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Leonie Rysanek (November 14, 1926–March 7, 1998) was an Austrian soprano.
Rysanek was born in Vienna and made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1959 as Lady Macbeth replacing Maria Callas. She made her farewell performance as the Countess in The Queen of Spades. Over her career, she sang 299 performances of 24 roles at the Met. She was featured in the Met premieres of Macbeth, Nabucco, Ariadne auf Naxos, Die Frau ohne Schatten, and Katya Kabanova.
In 1951, she was the first Sieglinde of the New Bayreuth Festival in Die Walküre under Herbert von Karajan.
She was appointed curator of the Vienna Festival a few months after her retirement, a post she held until her death in Vienna at 71 after a long illness.
Voice and roles
Leonie Rysanek's voice was astride the lyric and dramatic soprano voices. Though falling in the upper end of the lyric or in the jugendlich-dramatisch categories in the German repertoire, her voice was dramatic by Italian opera standards.
Her reputation was very high for singing the music of Richard Strauss. She was especially successful as the Empress (Kaiserin) in Die Frau ohne Schatten and Chrysothemis in Elektra. She occasionally sang Ariadne/Prima Donna in Ariadne auf Naxos and female leads in Strauss operas rarely staged (Die Ägyptische Helena and Die Liebe der Danae). However, cautious of playing out of her league, she didn't tackle Salomé until 1972 when she was 46, although she had sung Sieglinde at 26.
Strauss sopranos often make excellent Puccini voices and accordingly Rysanek sang a few Toscas and Turandots. She also sang a remarkable Leonore in Beethoven's Fidelio.
In Wagner, she sang a few Tannhäuser Elisabeths and Lohengrin Elsas, was very sought-for for her Senta in Der fliegende Holländer but the role in which she was most revered, in addition to Strauss's Kaiserin and Chrysothemis, was Sieglinde from Die Walküre.
Such a powerful, long and expressive voice as Rysanek's allowed her to sing many Verdi leads, notably Desdemona in Otello, Lady Macbeth, Amelia in Un ballo in maschera and Aida.
As an Austrian and therefore a Mitteleuropäerin, Rysanek also took an interest in music from Slavic countries, both Russian (Tchaikovsky) and Czech (Smetana, Janáček).
Of the notorious five "biggest" soprano roles, Rysanek did sing Turandot and gave Kundry in Parsifal a try. Starting her career when Kirsten Flagstad was still alive and Astrid Varnay at the peak of her vocal abilities, Rysanek knew better than to go for Wagner's Isolde or any of his three Brünnhildes. However, in 1981, Karl Böhm got her to sing Elektra for a Unitel film, not a live production in an opera house. She accepted out of consideration for and trust in the great conductor and wouldn't have done it for anyone else.
In her later years, and like many "big" soprano voices, Rysanek reversed to dramatic mezzo-soprano roles like Ortrud in Wagner's Lohengrin, Herodias in Strauss's Salome or Klytemnestra in his Elektra.
Officially published recordings
Work (composer), role, conductor, year of recording, label.
Only recordings marked thus ! were originally recorded by the respective record companies. All others are recordings of concerts or opera performances generally made by radio stations.
!Die Walküre third act (Richard Wagner), Sieglinde, Herbert von Karajan, 1951, EMI.
!Die Walküre (Richard Wagner), Sieglinde, Wilhelm Furtwängler, 1954, EMI
!Die Frau ohne Schatten (Richard Strauss), Kaiserin, Karl Böhm, 1955, Decca.
!Fidelio (Ludwig van Beethoven, Leonore, Ferenc Fricsay, 1957, Deutsche Grammophon.
!Operatic Arias, Arturo Basile, 1958, RCA.
!Ariadne auf Naxos (Richard Strauss), Prima Donna/Ariadne, Erich Leinsdorf, 1958, Decca.
!Macbeth (Giuseppe Verdi), Lady Macbeth, Erich Leinsdorf, 1959, RCA.
!Otello (Giuseppe Verdi), Desdemona, Tullio Serafin, 1960, RCA.
Requiem (Giuseppe Verdi), soprano, Herbert von Karajan, 1960, EMI
!Der Fliegende Holländer (Richard Wagner), Senta, Antal Dorati, 1961, Decca.
Die Frau ohne Schatten (Richard Strauss), Kaiserin, Herbert von Karajan, 1964, Deutsche Grammophon
!Die Walküre (Richard Wagner), Sieglinde, Karl Böhm, 1967, Philips
Medea (Luigi Cherubini), Medea, Horst Stein, 1972, RCA.
Salomé (Richard Strauss), Salomé, Karl Böhm, 1972, RCA
Die Frau ohne Schatten (Richard Strauss), Kaiserin, Karl Böhm, 1977, Deutsche Grammophon
!Elektra (Richard Strauss), Elektra, Karl Böhm, 1981, Unitel (video).
!Salome (Richard Strauss), Herodias, Giuseppe Sinopoli, 1990, Deutsche Grammophon
Elektra (Richard Strauss), Klytemnestra, Friedemann Layer, 1995, Actes sud.
- Senta in Der Fliegende Holländer: Bayreuth Festival 1959, cond. Wolfgang Sawallisch.
- Sieglinde in Die Walküre: Bayreuth Festival 1958, cond. Hans Knappertsbusch.
- Salome: Chorégies d'Orange 1974, cond. Rudolf Kempe.
Many roles in which Rysanek was virtually unsurpassed were never recorded or published officially. These include, among others:
- Chrysothemis in Elektra: Cologne Radio 1953, cond. Richard Kraus, Bavarian State Opera 1955, cond. Karl Böhm.
- Elisabeth in Tannhäuser: Bayreuth Festival 1964, cond. Otmar Suitner and 1966, cond. Carlos Melles.
- Elsa in Lohengrin: Bayreuth Festival 1958, cond. André Cluytens.
- Danae in Die Liebe der Danae (Richard Strauss): Bavarian State Opera 1953, cond. Kurt Eichorn.
- Helena in Die Ägyptische Helena (Richard Strauss): Bavarian State Opera 1956, cond. Joseph Keilberth.
- Aida (Giuseppe Verdi): Vienna Opera 1955, cond. Rafael Kubelik.
- Amelia in Un ballo in maschera (Giuseppe Verdi): Metropolitan Opera 1962, cond. Nello Santi.
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