Kathleen Battle

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Battle in 1999 Kathleen Battle.jpg
Battle in 1999

Kathleen Deanna Battle (born August 13, 1948) is an American operatic soprano known for her distinctive vocal range and tone. [1] [2] Born in Portsmouth, Ohio, Battle initially became known for her work within the concert repertoire through performances with major orchestras during the early and mid-1970s. She made her opera debut in 1975. Battle expanded her repertoire into lyric soprano and coloratura soprano roles during the 1980s and early 1990s until her eventual dismissal from the Metropolitan Opera in 1994. After a 22-year absence from the Met, Battle performed a concert of spirituals at the Metropolitan Opera House in November 2016. [3]

Opera artform combining sung text and musical score in a theatrical setting

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers, but is distinct from musical theater. Such a "work" is typically a collaboration between a composer and a librettist and incorporates a number of the performing arts, such as acting, scenery, costume, and sometimes dance or ballet. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble, which since the early 19th century has been led by a conductor.

A soprano[soˈpraːno] is a type of classical singing voice and has the highest vocal range of all voice types. The soprano's vocal range (using scientific pitch notation) is from approximately middle C (C4) = 261 Hz to "high A" (A5) = 880 Hz in choral music, or to "soprano C" (C6, two octaves above middle C) = 1046 Hz or higher in operatic music. In four-part chorale style harmony, the soprano takes the highest part, which often encompasses the melody. The soprano voice type is generally divided into the coloratura, soubrette, lyric, spinto, and dramatic soprano.

Portsmouth, Ohio City in Ohio, United States

Portsmouth is a city in and the county seat of Scioto County, Ohio, United States. Located in southern Ohio 41 miles (66 km) south of Chillicothe, it lies on the north bank of the Ohio River, across from Kentucky, just east of the mouth of the Scioto River. The population was 20,226 at the 2010 census.


Life and career

Early years and musical education

Battle was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, US, the youngest of seven children. Her father was a steelworker, and her mother was an active participant in the gospel music of the family's African Methodist Episcopal church. Battle attended Portsmouth High School where her music teacher and mentor was Charles P. (Phil) Varney. In a 1985 Time Magazine interview, Varney recalled the first time he heard the eight-year-old Battle sing, describing her as "this tiny little thing singing so beautifully." "I went to her later", Varney recalled, "and told her God had blessed her, and she must always sing." [4] In that same interview, music critic Michael Walsh described Battle as "the best lyric coloratura in the world". [4]

Gospel music is a genre of Christian music. The creation, performance, significance, and even the definition of gospel music varies according to culture and social context. Gospel music is composed and performed for many purposes, including aesthetic pleasure, religious or ceremonial purposes, and as an entertainment product for the marketplace. Gospel music usually has dominant vocals with Christian lyrics. Gospel music can be traced to the early 17th century, with roots in the black oral tradition. Hymns and sacred songs were often repeated in a call and response fashion. Most of the churches relied on hand clapping and foot stomping as rhythmic accompaniment. Most of the singing was done a cappella. The first published use of the term "gospel song" probably appeared in 1874. The original gospel songs were written and composed by authors such as George F. Root, Philip Bliss, Charles H. Gabriel, William Howard Doane, and Fanny Crosby. Gospel music publishing houses emerged. The advent of radio in the 1920s greatly increased the audience for gospel music. Following World War II, gospel music moved into major auditoriums, and gospel music concerts became quite elaborate.

Portsmouth High School (PHS) is a public high school in Portsmouth, Ohio, United States. The school's athletic teams are known as the Trojans and the school colors are red and blue.

Michael A. Walsh is an American music critic, author, screenwriter, media critic, and cultural-political consultant.

Battle was awarded a scholarship to the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music where she studied voice with Franklin Bens and also worked with Italo Tajo. [5] She majored in music education, and proceeded to a master's degree in Music Education. In 1971 she began a teaching career at an inner-city public school in Cincinnati, continuing to study voice privately while teaching 5th and 6th grade music. Later, she studied singing with Daniel Ferro in New York. [6]

Italo Tajo was an Italian operatic bass, particularly associated with Mozart and Rossini roles.

