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Jean L. Collat

1927 - 2017 Obituary Condolences
Jean L. Collat Obituary
Jean L. Collat

AGE: 89 • Hockessin

Jean L. Collat, who died January 8, 2017, was a beloved wife, mother, and grandmother as well as an opera singer whose voice was widely regarded as exceptional.

Born in 1927 in Cincinnati, OH, Jean was the daughter of Charles and Frederica Levy. She realized that she had a gift for singing early in her childhood and often sang French folk songs to the accompaniment of her Alsatian-born father. Later she studied at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. In 1949, she graduated from Mount Holyoke College, where she was the soprano soloist in the glee club. She married Robert Collat soon afterwards, and they moved to Wilmington, DE in 1952.

Mrs. Collat was a pioneer in televised opera performances: she sang the leading operatic role in a production of Lucia di Lammermoor on WHYY-TV (Channel 12) in 1960, believed to be the station's first live operatic broadcast and considered an innovation at the time.

Jean studied as a coloratura soprano with the head of the voice department of the Juilliard School of Music in New York. One day a famous tenor happened to overhear Jean warming up for her voice lesson. Impressed by her voice, he introduced her to both a leading New York agent of opera singers and the music director of the Metropolitan Opera Company. The director suggested that after gaining nationwide experience, she would be a good candidate for the company. Although she was flattered by this expression of interest, she quickly declined: she took the view that her husband and children came first, that the heavy travel demands of a national operatic career conflicted with her goals, and that she could continue to have a satisfying singing career locally.

Mrs. Collat sang operatic roles with such local organizations as the Wilmington Opera Society (now Opera-Delaware), Brecks Mill, and The Playhouse. Otto Dekom of the Morning News wrote that she had "an exceptional voice, strong and clear, and her ability as an actress made the role sweep along." For many years, Jean was a soloist with several symphony orchestras, including the Dover Symphony, Newark Symphony, and the Delaware County Symphony in Pennsylvania. In 1973, she gave a recital in New York for the Japan Society.

In 1976, Jean founded Artistic Productions Inc., a non-profit organization consisting of opera singers and poetry readers. She and her associates performed for audiences of hospital patients, school children, residents of retirement homes, and others who could not attend live productions easily. Each program of song and poetry was organized around a common theme, tailored to each of these audiences. In a 1978 article, "Singer Who Helps," Lise Monty of the Morning News wrote of Jean: "What makes you feel especially good about this professional opera singer with the vibrant personality is that she and her group, Artistic Productions, bring strictly high-caliber quality entertainment to those who are confined." Jean's group continued to perform for 28 years.

For many years, Mrs. Collat served on the boards of the Delaware Symphony League and the English-Speaking Union and on the Advisory Board of Opera-Delaware. She was a member of OperaDelaware's Auditions Committee helping to cast the company's productions.

Jean was also a teacher. For ten years, she taught GED courses at the Crittendon Rehabilitation Center for young people with drug-related records. She taught pre-schoolers about singing and opera at the Wilmington Music School for four years. She was a substitute teacher of French and music in many local schools.

Recently Jean set up a program to make monetary gifts to promising opera singers for their vocal instruction and coaching. She gave her first gift in 2015; and in keeping with her wishes, her family intends to continue the program beyond her death.

Jean is survived by her loving husband, Robert Collat; son, Donald S. Collat (wife, Gayle); daughter, Jill L. Collat; granddaughter, Ava Collat; and nephew, Jack Schwab (wife, Natalie).

A memorial service will be held at 1:00 on Saturday, February 11, at the First Unitarian Church of Wilmington, 730 Halstead Road, Wilmington, DE 19803. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions in Jean's memory to OperaDelaware or to the Metropolitan Opera.

Chandler Funeral Home

Published in The News Journal from Feb. 3 to Feb. 5, 2017
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