Cher Public

Lisa della Casa 1919-2012

The elegant Swiss-born soprano has died at 93. [Los Angeles Times]

Photo: Sedge LeBlang/Metropolitan Opera

  • spiderman

    good bye, lisa -- you were one of them, who made me love opera!

    one of the most beautiful “mi tradi” renditions ever recorded:

    • almavivante

      Thank you for posting this. Absolute perfection. She understands everything about this aria and communicates every word. If “Mi tradi” weren’t itself so heartbreaking, I would call this performance bliss.

    • Bill

      On November 20th, 1953 on the second night of the
      Met season (the opening a new Faust with de los
      Angeles, Bjoerling) a “revised” production of
      Le Nozze die Figaro was debuted and there was
      considerable interest in the then considerable
      Austrian/German population of New York City as
      3 major singers from Vienna and the Salzburg
      Festival were to appear. The audience was abuzz
      and actually electric with anticipation in a manner I have since seldom experienced. Two of the three Viennese factors were known in NYC.
      Irmgard Seefried had already made her successful New York City Debut two years previously at Town Hall and
      the Karajan EMI Figaro which featured her Susanna
      had been available for several years. Erich Kunz
      was also in that Figaro and had sung Leporello
      with success at the Met the previous season.
      The unknown factor was a certain Swiss soprano
      named Lisa della Casa who had, up to that time,
      not recorded anything that had reached America.
      The over sold out audience included many of
      New York’s Austrian/German opera going audience
      who hungered for a taste of the famous Mozart ensemble started in Vienna in 1943 by Karl Boehm,
      caressed by Josef Krips and Clemens Krauss from 1945 and capped by performances led by von Karajan and Furtwaengler in Salzburg.

      When the curtain parted for the opening of the second act of this Figaro, before a vocal utterance was sounded there was an audible gasp from the audience. Standing tranquilly center stage was a ravishingly gorgeous brunette, looking pensive and immobile. Her first notes augured well -- she had the breath for Porgi Amor, she had an uncommonly beautiful voice. This was my first ever live Figaro performance (at the age of 14) and it remains vividly in my mind and in my ear to this day despite the visually flimsy sets which were thrown together from other previous opera productions.

      In the first act Seefried and Kunz had had the
      audience entralled and eating out of their hands with their stage assurance and
      wonderful voices. della Casa in the 2nd act was the Schlagobers on top of the ice cream promising a delicious evening.

      In the the third act the exquisitely sung Dove Sono
      of della Casa elicited prolonged applause. The
      Seefried/della Casa Zephyr duet, sung meltingly,
      garered several minutes of warm applause. The applause for Seefried’s Deh vieni non Tardar in the 4th act stopped the show for 5 minutes (which Rudolf
      Bing later said was the longest applause for any
      Mozart aria in the history of the Met). The final
      ensemble was beautiful but no solo curtain calls allowed that season. After the performance I, a wide eyed 14 year old waited by the stage door and,
      after a wait, first Seefried came down the steps
      laden with flowers and bubbling with charm and grace. Then came della Casa, arms full of bouquets, cooly beautiful and equally gracious. A vast crowd of adoring fans had gathered outside in the cold to greet them.

      That evening began two decades of wonderful della Casa performances for me in New York, Vienna, Salzburg, Montreal etc. Her usual roles, of course, but also specialties such as “Danton’s Death” -- She was my first ever Evchen -- one of the finest Donna Elviras, exquisite Ariadnes, her super cool Marschallin and of course, her magnificent matchless Arabella -In latter years the voice had become a bit tattered though certainly still beautiful. Her interpretations of roles were always true to the character of the heroine she was portraying. She never seemed rattled on the stage but always seemed concentrated on what she was doing. She said always insisted on full stage rehearsals everywhere. She never liked the intrique within the opera world -- she said that the Vienna Opera was always very kind to her as they needed her, all politeness and ‘Kuss die Hand’ on the surface but underneath the fascade it was a nest of Vipers.

      Della Casa came to the fore and became a member of the Vienna Opera ensemble when it had a cadre of brilliant sopranos who many critics decry has never before or since been equalled. Della Casa is perhaps the last of this stellar group to have survived -- yes Lipp, yes Zadek -- Christa Ludwig
      was not among them until 1955. but della Casa, Seefried, Jurinac, Welitsch, Gueden, Schwarzkopf, Stich-Randall, Cebotari. Gruemmer (only some years in Vienna), Rothenberger, Streich etc. (not to speak of Reining, H. Konetzni, Rethy all of whom sang Mozart then). Ensemble opera at its peak and we are only naming sopranos, and only the Mozartian group -We may never see its likes again. So get out your CD of della Casa’s “Vier letzte Lieder”, play it, shed a tear and rejoice that we were able to savour these singers who gave us so much pleasure in their primes and that we have sufficient aural evidence to reinforce memories of a golden Mozartian-Straussian
      with their wonderful individual distinctive talents and their sonoroous and brilliant ensemble peformances

      beautful woman

      • Clita del Toro

        Bill, that was beautiful and touching. Thanks.
        Other than Della Casa, I did see Schwarzkopf, Gueden, Stich-Randall (Donna Anna) and Rotherberger. No wonder I loved Mozart in those days. With Siepi, London, Steber and Valletti, how could one not?