Daniel Ferro was an American bass-baritone and voice teacher. He was known primarily as a teacher whose students have included many prominent opera singers, but he also had a career as a singer himself both on the concert stage and in opera and musical theatre.


In 1972, her second year as a teacher, a friend and fellow church choir member phoned her and informed her that the conductor Thomas Schippers was holding auditions in Cincinnati. At her audition Schippers engaged her to sing as the soprano soloist in Brahms' German Requiem at the 1972 Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto, Italy. Her performance there on July 9, 1972 marked the beginning of her professional career. [7] [8] During the next several years, Battle would go on to sing in several more orchestral concerts in New York, Los Angeles, and Cleveland. [5] In 1973 she was awarded a grant from the Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund for Music to support her career. William Mullen, managing director of the Santa Fe Concert Association was on the panel of judges who made the award. In 2004 he recalled:

Thomas Schippers American conductor

Thomas Schippers was an American conductor. He was highly regarded for his work in opera.

<i>A German Requiem</i> (Brahms) requiem mass composed by Johannes Brahms

A German Requiem, to Words of the Holy Scriptures, Op. 45 by Johannes Brahms, is a large-scale work for chorus, orchestra, a soprano and a baritone soloist, composed between 1865 and 1868. It comprises seven movements, which together last 65 to 80 minutes, making this work Brahms's longest composition. A German Requiem is sacred but non-liturgical, and unlike a long tradition of the Latin Requiem, A German Requiem, as its title states, is a Requiem in the German language.

Festival dei Due Mondi

The Festival dei Due Mondi(Festival of the Two Worlds) is an annual summer music and opera festival held each June to early July in Spoleto, Italy, since its founding by composer Gian Carlo Menotti in 1958. It features a vast array of concerts, opera, dance, drama, visual arts and roundtable discussions on science.

We would meet monthly, listen to up-and-coming concert artists and give money to deserving artists for further study. A very young Kathleen Battle sang for us. The other judges thought her voice was too small, but I thought she had an incredible ability to communicate through music. I talked the other judges into giving her a grant. [9]

Thomas Schippers introduced Kathleen Battle to his fellow conductor James Levine who selected Battle to sing in Mahler's Symphony No. 8 at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's May Festival in 1974. This was the beginning of a friendship and close professional association between Battle and Levine [10] that would last for 20 years and resulted in several recordings and performances in recital and concert performances, including engagements in Salzburg, Ravinia, and Carnegie Hall. Battle made her professional operatic debut in 1975 as Rosina in Rossini's The Barber of Seville with the Michigan Opera Theatre in Detroit. She made her New York City Opera debut the following year as Susanna in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro , and in 1977 made both her San Francisco Opera debut as Oscar in Verdi's Un ballo in maschera and her Metropolitan Opera debut as the Shepherd in Wagner's Tannhäuser . The latter performance was conducted by James Levine. [7] Battle made her Glyndebourne Festival debut (and UK debut) singing Nerina in Haydn's La fedeltà premiata in 1979. [11]

James Levine American conductor and pianist

James Lawrence Levine is an American conductor and pianist. He is primarily known for his tenure as Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera, a position he held for 40 years (1976–2016). He was formally terminated by the Met from all his positions and affiliations with the company on March 12, 2018 over sexual misconduct allegations that he denies.

Gustav Mahler Late-Romantic Austrian composer

Gustav Mahler was an Austro-Bohemian late-Romantic composer, and one of the leading conductors of his generation. As a composer he acted as a bridge between the 19th century Austro-German tradition and the modernism of the early 20th century. While in his lifetime his status as a conductor was established beyond question, his own music gained wide popularity only after periods of relative neglect which included a ban on its performance in much of Europe during the Nazi era. After 1945 his compositions were rediscovered by a new generation of listeners; Mahler then became one of the most frequently performed and recorded of all composers, a position he has sustained into the 21st century. In 2016, a BBC Music Magazine survey of 151 conductors ranked three of his symphonies in the top ten symphonies of all time.

