“Few people know her as yet, but soon she will be very famous. She is fabulous!” Herbert von Karajan in 1975
The German dramatic soprano Hildegard Behrens died on August 18 while in Japan to perform and give masterclasses at the Kusatsu International Music Academy and Festival. She was 72.
Behrens was a celebrated Brünnhilde, Elektra and Salome. She studied law in Freiburg before turning her attentions to singing, and transferred to the Freiburg Academy of Music where she worked with Ines Leuwen. She made her operatic debut in Freiburg, appearing as the Countess in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro in 1971; soon after she joined the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf. It was there, while rehearsing Wozzeck, that she was heard by Herbert von Karajan who, at the time, was casting a production of Richard Strauss’s Salome. She appeared as Salome under Karajan at the 1977 Salzburg Festival and the subsequent EMI recording remains one of Karajan’s and Behrens’s most successful. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1976 as Giorgetta in Puccini’s Il tabarro.
She took Brünnhilde into her repertoire singing in at the Met, the Bavarian State Opera, the Vienna State Opera and the Deutsche Oper in Berlin (her performance of the role is available on disc under Sawallish for EMI and under Levine for DG. She also sang Isolde (and recorded the role with Bernstein). Her extensive audio discography includes Leonore (live under Böhm for Orfeo and with Solti for Decca), Marie in Wozzeck (Abbado for DG), Elektra (under Layer for Naïve and Ozawa for Philips) and she also recorded the Dyer’s Wife on Solti’s Gramophone Award-winning set of Richard Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten.
Behrens’s video catalogue is extensive and includes Brünnhilde (Met and Bavarian State Opera), Tosca (Met), Elettra in Idomeneo (Met), Elektra (Met) and Marie in Wozzeck (Vienna State Opera).