She was a prima donna who in the course of a long and immensely eventful career repeatedly reinvented herself, starting with her early sensational successes when she was barely thirty. After a series of spectacular débuts at many of the world’s leading opera houses, she suffered a number of crises that she rapidly overcame, before finally going on to explore the fascinating world of character roles. Throughout it all, Leonie Rysanek enjoyed to the full her life in the theatre. The present collection of excerpts from her forty-year association with the Vienna State Opera conveys something of the intensity and multifaceted aspect of that career. The first CD opens with her youthfully impulsive portrait of the figure of Tatyana in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, a portrayal recorded at a performance at the Theater an der Wien in which she was partnered by George London. And it ends with her incomparable character study of the Kostelnicka in Janácek’s Jenufa, an incandescent interpretation of a role that Leonie Rysanek made her own not only in Vienna but elsewhere too in the 1980s, invariably raising the temperature both onstage and in the audience to fever pitch. Between these two extremes, the listener may savour the whole vast range of Rysanek’s repertory: Aida, Tosca (the role that she sang more than any other in Vienna), her championship of Smetana’s undeservedly neglected opera Dalibor, the demonism of Cherubini’s Medea and Wagner’s Ortrud and Kundry and her profoundly affecting Santuzza. The second CD pays tribute to Leonie Rysanek’s attributes as a Straussian and starts with a delightful comparison between three different performances of Die Frau ohne Schatten recorded over a period of three decades, in each of which Leonie Rysanek is heard in her signature role as the Empress.
Foto: Archiv Gausmann(One of the three also features her sister, Lotte, as the Guardian of the Threshold.) Her radiant top notes are also on display in the part of Chrysothemis in Elektra and in Ariadne’s „Es gibt ein Reich“, while the excerpts from the closing scenes of Acts One and Three of Der Rosenkavalier illustrate her warm and penetrating middle register and the parlando qualities of her singing. (These two excerpts were recorded at a guest performance that the Vienna State Opera gave in Moscow under Josef Krips, with Christa Ludwig as Octavian and Hilda de Groote as Sophie.) Our compilation ends with the final scene from Salome under Karl Böhm, allowing listeners to admire another of the model performances in which Leonie Rysanek was able to evince all the afore-mentioned qualities, a performance, moreover, well calculated to keep alive our abiding interest in Leonie Rysanek as an iconic figure on the operatic stage.