Symphony No. 8 (Mahler) symphony by Gustav Mahler

The Symphony No. 8 in E-flat major by Gustav Mahler is one of the largest-scale choral works in the classical concert repertoire. Because it requires huge instrumental and vocal forces it is frequently called the "Symphony of a Thousand", although the work is normally presented with far fewer than a thousand performers and the composer did not sanction that name. The work was composed in a single inspired burst, at Maiernigg in southern Austria in the summer of 1906. The last of Mahler's works that was premiered in his lifetime, the symphony was a critical and popular success when he conducted the Munich Philharmonic in its first performance, in Munich, on 12 September 1910.


Throughout the 1980s, Battle performed in recitals, choral works and opera. Her work continued to take her to performance venues around the world. In 1980 she made her Zürich Opera debut as Adina in Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore . [12] In 1982, she made her Salzburg Festival debut in Così fan tutte , followed three days later by an appearance in one of the Festival's Mozart Matinee concerts. [13] In 1985, she was the soprano soloist in Mozart's Coronation Mass at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, conducted by Herbert von Karajan. That same year she made her Royal Opera debut as Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos . In 1987 Karajan invited Battle to sing Johann Strauss' Voices of Spring for the Vienna New Year's Day concert. In opera she sang a variety of roles including Oscar at Lyric Opera of Chicago and a highly acclaimed Semele at Carnegie Hall. [14] She returned to Salzburg various times to sing Susanna, Zerlina, and Despina, Mozart roles which she also sang at several other opera houses during that period. Battle became an established artist at the Metropolitan Opera in the 1980s, singing over 150 performances with the company in 13 different operas, [15] including the Met's first production of Handel's Giulio Cesare . [16] Other opera houses where she performed included San Francisco Opera, English National Opera, Grand Théâtre de Genève, Vienna State Opera, and Deutsche Oper Berlin.

During this period, she received three Grammy awards for her recordings: Kathleen Battle Sings Mozart (1986), Salzburg Recital (1987), and Ariadne auf Naxos (1987). Battle's 1986 collaboration with guitarist Christopher Parkening entitled Pleasures of Their Company was nominated for the Classical Album of the Year Grammy award. She also received the Laurence Olivier Award (1985) for her stage performance as Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos at the Royal Opera House, London. Critical response to Battle's performances had rarely varied throughout the years following her debut. In 1985, Time Magazine pronounced her "the best lyric coloratura soprano in the world". [4]


The 1990s saw projects ranging from a concert program and a CD devoted to spirituals to a recording of baroque music, from performances of complete operas to recitals and recordings with jazz musicians.

In 1990, Battle and Jessye Norman performed a program of spirituals at Carnegie Hall with James Levine conducting. [17] In the same year, she returned to Covent Garden to sing Norina in Don Pasquale and performed in a series of solo recitals in California, as well as appearing at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic". [12] [18] Battle's Carnegie Hall solo recital debut came on April 27, 1991 as part of the hall's Centennial Festival. Accompanied by pianist Margo Garrett, she sang arias and songs by Handel, Mozart, Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Gershwin and Richard Strauss, as well as several traditional spirituals. The contralto Marian Anderson, who had ended her farewell tour with a recital at Carnegie Hall in April 1965, was in the audience that night and Battle dedicated Rachmaninoff's "In the Silence of the Secret Night" to her. [19] The recording of the recital earned Battle her fourth Grammy award. Another first came in January 1992 when Battle premiered André Previn's song cycle Honey and Rue with lyrics by Toni Morrison. The work was commissioned by Carnegie Hall and composed specifically for Battle. [20]

