Sylvia McNair

Voice/Instrument: Soprano


Sylvia McNair (born June 23, 1956) is an American opera singer and classical recitalist who has also achieved notable success in the Broadway and cabaret genres. McNair, a soprano, has made several critically acclaimed recordings and has won two Grammy Awards.

Early life and musical training

Sylvia McNair was born in Mansfield, Ohio, the daughter of George and Marilou McNair. As a youth, she studied violin. She originally enrolled in the undergraduate music program at Wheaton (Ill.) College as a violin major but was encouraged by a violin instructor there to study voice as well. She commenced vocal studies at Wheaton with Margarita Evans, and finding herself more suited to singing, discontinued violin as her major. She earned a Bachelor of Music degree in 1978 from Wheaton and subsequently a Master of Music with Distinction in 1983 from Indiana University (whose music school is now the Jacobs School of Music), where she studied voice with Virginia MacWatters, John Wustman, and Virginia Zeani.


Sylvia McNair made her professional concert debut in 1980 with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Her operatic debut, in 1982, was as Sandrina in Haydn's L'infedeltà delusa with the Mostly Mozart Festival. She appeared regularly at the Vienna State Opera, the Salzburg Festival, Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, the Santa Fe Opera, the San Francisco Opera and at the Metropolitan Opera, and has soloed with many major European and American orchestras.

Since the late 1990s, McNair has changed the focus of her singing career to Broadway and jazz styles. In these genres she has achieved considerable critical acclaim and commercial success.

In 2006, McNair joined the voice faculty of the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, her alma mater. She teaches English diction (IPA), opera workshop, and private lessons.

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