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Galina Vishnevskaya 1926-2012

The soprano and political dissident of the postwar Soviet Union died yesterday in Moscow. She was 86. [New York Times]


  • 1
    sfmike says:

    Ah, I was hoping she was literally indestructible. Between Shostakovich and Britten, there was probably more great music written for Vishnevskaya than any singer of the 20th century. If you don’t know her voice, track down the original Britten “War Requiem” recording where she is singing the Latin Requiem Mass over a double orchestra and huge chorus and gloriously cuts through it all.

    Her take no prisoners autobiography, “Galina,” is also one of the wildest and most harrowing accounts of Soviet Russia imaginable.A true goddess, and sorry to hear of her passing.

  • 2
    irontongue says:

    More than for Peter Pears? :)

  • 3
    messa di voce says:

    A true natural grandeur of personality that doesn’t seem to exist any more.

  • 4
    Nerva Nelli says:

    Will the Bolshoi host the funeral?

    Will Elena Obraztsova show up and risk being called “Judas” by the angry corpse?

  • 5
    WindyCityOperaman says:

    It’s the film of the “revised” version of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, but it’s still a powerful performance and well worth watching (the entire film is on You Tube now)

    Agreed that “Galina” was an incredible autobio. RIP

    • 5.1
      Belfagor says:

      She is astounding in this film -- her descent in the last act, as the indignities mount and she is tricked by the whore Sonyetka is harrowing -- I have never forgotten the expression on her face just before she pushes her into the lake…….

  • 6
    98rsd says:

    Her Carnegie Hall recitals were mesmerizing. And her Met Tosca with James King was grand.

  • 7
    Absurdist says:

    And who was her husband?

    Ah, that’s right, Mstislav Rostropovich.

    I may be an opera queen, but I’m a cellist before everything else.

  • 8
    Ruxxy says:

    Dear Galina -- if it was not for the dreadful Soviet system which harassed and interrupted her career, she would have been a far greater star than she was. Her War Requiem is extraordinary. RIP.

  • 9
    Belfagor says:

    She was one of my all time goddesses. I only saw her once, in recital, at London’s Wigmore Hall in the mid 80’s. She did one half Mussorgsky -- including ‘Sunless’, which was so varied and multi-coloured, and the other Glinka -- like a sorbet, as we had been put through the mill enough. The last encore was the unaccompanied aria from ‘The Tsar’s Bride’ and time just stopped.

    Quite right about all that extraordinary music written for her: don’t forget Shostakovich’s 14th symphony, which she owned.

    Here she is, ‘Ophelia’s Song’ from the Blok poems, just her and her extraordinary hubby.

    And rare footage of a Tchaikovsky recital from 1964: this song, ‘Otchevo’ is just -- well -- magisterial….

    Read her book! The fact that she prevailed over her early years is a marvel.

  • 10
    m. croche says:

    Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.

    I’ve mentioned this before, but Vishnevskaya’s performance in Sokurov’s 2007 film “Alexandra” left me overwhelmed. Such simplicity, such nuance and such warmth. For the ninety minutes of that film, she was Mother Russia incarnate. (Sokurov also made a documentary about her and Rostropovich, “Elegy of Life”, in 2004. It appears and disappears on the web -- if I can track it down, I shall post it here.)

    Here is a Vishnevskaya mini-recital: 1) an hour of Chaikovsky romances, accompanied by her husband, 2) Shostakovich’s “Ophelia’s Song” from his haunting Blok cycle (why has no one posted the whole cycle with her?), and 3) Musorgsky’s song-cycle “Sunless”

    And for those who can’t bear to bid farewell…

  • 11
    einfreund says:

    I was priviledged to attend one of her masterclasses at Curtis. Remarkably, considering her reputation, all of her instruction was techinical/vocal, mostly to do with breath control. When the students returned for their second go, all of the dramatic interpretations had improved. She had freed them.

  • 12
    phoenix says:

    I never saw Della Casa live, but I did see Vishnevskaja once as Tatjana. Rest in peace.

    • 12.1
      Clita del Toro says:

      I saw Vishnevskaya once, as Aida at the Met. I don’t remember much about her performance.

      • 12.1.1
        phoenix says:

        Clita, I found her Tatjana sort of old-fashioned but sincere and straightforward -- she didn’t fake anything. She obviously knew & loved the music and that is the thing I remember most -- she caressed the lines as if she were visiting an old friend.

      • 12.1.2
        Belfagor says:

        Was it anything like this?

    • 12.2
      celmo says:

      Unfortunately I too missed Della Casa, but was lucky to see Vishnevskaya, Rostropovich and the National SO in a most memorable Shostakovich Fourteenth Symphony at Carnegie Hall. She was electrifying.

    • 12.3
      Walter von Holzhaufen says:

      I never saw Della Casa live either, but I did see Raina Kabaivanska once as Elisabetta in Don Carlo.