In December 1993 she was joined by Martin Katz and Kenny Barron on piano and Grady Tate (drums), Grover Washington, Jr. (saxophone) and David Williams (bass) at Carnegie Hall for a concert featuring the music of Handel, Haydn, and Duke Ellington as well as Christmas spirituals. [21] During this time she also collaborated with other musicians including trumpeter Wynton Marsalis in a recording of baroque arias entitled, Baroque Duet; violinist Itzhak Perlman on an album of Bach arias; and flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal for a recital at Alice Tully Hall (also released on CD). In May 1993 Battle added pop music to her repertoire with the release of Janet Jackson's album Janet, lending her vocals to the song "This Time". An album of Japanese melodies, First Love, followed in November 1993.

On the opera stage, she performed in a variety of Mozart, Rossini and Donizetti operas. [22] Between 1990 and 1993, she performed in several productions at the Metropolitan Opera: Rosina in The Barber of Seville (1990), Pamina in The Magic Flute (1991 and 1993), and Adina (with Luciano Pavarotti as Nemorino) in L'elisir d'amore (1991, 1992, and the Met's 1993 Japan Tour). [15] She also won her fifth Grammy Award in 1993, singing the title role of Semele on the Deutsche Grammophon recording conducted by John Nelson. [23]

Although Battle gave several critically praised performances at the Metropolitan Opera during the early 1990s, her relationship with the company's management showed increasing signs of strain during those years. [24] As Battle's status grew, so did her reputation for being difficult and demanding. [25] In October 1992 when she opened the Boston Symphony Orchestra season, she reportedly banned an assistant conductor and other musicians from her rehearsals, changed hotels several times, and left behind what a report in The Boston Globe called "a froth of ill will". [25] In February 1994, during rehearsals for an upcoming production of La fille du régiment at the Metropolitan Opera, Battle was said to have subjected her fellow performers to "withering criticism" and made "almost paranoid demands that they not look at her." [26] General Manager Joseph Volpe responded by dismissing Battle from the production for "unprofessional actions" during rehearsals. Volpe called Battle's conduct "profoundly detrimental to the artistic collaboration among all the cast members" and indicated that he had "canceled all offers that have been made for the future." [25] Battle was replaced in La fille du régiment by Harolyn Blackwell. [27] At the time of her termination from the Met, Michael Walsh of Time magazine reported that "the cast of The Daughter of the Regiment applauded when it was told during rehearsal that Battle had been fired." [26] After she sang with the San Francisco Opera at this time, several backstage workers wore T-shirts that read: "I survived the Battle". [28]

In a statement released by her management company, Columbia Artists, Battle said: "I was not told by anyone at the Met about any unprofessional actions. To my knowledge, we were working out all of the artistic problems in the rehearsals, and I don't know the reason behind this unexpected dismissal. All I can say is I am saddened by this decision." [25] Since then, Battle has not performed in opera.

For the remainder of the decade, she worked extensively in the recording studio and on the concert stage. She was a featured guest artist on the May 1994 album Tenderness, singing a duet, My Favorite Things, with Grammy-winning jazz vocalist Al Jarreau. In 1995 she presented a program of opera arias and popular songs at Lincoln Center with baritone Thomas Hampson, conductor John Nelson, and the Orchestra of St. Luke's. [29] She also released two albums in 1995: So Many Stars, a collection of folk songs, lullabies, and spirituals (with accompanying live concert performances) with Christian McBride and Grover Washington, Jr. (with whom she had performed in Carnegie Hall the previous year; [30] and Angels' Glory, a Christmas album with guitarist Christopher Parkening, a frequent collaborator. [31] In 1997 came the release of the albums Mozart Opera Arias and Grace, a collection of sacred songs. In October 1998, she joined jazz pianist Herbie Hancock on his album Gershwin's World in an arrangement of Gershwin's Prelude in C minor. December 1999 saw the release of Fantasia 2000 where she is the featured soprano in Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chicago Symphony Chorus and conducted by long-time collaborator James Levine. In solo recitals she performed in cities including Los Angeles, New York, Cincinnati, and Chicago in programs that featured art songs from a variety of eras and regions, opera arias, and spirituals.


