Opera Scotland

Galina Vishnevskaya Suggest updates

Galina Pavlovna Ivanova.

Born Leningrad, 25 October 1926.

Died Moscow, 11 December 2012.

Russian soprano.

Galina Vishnevskaya had a hugely important career in opera and concert, being leading soprano of the Bolshoi for many years. In conjunction with her third husband, the great cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, she also had an important role as a prominent political dissident during the last years of the Soviet Union.

Vishnevskaya (Vishnevsky being the name of her first husband) began singing professionally at the age of eighteen with the Leningrad Light Opera Company. She then studied under Vera Garina, and joined the Bolshoi in 1952. She was always noted for her interpretation of Tatyana, and her 1955 recording remains in most respects the ideal interpretation. Her other roles from the Russian repertoire included Lisa in The Queen of Spades, Marina in Boris Godunov, Natasha in War and Peace, and the title role of Katerina in both versions of Shostakovich's opera, the politically acceptable Katerina Ismailova and later on, its banned original version, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Non-Russian parts for which she was a noted interpreter included Verdi (Violetta, Aïda) and Puccini (Cio-Cio-San, Tosca, Liù), but she sang most of the repertoire, including Mozart and Beethoven, with equal distinction.

Vishnevskaya first appeared in Britain at a London concert in 1959 and she and Rostropovich (who had married her in 1955) gave a recital at Aldeburgh in 1961. The following year, Britten composed for her the solo soprano role in his War Requiem, and a cycle of Pushkin verse, The Poet's Echo, followed in 1965. The Soviet authorities refused to let her sing in the first performance of the Requiem in Coventry Cathedral, though she recorded it the following year.

She sang at several Edinburgh Festivals, in recitals with her husband, orchestral concerts, and finally, in 1976, as Lady Macbeth in David Pountney's staging of Macbeth for Scottish Opera. Her first appearance, in 1961, was in the Missa Solemnis for the opening concert, and there was a memorable performance of the War Requiem, during the Briitten year (1968), when she at last sang it as intended, with Peter Pears and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, under Carlo Maria Giulini. At the 1975 Festival she sang the Shostakovich orchestration of Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death, conducted by Rostropovich, and Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky cantata under Abbado. Shostakovich had composed several works for her as well as for her husband.

Her appearances at Covent Garden began with Aïda in 1962 and ended with Tosca in 1978. She sang many parts at the New York Met. She and her husband emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1974, and only had citizenship restored by Gorbachev in 1990. During the years of exile Rostropovich had worked extensively with orchestras in Paris and Washington, as well as London and other centres.


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