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Dramatic Soprano

Hilde Zadek-Dramatic Soprano

By February 23, 2019March 17th, 2023No Comments

Hilde Zadek

(primarily taken from the New York Times, 2/24/19)
Hilde Zadek was a Jew who had fled her own country for Palestine because of the Nazi occupation. While in Palestine, Zadek worked as a nurse, and took voice lessons from Rose Pauly, another great Jewish dramatic soprano who ended up in Palestine for similar reasons. She made her operatic debut at 29 in Aida on the stage of the Wienerstaatsoper; this was a part that she learned a week before performing it in a language that she did not know, up until that time. The audience was armed with whistles with which they planned to interrupt her performance.

Zadek noted that the audience was full of Nazis armed with whistles, designed to interrupt her performance. However, during the performance, not a single whistle blew.

“At the end even they applauded and were my fans,” Ms. Zadek told The Associated Press in 2012. She would be a mainstay of the company for the next 25 years.

I have only given excerpts from the recording of Ariadne auf Naxos, specifically “Ein schönes war” and “Es gibt ein Reich”. This is enough to show Ms. Zadek’s talent.


(vor sich, monologisch)
Ein Schönes war, hiess Theseus – Ariadne
Und ging im Licht und freute sich des Lebens!
Warum weiss ich davon? ich will vergessen!
Dies muss ich nur noch finden: es ist Schmach
Zerrüttet sein, wie ich!
Man muss sich schütteln: ja, dies muss ich finden:
Das Mädchen, das ich war!
Jetzt hab’ ich’s – Götter! dass ich’s nur behalte!
Den Namen nicht – der Name ist verwachsen
Mit einem anderen Namen, ein Ding wächst
So leicht ins andere, wehe!


Nicht noch einmal! Sie lebt hier ganz allein,
Sie atmet leicht, sie geht so leicht,
Kein Halm bewegt sich, wo sie geht,
Ihr Schlaf ist rein, ihr Sinn ist klar,
Ihr Herz ist lauter wie der Quell:
Sie hält sich gut, drum kommt auch bald der Tag,
Da darf sie sich in ihren Mantel wickeln
Darf ihr Gesicht mit einem Tuch bedecken
Und darf da drinnen liegen
Und eine Tote sein!

(Sie träumt vor sich hin)

(vor sich)

Es gibt ein Reich, wo alles rein ist:
Es hat auch einen Namen: Totenreich.
hebt sich im Sprechen vom Boden
Hier ist nichts rein!
Hier kam alles zu allem!
Bald aber nahet ein Bote,
Hermes heissen sie ihn.
Mit seinem Stab
Regiert er die Seelen:
Wie leichte Vögel,
Wie welke Blätter
Treibt er sie hin.
Du schöner, stiller Gott!
Sieh! Ariadne wartet!

Ach, von allen wilden Schmerzen
Muss das Herz gereinigt sein,
Dann wird dein Gesicht mir nicken,
Wird dein Schritt vor meiner Höhle.
Dunkel wird auf meinen Augen,
Deine Hand auf meinem Herzen sein.
In den schönen Feierkleidern,
Die mir meine Mutter gab,
Diese Glieder werden bleiben,
Stille Höhle wird mein Grab.
Aber lautlos meine Seele
Folget ihrem neuen Herrn,
Wie ein leichtes Blatt im Winde
Folgt hinunter, folgt so gern.

Dunkel wird auf meinen Augen
Und in meinem Herzen sein,
Diese Glieder werden bleiben,
Schön geschmückt und ganz allein.

Du wirst mich befreien,
Mir selber mich geben,
Dies lastende Leben,
Du, nimm es von mir.
An dich werd’ ich mich ganz verlieren,
Bei dir wird Ariadne sein.


(Talking to herself as if in a monologue)
A golden time was Theseus–Ariadne,
of glorious light, of joy in love and laughter.
Why must I know of that? Let me forget them.
And yet I must recall it; fear and shame
lie heavy on my mind.
I must defeat them: yes, now I have to find her,
the girl that I was.
I… see her… Grant me strength to keep her memory…
But not the name; her name is lost forever
within the name of another.
Such things change their form so easily.