        PS I do have a CD of Della Casa’s VLL.

        • celmo

          As wonderful as the studio VLL with Bohm is, I will never forget the afternoon that my much- missed friend and huge Della Casa fanatic, Harvey Gilman, played me her live recording with the Bavarian Symphony under F. Rieger. I believe the performance was found on Side 4 of the Bruno Walter Society’s 2 LP issue of “Feuersnot” from the RAI. Despite the later date, around 1970 if I remember correctly, and the applause between each song, it remains IMO the most moving version of all.

          • messa di voce

            In “Song on Record” Michael Kennedy also judges that 1970 performance as the better one. I’ve never been able to find it.

      • Camille

        Your memories are always so welcome, that it is a pity you’ve had to write so many of them bidding a farewell to beloved figures. Whatever the occasion, it is always moving to read them, lieber Bill, and I heartily thank you.

    • doktorlehar

      This is quite simply Mozart singing of the absolute highest order. Full technical arsenal at work, understanding of the words and character, gorgeously memorable tone, and the fact that she’s such a beautiful woman makes it almost unreal.

  • peter

    What a beautiful singer. One of my all time favorite voices.

    • Camille

      beauty outside of time and space

      • Camille

        Excuse me.
        I meant to put this on the intermission thread. It’s the entire La Damnation de Faust, with Monteux conducting.

        Sorry to invade this thread dedicated to the wonderful Lisa della Casa.

    • Camille

      I do hope this is what was intended this time…

  • Buster

    The elegance:

    • Clita del Toro

      Amazing, she smoked like a chimney.

      Anyway, I have always adored Della Casa since i fell in love with her Arabella at the Met in 1957. Her Marschallin, Octavian (with Schwarzkopf’s Marschallin), Countess and Elvira were beyond gorgeous in every way. I think I might have seen her Eva as well.
      I recently saw her in a clip from an old b&w Christmas TV show (Tozzi was also featured). She was so charming and beautiful with the children on the show as she sang that it brought me to tears.

      • RosinaLeckermaul

        She was my first Maarschalin (56, I believe, with Gueden, Stevens and the inevitable Edelmann under Rudolf Kempe). Then the next year my first ARABELLA. Later I saw her Octavian with Schwarzkopf. A wonderful singer and stage presence. And, yes, gorgeous.

  • WindyCityOperaman

    Comes in threes . . . Gloria, Lisa and Galina.

    Too bad there aren’t any of Lisa’s Bell Telephone Hour Christmas performances for the holiday posted on You Tube. I always liked those.

    • MontyNostry

      As Tosca! Did she ever sing that on stage? (Seems unlikely, even if she did make her debut as Butterfly.)

      • Rory Williams

        Her Wikipedia entry says yes, Monty.

        • MontyNostry

          So it does … An even lighter-textured Tosca than Ange, I would imagine.

          • messa di voce

            Her voice was not at all small. She did Chrysothemis (a role she hated) and even a few Salomes in Munich.

          • MontyNostry

            I can certainly imagine her as a girlish Salome -- just the kind of voice Strauss said he wanted for the part, but I just can’t hear Tosca in her voice.

          • Regina delle fate

            Messa -- the first Chystosthemis (1908) was also the first Zerbinetta (1912) which always spooks me. Can anyone think of another singer who has sung both roles in that order?

          • messa di voce

            The way those early 20th century German sopranos -- Siems, Hempel, et al -- changed roles is pretty amazing, isn’t it? Della Casa sang all three female roles in Rosenkavalier, and said that Sophie was her favorite.

        • spiderman

          The wikipedia entry is wrong in that:

          Della Casa never sang Tosca on stage but sang excerpts for TV and for a (german) recording. She neither did Desdemona on stage.

          • Clita del Toro

            That’s comforting. ;+)

          • Clita del Toro

            Monty, right. I wouldn’t want to see her as Tosca. I can’t imagine her killing anyone, except maybe, Jochanaan. I bet she made a gorgeous Salome.

      • Regina delle fate

        I’ve a vague feeling -- but no more than that -- that she did indeed sing Tosca at Covent Garden. Or at least was announced to sing Tosca there. I’ll have to check back copies of the dreaded Opera magazine. I’ll report back!

