Cher Public

She got through all of last year and she’s here

The apparently immortal Anja Silja (all those performances of Vec Makropulos must have rubbed off!) is seen here in her newest role, Babulenka in Prokofiev’s Igrok at Oper Frankfurt. The soprano, who debuted in 1956 as Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia, is now in the 57th year of her career.

The production of Der Spieler (as it is called in this German-language version) is directed by Harry Kupfer.

Production photo by Monika Rittershaus.

  • Camille

    Talk about tough old broads, why she even beats the tar out of Helen Lawson!

    When I saw her in Vec Makrapulos @ BAM she scared the pea-waddin’ out of me. She really did seem 300+ years old, already THEN. Guessing she even has knocked down Don Placido in the Energizer Bunny category.

    I wonder what her diet consists of? The blood of blameless virgins? Thinking it’s time to head to UTube ro see if that Tosca auf deutsch from 1968 is still out there. Somewhere in cyberspace.

    • Camille

      No Tosca auf deutsch. Pfui!

      There is this nice interview with August Everding, however:

      There is also a nice interview la Silja did with La Cieca, at the time of said Makropolus Case, buried somewhere in the archives. It makes for interesting comparison. Perhaps la Doyenne shall provide us with a link, if such is her whim. If not, it’s every queen for themself.

    • MontyNostry

      Talking of which, Grace is the Countess in Queen of Spades in Vienna tonight. Has anyone seen any of the previous performances?

      • MontyNostry

        One (rave) review here (auf Deutsch):

      • messa di voce

        Early burnout was the universal prediction for Silja, and to a lesser degree Bumbry, when they started out: they should get together for a drink and a good laugh.

        • MontyNostry

          Did they share any roles apart from Salome? (I think Grace might have sung Elisabeth a couple of times, though I don’t know where -- she used to have it on her repertoire list in programmes.)

          • Krunoslav

            More joint roles than one would think offhand, Monty.

            Grace sang Elisabeth, yes, I believe in Berlin.

            Other joint roles besides Salome: Carmen, Tosca, Turandot, Medea (Cherubini/Lachner) Lady Macbeth, Santuzza, Klytaemnestra and Cassandre. And, believe it or not, both of them ventured Leonora in TROVATORE and FORZA both.

          • Hippolyte

            Lady Macbeth. Klytamnestra and the Old Couness are just three other roles Silja and Bumbry share.

          • MontyNostry

            Wow, I had no idea Silja sang Verdi. Hard to imagine, somehow.

          • Monty, her lady Macbeth is onyoutube, at least 2 of the big arias.

          • MontyNostry

            I admire Silja (I’ve only ever seen her as Marie, though), but I will have to steel myself to hear her as Lady M!

          • Feldmarschallin

            Bumbry also sang both Venus and Elisabeth at Bayerische Staatsoper.

          • MontyNostry

            Here’s Grace in 1983 singing Elisabeth and sporting even bigger hair than Jimmy’s. Much as I love her, and the diva-power is indubitable, I don’t think this could ever have really been her Fach …

          • Bianca Castafiore

            Monty, La Grazia’s only Elisabeth were back in 1972 — I used to have a disk with excerpts — so she might have been tamer and more subdued than in 1983…

            Also, Grace and Anya were in the Bayreuth Tannhauser in 1962, no?

          • MontyNostry

            Bianca, I believe so, Quite a change from Vicky dlA the previous year, I’m sure. Shame that Tannhaeuser’s two gals never have a confrontation.

    • Bianca Castafiore

      Cammillerrima!!!!!!! I’m back from my 10-day trip to the tristes tropiques… What have I missed?

      Oh yes, I was there too, at BAM for Silja’s Macropoulos. What I remember was her strutting her legs at her age, and they were still long and shapely still.

