Teresa Stich-Randall

After studies at the Gilbert School, Winsted and at the Hartford School of Music with Ivan Velikanoff, Stich-Randall’s first stage appearance was at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, Hartford in 1943, the year in which she entered the Columbia School of Music in New York City. Here she made her formal operatic debut (singing as Teresa Stich—she later told a friend that her hyphenated name did not denote marital status: Randall was a reference to a favourite uncle) creating the role of Henrietta M. in the first performance of Virgil Thomson’s opera The Mother Of Us All in 1947, after which in 1948 she sang the title role in Evangeline by Otto Luening (who had been the conductor of the Thomson opera).

Having been heard by Toscanini, who described her as ‘the find of the century’, Stich-Randall was engaged by him to sing with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Consequently she took part in his now legendary performances and recordings of Aida (Priestess, 1949) and Falstaff (Nanetta, 1950). Awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study in Europe, in 1951 she won the Lausanne Singing Competition and created a sensation when she sang the Mermaid / Oberon in the Boboli Gardens, Florence while swimming in a vast tank of water. (Her prowess as a swimmer gave her great breath-control, a useful characteristic noted by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.) She was a member of the Basle Opera for the 1951–1952 season.

After making her debut in 1952 as Violettta / La traviata at the Vienna State Opera, with which she was to sing for many years, Stich-Randall quickly attracted international attention. Between 1952 and 1960 she sang regularly in concert at the Salzburg Festival, where she participated in the first performance of Frank Martin’s Le Mystère de la Nativité. At the Aix-en-Provence Festival, where she sang until 1971, she first appeared in 1953; her roles there included Fiordiligi / Così fan tutte, the Countess / Le nozze di Figaro, Konstanze / Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Donna Anna / Don Giovanni, Pamina / Die Zauberflöte and Ilia / Idomeneo. Stich-Randall became an especial favourite with French audiences in Baroque music as well as in Mozart and she similarly enjoyed great success in Italy, appearing at La Scala (Milan), the San Carlo (Naples), the Carlo Felice (Genoa), the Teatro Reggio (Turin) and the Florence Maggio Musicale, as well as frequently broadcasting for the Italian radio organisation, RAI.

She returned to America in 1955 to appear with the Lyric Opera of Chicago as Gilda in a fabulously-cast production of Rigoletto, singing opposite Tito Gobbi and Jussi Björling. The following year she undertook Sophie in Herbert von Karajan’s EMI recording of Der Rosenkavalier, later also singing another Richard Strauss role, the title part in Ariadne auf Naxos. She first sang at the Metropolitan Opera, New York in 1961 as Fiordiligi, returning in 1963 and 1966 to sing Donna Anna.

The first American to be honoured as a Kammersängerin (Chamber Singer) by the Vienna State Opera (in 1962), Stich-Randall settled in Vienna, where she was well-known for driving a red Alfa Romeo sports car known as the ‘Red Devil’, and gave master-classes internationally. Her final operatic stage appearance was in the title role of Norma, at Trier in 1971.

Stich-Randall sang with a light tone and very little, if any, vibrato. This gave her voice an extremely pure character, thus anticipating many later period-performance vocalists. She made many recordings of both opera and concert works and was probably the first American singer whose reputation was greater abroad than in her home country.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).