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Hochdramatische Sopran (High Dramatic Soprano)

Leonie Rysanek, High Dramatic soprano

By April 22, 2019March 17th, 2023No Comments

I’m not going to try to put all the lyrics in because there are so many excerpts, and I go half crazy with the formatting of the translations.  Rysanek was one of those greats of the operatic world that a younger audience may never have heard of.  She was a high dramatic soprano, who, when young, had everything.  As she got older, like many high dramatic sopranos, she developed pitch problems.  I was at the Met at her last performance in Pique Dame.  She rose from a trapdoor in the stage in what “I believe was the last act and dragged herself across the stage.  The Met went crazy.  Not for what she could do then, but for the service to music that she had given.  Even if this is the only evidence of her performances that you see, it is well worth your time.  She was one of the absolute greatest.

The Austrian soprano Leonie Rysanek (1926-1998) was born in Vienna and made her operatic debut at 23 in Innsbruck. A year later she sang her only Brünnhilde at the same house. When the Bayreuth Festival reopened in 1951 Wieland Wagner, who had been duly impressed with the young singer, booked her to sing Sieglinde under Karajan. With her looks, voice and dramatic ability she was an instant hit becoming one of the leading Wagnerian singers of the 1950s and 1960s. While her intonation was occasionally suspect and she lost her high D fairly early on, at the top of the stave the voice blossomed into one of the most glorious sounds of the twentieth century. She famously ‘invented’ the ecstatic scream when Siegmund draws the sword from out the tree.

Rysanek was a notable Senta in Fliegende Holländer, Elisabeth in Tannhäuser and Elsa in Lohengrin, and later in her career she sang Ortrud. Despite offers she avoided Isoldes and Brünnhildes, preferring not to encroach on her friend Birgit Nilsson’s territory. She was even more successful in the operas of Richard Strauss, especially as the Empress in Die Frau ohne Schatten. She also sang Salome, Elektra, Chrysothemis, the Marschallin and Ariadne.

Alongside the German roles she performed the heavier dramatic Italian repertoire, making her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1959 as Lady Macbeth, and replacing Maria Callas who had controversially been fired from the production.

Her final performance was at the 1996 Salzburg Festival as Klytämnestra in Elektra but she sadly died two years later in Vienna from bone cancer at the age of 71.