A rare true contralto, Claramae Turner achieved success in both the operatic and musical comedy worlds. The combination of her musical gifts and her unusual beauty allowed her to find favor with both Arturo Toscanini and filmmakers in Hollywood -- all the while maintaining the highest standards of performance; she was also a concert singer and recitalist of stature. On a side note, she was noted for observing an exercise regimen at a time when it was anything but fashionable among singers.
Turner studied in San Francisco with Giacomo Spadoni, Nino Comel, and Kurt Herman Adler (then the San Francisco Opera's chorus master, later its general director); she became a member of the San Francisco Opera chorus and sang often in local radio broadcasts. She had resolved in 1945 to travel to New York to expand her career opportunities; before she could act on her plan, however, she was approached by the Bush Street Music Hall to sing in their informal Gilbert and Sullivan productions. Amidst her 250 performances there in her first year, she was made a three-times-a-week regular on a radio program broadcast nationally. At one of her G&S performances, she was heard by San Francisco Opera director Gaetano Merola, who offered her a contract for the Italian and French repertories. She accepted and stayed with the company for a year.
After her season in San Francisco, Turner was determined to make good on her resolution to move to New York. She auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera and for composer Gian Carlo Menotti, who was seeking a protagonist for his new opera, The Medium. Turner sang the premiere of The Medium on May 8, 1946, but had to withdraw from an extended run in order to make her Metropolitan debut as Marthe in Faust on November 16 that same year. In December, Turner was deemed a "substantial" Gertrude in an English-language production of Hansel und Gretel. She survived unscathed a period in Metropolitan history in which singers were regularly pressed into unhealthy assignments, even though she was given such widely divergent parts as Amneris in Aïda and Zita in Gianni Schicchi.
Turner revisited the role of Madame Flora in The Medium when she made her New York City Opera debut in 1952. She remained with that company until 1969, along the way participating in the premiere of Copland's The Tender Land in 1954. At Chicago's Lyric Opera during the 1955 and 1956 seasons, she undertook big-league roles such as Azucena (Il trovatore), Ulrica (Un ballo in maschera) and Fricka (The Ring), as well as singing the wife in Rafaello de Banfield's Lord Byron's Love Letter. San Francisco's 1957 American premiere of Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites found her singing Madame Croissy while in San Diego (1967), she sang the Baroness Grunwiessel in the first American performance of Henze's Der junge Lord. In Washington, she created the role of Diana Orsini in Ginastera's Bomarzo in 1967. Turner achieved her greatest celebrity with her Cousin Nettie in the 1955 motion picture version of Carousel, a film viewed the world over. And, it was for her that the popular George Cory Jr./Douglas Cross ballad "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" was written in 1954.