Battle has continued to pursue a number of diverse projects including the works of composers who are not associated with traditional classical music, performing the works of Vangelis, Stevie Wonder, and George Gershwin.

In August 2000, she performed an all-Schubert program at Ravinia. [32] In June 2001, she and frequent collaborator soprano Jessye Norman performed Vangelis' Mythodea at the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens, Greece. In July 2003 she performed at the Ravinia Chicago Symphony Orchestra Gala with Bobby McFerrin and Denyce Graves. In 2006 she and James Ingram sang the song They Won't Go When I Go in a Tribute to Stevie Wonder [33] and she began including Wonder's music in her recitals. [34] In July 2007 she debuted at the Aspen Music Festival performing an all-Gershwin program as part of a season benefit. [35] In October 2007, at a fundraiser for the Keep a Child Alive Charity, Kathleen Battle and Alicia Keys performed the song Miss Sarajevo written by U2's Bono. [36]

Battle singing the Lord's Prayer in honor of the Pope Kathleen battle.PNG
Battle singing the Lord's Prayer in honor of the Pope

On April 16, 2008, she sang an arrangement of The Lord's Prayer for Pope Benedict XVI on the occasion of his papal visit to the White House. This marks the second time she sang for a pope. (She first sang for Pope John Paul II in 1985 as soprano soloist in Mozart's Coronation Mass.) [37] Later that year, she performed "Superwoman" on the American Music Awards with Alicia Keys and Queen Latifah. Since that time she has appeared in the occasional piano-voice recital, including a recital of works by Schubert, Liszt, and Rachmaninoff in Costa Mesa, California accompanied by Olga Kern (February 2010) and a recital in Carmel, Indiana accompanied by Joel A. Martin (April 2013). [38] [39] After a 22-year absence from the Metropolitan Opera House, Battle performed a concert of spirituals at the Met in November 2016. [3]

Major debuts


Choral and symphonic

Major oratorio, choral, and symphonic works in which Battle has performed as a soloist:


Battle has portrayed the following roles on stage:

Concert and recital

Battle's concert and recital repertoire encompasses a wide array of music including classical, jazz, and crossover works. Her jazz and crossover repertoire includes the compositions of Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, André Previn, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Stevie Wonder among others. She is known for her performances of African-American spirituals.

Major collaborations

Among the conductors with whom Battle has worked are Herbert von Karajan, Riccardo Muti, Zubin Mehta, Seiji Ozawa, Claudio Abbado, Georg Solti, Carlo Maria Giulini, and Battle's fellow Ohioan James Levine, music director at New York's Metropolitan Opera. She has performed with many orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, and the Orchestre de Paris. She has also appeared at the Salzburg Festival, Ravinia Festival, Tanglewood Festival, Blossom Festival, the Hollywood Bowl, Mann Music Centre Festival and the Caramoor Festival, and at Cincinnati May Festival. [43]

In recital, she has been accompanied on the piano by various accompanists including Margo Garrett, Martin Katz, Warren Jones, James Levine, Joel Martin, Ken Noda, Sandra Rivers, Howard Watkins, Dennis Helmrich, JJ Penna, and Ted Taylor. Collaborations with other classical artists include flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal, soprano Jessye Norman, mezzo-sopranos Frederica von Stade and Florence Quivar, violinist Itzhak Perlman, baritone Thomas Hampson, tenors Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and guitarist Christopher Parkening.