        • Regina delle fate

          Looks like I dreamt that -- I may have confused her with Jurinac who sang Tosca at Covent Garden at the same time as Della Casa’s Marschallin there -- Happy Days!

  • OpinionatedNeophyte

    I am amazed I am the first to post this. Della Casa was one of the singers who introduced me to the Strauss heroines, what a wonderful voice.

    • davidzalden

      I have long felt that this Arabella video is one of the most important and astonishing visual documents around — OK maybe the production is nothing special but my God! Fischer-Dieskau and Della Casa are so complicated and complex, physically alive and vulnerable. Her restlessness (the strange obsessive grasping and re-arranging of furniture), her ceaselessly expressive eyes, the impression of spontaneity and in-the moment improvisation are like no one else. And her beauty. What an unforgettable artist!

    • MontyNostry

      Lovely singing (and diction) from both sisters there, but in that cute little pixie suit Anneliese ain’t gonna fool no-one that she’s a boy.

      • Regina delle fate

        But how many Zdenka’s do, Monty? The best I ever saw was the already quite buxon Lucy Popp, not long before she started singing Arabella.

        • messa di voce

          And, of course, Della Casa started out as Zdenka -- really great on the live recording from Salzburg with Bohm and Reining.

          • Batty Masetto

            In the wonderful Della Casa bio documentary (sadly now suppressed from YT), she talks about her first Zdenka, in Zurich I think, where Strauss was in attendance for the rehearsals. He said, “she’ll sing my Arabella one of these days.”

            She also had a few tart words to say about Frau Doktor Legge, who apparently bamboozled her out of the film of the Salzburg Rosenkavalier.

          • Camille

            As I have not yet noted anyone mentioning the book, in “The Last Prima Donnas”, by Lanfranco Rasponi, there is an entire chapter devoted to the lovely Lisa della Casa. She speaks of her Salome, among other things, and her character is so vibrant and full of life.

            An excellent book for those young people trying to get a grasp of what has come before, or for us old nostalgia prone oldsters.

    • ducadiposa

      I think this proves, despite latter day claims that convincing, heartfelt operatic “acting” only started in the age of HD, that natural, believable and beautiful performances have always been a part of opera. As DavidZAlden notes, sure, the production itself wouldn’t pass muster today, but put these two singers into any contemporary Arabella, and I can’t see much that would look out of place. Both Della Casa and Rothenberg seem absolutely settled and secure in expressing these touching, very modern people. And the singing is beyond anything I’ve heard recently in this repertoire. So secure, so effortless (and yet, we know, there is so much art and technique behind all of this) -- I’ve never seen this before and am greatful -- thank you!

      • Clita del Toro

        ducadiposa: it is divine, without a doubt.

      • SF Guy

        The complete performance is here:

        • Camille

          Thank you so much, SF Guy! So wunderbar!!!

  • Gerald Berners

    Here’s an English Arabella from the Met in 1961 with Mignon Dunn, George London, Barry Morell and Anneliese Rothenberger

  • tannengrin

  • danpatter

    You are right, David, I love this opera and I love this performance. Della Casa lives every note of the role, and she’s rapturous and bewitching. I’m so glad it exists, better than any other version -- though I do like almost all of them.

  • papopera

    Oh no!!! Sad. Recently I was just looking at all available opera, recital and interviews on You Tube. Always in love with this magnificent singer. In one of her last TV interviews, she is of course smoking and while blowing the smoke tells us with a smile: “so gut…” So, dear Lisa, having a cigarette in your memory, so gut darling.

  • Clita del Toro

    On opera-l I found this youtube of a Firetsone Hour Boheme duet with Tucker and Della Casa. My favorite part is when Tucker tries to kiss her. The look of fear or disgust on her face if priceless. lol

    • Clita del Toro

      ooops, it doesn’t work?? Sorry

    • Feldmarschallin

      well would you blame her? he looks absolutely revolting in that. Fat, short and ugly. What a difference to Corelli in the Tosca duet.

      • MontyNostry

        Poor little Dicky. OK,he is hardly dashing, but he is much more lovable than Corelli, who always has a sort of waxwork quality about him.

        • Regina delle fate

          Haha, Monty. Grigolino has a similar waxwork quality about him. Pity he doesn’t have Corelli’s voice….

  • deviafan

    • Ilka Saro

      Deviafan, thanks for this unexpected video!

      • Clita del Toro

        Deviafan--mille grazie!!

    • doktorlehar

      What an utter treasure this video is. Thank you so much for bringing it to our collective attention.

      For me, della Casa was voice that defined her repertoire, and I can’t add much to the accolades and remembrances posted here except to say thank god we have her recorded.

