Artist Profile: Legendary Dramatic Soprano Leonie Rysanek

By David Salazar

Austrian soprano Leonie Rysanek was one of the great dramatic sopranos of the 20th century.

Born in Vienna on Nov. 14, 1926, Rysanek’s childhood saw her working in munition factories. She was hoping to be an actress, but her brother encouraged her to become a singer. So at age 16, she entered the Vienna Academy and by age 23 she made her professional debut in Innsbruck. At 25 she was singing Sieglinde at the Bayreuth Festival.

She made a huge debut in 1959 when she stepped in for Maria Callas in “Macbeth” at the Metropolitan Opera. The audience was not particularly thrilled that Callas would not be appearing, but Rysanek’s debut was a major success and she remained with the company for 299 performances overall in a wide range of repertoire that included 24 roles.

She retained a rather lengthy career, never singing more than 45 performances a year at the height of her star power. She sang at the Vienna State opera in over 532 performances.

She died at age 71 after losing a battle with cancer.

Signature Roles

While she was an iconic interpreter of a number of Verdi operas, Rysanek’s bread and butter were the operas of Wagner and Strauss.

She was a noted Empress in “Die Frau Ohne Schatten” creating the role in a number of houses including the Metropolitan and Paris Opera. She also championed Strauss’ “Elektra” quite extensively singing the title role, Chrysothemis, and Klytamnestra at different points in her career.

Read More on Rysanek

Five Great Italian Aria Interpretations by the Soprano

Watch and Listen

Here she is in her most famed Verdi role as Lady Macbeth.

And here she is one of her later career triumphs in “Elektra.”


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