Born February 2, 1919; died December 10, 2012
The Swiss soprano Lisa Della Casa has died in Münsterlingen, Switzerland; she was 93. Celebrated for her singing in the Mozart-Richard Strauss repertoire, she enjoyed a long career and recorded extensively.
Born to an Italian-Swiss Father and a Bavarian mother, Della Casa studied at the Zurich Conservatoire, making her debut as Madama Butterfly in 1940. She joined the Zurich Municipal Opera House company in 1943 and sang many Mozart roles. It was her encounter with Maria Cebotari when she sang Zdenka to Cebotari’s Arabella in Richard Strauss’s opera that launched her career internationally. Cebotari secured the role of Zdenka for her at the 1947 Salzburg Festival alongside Maria Reining and Hans Hotter. Later that year she made her Vienna State Opera debut as Gilda in Rigoletto and, as a result, joined the House’s ensemble (despite entreaties from Victor de Sabata to move to La Scala). She would sing Sophie (Der Rosenkavalier) and Marceline (Fidelio) in Vienna. She would also take on the role of Oktavian, making her one of the singers to perform all three central female roles in Der Rosenkavalier.
Her UK debut came when she sang the Figaro Countess at Glyndebourne. Munich would hear her first Arabella in 1951 and Bayreuth would witness her Eva in Meistersinger in 1952 (her only appearance there). During the 1950s she would sing at the Met, at Covent Garden and at the Bavarian State Opera.
Roles she essayed during the height of her career included Donna Elvira, the Marschallin (with which she opened the new Festspielhaus in Salzburg in 1960), Ariadne, Chrysothemis, Mimì and Pamina. She sang Salome in Munich in 1961 to general surprise and thereafter took on some more dramatic roles including Desdemona and Tosca.
On disc – mainly for Decca – she recorded Strauss’s Four Last Songs (the work’s first commercial recording), the Figaro Countess (with both Erich Kleiber and Erich Leinsdorf/RCA), the title-role in Arabella (Solti), Fiordiligi (Böhm), Donna Elvira (opposite Cesare Siepi’s Don Giovanni – conducted by both Furtwängler and Mitropoulos), Gluck’s Euridice (Monteux) and the Capriccio Countess (Prêtre on Orfeo). There are also various recital discs recorded live.