  • 13
    Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    Thinking of others who have left us here.
    A real baritone!

    • 13.1
      Clita del Toro says:

      Fabulous, QPF. Bel canto next to Dima’s huffing, puffing and barking. My fav baritone!

      • 13.1.1
        Regina delle fate says:

        Who is it?

          manou says:

          Tito Gobbi -- if you click on the YouTube icon (bottom right), you are taken to their site and get all the info there.

          • Regina delle fate says:

            Thanks Manou -- he was quite well disguised behind that beard. I saw his last RO performances as Scarpia and Falstaff, so I should have recognised him!

      • 13.1.2
        Clita del Toro says:

        I assumed everybody knew who he was. I saw him as Scarpia, Falstaff and Jago. I could kick myself for not going to his Rigoletto at the Met. I talked to his daughter and she didn’t know that he had had sing that role at the Met.

          Clita del Toro says:

          had sung

          • Camille says:

            are you chatting 2 nite?

            I think I’ll give it a listen.

            c u later, Del Toro!

          • Clita del Toro says:

            Cammiest, we are going to an opening of Kiff Slemmons’ work and maybe to dinner afterwards. Enjoy Alagna!


          • Camille says:

            Good! Have fun…I just want you to know that, based upon your recommendation ALLEIN, I am dragging my sorry arse to hear the last Ballo in town on Friday, just on account of Ms. Amber Wagner.

            I’ll give you all the goods on Saturday or Sunday.

            Have a cosmo for me, CDelT!

            as ever —-

  • 14
    Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    • 14.1
      spiderman says:


    • 14.2
      Belfagor says:

      This brings it all back -- I had this disc when I was a teenager and played and played and played this track obsessively --

      Mind you, she could lighten up too -- there’s a very spirited recording of Falstaff (in Russian) -- terrible sound -- but sprightly conducted by Melk-Pashaev, with Galina as Alice Ford -- and Arkhipova as Quickly.

      And there’s a Soviet comic opera based on the Taming of the Shrew by Vissarion Shebalin -- it gets a good mention in the ‘Shakespeare and Music’ book -- and Galina played Kate -- there is supposed to be a recording of that, but I’ve never traced it -- something possibly M. Croche might know about……..

      • 14.2.1
        m. croche says:

        Belfagor, there’s a link to an mp3 of Shebalin’s Shrew with Vishnevskaya on this web page. I can’t check right now to see whether it works.

          Belfagor says:

          You are the fount of all knowledge. Alas, can’t get it to work for some reason.

          • m. croche says:

            Ok, try this link -- but it will only be for the first half of the opera.

          • Belfagor says:

            Brilliant it works!

            Listening to the prelude. It must have been tough with Prokofiev and Shostakovich at your elbow -- amazingly reactionary stuff -- could have been written 100 years earlier, the odd lop-sided key change aside.

            Thanks for leading me to this -- I’ve long wondered what it was like…..

          • m. croche says:

            A fresh, complete copy might show up once again in the wake of Vishnevskaya’s passing.

            In related news, Opera Omsk this year restaged Shebalin’s Shrew, in honor of the Omskovite composer’s 110th birthday.

            Just in case people were wondering, “Hey! What’s happening in Omsk?”

          • m. croche says:

            Be it noted that Shebalin left his native city as a young man. The episode is described in his memoir “A Farewell To Omsk”.

          • Belfagor says:

            Who knew Omsk would be so lively!

          • MontyNostry says:

            It wasn’t. That’s why he was saying farewell to it.

          • Belfagor says:

            Except that was 90 or so years ago -- doubtless now it’s awash in oil, icicles, luxury limos, sharp men in dapper suits, and for entertainment they have opera, gay lynchings……all of the joys of modern liberated Russia……

  • 15
    Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    Need to smile now:

  • 16
    Will says:

    It should also be noted that African-American soprano Gloria Davy died yesterday. The Times gave her a very nice obit, noting her facility in contemporary music although that obviously is not what she was engaged for at the MET.

  • 17
    m. croche says:

    Another OT, but WTFF? Now Ravi Shankar, too?

    Hey guys, please look both ways before crossing the street. Death is winning way too many chess games at the moment.

    • 17.1
      SF Guy says:

      I’d never heard of Shankar until I saw Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, which he scored, back in my college days. Speaking of chess games, it holds up way better for me than The Seventh Seal.

      • 17.1.1
        m. croche says:

        That is indeed a wonderful film, as are the subsequent, Shankar-scored “Aparajito” and “World of Apu”. (My favorite Ray film remains “Jalsaghar”, which is also one of the great movies about music.)

        While I imagine most of the Shankar obits will mention the Beatles, but it’s also important to remember the impact he had on American experimental music. Terry Riley first got to known Hindustani music through Shankar’s performances and the process of notating and arranging Shankar’s music led Philip Glass to rethink his approach to rhythm and meter. Of course there were other Indian musicians, such as Ali Akbar Khan, Ustad Bismillah Khan and Pandit Pran Nath, who served as inspiration or as mentors for younger American musicians. All of them had an impact on American music that was not merely cosmetic.

          SF Guy says:

          I was never been able to warm up to The Music Room, except for the great climactic music/dance sequence, the way I have to the Apu Trilogy, or even Devi and The Big City. But I was still a young man the last time I saw it--I’d barely discovered opera--and no doubt it’s time for another visit.

          Quanto Painy Fakor says:

          The_Kid says:

          Ray himself was a musician of considerable talent, and composed stuff for a lot of his movies. Some of his other movies, possibly less well-known outside India, are:

          1. The Goopi-Gayen-Bagha-Bayen trilogy: A series of allegorical tales about the adventures of a singer and a musician who can literally ‘freeze’ people with their music, these movies deal with issues such as the Cold War, the Emergency in India, jingoistic propaganda and its effect on people, mass hysteria and mob mentality, and so on. The second movie in the series, “Hirak Raja-r Deshe” (“In the Land of the King of Diamonds”), is the most politically overt, and relates to its time by exploring themes such a “brain-washing machine”, education as a threat to authoritarian governments, and the chaos that usually follows the fall of a dictatorship.

          2. The “Homage to Kolkata” trilogy: Three movies (“Pratidwandi”: “The Antagonist”, “Jano Aranye” :”The Middleman”, literally “The Forest of Bodies”, “Seemaboddho”: “Company Ltd.”, literally “Boundaries”) that beautifully portray the day-to-day realities of 1970s Kolkata in all its misery and glory. The first movie is the most under-rated, and also the most “Western” in its conception. A tribute to Italian Neorealism, the movie follows a med school drop-out (the protagonist, Siddhartha, is one of the most appealing characters in the history of movies) as he tries to cope with his sense of alienation from both the violence of his younger brother’s leftist politics and the voraciously materialistic ideas of his sister. His doomed romance with a neighbor is so well-portrayed that it equals the Monica Vitti-Alan Deloin affair in “L’Eclisse”, albeit on a more positive level. Siddhartha’s world-weary understanding of the futility of the political unrest, of romance based on the exchange of things, and of the socio-political change that is necessary but can only happen slowly makes him and this bildungsroman a true tour-de-force. The third movie, “Company Limited”, is also a great one, dealing with issues of Labor Unions, sabotage, corruption, and moral decay, seen through the eyes of an educated young woman who has come to Kolkata to be launched into “high society” by her sister and her idealistic brother-in-law who she is secretly in love with.

          Ok, i’ll stop now :P Here, BTW, is one of the best scenes of “The Antagonist”, where Siddhartha is interviewed for a botanical job by a board of middle-aged, conservative men who are shocked by his leftist ideas. His answer to the asinine question (“Do you like flowers?”) is the best ever!
          (scene starts at 5:30 approx)

  • 19
    parpignol says:

    I am remembering a for-the-ages Tanglewood performance of Tatiana’s letter scene, Rostropovich conducting, and (am I remembering correctly?) it was the day that Shostakovich died, and they announced it from the stage…

    • 19.1
      phoenix says:

      The one I saw was with the Boston Symphony also at Tanglewood (1976). Vishenvskaja was still in her 40’s and had her voice intact. Ozawa conducted with Benjamin Luxon as Onegin -- I think the late Lili Chookasian was also in the performance. If I remember correctly, the performance was dedicated to the memory of Shostakovitch who had died the previous year (in 1975).

      • 19.1.1
        phoenix says:

        oops -- she was barely in her 40’s -- 3 months later she turned 50

      • 19.1.2
        peter says:

        Was anyone here at Vishnevskaya’s lone performance of Tosca in 1975? That was the year that she and Olivero substituted for Nilsson. Boy, that would have made for a great Parterre headline and discussion.

          phoenix says:

          No, I don’t remember it so I don’t think I went -- but I do remember the standees on the line criticizing Vishnevskaja’s broad interpretation of the role, both vocally and theatrically -- but that performance was only several weeks before the arrival of the very successful Bolshoi Opera 1975 Met tour (with the NY debuts of Obratzsova, Verdernikov, Milashkina, Atlantov, Ermler, Kastrashvilli, Simonov, etc.), an event which radically changed the tastes of NY operagoers and created a greater appreciation for Eastern European/Central Asian performers.

  • 20
    zampieriano says:

    Why aren’t there any Videos of her recitals after her Last opera-Performance? She was still magnificent and even more expressive! !! I only once saw a snippet of a Song in a Ristropovich Portrait ….but there has to be much more!!! Please publish…release!!!