September 23, 2021

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Plush-voiced Polish soprano Teresa Zylis-Gara dies at 91

Teresa Zylis-Gara, a Polish soprano who displayed a lavish voice, impressive versatility and captivating stage presence during a three-decade international career that included a stroke at the Metropolitan Opera during its heyday in the 1970s, she died on August 28 in Lodz, Poland. He was 91 years old.

His death was announced by the Polish National Opera.

In her early years, Ms. Zylis-Gara was primarily a lyric soprano who excelled at Mozart and other roles suited to a lighter voice. But as she developed more richness and body in her sound, she turned to the lyrical-spinto repertoire, which requires dramatic force and lyricism, including the lead role. of Puccini’s “Tosca”, Tatiana in Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” and Elisabeth in Wagner’s “Tannhäuser”.

His repertoire ranged from the Baroque, including the works of Claudio Monteverdi, to the 20th century cuisine of the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. He also defended the songs of his compatriot Chopin, works that had been surprisingly overlooked.

For some fans and opera critics, Mrs. Zylis-Gara’s voice, while beautiful, lacked particularity. And in seeking refinement, she was sometimes considered too restrained. Peter G. Davis of the New York Times described this quality blend in a mostly brilliant review of his interpretation of Pamina in Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte” at the Met in 1970.

His “cold, silvery voice does not possess a wide range of colors or particular individuality,” wrote Mr. Davis, “but it is a beautiful thing to hear in itself, and he sculpted Mozart’s melodies with grace and elegance” . In addition to the “naturally feminine warmth and charm,” said Mr. Davis, “he added a pleasant note of humor to his opening scenes and some really tragic pathos afterward.”

Two years later, reviewing a Met production of Verdi’s “Othello” on tour in Boston, critics Ellen Pfeifer wrote in the Boston Globe that Ms. Zylis-Gara’s Desdemona was “a hot, mature young woman instead of the usual teenage viola. . “Her singing, added Ms Pfeifer,” was beautiful, full, with the necessary transparency and flexibility. “

In a revealing 1974 interview with The Atlanta Constitution, Ms. Zylis-Gara talked about the risks of being overly emotional in performance. She was in Atlanta at the time to sing the lead role in Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” and remembers crying on stage during a particularly intense scene while playing the student role.

“It was awful,” he said. “When you cry, you cannot sing. I’ve never allowed myself to go that far since then, but it’s always a danger to me.

Teresa Geralda Zylis was born on January 23, 1930 in Landwarow, Poland, now Lentvaris, Lithuania, near Vilnius. She was the youngest of five children of Franciszek and Jadwiga Zylis; his father was a railway worker, his mother a housewife.

After the political reconstruction of the region after the war, the family moved to Lodz, Poland, in 1946. Teresa, 16, decided to devote herself to singing and began nine years of study with Olga Ogina.

He won first prize at the 1954 Competition for Young Polish Singers in Warsaw, which led to engagements with the Polish National Radio and, in 1956, to his professional debut with the Krakow Opera in the title role of “Composer’s Halka Polish of the nineteenth century. Stanislaw Moniuszko, essential in the Polish opera repertoire. Further accolades in subsequent years in Toulouse, France and Munich led to engagements with opera houses in Oberhausen, Dortmund and Düsseldorf in western Germany.

Determined to advance her career, she made professional decisions that impacted her personal life, as she explained in the 1974 interview.

She had married Jerzy Gara, director of a technical school in Lodz, in 1954. The following year their son was born, also named Jerzy. But it turned out to be “impossible to be an internationally renowned wife, mother and artist at the same time,” he said.

“I chose to be the artist,” he added. “I accept my choice and consequently everything that has happened in my private life”.

When his son was 6, he left him in the care of his mother in Lodz and moved to Germany to pursue his career, which quickly prospered. (Her marriage ended in divorce.)

“It’s something special to have a talent,” he said. “It comes with responsibility. He added, referring to his son: “Sometimes I saw that he was not happy; and it is difficult.

She survives her, just like a niece.

Ms. Zylis-Gara took a significant step forward in 1965 when she sang an acclaimed Octavian in a production of Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier” at the Glyndebourne Festival in England, which brought her to her opera debut. Paris. Next year. In 1968, an exceptional year, Donna Elvira in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” became her calling card – or, as she said in a 1969 interview with the Los Angeles Times, her “role of destiny”. She sang Elvira for her debut at the Salzburg Festival (directed by Herbert von Karajan), at the San Francisco Opera and, in December, at the Met.

Of the San Francisco performance, Los Angeles Times critic Martin Bernheimer wrote that Ms. Zylis-Gara “sang a Donna Elvira who easily withstood confrontation with recent top performers in this difficult role, Sena Jurinac and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf” .

At the Met, the cast included the formidable Cesare Siepi as Giovanni and Martina Arroyo as Donna Anna. In a 2015 Opera News article in which various opera professionals were asked to choose their favorite “diva debut” at the Met, Ms. Arroyo chose Ms. Zylis-Gara’s Donna Elvira. “She sang like this well, a pure voice with style only – one of Elvira’s best, “Ms. Arroyo said.

The general manager of the Met, Rudolf Bing, quickly hired Ms. Zylis-Gara for future bookings. He then sang 232 shows with the company over 16 seasons, taking on 20 roles, including Marschallin in “Rosenkavalier”, Elisabeth and Elsa by Wagner (in “Lohengrin”), Puccini’s Mimi, Butterfly and Desdemona and Tatiana by Tchaikovsky.

Throughout the 1980s, Ms. Zylis-Gara continued to sing in the largest houses in the world. Years later, he divided his time between a home in Munich and visits to his native country, often served on competition juries and enthusiastically taught emerging singers. When asked in an interview with Opera News in 2009 if she would ever say goodbye to opera, she said it “would never happen!”

“The stage lights don’t go out for even a second,” he said, “as I pass on all my artistic soul, my knowledge and my experience to my talented students. “

Anatol Magdziarz contributed to the reportage from Warsaw.

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