Spinto Soprano International Ella Ruth Lee was born on June 10, 1933, in Tyler, Texas, to Winston Lee and Mary Ella Lee. She grew up in Los Angeles and began taking piano lessons there. Lee attended Jefferson High School in South Los Angeles from 1947 to 1951 and was a member of the choir. She enrolled in Los Angeles State College of Applied Arts and Sciences (now California State University, Los Angeles) after graduating in 1952 and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in music in 1955.
Lee made her operatic debut in 1960, playing the Ethiopian Princess in Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida at the Guild Opera Company in Los Angeles. She went on to perform principal roles throughout Europe and the United States for over thirty years. Lee sang the soprano role of “Floria Tosca” in Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca with the Komische Oper Berlin in East Berlin, Germany, in 1963. She commuted to rehearsals from her West Berlin apartment. She performed the “Empress” in Richard Strauss’ “Die Frau ohne Schatten” and the principal soprano part in Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony” in Germany, in addition to major operatic compositions.
When Lee returned to the United States in 1968, she was invited to reprise her role as Aida, this time with the Seattle Opera in Seattle, Washington. She performed Aida over 500 times with opera companies such as the Los Angeles Opera, the San Francisco Opera, the Vienna State Opera in Vienna, Austria, the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, Germany, and the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in the United Kingdom.
In 1995, Lee and her husband, tenor Arturo Romani, traveled to the Middle East to perform bel-canto duets and music by Verdi, Pietro Mascagni, and Abdul Hamid at the Royal Cultural Center of Amman in Amman, Jordan, and the Center for American Studies and Research American University in Beirut, Lebanon.
Lee and Linda Jackson founded Opera Pasadena Company and served as its first artistic directors after retiring from the opera stage in 2000. Lee was also instrumental in the establishment of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Opera in 2008.
Ella Ruth Lee Romani, an opera pioneer, passed away on September 16, 2013, in Los Angeles, California. She was 80 years old.