Lisa Della Casa (1955-1971)
No singer at the Vienna State Opera or elsewhere has been as closely associated with the title role in Strauss’s Arabella as Lisa Della Casa, who celebrates her 90th birthday on 2 February 2009, and yet we should be guilty of doing the Swiss soprano a grave disservice by reducing her repertory to this one role alone. This point is well illustrated by an impressive portrait of the singer that is released as part of Orfeo’s series “Wiener Staatsoper live”. Lisa Della Casa took part in the opening performances in the rebuilt house on the Ring in 1955, a bundle of nervous energy as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni under Karl Böhm. Her Don Ottavio on that occasion was that supreme Mozart stylist Anton Dermota. With the silvery gleam of her soprano and her crystalline high notes, she was also a natural choice as Eva in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, a role she had already sung at the Bayreuth Festival and the Metropolitan Opera in New York. An excerpt from the present CD, in which she is heard alongside Otto Wiener and Wolfgang Windgassen, demonstrates that even in repertory performances in Vienna she was capable of raising standards to those worthy of an international festival whenever she appeared with other world-class singers. The same is true of the Countess’s closing scene from Strauss’s Capriccio under Georges Prêtre and of the scene from Arabella in which her sister, Zdenka, is played by Anneliese Rothenberger in an inspired piece of casting. The conductor in this excerpt is Joseph Keilberth. As Lucile in Gottfried von Einem’s Dantons Tod, heard here in a performance under Josef Krips in 1967, she proved a worthy successor to Maria Cebotari, who at the start of Della Casa’s career had recommended her younger colleague for more challenging roles. Gottfried von Einem’s opera by no means marked a new direction in the singer’s career: far from taking on character roles in the later stages of her career, she was still singing lyric soprano roles until shortly before she retired from the stage. Here she is heard in excerpts from Mozart’s Idomeneo recorded in 1971. Although her soprano voice had acquired a more dramatic edge by then, the role she performed in the opera was not Elettra, as might have been expected, but the more lyrical Ilia, featured here in the character’s opening aria and the rarely performed alternative duet from Act Three, “Spiegarti non poss’io”, in which she is partnered by Werner Krenn as Idamante. Once again the listener can admire Lisa Della Casa’s unique voice, with its distinctive simplicity and even phrasing.