      Later, I saw her opposite Mattila in the Jenufa at the Met, one of the most memorable and moving evenings in my history at the Met (it was also JHM’s forgettable debut). The other tenor was Silvasti, who also delivered a very moving portrayal. I still remember La Silja’s blood-curling screams in the final scenes before she’s taken away — for a second, it sounded as if the voice was so stretched that it was going to break, but also as if she would launch into some “Hojotohos”. I think she could still have done so if she wanted to.

      At curtain calls, Mattila was as usual very gracious to her colleagues, greeting them with kisses on the cheek, and she prodded Silja for another solo curtain call, but Silja declined. It was quite something that evening.

      • Camille

        Bentornata carissima Bianchina diletta!

        Well, what were you up to in les tristes tropiques? Cougar-hunting? Deep sea diving with dolphins? Popping up at the seaside for impromptu concerts, accompanied by Cap’n Haddock on the steel marimbas? We are all waiting, carina!

        What did you miss? The stinky Stuarda and the only Trovatore to ever rival the Marx Bros. movie of same. Among other things. I am sure you had more fun at la playa.

        My next big thrill will be an un cut Jonas coming on up soon.

        Tell me, what year was that Jenufa? I think I missed it by piddling around too long and am forever sorry for it.

        Love from

        PS glad you are safely back home.

        Oh yes, I had the pleasure of hearing Miss Grace Melzia only once, in the Wesendonck Lieder, about thirty years ago now. I must say that she made a buffet of it and was very very good and every inch she was GRACious, indeed!

        • Bianca Castafiore


          You know, I can’t recall what year that Makropoulos was, but it was before the Jenufa, which was in 2007:

          [Met Performance] CID:351852
          Jenufa {44} Metropolitan Opera House: 02/14/2007.

          (Debut: Jay Hunter Morris)

          Metropolitan Opera House
          February 14, 2007

          JENUFA {44}

          Jenufa………………Karita Mattila
          Laca………………..Jorma Silvasti
          Kostelnicka………….Anja Silja
          Steva……………….Jay Hunter Morris [Debut]
          Grandmother………….Barbara Dever
          Jano………………..Yvonne Gonzales Redman
          Foreman……………..James Courtney
          Barena………………Wendy Bryn Harmer
          Maid………………..Ellen Rabiner
          Mayor……………….Paul Plishka
          Mayor’s Wife…………Kathryn Day
          Karolka……………..Alyson Cambridge
          Aunt………………..Michaela Martens

          Conductor……………Jirí Belohlávek

          Production…………..Olivier Tambosi
          Designer…………….Frank Philipp Schlössmann
          Lighting Designer…….Max Keller

  • judycadanna

    Dr. Rep might need to rename this kind of thing Siljarollen.
    Is anyone here surprised that Frankfurt did Igrok as Weimar Horror Picture Show?

  • Nerva Nelli

    “I’ve gotten through Wieland and Winifred Wagner
    Gee, that was fun and a half.
    When you’ve been through Wieland and Winifred Wagner
    Anything else is a laugh.”

    • armerjacquino

      Ha! Brilliant.

      I’ve done Isolde, I’ve done Makropolous Case
      And I’m here
      Now that I’m older, I’m learning Powder Her Face
      And I’m here

      I’ve sung the doll too-
      Moved role by role to

      Now I career from career to career
      Pique Dame and Widow Begbick
      And I’m here

      • MontyNostry

        That second verse is genius, AJ. Chapeau.

        • armerjacquino

          Thank you, monty!

      • peter

        Still someone said she can sing,
        so I’m here.

  • to think she satred here:

    does anyone know of the whole thing is available?

    • perfidia

      And wasn’t she 19 when she did this? Her vocal cords must be made of adamantium. Placi has nothing on her.

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

        I too thought of how Anja has retained her unique timbre and technique. Parts of the brief promo of THE GAMBLER shows her in marvellous voice instantly identifiable as Silja.

