|Year of Birth:||1932|
James Billings (born 1932, Springfield, Missouri) is an American operatic baritone, librettist, and opera director. He began his career in the late 1950s in Boston and later became a member of the New York City Opera where he performed regularly from the early 1970s through the 1990s. A specialist in the comprimario repertoire, he has portrayed more than 175 opera roles on stage during his long career. Billings has also written librettos for numerous operas for children and since the mid-1990s has directed several opera productions.
Billings graduated with a bachelor's degree in vocal performance from Wichita State University and then pursued graduate music studies at Boston University. While at BU he also studied at the Berkshire Music Center in the summers and notably conducted the world premiere of Mark Bucci's opera Tale for a Deaf Ear at the Tanglewood Music Festival in August 1957 with a cast that included Jean Kraft and Edward Purrington.
Billings began his professional career singing under Sarah Caldwell at the Opera Company of Boston during the company's first season in 1958, singing there regularly through 1970 in such roles as Sellem in The Rake's Progress, Napoleon in the American premiere of War and Peace, and Harlequin in Ariadne auf Naxos. In 1962 he sang the role of Polonius in the world premiere of Sergius Kagen's opera Hamlet, after the play by Shakespeare, in Baltimore at the Peabody Art Theater with Laszlo Halasz conducting members of the Baltimore Symphony. In 1964 he made his debut at the Lyric Opera of Chicago as Benoit in La bohème. In 1969 he shared the stage with Beverly Sills in a production of Ariadne auf Naxos with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Billings later performed with Sills frequently at the New York City Opera during the 1970s, and he notably served as the majordomo for Sill's final performance, Beverly! Her Farewell Performance, in 1981.