Stratas was one of the controversial stars of the latter half of the twentieth century, and one whose personality and life, like that of Callas, another great soprano of Greek descent, are inextricably linked with her performances in the minds of many members of the public. Also like Callas, she had a special magnetism as a performer, due to her dramatic intensity and exceptional physical beauty. Her top range became weak during her middle and late career and she lost some focus in the middle of her voice, which sometimes caused her to force. However, her performances on stage and on film were so riveting that most were willing to forgive those vocal flaws, and even her habit of canceling, usually due to nerves.
Opera, Blood, and Tears
The Life You Give: Teresa Stratas
in celebration of her life in music
May 26 at 7:30pm EST
Synopsis for La Bohème (Puccini)
She grew up in Toronto and began singing in nightclubs and in her father’s restaurant when she was 12. Encouraged by her successes, including radio performances, and after being given a free ticket to La Traviata, an experience which she said overwhelmed her with the concept of what the human voice can do, she auditioned for the Opera School at the Royal College of Music in Toronto in 1954. She had never studied voice, knew opera only from that one performance, and brought Smoke Gets in Your Eyes as her audition piece, but her personality and potential talent were so impressive that she was admitted, and was such a quick learner that she made her debut with the Canadian Opera as Mimì in 1958, and won the Metropolitan Opera Auditions of the Air the next year, making her debut as Pousette in Manon the next year. In 1960, she created the title role of Glanville-Hicks’ Nausicaa at the Athens Festival. Her Covent Garden debut was again as Mimì in 1961, and in 1962, she made her La Scala debut as Isabella in de Falla’s Atlantida. In 1974, she came to international fame with her appearance as Salome on a television production of Salome, considered one of the very few singers in living memory who could convincingly portray Salome’s transformation from naive teenager to depraved woman. In 1979, she sang the title role of the first performance of the three-act version of Berg’s Lulu at the Paris Opera.
In the 1980s, she almost completely withdrew from the operatic stage, though she made notable recordings of Weill songs, and appeared in films of La Traviata and Amahl and the Night Visitors. She also explored Broadway, earning a Tony nomination for best actress for her performance in Rags in 1986, and recording Julie in Showboat. In 1981, she backpacked through India, where among other activities, she volunteered for Mother Teresa’s projects in the poorest areas of the cities. In 1988, she returned to the Met to create the role of Marie Antoinette in Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles.
By Anne Feeney / Source: all music
Stratas was born Anastasia Stratakis to a struggling immigrant Greek family in Toronto, Ontario. At age 13, she performed Greek pop songs on the radio. She graduated from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. At age 20, Stratas made her professional opera debut as Mimì in La bohème at the Toronto Opera Festival. One year later in 1959, she co-won the Metropolitan Opera auditions, appearing later that year with the company as Poussette in Manon. She created the title role in Peggy Glanville-Hicks’ Nausicaa at the Herod Atticus Theatre in Athens in 1961, made her Covent Garden debut as Mimì that same year and in 1962, she made her La Scala debut as Isabella in Manuel de Falla’s L’Atlántida. She continued her career with the Metropolitan Opera, moved into leading roles and performed with leading opera houses around the world, including the Bolshoi, Vienna State, Berlin, Bavarian State (Munich), Paris and San Francisco Operas as well as the Salzburg Festival.
Her repertoire also included Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Despina in Così fan tutte, Cherubino and Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro, Liù in Turandot, Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly, Micaëla in Carmen, Marguerite in Faust, the title role in La Périchole, Gretel in Hansel and Gretel, Lisa in The Queen of Spades, The Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos, Antonia in Les contes d’Hoffmann, Mélisande in Pelléas et Mélisande, Marenka in The Bartered Bride, Desdemona in Otello, Mme Lidoine in Dialogues des Carmélites, the title roles of Salome and Lulu, Jenny Smith in Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (directed by John Dexter) and Maria Antoinette in John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles. She is regarded as one of the foremost singing actresses of the Twentieth Century.
Among her career highlights was the creation of the role of Sardulla in the US premiere of Menotti’s The Last Savage (Met, 1964). In 1974, she made a film (directed by Götz Friedrich) of Strauss’ Salome with the Vienna Philharmonic under Karl Böhm. Pierre Boulez chose her to sing the title role in the first performance of the completed version of Alban Berg’s Lulu (Paris, 1979). On 26 September 1989, she sang all three soprano roles in Puccini’s Trittico, Giorgetta in Il tabarro, Angelica in Suor Angelica and Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi (Met). She created the role of Marie Antoinette in the premiere of John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles (Met, 1991). At the opening night of the Met’s 1994 season, she sang Nedda in Pagliacci opposite Luciano Pavarotti and Giorgetta in Il tabarro opposite Plácido Domingo.
Over the course of her thirty-six year career at the Metropolitan Opera, she appeared in 385 performances of 41 different roles. Her most frequently performed roles at the house include Liu in Turandot (27 performances between 1961 and 1995), Nedda in Pagliacci (27 performances between 1963 and 1994) and Mimì in La bohème (26 performances between 1962 and 1982). Her final performance with the company was on December 9, 1995, as Jenny in The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. She was engaged to sing Marenka in a revival of The Bartered Bride during the 1996-97 season, but withdrew from all of the performances prior to opening night, and subsequently never returned to the house again.
Whilst rehearsing for Mahagonny in 1979, Stratas met Kurt Weill’s widow, Lotte Lenya. Lenya gave her the scores of previously unpublished Weill songs, some of which Stratas later recorded on two albums, The Unknown Kurt Weill and Stratas Sings Weill.
She also starred in several film adaptations of operas, including Amahl and the Night Visitors (1978), Pagliacci (1982) and La traviata (1983).
In the 1980s Stratas travelled to Calcutta and worked with Blessed Mother Teresa in an orphanage and at the Kalighat Home for the Dying. In the 1990s she again took time from her career to move into a Romanian hospital to clean cots and wash and care for the sick and dying orphans.
On September 25, 2008, Teresa Stratas returned to New York for an interview with the Metropolitan Opera Guild, her first public appearance in over a decade.
Source: last fm