No, not again! She lives here all alone;
so light her breath, so light her step
no trembling flowers line her way.
Her sleep is chaste, her mind is clear,
her soul is brighter than the dew.
Her life is pure, for soon the day will come
when she may go, winding her mantle round her,
draping a veil over her fading beauty,
to lay her down in silence
and wait her time to die.

(She dreams to herself)

(to herself)

There is a land where everything is pure:
I speak its name with longing; the kingdom of Death

(rising from the ground)

Here nothing is pure!
Here existence is futile.
Soon Death will send his envoy Hermes,
Hermes his name!
With his rod
He rules souls
Like summer birds,
Like withered leaves
He drives them down.
You most beautiful, tranquil god!
See! Ariadne awaits you!

Ah, the cruel pain and heartache
must be purged and purified,
You will turn your face to see me,
You will take the path to my cave,
Night will fall, the light will vanish
Your hand will touch my heart at last.
In the stately bridal raiment,
That my mother gave me,
These limbs will stay,
This peaceful cave will be my grave.
My silent soul flies to meet its chosen lord,
Flies to meet its new Lord,
Like a withered leaf in the wind
Follows downward, follows so gladly.

Darkness shall from my eyes
And in my heart dwell,
These limbs shall stay
Richly clad and all alone.

You shall liberate me,
Giving myself back to me
This weary life,
You take it from me.
I will lose myself in you,
Ariadne will remain with you.

Ariadne auf Naxos

The story is set in the home of “the richest man in Vienna,” an aristocrat who has commissioned a promising and idealistic young composer to write a new opera seria to be presented this very evening for the entertainment of his upper-crust guests. The Prologue takes us behind the scenes as preparations are underway for the performance. The composer is horrified to learn that his masterpiece, Ariadne auf Naxos, will be followed by a troupe of common slapstick comedians led by the saucy Zerbinetta! But worse news awaits. The imperious Major-domo announces that, as dinner has run longer than planned, the two performances must now be given simultaneously, and must end at precisely nine o’clock when a fireworks display is set to go off in the garden. The outraged composer is reminded by his Music Master that payment in full depends on his acceptance of these new terms. Last-minute efforts are made to salvage the show: the comedians are given an outline of the opera’s plot so they can improvise around it, and the Dancing Master insists that cuts to the music will now be necessary, causing the leading soprano and tenor to demand that any cuts be made only to the other performer’s part. Zerbinetta turns the full force of her charm on the impressionable young composer, who then sings a paean to music, the holiest of arts which will always reign supreme. Seeing the comics in action, however, brings him down to earth and in despair he storms off stage. The Opera takes place on the island of Naxos, where Ariadne has been abandoned by Theseus and is now watched over by three Nymphs, or female spirits: Naiad, Dryad, and Echo. Ariadne mourns her lost love and awaits the arrival of Hermes, who will accompany her to the realm of death. In keeping with the arrangement suggested in the Prologue, the comedians now take over the action and try to amuse Ariadne, but in vain: she has loved one man and one man only, and now that he has abandoned her, only death can ease her suffering. Zerbinetta, calling upon her own extensive experience with affaires de coeur, tries to persuade Ariadne that the best way to get over a broken heart is to find a new lover – they all seem like gods at first blush. Ariadne takes offense and retires to her grotto while, in a comic interlude, the clowns compete with one another for Zerbinetta’s favors. The Nymphs announce the approach of a ship carrying a newcomer to the island. Ariadne, briefly believing it to be the return of Theseus, continues to hope for relief from her suffering through death. But the stranger is Bacchus, who has escaped the spell of the enchantress Circe and fallen in love with Ariadne. He assures her of his devotion (I have need of you above all!), while she, returning it, expresses amazement at the changes occurring within her. Zerbinetta reiterates her philosophy of love: When the new god approaches, we surrender without a word.

Hilde Zadek

Throughout her career, Ms. Zadek was praised by critics for her dark-hued voice, dramatic intensity and fine musicality. Before retiring from the stage in 1971, she also sang at the Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden and other major houses.

But her primary work was in Vienna. There, in the city she feared would revile her, she sang more than 700 performances in dozens of roles; taught for years at the Vienna Music Academy; presided over the International Hilde Zadek Voice Competition, a prestigious contest for young singers; and, to the end of her life, chose to make her home.

