Obituary: Legendary Soprano Teresa Zylis-Gara Dies at 91

By Francisco Salazar
(Credit: Metropolitan Opera Archives)

On August 28, 2021, Soprano Teresa Żylis-Gara died at the age of 91.

Żylis-Gara was born on January 23, 1930, in Landwarów, Second Polish Republic. She studied at the Łódź Music Academy for nine years. In 1954, the soprano won first prize at the Polish Young Vocalists Contest in Warsaw which brought her engagements to sing on the Polish National Radio.

She made her operatic debut at the Opera Krakowska in 1956 in the title role of Moniuszko’s “Halka” and returned in 1957 in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. In 1958 Żylis-Gara won second prize at the Concours of Toulouse and in 1960 she won third prize at the ARD International Music Competition in Munich which led to engagements at the Theater Oberhausen.

She continued to develop her voice in Germany under Dietger Jacob and in 1962 joined the ensemble of the Oper Dortmund where she saw the opening of the new Opernhaus Dortmund in 1966.

While in Germany, she sang many German operas including Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier,” “Die Fledermaus,” and “Der Freischütz,” among others. She would remain an ensemble member in Germany until 1970 and went on to appear at the Oper Frankfurt, the Hamburg State Opera, the Cologne Opera, the Bavarian State Opera, and Deutsche Oper Berlin.

During her resident years, she also appeared at the Wiener Staatsoper and appeared internationally at the Glyndebourne Festival, Opéra National de Paris, Royal Opera House, Salzburg Festival, and San Francisco Opera.

In 1968 she made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Donna Elvira in “Don Giovanni” and scored a critical success. This led to Rudolf Bing, general manager of the house, offering her a long-term contract with the company beginning in January 1970.

She would end up performing with the company 233 times over 14 seasons. Her most acclaimed roles included Pamina in Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute,’ Countess Almaviva in ‘The Marriage of Figaro,’ Amelia in Verdi’s ‘Un ballo in maschera,’ in ‘La traviata,’ Desdemona in ‘Otello,’ Leonora in ‘Il trovatore,’ Liù in Puccini’s ‘Turandot,’ as well as roles in ‘Suor Angelica’ and ‘Tosca,’ Elisabeth in Wagner’s ‘Tannhäuser,’ and the title roles in Cilea’s ‘Adriana Lecouvreur.’ Her final performance with the company came on March 31, 1984, with Vasile Moldoveanu as Des Grieux and Nello Santi conducting.

Other highlights at the Metropolitan Opera included performing alongside Robert Merrill for his 25th anniversary and alongside Carlo Bergonzi for his 25th anniversary gala. She also took part in the gala honoring Rudolf Bingand.

Żylis-Gara went onto appear at many major houses in the world including the Teatro alla Scala, Teatr Wielki, Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, Teatro Real de Madrid, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Bolshoi Theatre.

The soprano received many awards including an honorary doctorate of the Karol Lipiński Academy of Music in 2004 and the Commander’s Cross with Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta. She was also appointed officer of the Legion of Honour and received an honorary doctorate from the Academy of Music in Łódź. She was honored by the Teatr Wielki for her 90th birthday.

Throughout her career, she recorded many operas including Chausson’s “Le Roi Arthus,” Mercadante’s “Il giuramento,” Strauss’ “Ariadne Auf Naxos,” with Rudolph Kempe, Massenet’s “Manon” Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto, “Don Giovanni,” and “Don Carlo.” There is also a live broadcast recording of “Anna Bolena” sung in German.

The soprano also recorded a number of solo albums including one of Slavic arias.

Żylis-Gara is survived by her son.