    • If memory -- not actually being there but an an opera magazine I have somewhere devoted to Aix in the early years -- serves the cast that year included Teresa Stich-Randall was the Pamina, Christiane Eda-Pierre was the Papagena, Erich Kunz was the Papageno and Frederic Gutrie was the Sarastro -- not sure who was the Tamino -- I know Fritz Wunderlich sang it in 1958 but don’t think he repeated it the next year.

      Apparently there is a very rich series of French TV performances in the archives of almost all the productions from Aix of the period. All in black and white but still. I was surprised to find the Alcina I saw back in 1978 with Berganza, Murray, Masterson and Eda-Pierre is on YouTube. What a series that would make -- I wonder if they also did the Dido with Janet Baker from the same year?

      • I know thePoppea they did with Berganza as Ottavia has surfaced, obviously the Ariadne with Crespin has as well (those 2 I have) I am hoping the Giovanni and the Flute will surface some day, I would love to watch those 2 and could y’all imagine if the Nozze with Lorengar as Cherubino was there, or the dialogues? Ok,this is too much dreaming.

        • And can you imagine the Stich-Randall, Berganza, Alva, Panerai Cosi?????

          • Don’t get me started. I would be happy with the giovanni for starters. I know that one is out there. I am hoping to find it. The this flute.

        • Lindoro
          Is that the Ariadne with Jean Cox, Mady mesplé and gasp -- Tatiana Troyanos????? Where can I get my hands on that? Or for that matter the Rhodes-Berganza Poppea?

          • This is what I am going to do. I am in the process of uploading the whole thing on YouTube. If it is successful I will post the links here for anyone to enjoy and (provided they have the right technology), download from YouTube. If I am not successful, I will let you know, and we will find alternate means to have you enjoy those performances.

          • Well, here is the poppea, on to the Ariadne.

          • WOW! JUST BLOODY WOW! 1000 grazie LindoroA -- back in the day Aix was a treasure trove of young and established singers doing some fascinating things.

          • and here is the Ariadne, just in case anyone else is interested:

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Here’s another Prokofiev goodie:

  • Will

    Well God bless her, she’s had a phenomenal life and career and I’m delighted she’s still here. My one performance from her live was the Kostelnicka opposite Mattila. Quite the performance, that!

  • Cocky Kurwenal

    Wasn’t she 16 years old when she did that ’56 Barbiere, or something like that? So it isn’t such a huge surprise that she was singing high coloratura stuff and then moved into much heavier repertoire later on, you wouldn’t expect any opera singing to stick with what was right for them in their teens.

    I’ve seen her once, as the witch in Hansel und Gretel. Great fun, but there was precious little voice left apart from a giant top b. I do think her youth and unusual timbre bring something very special to Elsa on the Bayreuth Lohengrin with Varnay etc. It’s pretty bumpy singing though.

    • perfidia

      It is unusual for someone to go from high coloratura to really dramatic stuff. A high soprano can grow into more dramatic parts of course, but Silja basically went through three or four voice categories in her career. I can see a Rosina growing into a Mimi, for example, but it is more common for the type of high soprano who Silja was earlier to have a career like Roberta Peters, who basically did the same repertoire until she retired. Now if your voice tends to be more lyrical, you can eventually grow into bigger parts (like Freni did), but when you hear Silja as QON, it is hard to believe she is going to do that Tosca in German (the ending is stupendous, even my friends who do not care for opera get carried away by it).

      • Cocky Kurwenal

        I don’t think it’s unusual at all for a teenager to sing Queen of the Night and end up, years later, as a spinto or a dramatic soprano.

      • oedipe

        New quizz for Parterrians: who was once QON and will be singing Tosca in a future season, if the rumor is confirmed? In 2016 at the Met, to be exact. (I can’t formulate this as nicely and as peppered with jeux de mots as La Cieca would, I apologize.)

        • Hippolyte

          Presumably you’re referring to noise on a French site about Damrau doing Tosca. And that’s probably just what it is: noise.

          • manou

            “what it is” or what it will be?