Away from the classical side, she has worked with vocalists Al Jarreau, Bobby McFerrin, Alicia Keys, and James Ingram, jazz saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr., jazz pianists Cyrus Chestnut and Herbie Hancock. Battle also lent voice to the song "This Time" on Janet Jackson's album Janet and sang the title song, "Lovers", for the 2004 Chinese action movie, House of Flying Daggers . [44] She also performs the music of Stevie Wonder. [34]

Awards and honors

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  1. Donald Henahan, Concert: Battle Sings with the Philharmonic, The New York Times , January 24, 1987. Accessed 31 August 2008.
  2. Tim Page, Kathleen Battle's Pure Sweet Sound, The Washington Post , January 20, 1997. Accessed via subscription, 31 August 2008.
  3. 1 2 Tommasini, Anthony (November 14, 2016). "Review: Kathleen Battle Returns to the Met After 22 Years. It Was Worth the Wait". The New York Times .
  4. 1 2 3 Michael Walsh, "At the Head of the Class, Time Magazine, November 11, 1985. Accessed 22 July 2008.
  5. 1 2 Richard LeSueur, "Kathleen Battle" Classical Artist Biographies, All Media Guide, 2008. Accessed 23 July 2008.
  6. Von Rhein, John (21 April 1985). "Soprano Kathleen Battle: From Unknown To Operatic Star Of Two Continents". Chicago Tribune . Retrieved 14 October 2011.
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  8. Eduardo Fradkin, Interview Archived 2011-07-13 at the Wayback Machine , O Globo, May 16, 2008. Accessed July 31, 2008.
  9. Emily Van Cleve, Soprano to sing for early benefactor [ dead link ], Albuquerque Journal, October 3, 2004. Accessed via subscription 1 September 2008.
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  11. 1 2 Erik Smith, The Musical Times , vol. 120, no. 1637, (July 1979), pp. 567–570
  12. 1 2 Dyer and Forbes. Grove Music Online
  13. 1 2 3 List of Kathleen Battle performances at the Salzburg Festival, Salzburg Festival Archives. Accessed 2 September 2008.
  14. Donal Henahan, A Rare Semele by Handel, The New York Times, February 25, 1985. Accessed 1 September 2008.
  15. 1 2 3 Kathleen Battle Performance Record, MetOpera Database. Accessed 23 July 2008.
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  17. PBS, Great Performances 30th Anniversary. Accessed 23 July 2008.
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  19. 1 2 Chicago Sun-Times, Battle's recital has a bonus, April 29, 1991. Accessed via subscription 23 July 2008.
  20. Bernard Holland, Classical Music in Review: Honey and Rue Orchestra of St. Luke's Carnegie Hall, The New York Times, January 7, 1992. Accessed 23 July 2008.
  21. Tim Page, Kathleen Battle Turns on the Lite, Newsday. December 15, 1993
  22. 1 2 San Francisco Opera Performance Archives. Accessed 23 July 2008.
  23. "GRAMMY.com" . Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  24. Bernard Holland, Kathleen Battle Pulls Out Of 'Rosenkavalier' at Met, The New York Times. January 30, 1993. Accessed 22 July 2008.
  25. 1 2 3 4 Allan Kozinn, The Met Drops Kathleen Battle, Citing 'Unprofessional Actions', The New York Times, February 8, 1994. Accessed 22 July 2008.
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  27. Edward Rothstein, "Opera Review: After the Hoopla, La fille du régiment, The New York Times, February 16, 1994. Accessed 23 July 2008.
  28. "Bloody Battle at the Met.: prima donna / chief female singer in opera;". 17 February 1994. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  29. James R. Oestreich, Battle and Hampson: All Charm in a Parade of Hits, The New York Times, March 3, 1995. Accessed August 6, 2008.
  30. Jon Pareles, Kathleen Battle: Jazz Headliner, The New York Times, September 14, 1995. Accessed August 4, 2008.
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  33. An Evening of Stars: Tribute to Stevie Wonder on IMDb
  34. 1 2 Kathleen Battle lives up to her top billing Archived 2007-06-30 at the Wayback Machine , The Royal Gazette (Bermuda), October 4, 2006. Accessed 24 July 2008.
  35. Kyle MacMillan, Aspen books a soprano with a past, Denver Post , July 16, 2007. Accessed 24 July 2008.
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