Luba Tcheresky

Obituary image for Luba Tcheresky

Luba Tcheresky

April 17, 1922- December 15, 2023

Luba passed away peacefully and gently at 9:48 AM in Calvary Hospital in the Bronx

Luba’s mother had a chance to emigrate to America when Luba was only 4 months old and considered Luba too young to take along on such a long and arduous voyage. She would be sent for at a later date. Luba had a happy childhood being raised by a much-loved grandmother and grandfather who was related to the Romanovs, and an Uncle Vanya, on their country estate in Byelo-Russia. She was schooled in a Warsaw convent and thought she would be returning “home” in time. However, when she was 8 ½ years old she was transported, weeping and screaming, to the port of Gdansk and shipped off with a nametag pinned to her coat-destination: Detroit, Michigan. The intrepid little girl suffered a bout of chicken pox onboard and was put ashore in London to be hospitalized for 10 days before journeying on to a family she didn’t know: her mother, step-father and two older sisters.

When she was 9 her mother enrolled Luba in English classes in an elementary school and once her English improved she was double-promoted from the 5th to the 6th grade and then to the 7th. Her mother also made sure Luba studied ballet, piano and Russian dance, privately and all Russians learned to plat the mandolin! At Cass Technical High School she majored in piano but was extremely rounded in her musical studies that included theory, orchestration, violin and trumpet. The faculty auditioned singing voices to form a girls’ trio and Luba was chosen for the lead voice- and so “The Novelettes” were formed! They made their own arrangements and added guitar, string bass and accordion (Luba learned the accordion) which afforded them more jobs” and interesting venues for performance.

Voice then became the major interest in Luba’s life and she began serious voice study, winning numerous local and state competitions. She graduated from Cass Tech before the age of 16 and went on to attend the Detroit Conservatory of Music and Wayne University. She added studies in French, Italian and German to the Polish and Russian she had learned at home and found time to also conduct and arrange music for a 4-part choir! All along Luba’s mother was the force and inspiration behind Luba’s efforts. Katherine Lebedev, dubbed the “primadonna” of the Russian colony in Detroit, often took Luba to her own performances with the Detroit Balalaika Orchestra, the Russian Orthodox Church and to the Russian plays in which Luba also took part. At one point Luba coached her own mother on an aria from Mazeppa that she was to sing! She particularly enjoyed singing at the many Russian concerts and balls put on by the Russian community and acting in their classic puppet theater. This experience came to great use later in New York when she was asked to sing for the White Russian Ball along with Nicolai Gedda! During this period in Detroit, a visitor from New York heard Luba sing and advised her mother to send Luba to NYC to study the bel canto method with a teacher who had just arrived from Italy. This was arranged and after a few years Luba married and moved with her artist husband to his home in California where her two children were born.

Ms. Tcheresky accepted a scholarship with Carl Ebert, director of the Opera Department at University of Southern California. She made her operatic debut there as First Lady in Mozart’s “Magic Flute” under the baton of Alfred Wallenstein. She also sang the lead in George Antheil’s “Volpone”. At the same time she was studying voice with Major Herbert Wall (one of the last students of Jean de Reszke) and added Madama Butterfly and Elizabeth in Tannhauser to her repertoire, and was asked to sing Elizabeth at the Wilshire Ebell Theater in L.A. She was the winner of a 13-week long television singing contest. She also won the Glendale Symphony auditions singing “L’altra notte” from Boito’s “Mefistofele” and “Dich theure Halle” from Wagner’s Tannheuser. She was chosen by Lukas Foss to sing Allan Berg’s early songs with the Los Angeles Chamber Symphony.

A woman who heard Luba with the Glendale Symphony Orchestra suggested that she sing for Lotte Lehmann who was auditioning singers for her master classes at Santa Barbara. Luba won a 3-year scholarship and became one of Lehmann’s favorite protégés, spending much time with her and her friend, Frances Holden, at their home “Orplid”, and even being invited to vacation with them. During this time Luba had great success as Cherubino (Marriage of Figaro)and Rosalinda (Die Fledermaus) with Maurice Abravanel conducting at the Lobero Theater and Redlands Bowl. She also sang numerous recitals and oratorios throughout the west coast and the roles of Butterfly, Elizabeth in Tannheuser, Tatyana in Eugene Onegin, Lisa in Pique Dame and Natasha in Dargomyzshsky’s Russalka (The Mermaid). She may well be the only soprano to have sung BOTH Mermaids: the Dargomyzshsky (made famous by Chaliapin) and later in Germany, the Dvorak.

Ms. Tcheresky placed in the Metropolitan Opera Regional Competition and was then sent to NY by the Music Academy of the West with letters of introduction for auditions and enough money to last about 3 months. Luba did not want to go to Europe at this time because she refused to leave her children at their tender ages for such an extended trip so far away. An agent who heard Luba sing in Santa Barbara was extremely interested in her and told Lehmann that if Luba would come to NY he would help get her auditions. However, he turned out to be a great disappointment-he took all her letters but did not come forth with auditions.

