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.”