Rysanek, Leonie (1926–1998)

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Rysanek, Leonie (1926–1998)

Austrian soprano. Born on November 14, 1926, in Vienna, Austria; died of bone cancer on March 7, 1998, in Austria; studied with Alfred Jerger, Rudolf Grossman, and Clothide Radony von Ottean at the Vienna Conservatory; married E.L. Gaussmann (a musicologist).

Made debut in Innsbruck (1949); sang in the first postwar Bayreuth Festival (1951); debuted at Covent Garden (1953), Vienna State Opera (1954); made American debut in San Francisco (1956); debuted at Metropolitan Opera (1959); celebrated her 25th anniversary at a Metropolitan Opera Gala (1984); gave last performance at the Met (1996).

Leonie Rysanek found fame at age 24 when she appeared as Sieglinde in Wagner's Die Walkuere at the first postwar Bayreuth festival. Over the next 40-odd years she would appear on major international opera stages over 2,100 times, in the process gaining an ardent following and a reputation as a consummate singer as well as a passionate actress. Unlike some singers whose voices deteriorate with the years, hers actually grew stronger, and she made many recordings which document her evolution as a singer and artist. Rysanek appeared widely throughout Europe, including performances in Vienna, Milan, Hamburg, Berlin, Paris, and Munich, but found her home on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City in 1959, while performing as Verdi's Lady Macbeth. She sang at the Met to great success for the next 25 years, performing 20 roles in a total of 298 performances. At one of these, a performance of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, the audience was so enthralled by her portrayal of Senta that applause lasted throughout the intermission, ending only when the conductor lifted the baton to begin Act 3. In 1984, Rysanek was honored by a Gala celebrating a quarter of a century on the stage of the great house; in January 1996, as she gave her final performance there (at age 70), she received a 20-minute standing ovation. An honorary member of the Vienna State Opera, Rysanek was fêted in her homeland of Austria as well, where she was one of the country's most well-known women. She remained active until only a few months before her death from bone cancer in March 1998.


The Day [New London, CT]. March 9, 1998.

The New York Daily News. March 9, 1998.

Time. March 23, 1998, p. 39.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia

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