Money running out, she started to “temp” and also took a job singing the Russian “songs her mother taught her” at a Russian supper club whose owner had heard her in the Catskills. She began to get her own auditions and sang Santuzza (Cavalleria) with the Bronx Opera Co. and Tosca for the Metropolitan Opera Guild. George Schick of the Metropolitan wanted to hear her and praised her for having sung a “great” audition but advised going to Europe first and gaining more experience. A patron financed her audition trip and Luba got a “star”” contract on her very first audition, In Düsseldorf-without an agent! She sang only two arias on stage: “sola, perdutta, abbandonato” and “dich, theure Halle” and the directors of the opera house immediately took her to their office and offered her the lead role in Dvorak’s “Rusalka” which was to be the last premiere they would mount to end their 11-yeqar rein managing Düsseldorf and Duisburg and then they would be taking over management of the Zürich State Opera. They asked her at the same time to open the season for them there in the fall. Luba asked if they didn’t want to see her resume and they answered, “no, we know what we heard-we haven’t heard a voice like yours in 50 years!”. And when she mentioned that the money they were offering her wasn’t very much in American money, they offered her more, plus fare both ways from NY! And so she closed Düsseldorf as Rusalka and began her stint at the Zürich Staatsoper. She sang Donna Anna, Maddalena, Micaela there and guest appearances elsewhere.

Returning to NY because of family and personal reasons, Miss Tcheresky was engaged by Gian-Carlo Menotti to appear as Mme. Euterpova in his opera “Hel, Help, the Globolinks!” at the ANTA Theater on Broadway for a month run. She had already sung his “Maria Golovin” and “The Consul”. Thomas Martin engaged her for Fanciulla del West (Minnie) and Santuzza in Cavalleria. She appeared as guest artists in the NY Library Concert Series, the American Landmark Festival Series, toured as a soloist with the American Airlines sponsored Concert Series throughout the U.S. and guest artist with various symphony orchestras.

In addition to her opera and concert career in both Europe and the U.S., Miss Tcheresky appeared in a number of Broadway musicals including “Carousel” with John Raitt, and Bernstein’s “Candide” and “The Mikado”.

Luba shared a close personal and professional rapport with the renowned composer Vernon Duke (Vladimir Dukelsky). They met when she was a guest at one of his musical soirees in Los Angeles and he became a “fan” of her singing and a great friend. While she was studying with Lotte Lehmann in Santa Barbara, Vernon wrote (he was a great letter-writer and Luba has a scrapbook full of his letters!) that he was would be coming to hear her Cherubino. He was bringing his lyricist along and would stay the weekend-would she make hotel arrangements and get another girl so that they would have a foursome for dinners? So at the cast party after “Marriage of Figaro” Luba introduced Vernon to her friend and fellow-student Kay McCracken and soon Luba was singing at the “Marriage of Vernon”-and Kay-and as maid-of-honor, pushed Vernon up the aisle!

Later in Vernon’s visits to NY he enjoyed hearing Luba sing his “April in Paris” and other Duke favorites at some of her performing venues. Her collaborations with Vernon Duke included singing Russian translations of Broadway musicals for Radio Liberty. Vernon translated them, played the piano, narrated and even SANG the “Pineapple Duet” (Ananas) from Cabaret with Luba-in Russian, of course!

Vernon also liked following Luba’s son’s (Richard Sortomme) progress as a young violinist and often accompanied him on the piano during visits to their home. Years later at a ceremony inducting Vernon Duke into the Library of Congress, Richard played Vernon’s Violin Sonata and String Quartet.

Maria Callas personally selected Luba as one of 20 singers (from 500 auditioned!) to participate in her Lincoln Center (Juilliard) Master Class Series. She was later chosen to be one of the first few singers from the class to be featured on the first issue (EMI) of the classes.

Miss Tcheresky has sung under the batons of Lukas Foss, Thomas Martin, Maurice Abravanel, Alfred Wallenstein, Christopher Keene, Laszlo Halasz, Erede, Leonard Bernstein, G. Pattane, Hans Swarofsky, Nello Santi and others.

Regarded as one of the best singing teachers in NYC, Miss Tcheresky has been highly successful in building and nurturing young voices as well as devising therapeutic techniques to rebuild and maintain more mature voices.

Miss Tcheresky has two children of whom she is very proud-her daughter Freya Pruitt, a minister in the Christian faith and writer and developer of rising personalities, and her son, Richard Sortomme, violinist and composer. She is deeply thankful to them for their love, constant encouragement, support and participation in her life and career.

A Cryptside Service will take place at 1:30 PM on Thursday, December 28th at Trinity Church Cemetery, 770 Riverside Drive, New York, New York 10032.

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