Dorothy Kirsten, the glamorous and gifted lyric soprano was considered the definitive "Madama Butterfly" of her era.
She was the radiant singer who brought sophisticated American charm and glamour to the musical world when many opera stars of the day were more pleasing to the ear than they were to the eye.
Although she was the first opera star to appear on the cover of Life magazine and the first singer in the history of the Metropolitan Opera to sing on that stage for 30 consecutive years, she became even better known in her final years for her dedication to finding a cure for the illness that killed her husband.
Dr. John D. French, whom she married in 1955, died in 1989 of the complications of Alzheimer's disease. He was the neurologist who had founded the UCLA Brain Research Institute.
She was paying for her vocal lessons and Juilliard studies by appearing on radio and in choral groups backing up such radio stars as Kate Smith. Her silvery voice came to the attention of opera soprano Grace Moore, who became her mentor. Miss Moore sent her to study with Astolio Pescia in Rome and when she was forced to return in 1940 with World War II on the horizon, she had developed professionally to a point where she could make her debut as Pousette in "Manon" with the Chicago Opera.
Two years later she made her New York debut with the San Carlo Opera Co. as Mimi in "La Boheme." In 1945 came her Metropolitan debut, again as the frail girl with the cold hands but cheerful spirit.
That began a string of 170 Met performances in 12 roles over the next three decades. It was an unprecedented run, one she attributed to her new teacher, Ludwig Fabri, who allowed her to sing only exercises and never arias in his class, thus saving her voice for performances. She remained with him until his death in 1963.
When she gave her final Met performance on New Year's Eve in 1975 in the role of Floria Tosca, she had also accumulated 25 seasons with the San Francisco Opera that involved dozens of appearances at the Shrine and Philharmonic auditoriums in Los Angeles.
She had sung on the radio with Frank Sinatra, appeared regularly on TV variety shows and was seen in films with Mario Lanza in "The Great Caruso" and Bing Crosby in "Mr. Music."
Tenor Placido Domingo remembered "with great fondness the 'Tosca' we sang together. She was an artist I admired very much and a great lady of the stage."