Odyssey of the Stars to Honor Blegen Sisters

Barbara and Judith Blegen Return for Celebration of Artistic Journeys


Barbara Blegen stands at piano
Judith Blegen stands on stairway
Black and white photo of young Judith Blegen
black and white photo of young Barbara Blegen


Categories: Alumni , Campus , Arts

Barbara Blegen stands at piano
Barbara Blegen stands at piano

This March, UM’s the College of the Arts and Media is proud to recognize Barbara and Judith Blegen during Odyssey of the Stars, the college’s 20th annual scholarship event.

The 2020 performance begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 7, in the George and Jane Dennison Theatre. The event pays tribute to UM performing and visual arts alumni and tells the story of their artistic journeys while showcasing UM students and faculty from the schools of art, media arts, music and theatre and dance.

Barbara Blegen performed her first public full length recital in a music recital hall when she was 11 years old. At age 12, she was the featured soloist with the Missoula Civic Symphony Orchestra. At 15, Blegen was offered a full-ride scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she studied until graduation. Barbara moved on to Baltimore and then Boston, where she landed a contract playing concerts with Columbia Artists. Additionally, Barbara soloed with the New York Philharmonic and the St. Louis and Baltimore symphonies. She retired in 2006 when she returned to her hometown of Missoula almost 50 years later.

“I performed 88 concerts in a seven-year period – it was hard work, but incredibly rewarding,” Barbara says.

In her retirement, Barbara accompanies the UM Opera Theater, the University Choir and Chamber Music Montana; presents master classes; accompanies vocal auditions and music recitals; performs in the School of Music Celebrate Piano Series; and performs in the Missoula Symphony Orchestra’s Symphony Soirée.

UM piano faculty member Steven Hesla describes Barbara as a flawless pianist.

“We joke in the department that we haven’t heard her miss a note in 10 years,” he says. “She’s adored in this community, and people just love what she brings to music.

Judith Blegen’s dedication and energy enhanced a natural vocal talent that was nurtured through voice lessons and by singing soprano in her church choir. During her senior year at Missoula High School, she began voice lessons with John L. Lester, the former head of UM’s voice department. After high school graduation, she enrolled at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she majored in voice. Judith worked with Martial Singher, formerly of the Metropolitan Opera, who coached her through her first operatic role of Susanna in the “Marriage of Figaro” as a project during a workshop at the institute.

Judith established herself in a number of roles at the Metropolitan Opera, beginning with her “Marzelline in Fidelio.” She brought her Sophie in “Der Rosenkavalier” to the Chicago Lyric Opera and returned to the Salzburg Festival as Blondchen in Mozart’s “Abduction from the Seraglio.”  

She is remembered for her Metropolitan Opera performances as Juliette in “Roméo et Juliette” and as Susanna in “Marriage of Figaro.” Among her most memorable performances at the Met was her portrayal of the fickle Adina, opposite the great tenor Luciano Pavarotti, in Donizetti’s bel canto comedy “L’Elisir D’Amore.”

In the 1970s, Judith appeared frequently on “The Tonight Show” starring Johnny Carson, occasionally with sister Barbara. Judith is considered one of her generation’s greatest coloratura sopranos – a voicetype known for agile leaps, runs and vocal embellishments. Above all, she most enjoys the music of Mozart and Beethoven.

Odyssey supports the College of the Arts and Media Scholarship Fund. Since its inception, the fund has provided over 1,000 scholarships to talented students. For more information visit the “Odyssey of the Stars” website.

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