinson's students, sing the aria that won her the Metropolitan Opera National Council Kentucky District auditions on Saturday.