Dorothy Kirsten was an American operatic soprano.
Kirsten’s mother was an organist and music teacher, her grandfather was a conductor, and her great-aunt, Catherine Hayes, was also an opera singer. She left high school at age 16 and worked for the Singer Corporation sewing machine company and for New Jersey Bell, studying voice in her spare time. Her teacher, Louis Darnay, eventually employed her as a secretary and maid.
By the late 1930s she had an ongoing professional career as a radio singer on WINS, a member of the Kate Smith Chorus, and as a vocalist for pop orchestras. She mentored under Grace Moore from 1938, who had her study in Rome with Astolfo Pescia. Her time in Europe was cut short by the outbreak of World War II, and she returned in 1939, debuting at the New York World’s Fair. Roles followed at the Chicago Grand Opera Company, San Carlo Opera Company, New York City Opera, San Francisco Opera, and New York Philharmonic. Her radio program “Keepsakes” ran for a year in 1943-44.
Kirsten joined the roster of principle sopranos at the Philadelphia La Scala Opera Company in 1943 and spent much of her time performing there through 1947. She made her debut with the company in an out of town performance at the Syria Mosque in Pittsburg on May 18, 1943 as Mimì in Giacomo Puccini’s La Boheme with Nino Martini as Rodolfo, Carlo Morelli as Marcello, and Armand Balendonck conducting. In the 1943-1944 PLSOC season at the Academy of Music she portrayed Mimì many times and sang Nedda in Pagliacci with Giovanni Martinelli as Canio. She also toured with the company to Detroit in October 1943, singing Mimì to Armand Tokatyan’s Rodolfo. Kirsten opened the PLSOC’s 1944-1945 season singing Micaëla in Georges Bizet’s Carmen with Bruna Castagna in the tile role. She also toured with company to Cleveland singing Mimì. In February 1946 she traveled with PLSOC to Washington D.C. to perform Marguerite in Charles Gounod’s Faust. In December 1949 she recorded Manon Lescaut with the world renowned tenor Jussi Björling. Her final year performing with the PLSOC was the 1946-1947 season, portraying Cio-cio-san in Madama Butterfly and Juliette in Roméo et Juliette.