      I was just in Switzerland three weeks ago. The train line from Zurich to Bern passes right by Burgdorf, where she was born, and I thought of her as we went along. Cute little place.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Back at the old MET, there was a standee named Ruth who used to tell everyone at the front of the line that she was having an actual love affair with Della Casa.

    • Clita del Toro

      QPF, I used to stand near the front of the line. Don’t remember Ruth. Poor thing, wishful thinking, I guess. There were all sorts of odd people there every day. I guess I was one of them.

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

        I won’t say her last name, but yes it was wishful thinking. Had it been true Lisa would have gotten her tickets !

  • Clita del Toro

    Question: Where is the NYT obit for Lisa della Casa?? We have already seen those for Gloria Davey and Vishnevskaya.

    • WindyCityOperaman

      Yes, and still no obit in Opera News online.

  • Lisa Della Casa’s rendition of “Ein schönes war” is pretty much ideal. Such beautiful, touching, and elegant singing.

    • peter

      I’ve always been curious about that recording. Does she really not take a breath after that long long phrase? She goes right to the world “war” without a breath. I’ve never heard anyone else do that.

      • I re-listened just to hear if she takes a breath. I don’t think she does. It’s a 21-second single breath. I haven’t heard anyone do that either. Jessye Norman does a 19-second breath but takes a breath before “war” (but takes it at a slower tempo).

        • Bill

          The times I heard della Casa live in
          Vienna and at the Met she did not take
          a breath either. Most singers do take
          a breath, some disguising it and others
          actually gulping. Della Casa was one of
          my all time favorite Ariadnes though her
          very lowest notes were not as markedly
          fine as some other sopranos who had more enviable lower registers.
          But few could glisten on the top notes
          with the glorious effervescence in the way della Casa could.

          Jeritza discussed “Ein Schoenes War”
          and that difficult first phrase once
          in the famous Ariadne Met Broadcast
          together with Lotte Lehmann and Jeritza
          mentioned that Richard Strauss insisted
          that Jeritza not take a breath at that
          point. Jeritza mentioned that the phrase was so long that it went from wherever she may
          have been talking (presumably somewhere in the old Met) to…..Brooklyn.

          • MontyNostry

            That discussion between Jeritza and Lehmann is one of the best operatic exchanges I’ve ever heard. The way they combine mutual admiration and competitiveness, all in strong mitteleuropaeisch accents, is priceless. It wasn’t on YouTube last time I looked, sadly.

          • soubrettino

          • MontyNostry

            Whoopee! Thank you, soubrettino.

    • bassoprofundo

      Am I the only one who finds the word “rendition” to be like nails on a chalkboard when used to talk about singers?

      “Her rendition of Caro nome…”

      “What a wonderful rendition of Nemico della patria!”

      I think it’s much more elegant to say “Her ‘Ein schoenes war’ is pretty much ideal.”

      • Yes, your suggestion is better worded, but “nails on a chalkboard/”? Really?

      • manou

        How about “Extraordinary Rendition”?

    • MontyNostry

      It helps that the aria is not being taken at the speed of a dirge to make it more ‘expressive’. And I love the slightly woozy horn. LDC is so much more pleasing and satisfying to listen to than her more frequently recorded and not dissimilar-sounding, but vastly more gekünstelt contemporary …

      • Clita del Toro

        Who would that be????????????????? lol

        • MontyNostry

          Isssch weisssz auch nixssss. Hgar nixsss, Clita.

          • Clita del Toro

            lol Monty

  • Clita del Toro
    • Buster

      Thanks Clita! In addition to those four roles, she also sang Saffi at the Met.

      • Krunoslav

        Yes, and also Mimi, Cio-Cio-San, Ariadne, Octavian, Eva and Elsa. The article does not say that she sang only 4 roles, only that 4 roles made up the bulk of her Met assignments.

        But in fact she sang more Saffis and Evas than she did Arabellas, so that was strange of the writer to cite that among the 4 main roles. They also got wrong the role of her Vienna debut (Nedda, not Gilda) and the year of her farewell (1973, not 1974). Such are the vagaries…

        • Buster

          I see -- thanks! Did she give any song recitals in the States that you happen to know of? The Lieder recordings I have heard of her are all outstanding (Salzburg recital, Strauss songs with piano, both with Arpad Sandor, Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -Leben with Sebastian Peschko).

  • Chirper

    Didn’t her daughter die a number of years ago? I seem to remember reading an Opera News interview a while back that referred to her daughter’s passing.

    • Marcello

      There’s an interview with her daughter in the bio which appeared in 2008 and she is also in the TV documentation which was probably made for her 80th birthday.

      Lisa della Casa also sang Annina in Rosenkavalier at the beginning of her career, so that makes 4 roles in this opera.

  • Nerva Nelli

    The NY TIMES has not corrected the multiple mistakes in the Della Casa obit. Typical.