Austrian soprano Leonie Rysanek may not have performed as many roles as other dramatic sopranos such as Birgit Nilsson or Kirsten Flagstad, but that has very little to do with her artistic abilities. Rysanek was meticulous in what she chose to perform, opting to nurture the key roles she established early in her repertoire rather than trying to tackle every role in her fach.
Though Rysanek was known for her interpretations by German-born composers, she also had a proclivity for spinto/dramatic roles of the Italian repertoire. Born on Nov. 14, 1926, Rysanek passed in March 2008. To honor what would have been her 91st birthday, here are the five best Italian arias she sang during her career.
“In questa reggia” from Turandot
Rysanek famously stated that she avoided roles such as Brünnhilde and Turandot because of the incredible interpretation already established by Nilsson. As she stated once in an interview, “[Nilsson] was my Brünnhilde, my Elektra. She was so wonderful in these parts. . . . Even Birgit asked, ‘Why don’t you sing Turandot?’ I said, ‘Because of you.’” Though she may have avoided the role for much of her career, her rendition of the titular character’s famous aria is rich in both timbre and drama.
“Nel dì della vittoria … Vieni t’affretta!” from Macbeth
Rysanek made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Lady Macbeth in Verdi’s “Macbeth” in 1959, and went to sing the role at the American house 15 times between 1959 to 1962. The role soon disappeared from her repertoire as she grew to sing more dramatic repertoire, but she nonetheless owns her interpretation of the vicious queen.
“Suicidio!” in La Gioconda
The seldom-performed Ponchielli opera is most famous for this iconic aria, which Rysanek sang only a few times in her career. Her well-known recording in the title role from the Deutsche Oper Berlin in 1974 makes listeners wish she performed Gioconda more times than she actually did.
“Vissi d’arte” from Tosca
Rysanek first performed the title role in Tosca alongside Flaviano Labò with the Metropolitan Opera in 1964 and went to sing the role 14 times with the company. Her last performance with the company was on-tour at Wolf Trap in 1979, but her “Vissi d’arte” lives on with recordings both on-disc and via the internet.
“O patria mia” from Aida
As another prolific Verdi queen, Rysanek performed the role nine times with the Met, and also famously recorded the role with the Wiener Staatsoper in 1955 under the baton of Rafael Kubelík.