            (sans vous chercher noise, bien entendu)

          • oedipe

            On sait bien que vous chercher toujours à apaiser les noises, Manou.

          • oedipe


      • Rowna

        Well here is something I actually know about -- voice types and how a female voice develops. Most young girls have sweet high voices and many can pop out high pingy top notes -- like high c’s to f’s with no problem. Their low registers, in general are weak. As they get older, some will go into other vocal categories . . some voices get heavier or a darker color. Many young women can sing QOTN and later do Carmen.

  • Sheldon

    Is anyone else getting “Saturday Night Fever” vibes from that multi-color floor?

  • Buster

    Now I understand why Claudia Mahnke -- the curly blond in the picture -- sounded less good than usual in that Ariadne I saw on the 19th. That evening fell right in between two performances of this opera.

  • Saw her as Marie in Wozzeck at Salzburg -- Evans in the lead, Boehm in the pit -- and she did a Fidelio in Toronto more years ago than I care to think. I still remember that thrilling moment when that bloody big barn -- the O’Keefe Centre -- that the COC use to perform in was filled with her “Ich Bin Sein Weib” and she torn her cap off and her hair tumbled down. The electricity was incredible.

    Both times I was bloody lucky that “I was there”!

    • armerjacquino

      Ha, trust her to do the big reveal a line later than usual. She’s always struck me as a wilful performer.

  • PushedUpMezzo

    I’m sure that’s Angela Lansbury as Madame Armfeldt.
    Next career move for Silja?

    • Hippolyte

      Silja sang The Old Lady in Bernstein’s Candide in Berlin a few years ago so I agree A Little Night Music may not be far behind.

      • MontyNostry

        Madame Armfeldt meets Rosine Leckermaul.

        • phoenix
          • Camille

            Is that Bianca vs. Nerva—or—Nerva vs. MMIItm?

          • marshiemarkII

            Did you call out MMII ™ cara CammiBelle?
            Well here SHE IS!!!!!
            Just back from the Final Dress of Rigoletto. First the good news! Beczala is the greatest tenor in the world today!!!!! Well he has some competition…., but what gorgeous SINGING, it is not the largest sound, and perhaps not quite Pavarotti-gorgeous the sound itself, but what a way to encompass the GRAND Verdi line, the boy has voice voice and more voice (I am NOT talking volume here, but just filling the musical line!). Almost the same can be said for the title role, what a gorgeous command of the Verdi line, and with a sound that is just a tad short of sublimely gorgeous, but what phrasing! Both of them to the manner born! The Gilda was not remotely in that level. In the first Act she was INAUDIBLE (yes I know it’s one of those catch-all sobriquets that generates heartburn here) but the gorgeous first duet went for nothing, as did Caro Nome, the phrasing pedestrian and great lines choppy and clipped. In the Caro Nome she did the “breathless” thing, heaving on every other word, it got very tiring after a couple of seconds, and maybe she really was breathless. Got a tad better for Tutte la feste and again went into this unsupported piano for the cantabile in the duet. Disappeared in the Vendetta cabaletta. Was much better for the storm scene, but by then it was too late to make much of an impression. In the Bella figlia, the two men were simply breathtaking!!!!!!!!
            The conducting I thought was crisp, beautifully shaped and at a very nice clip! Loved it!

            And now the production……….. The camp and the kitsch it’s at such level that you actually end up accepting it in its own terms, but it is very tiring on the eyes, all that NEON!!!!!! What’s up with the Met, Enchanted Island, Gotterdammerung (Immolation Disco GoGo) and now Rigoletto are all neonfests??????
            In the end the drama was well enough articulated that you kind of settled for it, and accepted it, as a glass of cod oil can be accepted for health reasons, but did I “like” it? No! Maybe more details later…….Oh and did I say that Emalie Savoy was simply STUNNING as Marilyn Monroe/Contessa Ceprano, the daughter of an Arab Sheikh!