The daughter of Alex Zadek and the former Elisabeth Freundlich, Hildegard Zadek was born on Dec. 15, 1917, in Bromberg, then in Prussia.
After World War I, Bromberg was assigned to Poland, where it became Bydgoszcz. In 1920 the family moved to Stettin, then still in the German Empire, where they operated a shoe store. (The city would become Szczecin, Poland, after World War II).

In 1934, the year after Hitler became chancellor, Hilde happened to overhear a schoolmate remark, “Es stinkt nach Juden” — “It reeks of Jews.”

Sixteen-year-old Hilde knocked out the girl’s front teeth.

Expelled from school, she knew she would have to leave the city or risk arrest. She fled to Berlin, then to Munich and, in 1935, to Haifa, in what was then Palestine.

In Haifa, she took a job in an orphanage, sharing a room with 16 of its children. Moving to Jerusalem, she trained as a pediatric nurse in a hospital run by Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization, while studying voice with the distinguished soprano Rose Pauly, a Hungarian Jewish refugee.

Ms. Zadek’s family remained in Germany. Their store was destroyed in the Kristallnacht pogroms of November 1938; Hilde’s father was imprisoned for a time in Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany, used mainly for political prisoners. Ms. Zadek, she recalled long afterward, lost all desire to sing.

After her father’s release, the family managed to obtain visas for Palestine, emigrating there in 1939. In Jerusalem, Mr. Zadek opened a small shoe store, and Hilda went to work for him.

“Then,” she told The A.P., “everything in me started singing again.”

But to have an operatic career, she knew, she would need to return to Europe. There were no opera houses in Palestine then: What local opera companies there were had to perform in movie theaters.

In 1945, Ms. Zadek moved to Switzerland, working as an au pair and studying at the Zurich Conservatory with the German-born soprano Ria Ginster (a very famous teacher).

In Zurich, Ms. Zadek sang for Franz Salmhofer, the director of the Vienna State Opera, who engaged her for her career-making “Aida.” She took the job despite censure from loved ones over her choosing to sing in Austria.

“I would have returned to Berlin as well, because I had only one goal: to become an opera singer,” Ms. Zadek said in The A.P. article, one of her rare English-language interviews. “At the same time, I went through unbelievable emotional turmoil, not only because of my own doubts but because of what my family and friends in Palestine said. I was bad-mouthed from top to bottom.”

During the 1952-53 season, Ms. Zadek sang at the Metropolitan Opera eight times. Reviewing her debut there, as Donna Anna in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” Olin Downes of The New York Times praised her “dramatic power” and “the brilliancy of her tones.”

Her other Met roles were Aida, Eva in Wagner’s “Meistersinger von Nürnberg” and Elsa in his “Lohengrin.”

Elsewhere, Ms. Zadek sang Eurydice in the world premiere of “Antigone,” an operatic setting of the Sophocles tragedy by Carl Orff, at the Salzburg Festival in 1949. In 1963 she sang Leonora opposite the American tenor Jan Peerce in a well-received Hebrew-language concert staging of Beethoven’s “Fidelio” in Jerusalem.

At her death in Karlsruhe, Germany, which was confirmed by a nephew, Dr. Daniel E. Fast, Ms. Zadek was an honorary member of the Vienna State Opera. Her other laurels include the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art and the Grand Decoration of Honor for Services to the Republic of Austria.

Survivors include her spouse, Maria Venuti, and two sisters, Ruth Fast and Edith Rosencrantz.

In the Associated Press interview, Ms. Zadek described the sense of mission that helped inform her decision to sing in Vienna on that long-ago night.

“I had to show that Jews don’t stink, that they don’t have hunched backs, long noses or anything else,” she said. “These young people aged 17, 18, who grew up under Hitler, had never seen a Jew in their lives! And then suddenly this young and good-looking woman comes onto the stage and then proceeds to sing beautifully and they ask, ‘This is a Jew?’ ”

“Forget the old Nazis,” Ms. Zadek said. “But I hope I was able at least to change the image,” she added, “for the youth.”