16 Feb 2019

Lisa Della Casa (1919-2012)

From Appointment, 7:00 pm on 16 February 2019

“I was always ready to jump in if the star was sick or wasn’t good enough”.

The Swiss soprano was born near Berne in 1919 and studied in Zurich at the Conservatory with the same teacher for eight years. Her early performances in Swiss opera houses included Madama Butterfly, The Magic Flute and Der Rosenkavalier. She was a quick learner and this lead to several debut opportunities when other singers were indisposed.

Lisa Della Casa as Arabella

Lisa Della Casa as Arabella Photo: Lillian Fayer

After WW2 she began to appear more widely, firstly in Salzburg and then Vienna. 

She was a ‘smash hit’ and every opera company wanted her, but she accepted a contract with the Vienna State Opera and remained there for 27 years.  It was a “hotbed of intrigue. On the surface all is sweetness and light, but underneath there are many strange currents.”

Her first roles were Nedda, Butterfly and Mimi (all in the same week) but she made the biggest impression as Gilda in Verdi's Rigoletto.

From 1951, her career became truly international – Glyndeborne, La Scala, Bayreuth, Edinburgh, Salzburg, Covent Garden, Metropolitan, San Francisco, Chicago. Della Casa was one of the few singers to undertake all three principal female roles in Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier – Sophie, Octavian and the Marschallin (in that preferred order).

Her only appearance at Bayreuth was in 1952 as Eva in Wagner's Die Meistersinger. She said she did not like the “stuffy and pretentious” atmosphere there, or the intrigues.

In 1953, she made her Met debut as the Countess in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro and in all she sang 147 performances there until 1968.

The three most frequently performed roles in her complete career were the Countess in Figaro, Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni and the title role in Strauss's Arabella.  She gave about 200 performances of each of these roles.

In 1970, her only daughter Vesna suffered a life-threatening illness and Lisa Della Casa began winding down her career.

Her final public appearance was in Arabella at Vienna Staatsoper in 1973. On the morning of that season’s final performance she asked her husband if she could afford to stop singing. He nodded. They then phoned to cancel her bookings up to three years ahead. On stage, she sang the line “Then I shall leave you, never to see you again”, directly to the audience.

Lisa Della Casa died 2012 at Münsterlingen, Switzerland, aged 93.

Della Casa once said: “The strange thing about a singer’s destiny is that you have to renounce everything for its sake, and then it’s all over in a flash. The imprint we leave is like the snow. Tomorrow it will be gone, and there will be nothing. Yes, a few people will remember, but only for a very short time.”

Music Details:

STRAUSS              Einerlei Op 69/3     EMI 567 678

STRAUSS              Arabella, excerpt    DG 445 342

BEETHOVEN        Fidelio, excerpt      Melodram CDM 26526

STRAUSS              Der Rosenkavalier, excerpt   EMI 567 678

WAGNER              Die Meistersinger, quintet      Musci & Arts MACD 1014

MOZART              Le Nozze di Figaro, Dove Sono            Decca 444 602

STRAUSS              Four Last Songs, Fruhling      Decca 425 959

STRAUSS              Elektra, excerpt      Gala OPD 1190

PUCCINI               Tosca, excerpt        EMI 567 678

STRAUSS              Arabella, excerpt    Decca 460 230



Get the RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes