Dernesch, Helga (1939—)

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Dernesch, Helga (1939—)

Austrian soprano and mezzo-soprano. Born February 3, 1939, in Vienna, Austria; studied at the Vienna Conservatory (1957–61).

Debuted at the Berne Opera (1961); appeared at Bayreuth (1965–69); debuted at Salzburg (1969), Chicago (1971), Vienna Staatsoper (1972), and Metropolitan (1985).

Helga Dernesch was one of the few singers to have considerable success as a soprano and mezzo-soprano. Yet, her recordings of Brünnhilde and Isolde, show that she would eventually be a mezzo-soprano, as her high notes never had the ease and openness of a true soprano. When Dernesch suffered a vocal breakdown in 1979 during rehearsals for Die Frau ohne Schatten in Hamburg, the conductor Christoph von Dohnanyi advised her to rework her voice in the mezzo-soprano range. This she accomplished in short order. She premiered in the operas of Aribert Reimann: Lear (1978) and Troades (1986). Her background as a Wagnerian singer was helpful in preparing these roles.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia