Stratas, Teresa

Teresa (b Anastasia) Stratas (b Stratakis). Soprano, b Toronto 26 May 1938; Artist Diploma (Toronto) 1959, honorary LL D (McMaster) 1986, honorary LL D (Toronto) 1994, honorary LL D (Eastman) 1998, honorary D LITT (York) 2000. The youngest of three children of Greek immigrant restaurateurs in Toronto and later in Oshawa, she began voice lessons at 12 and made her radio debut singing Greek pop songs at 13. After high school she became a secretary while harbouring ambitions to become a nightclub singer. She studied 1954-8 at the RCMT with Irene Jessner, the final three years on scholarship, and received the 1959 Eaton Graduating Scholarship. She was cast by Herman Geiger-Torel as Nora in a 1958 production of Vaughan Williams' Riders to the Sea at Hart House and made her debut in professional opera 13 Oct 1958 to great acclaim as Mimi in La Bohème with the Toronto Opera Festival (COC). Co-winner of the 1959 Metropolitan Opera Auditions, she made her debut with the Metropolitan in October 1959 as Poussette in Manon. She also appeared with the TSO in 1959. At the 1960 Vancouver International Festival she sang Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly, a performance broadcast 22 Jul 1960 by the CBC. She created the title role in Peggy Glanville-Hicks' Nausicaa at the Herod Atticus Theatre in Athens in 1961 and made her Covent Garden debut as Mimi that same year.

At the Metropolitan Stratas moved quickly into major roles, first as a replacement for Lucine Amara as Liù in Turandot, then as Micaëla in Carmen. In 1962 she sang Cio-Cio-San with the COC, toured the USSR in recital, and created Queen Isabella in the premiere (posthumous) of Manuel de Falla's Atlántida, which also was her debut at La Scala, Milan. While continuing to perform with the Metropolitan she sang with the Bolshoi, Vienna State, Berlin, Bavarian State (Munich), and San Francisco operas. Her Metropolitan repertoire included Mimi, Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Liù, Micaëla, Nedda in I Pagliacci, Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro, Marguerite in Faust, the title role in La Périchole, Gretel in Hansel and Gretel, Lisa in The Queen of Spades, Sardulla in the US premiere of Menotti's The Last Savage, Mélisande in Pelléas et Mélisande, Marenka in The Bartered Bride, and Jenny in Mahagonny. She also sang Violetta in La Traviata at Munich, Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro and Despina in Così fan tutte at the Salzburg Festival and the Paris Opera, and Desdemona in Otello at Expo 67. She took the leading roles in Norman Campbell's 1972 CBC TV production of Puccini's La Rondine and in the 1974 film of Strauss' Salome with the Vienna Philharmonic under Karl Böhm. She was chosen by the conductor Pierre Boulez to sing the title role in the first performance - Paris Opera, 28 May 1979 - of the completed version of Alban Berg's Lulu(the unfinished portion of the third act was scored by the Austrian composer Friedrich Cerha). Opera Canada, in a 1999 list of best opera discs, called this 'the performance of her career.' She was Violetta in the 1983 Zefirelli film of La Traviata, whose soundtrack recording won a Grammy award that same year. After an eight-year self-imposed exile from the Metropolitan, she sang in Puccini's Il Trittico (Il Tabarro, Suor Angelica, and Gianni Schicchi) in 1989, and created the role of Marie Antoinette in the premiere of John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles in 1991. In 1987 Stratas made her Broadway debut in the short-lived Broadway musical Rags. Although the show was not a success, Drama Desk, (the association of New York drama critics, writers, and performers) named her best actress in its 1987 awards ceremony, and she was nominated for a Tony award in the same category.

During the rehearsals for Mahagonny in 1979, Stratas met Lotte Lenya, widow of the composer Kurt Weill and creator of the role of Jenny. Lenya gave Stratas the scores of previously unpublished Weill songs, some of which Stratas later recorded on two albums, The Unknown Kurt Weill and Stratas Sings Weill. Later, she sang on the recording September Songs: The Music of Kurt Weill (Sony Classical 1997), and appeared in the CBC documentary film co-production of the same name (directed by Larry Weinstein), which won an International Emmy in 1996 and a Gemini in 1997.

