LISA DELLA CASA

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LISA DELLA CASA

Mesaj  Admin Bir Paz Kas. 28, 2010 3:18 pm

Lisa Della Casa (born 2 February 1919), Swiss soprano, was most admired for her interpretations of major heroines in major operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Richard Strauss, of German lieder, and for her great beauty. She was dubbed “the most beautiful woman on the operatic stage.” Colleague lyric soprano, the late Anneliese Rothenberger said: "She was like Liz Taylor!" ("Sie war wie die Liz Taylor!") For costume artist and set designer Rolf Gerard della Casa was quite simply: “perhaps the greatest and noblest of prima donnas, with one of the most beautiful voices and certainly the most beautiful person.” ("Sie war vielleicht die gröste und nobelste Prima Donna...und, bestimmt, der schönster Mensch.") (See Bibliography: "Lisa della Casa: Liebe einer Diva, Porträt der Sopranistin", German documentary film by Thomas Voigt and Wolfgang Wunderlich, producers Bavaria Media GmbH, BBC Motion Gallery, Sony BMG Music (Germany) GmbH, Wunderlich Medien GbR, United GmbH & Co. KG, Privatarchiv Lisa Della Casa, 2008.)

Born to an Italian-Swiss father Francesco della Casa (an ophthalmologist and theatre man) and Bavarian-born mother, Margarete Mueller, (restauranter) in Burgdorf, Switzerland, she studied singing, beginning at age 15, under Margarete Haeser at Zurich Conservatory and made her operatic debut as the title role in Puccini's Madama Butterfly at Solothurn-Biel Municipal Theater in 1940. She joined the ensemble of Zurich Municipal Opera House in 1943 (staying there until 1950) and sang various parts, from the Queen of the Night in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte to Dorabella in Così fan tutte. Later, she would of course sing Fiordiligi. After a first marriage to a man who did not share her passion for music, she married, in 1949, Yugoslavian-born journalist and violinist Dragan Debeljevic, with whom she had a daughter, Vesna Debeljevic. (See: Margrit Roth in "Lisa della Casa: Liebe einer Diva, Porträt der Sopranistin", German documentary film, 2008.)

Della Casa sang the part of Zdenka in the performance of Richard Strauss' Arabella at Zurich Municipal Opera House to her revered soprano Maria Cebotari's Arabella in 1946. Cebotari recognized her talent and introduced her at the Salzburg Festival in 1947, where she sang Zdenka again in Arabella - starring Maria Reining and Hans Hotter. After the premiere performance, Richard Strauss himself commented, "The little Della Casa will one day be Arabella!" e.g., "Die Kleine Della Casa wird eines Tages Arabella sein!", which prediction was so true that she has identified herself and been identified by others with this role ever since her debut in the title role. (See Bibliography: Debeljevic, Dragan, Ein Leben mit LISA DELLA CASA oder "In dem Schatten ihrer Locken", Atlantis Musikbuch-Verlag Zürich, 1975, ISBN 3 7611 0474 X, p. 30.) In the same year, she made her debut at the Vienna State Opera House, singing Gilda in Verdi's Rigoletto. Soon she moved to Vienna and joined the ensemble of the Vienna State Opera House. In 1949, she made her debut at La Scala Opera House in Milan as Sophie in Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier and Marcelline in Beethoven's Fidelio. Victor de Sabata, the musical director of La Scala at that time, tried to persuade her to move to La Scala, but she chose to remain in Vienna.

Della Casa made her British debut singing the part of Countess Almaviva in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Glyndebourne Festival. It was at this festival, during a crisis involving Fritz Busch, that someone asked what her husband, who always accompanied her, did in life, and she replied matter-of-factly: "He loves me" e.g. "Er liebt mich." This story, according to her husband, made the tour of the world and followed della Casa to the end of her career. She then went on to sing the title role in Arabella (her signature role) for the first time in her life - at the Bavarian State Opera House in Munich in 1951. She sang Eva with pleasure in Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the Bayreuth Festival in 1952, but she was never to sing the Bayreuth Festival again, preferring the summer Salzburg Festival.(See: "Lisa della Casa: Liebe einer Diva, Porträt der Sopranistin", German documentary film, 2008.)

It might be said that she made three key debuts in her career:

1.When she sang the part of Arabella in the Bavarian State Opera Company's performances at Covent Garden.
2.When singing the part of Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier for the first time, at the Salzburg Festival.
3.Her debut at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York (the Met) at the age of 33 in the role of the Countess Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro. (She sang at the Met regularly until 1968.)
In 1955, she sang the part of the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier for the first time; it was a performance to celebrate the opening of the restored Vienna State Opera House. As a result, she had sung all three parts - the Marschallin, Octavian, Sophie - in Der Rosenkavalier.

The Salzburg Festival was one of the most important venues in her career. She sang Ariadne in Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos and Donna Elvira in Mozart's Don Giovanni in 1954, (once again) Donna Elvira in 1956, Chrysotemis in Richard Strauss's Elektra and Countess Almaviva in 1957 (she also gave a recital at the Festival in the same year), Arabella in 1958. Colleague Inge Borkh stated emphatically: "She was THE Arabella!" e.g., "Sie war DIE Arabella!" (See: "Lisa della Casa: Liebe einer Diva, Porträt der Sopranistin”, German documentary film, 2008.)

Della Casa sang Pamina in Die Zauberflöte in 1959, another performance she subsequently recorded. On 26 July 1960, the newly-built Salzburg Festspielhaus opened with a performance of Der Rosenkavalier under Herbert von Karajan. Della Casa sang the part of the Marschallin in this performance with Sena Jurinac as Octavian and Hilde Gueden as Sophie. Originally, Karajan and film director Paul Czinner planned to make a film of the performance, they asked Della Casa to sing the part of the Marschallin in the film too and she gladly accepted. But by the intercept of Walter Legge, well-known recording producer of EMI and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s husband, Della Casa was replaced by Schwarzkopf in the single performance for the film. Shocked with being betrayed by this last-minute decision, although she sang the scheduled performances of the season(the Marschallin and Countess Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro, Della Casa decided never to sing there again. When asked several times subsequently to do so, she declined, replying: "No, Sir, for me, Salzburg is dead”. e.g., “No, sir, Salzburg für mich ist gestorben.” See: ("Lisa della Casa: Liebe einer Diva, Porträt der Sopranistin”, German documentary film, 2008.)

She surprised her audiences by singing the title role in Salome at the Bavarian State Opera House in Munich in 1961. Colleague and the Elekra of her time, Inge Borkh said that della Casa was “very sexy,... because she did not seek to be so." e.g., “Sie war sehr sexy... unbewusst!” (See: Interview of Inge Borkh in "Lisa della Casa: Liebe einer Diva, Porträt der Sopranistin”, German documentary film, 2008.) From the time of this performance onwards, she took on a few more dramatic parts in Italian operas, succeeding notably as Desdemona in Verdi's Otello and the title role in Puccini's Tosca, but finally returned to lyric parts in Mozart and Richard Strauss operas. In 1964, when the above-mentioned German soprano (now both her colleague and rival at the Vienna State Opera House) Elisabeth Schwarzkopf made her debut at the Met as the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, Della Casa sang Octavian to her Marschallin. Anneliese Rothenberger and Rolf Gerard attested that contrary to Bing's and the public’s desire for scandal, there showed no hard feelings between the two sopranos during this period. Gerard who was working at the time with famous Met director Rudolph Bing called the latter a “publicity genius". (See: Interview of Lisa Della Casa with Heinz Fischer-Karwin, ORF TV, 1967.)

In the mid-1960s, the 'Kammersängerin's' taste for the operatic stage began to decline and she gave fewer performances. As film excerpts show, her singing was still functioning at its best. However, in 1970, her daughter Vesna, then 20, suffered an aneurysm. Della Casa valiantly kept to her engagements, notably in Handel’s Agrippina in Zurich. Vesna, between life and death, had to be operated on immediately. She survived the operation, but there were complications. She begged her mother to continue singing, as it made her feel healthier, but Della Casa devoted more and more time to her daughter’s recovery, even buying a house in Spain where the family could gather undisturbed most of the year, and gave fewer and fewer performances until finally, in 1973, she sang the long-expected Arabella at the Salzburg Festival. It was after this performance, that she shocked opera lovers the world over by announcing that it was to be her last, and she subsequently retired. She was then considered to be at the height of her career and left her fans jaw-slung open: "no explanations, no comeback, no masterclasses, no interviews, no private recitals". Vesna spoke movingly of her mother’s “unceasing, limitless love” e.g., "...eine Liebe ohne Ende," towards her during this very difficult period. (See: Interviews with both husband Dragan Debeljevic and daughter Vesna Debeljevic in "Lisa della Casa: Liebe einer Diva, Porträt der Sopranistin”, German documentary film, 2008.)

