In Memoriam 2016: Remembering the Major Opera Singers That Passed This Year

By Francisco Salazar

For many, 2016 was a tough year for many reasons. There were many lost political battles, violence exploded around the world and many beloved artists and celebrities saw their lives come to an end. The opera world was particularly devastated in 2016 with the loss of many major stars, some of them rather young.

The following is a list of the beloved figures that will be forever missed.

Daniela Dessi

One of the most beloved artists in the world, Dessi’s career was cut short at the age of 59 as the soprano died of colon cancer at Poliambulanza Hospital in Brescia on August 20. The soprano will forever be remembered for her unique timbre and expressiveness. She championed the works of Puccini and Verdi, singing all the major roles of each composer. She also had forays into the bel canto repertoire and also sang Mozart. The soprano sang in all the great houses and thankfully left many recordings for fans to continue to enjoy and remember her work.

Johan Botha

Botha was one of the world’s leading Wagner tenors and was credited with having one of the most beautiful voices in the world. His career was cut short at 51 from cancer on Sept. 8. Botha sang works by Puccini and Verdi but in recent times it was his Wagner that most audiences looked forward to. He was able to sing the composer’s difficult music with lyricism rarely heard in that very repertoire. The tenor was a renown “Lohengrin” and was expected to sing “Tristan Und Isolde.” Thankfully his performances in “Aida,” “Otello,” “Die Walkure” and “Parsifal” were captured on DVD.

John Del Carlo

At the age of 65 the bass-baritone was well known to New York audiences as he was a Metropolitan Opera House singer who brought 20 roles to the house in more than 300 performances. However, international audiences will definitely recognize him for his comic timing in the Metropolitan Opera’s Live transmission of Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” with Anna Netrebko and Matthew Polenzani. Del Carlo played the title role in the opera and charmed audiences with great acting and his robust voice.

Nikolaus Harnoncourt

One of the leading conductors in the world, the German conductor was particularly known for his Mozart interpretations. Last year the conductor announced his retirement and stated “My bodily strength requires me to cancel my future plans.” The conductor will always be remembered for working with the Salzburg Festival in multiple new productions as well as conducting at Teatro alla Scala.

Francisco Kraus Trujillo

The esteemed baritone will always be overlooked by his brother Alfredo Kraus. However, Krauss Trujillo received the same vocal teaching as his brother and went on to perform many leading roles. However, he focused his career on Zarzuela and often performed concerts with Alfredo Kraus. After retirement he dedicated his life to teaching at the Grand Teatre del Liceu.

This year also saw the loss of French Mezzo Soprano Deva Dassy who left many recordings of famous operettas and Marion Studholme who is best known for her recording of Benjamin Britten’s “Peter Grimes” recording which the composer conducted himself.

Soprano Anne Pashley also died and she was best known for being an Olympic medalist. The soprano is most recognized for having performed Sir Arthur Bliss’ “The Olympians.” At 61 the soprano Gabriele Sima passed away after an active career performing at the Salzburg Festival, Vienna State Opera and Zurich Opera.

Countertenor Brian Asawa  also passed away following a long illness at the age of 49. The countertenor launched his international career when he won the Metropolitan National Council Auditions and became the first countertenor to win the Operalia competition.

The Lithuanian singer, Nijolė Ambrazaitytė,  passed away after having made 30 recordings and serving in politics. David McSkimming,  a famous accompanist to Sumi Jo and Gary Lakes, also passed away from Motor Neurone Disease.

Elsie Jean Morison may best be known for having married the famous conductor Rafeal Kubelik. However, before retiring in the early 60’s the soprano won the Dame Nellie Melba Scholarship in 1945, and the Queen’s Prize at the Royal College of Music. She also performed numerous roles at the Glyndebourne festival. The soprano passed away at the age of 91.

Aleksei Dmitryevich Maslennikov  was a leading tenor at the Bolshoi Opera and while he was not recognized internationally, he performed numerous roles at the company before his retirement in the 90’s.

Other singers that passed away include Romanian bass-baritone Pompeiu Hărășteanu and Thomas Round, the English tenor known for his work in Savoy Operas. Round made it to 101 years of age. Danish basso Ove Verner Hansen was The Royal Danish Opera’s leading Basso Buffo.


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