Teresa Stratas was recognized as one of the finest singing actresses of her time. Stratas, born on May 26, 1938, was known for her commitment to the stage and for her wide repertoire. She created the role of Marie Antoinette in Corigliano’s “The Ghost of Versailles,” she dominated the Oscar-nominated Zeffirelli movie “La Traviata,” she had a fine relationship with the music of Kurt Weill and she premiered the iconic Zeffirelli “La Bohème” at the Metropolitan Opera. But if there was a role she dominated more than any other, it was Berg’s “Lulu.”
The soprano was originally scheduled to open the production in 1977 at the Metropolitan Opera, but opted out of it and did not actually bring her portrayal to the house until 1980. And to this day it is one of the greatest achievements of her career. As Opera News noted in a profile in 2015, the soprano never tried to soften the career. She lived through the character and her intensity in her acting was more fierce than any other role she portrayed. She also noted, “I never wanted to be anything but what I’ve been taken for, and no one has ever taken me for anything but what I am.”
When she first sang the role at the Met critics were thrilled with her interpretation and they noted, “With her tiny, slim figure and large emotional palette she emphasized the earthy (not kittenish) aspects and even injected a good bit of humor. While her voice is not beautiful, the way she colored the sung and spoken lines, and the absolute lack of premeditation or conscience with which she murdered Dr. Schoen and committed Lulu’s other unspeakable acts, were the accomplishments of a major artist.”
It is unfortunate that Stratas never actually recorded the opera on film or on video as it was an interpretation that had to be seen to completely be immersed in. However, thankfully together with Pierre Boulez, Stratas recorded the complete opera on CD. It’s obviously not the same because Stratas was an actress and singer. However, the voice still communicates many of Lulu’s outbreaks and charm. Stratas’ use of the text was so immaculate that it is impossible not to visualize the singer on stage.
For many Stratas will always be the iconic Lulu and she will be the one that most singers listen to and look back to as they study the role.