And it wasn’t to be the last. Quite a few years later—perhaps a result of the shock at having almost lost her only child, then her sudden retirement from a profession chosen for her by her father originally but which, according to della Casa, became, “Gott sei Dank” a prevailing passion for her—she herself suffered a kind of stroke, but recovered from it after four years. (See interviews with brother, Dr Franz Della Casa and Prof Dr Martin Krause, Kantonsspital Muensterlingen, 2007.) Her daughter Vesna expressed her happiness at being able to repay her mother some of the loving care that she had herself received after her aneurysm. Of the career she'd quit from one day to the next, her husband Dragan put it very succinctly: “She lived her private life. Onstage, she didn’t live, she worked.” Yet her daughter attested that her mother “ had never acted her roles, she had lived them.” e.g., "Sie spielte nie ihre Rolle auf der Bühne, sie wohnte sie." (See: "Lisa della Casa: Liebe einer Diva, Porträt der Sopranistin”, German documentary film, 2008.)

Della Casa's deceptively delicate-sounding, silvery-toned lyric voice (to be compared with Anneliese Rothenberger's lighter soprano) ideally fit the heroines of Mozart and Strauss operas. Some commentators have claimed that although she lacked the brilliant vocal technique of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, it was the naturalness in her singing that gave her performances so much charm. Others have argued that she was the greatest (coloratura) Mozartian and Straussian soprano of her day. (See Andre Tuboeuf, "Le Festival de Salzbourg", June,1989, pgs 132-33.) Having acted in several films, the earliest recorded document of her singing, at the age of 20, reveals that her talent was already all there—beauty of tone, control of the voice (breathing, placement), the inimitable phrasing, the unassuming yet unerring knowhow, all that made her famous. (See: "Lisa della Casa: Liebe einer Diva, Porträt der Sopranistin”, German documentary film, 2008.)

Lisa Della Casa was a critical and reflective person, admitting that she did not like the "music business" with its intrigues and vanities. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau said of her that after hearing a performance he was astonished and wanted to congratulate her, but she was still so involved in her role that she never heard his compliments. She also smoked during her career and smokes today, with defiance: "Why not?" e.g., "Warum nicht?" In a much earlier BBC television interview conducted in English (BBC, 1963) when the soprano was in mid-career, she was asked if smoking were not bad for her health. Smilingly she replied: "You know, while in Vienna, i went to a special singers' doctor and asked him...., and he answered....'it is the singing which is more dangerous than the smoking,' and I smoke longer than I sing." (See: "Lisa della Casa: Liebe einer Diva, Porträt der Sopranistin”, German documentary film, 2008.)

She has left several complete opera recordings mainly for the Decca label: her interpretations of Countess Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro (Erich Kleiber) and the title role in Arabella (Georg Solti) are still regarded as amongst the finest ever recorded. She made the first commercial recording of Richard Strauss' Vier letzte Lieder (Karl Böhm) in 1953 for Decca, and many classical music lovers claim this recording to be the greatest available. Her Elvira sung to perhaps the greatest Don Giovanni of his time, Cesari Siepi, is available both on CD and DVD. (See: Mozart - Don Giovanni, Furtwängler, with Siepi, Grümmer, Dermota, Edelmann, Berry, Berger, DGG, 1954.) She also recorded a memorable Countess under the direction of Erich Leinsdorf during her years at the Met, starring the bass-baritone Georgio Tozzi in the title role and others of the Met’s top Mozart interpreters of that period, along with Pamina in Die Zauberflöte Mahler’s Fourth Symphony (Fritz Reiner), Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben, The Merry Widow (highlights) in English seconded by one of the great Don Giovannis of the time, Eberhard Waechter,as well as other lieder albums, most of which are available today.

As an interpreter of lieder, she often performed with the German pianist Sebastian Peschko and Hungarian Arpad Sandor. She also made several appearances in the acclaimed US television edition of the Bell Telephone Hour and appeared regularly on Swiss television, giving interviews and performances, as well as participating in game shows. (See Bibliography.)

In October 2007 and November 2008, Lisa della Casa, members of her family (her husband, Dragan Debeljevic, daughter, Vesna Debeljevic, brother, Dr Franz Della Casa and cousin, Margrit Roth) and colleagues (Inge Borkh, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Anneliese Rothenberger, Rolf Gerard...) agreed to being interviewed as part of a German documentary film by Thomas Voigt and Wolfgang Wunderlich on the soprano’s life and career. She was approaching 90. This film was last shown 5 April 2010 on the German television channel 3SAT and has ample footage of della Casa's career, as well as rare television footage. Best of all perhaps is Della Casa herself, very alive, even feisty, still a warm radiant ray of sun in the winter of her days. (See: "Lisa della Casa: Liebe einer Diva, Porträt der Sopranistin”, German documentary film, 2008.)

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