Opera Scotland

Lisa Della Casa Suggest updates

Born Burgdorf, Berne, 2 February 1919.

Died Gottlieben, Lake Constance, 11 December 2012.

Swiss soprano.

Lisa Della Casa was renowned equally for the creamy beauty of her voice and for her lovely appearance and sensitive acting. Her repertoire was centred on the leading roles of Mozart and Strauss, and she was widely credited with establishing Arabella in the general repertoire.

She studied in Zurich, and made her debut as Cio-Cio-San at Solothurn-Biel in 1941. After moving to the opera company in Zurich her repertoire included Gilda and Pamina, as well as rareties such as Serena in Porgy and Bess. Her performance as Zdenka in Arabella led the great Maria Cebotari, in the title role, to recommend her to Salzburg.

Her Salzburg Festival debut came in 1947, as Zdenka, Another early role there was Marzelline in Fidelio under Furtwängler. The rest of her career centred on the Vienna State Opera and Salzburg Festival, though she worked at most of the major opera houses, and visited the New York Met almost annually. Her farewell came with a performance in Vienna in 1974, singing the Marschallin.

The roles central to her repertoire were by Mozart (Countess, Donna Elvira, Fiordiligi, Pamina) and Strauss (Sophie, Octavian and the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, plus Ariadne, Arabella and Countess Madeleine). She also tried Salome and Chrysothemis, but soon dropped those more dramatic parts which were not suitable for her lyric voice. Her repertoire also included Puccini (Mimi, Butterfly), Handel (Cleopatra) and Wagner (Eva, Elsa). She is not generally associated with new work, but did create three roles in Der Prozess by Gottfried von Einem (Salzburg 1953), based on Kafka's The Trial.

Her first appearance in Britain came in the summer of 1951, when she sang Countess Almaviva at Glyndebourne. The following year she came to Edinburgh as a member of the Hamburg company, singing Pamina, Marzelline and Sophie (having sung Eva a few weeks earlier during her only appearance at Bayreuth). Her Covent Garden debut in 1953 was with the company of the Vienna State Opera, when she sang the title role in the British premiere of Arabella. She returned to star in a new production of the piece in 1965. This beautiful staging was conducted by Solti, and directed by Rudolf Hartmann, with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Mandryka. She also sang at Covent Garden in 1968 as the Marschallin.

She made a number of recordings. Arabella with Georg Solti, the Four Last Songs with Otto Ackermann, Così fan tutte with Karl Böhm and Le nozze di Figaro with Erich Kleiber all retain a justifiably high reputation after more than half a century. A live recording of the famous Furtwängler Fidelio has also been available.

Roles in Scotland

Pamina daughter of the Queen of Night
Zauberflöte 1952
Sophie Sophie von Faninal, his daughter
Rosenkavalier 1952
Marzelline Rocco's daughter
Fidelio 1952

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