The Six Wives of Edo de Waart
Our classic story on the man who may be the most married conductor in musical history.
When classical musicians get snarky about conductors, one topic that comes up is how often they seem to get married. Many presume the record holder is Andre Previn, whose five wives included actress Mia Farrow and famed violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter.
In fact, the clear leader is the music director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Dutch-born ladies man Edo de Waart. He’s on his sixth wife, and also had a seven-year, marriage-like relationship with another woman.
Musicians have referred to him as “Edo de Vorce” and one publication dubbed him a “serial groom.” It’s probably an urban legend, but wags claim there were bumper stickers in Twin Cities that read, “Honk If You Have Been Married to Edo de Waart,” when he was music director of the Minnesota Orchestra, while others joke it was actually in Australia when he was the Sydney Symphony’s music director, and the bumper sticker read “Honk If You Haven’t Been Married To Edo De Waart.”
De Waart is so secretive about his private life that there’s no media record of one wife, and the details of any of his marriages are nearly non-existent. That’s all the more remarkable given that most his wives were internationally-known sopranos (he loves sopranos) who were in the public eye for decades.
De Waart and the MSO made a hit with his version of the Bartok work, “Bluebeard’s Castle,” and there is something similarly mysterious about the way his wives have come and gone. You have to scour the internet to piece together any clues.
Born in 1941, de Waart married a woman named Noor Terwiej (who was one year younger than him) in 1962 and had two children, Marjolein and Boris. Milwaukee Magazine reported that Boris works backstage for opera, theater and ballet productions in San Francisco, and Marjolean is a violist living outside Amsterdam.
“In addition to singing in major European houses, she was also a San Francisco resident; for much of that period, she was companion to the San Francisco Symphony’s Music Director Edo de Waart,” the San Francisco Chronicle has reported.
If you dig hard enough, you can find a photo of Edo and Sherri waltzing at San Francisco’s Black and White Ball at City Hall in 1982 That’s a rarity, perhaps the only photo of Edo with a past wife.
The next wife in order of age was Memphis-born soprano Ruth Welting, seven years younger than de Waart. Just five-feet-two, with a strong southern accent, and “known for the sweetness of her personality,” she started piano lessons at age three and eventually began studying voice. She made her professional debut in 1971. “She produced ravishing sounds up the F above high C, and she was also an excellent actress, who made an enchanting figure on stage,” a story in the Independent, a British publication, once noted.
She and her sister Patricia Welting, also a singer, both performed with the Metropolitan Opera, making them only the second set of sisters in history to perform with the Met (the others were Rosa and Carmela Ponselle). In 1975, Ruth Welting sang the role of Sophie on a recording of Richard Strauss’ opera “Der Rosenkavalier” that de Waart conducted (perhaps that led to their marriage). After her sister Patricia was murdered, Ruth temporarily retired (in 1986-’87), but soon returned to performing. She died of cancer in 1999.
Next up: Virginia-born, African American soprano Roberta Alexander, eight years younger than de Waart. She moved to Holland after they married and learned to speak Dutch in her first year there. After their divorce, “I just stayed there,” she told the Los Angeles Times. She “now finds refuge from the pace of her far-flung engagements in a garden of tulips and crocuses,” the paper reported.
In 1992, Alexander did an album of Scenes and Arias from Samuel Barber’s operas with de Waart conducting the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. “De Waart’s conducting is affectionate and supple,” one reviewer noted.
The next woman who appears is Susan Graham, yet another American soprano, born in New Mexico and raised in Texas, and 19 years younger than de Waart. Their seven-year relationship (which probably began in the early 1990s) was so steady that at least one publication wrongly called them husband and wife. In a rare disclosure, De Waart once revealed how Graham complemented his lonely life: “I’m always alone, much more than Susan, because she has colleagues and is socially more adept than I am,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald. “You can be friends [with the orchestra] but you can’t be buddy-buddy. The orchestra rarely wants you to.”
Graham has had more to say about de Waart than any of his wives. “We performed a lot together, which is wonderful to do with someone who is also your partner,” Graham once recalled. “But ultimately we broke up because we were in different places. He wanted domesticity, and my career was just beginning to blossom.”
Even after de Waart married his next wife, Graham and de Waart have periodically performed together and there is a notable electricity between them. “There was a charged dynamic between the two of them, but never any hostility,” French horn player William Barnewitz told Milwaukee Magazine, describing a performance in Santa Fe.
When Graham performed in a work of Berlioz that de Waart conducted with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, the critic (who seemed aware of the duo’s past relationship) wrote that while the tempo set by de Waart “may have been a bit measured, it was to the pleasure of savoring Graham’s artistry.”
By then de Waart had been married for more than a decade to his sixth wife, Rebecca Dopp, whom he met in 1998 and married in 1999. Yet another American soprano, Dopp is 30 years younger than de Waart and was from Middleton, a suburb of Madison, Wisconsin. One comment on an opera list serve from someone who knew her described Dopp as “so beautiful it hurt to look at her,” with “a lovely lyric mezzo voice…I don’t think this…young lady expected to go to Santa Fe for a summer internship, fall in love with, and marry a man who was 57 at the time.”
De Waart once blamed his upbringing for his many divorces: “The way I was raised or not raised… in my youth, didn’t set me up for a calm domestic life…so I have always been a searcher for a real calm fulfilling personal life.” But there was a good side to his restlessness, he added: “For an artist’s life who has to find truth and soul in pieces it is probably a good characteristic.”
De Waart settled down to live in Madison, which helped the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra sell him on becoming their music director. As for his new life in Wisconsin, he told M Magazine, “You can’t imagine how happy I am to be here in the quiet. The beauty. The peace. We’ve got a nice house, organic vegetables and my kids love their public school.” The family has since moved to Antwerp, Belgium, just 100 miles from de Waart’s birthplace in Amsterdam, after he took another music director job there, with the Royal Flanders Philharmonic Orchestra.
Meanwhile there was still that on-stage electricity with Graham. When she performed in Der Rosenkavalier with de Waart conducting at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Graham told the press, “to have Edo in the pit, it’s very nostalgic…We can be comfortable and free onstage together….Edo knows me and I know him, so if he wants to take a little more time, I can read it instantly in his gesture.”
One comment after a review of Der Rosenkavalier suggested that in her performance, soprano Susan Graham was trying to make conductor De Waart jealous. That’s pure speculation, of course, but it’s worth noting that Dopp went along to that performance and brought their two children.
De Waart, it appears, couldn’t be happier about his current life. “Here in the fall and winter of my life, I do what I love to do and I have a wonderful wife and kids,” he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “How lucky can you get?”
As for his six former flames, there is no information to be found about any other husband or lover for any of them. As Graham has noted, it’s difficult for globe trotting opera singers to maintain a romantic relationship. De Waart, Milwaukee Magazine reported, “has maintained solid friendships with his exes.” And none of them, it appears, seems interested in dishing any dirt on their old paramour.