Stratas possessed a lyric soprano, smooth and rich throughout its range. Her singing was allied to a strong stage personality and an instinctive and communicative dramatic sense. She was endowed with a delicate sense of comedy, but she yielded most completely to those roles demanding direct emotional expression. Reviewing the Metropolitan Opera telecast of Mahagonny, Andrew Porter wrote: 'Close up, the intelligence, subtlety and precision that distinguish Teresa Stratas's Jenny were even more apparent. She is an arresting artist. One began to regret every moment the cameras left her - when, for example, she moved into the refrain of "Benares" and her eyes and mouth caught to perfection the "Wouldn't it be wonderful if ... and yet I know it can't be" expression of Weill's music. The opera took life from her' (New Yorker, 24 Dec 1979).

A compassionate and dedicated person, Stratas temporarily abandoned the opera stage in 1981 to travel alone in India, then worked in Calcutta with Mother Teresa, helping the terminally ill. Later she nursed Lotte Lenya through her final illness, then nursed her father, subsequently becoming ill herself. She began to perform and record again in the early 1990s, including the role of Anna with the Lyon Opera in the 1993 video of Weill's The Seven Deadly Sins, and was cast by the Met in Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites and Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos in 1994. She sang both soprano leading roles in the Met's double-bill of Pagliacci and Il Tabarro. Scheduled to appear in The Bartered Bride there in 1996, she withdrew. She again absented herself in order to work with Romanian orphans. In 1997 she won a Gemini (best supporting actress) for the role of the mother in the television motion picture Under the Piano, opposite Megan Follows. From 1998, Stratas adjudicated the Lotte Lenya Competition for Singers at the Eastman School of Music. Stratas had surgery in 1998, experienced difficulties performing, and later sued the hospital.

Stratas became an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1972, and the Canadian Music Council named her artist of the year in 1980. She received the Governor General's Performing Arts Award in 2000, and was honoured by the American Immigration Law Foundation and the National Association of Teachers of Singing; her star was added to Canada's Walk of Fame in 2001.

Writings

'Thoughts on the day of a performance,' Fugue, Mar 1979

Discography

Berg Lulu. Paris Opera O, Boulez conductor. 1979. 4-DG 2711-024/4-DG 2740-213/3-DG 415-489-2 (CD)

Glanville-Hicks Nausicaa. Athens SO and Chorus, Surinach conductor. 1961. CRI 175

Kern Showboat. Ambrosian Chorus, London Sinfonietta, McGlinn conductor, Stratas (Julie). 1987. 3-EMI Angel A1-49108/3-EMI CDS-7-49108-2 (CD)/(highlights) EMI CDC-7-49847-2 (CD)

Lehár The Merry Widow. Berlin Phil O, Karajan conductor, Chorus of the 'Deutsche Oper Berlin,' Hagen-Kroll conductor, Stratas (Valencienne). (1973). 2-DG 2707-070/(highlights) DG 2530-729/DG 415-524-2 (CD)

- Paganini, soundtrack. Kurt Graunke SO and Chor, Ebert conductor. (1975). Philips 6449-083/Philips 420-664-2 (CD)/('Liebe, du Himmel auf Erden') Philips 420-667-2 (CD)

- Der Zarewitsch, soundtrack. Kurt Graunke SO and Chor, Ebert conductor. (1975). Philips 420-664-2 (CD)

Leoncavallo Pagliacci, soundtrack. La Scala O and Chor, Prêtre conductor. 1983. 2-Philips 411-484-1

Mozart Così fan tutte. Strasbourg Phil, Lombard conductor, Stratas (Despina). 1977. 3-RCA FRL-3-2629/3-Erato STU-71110/3-Mus H Soc MHS-3875-7

- The Marriage of Figaro. Mehta conductor. 1968. 3-Legendary LR-206

Puccini La Bohème 'Mi chiamano Mimi'. Erde conductor. 1975. Legendary LR-103

- La Bohème. San Francisco Opera O. (1987?). 2-Lyric ALD-1390 (cass)

Smetana Die Verkaufte Braut. Münchner Rundfunkorchester, Krombholc conductor, Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, H. Franz conductor. 1975. 3-Eurodisc 89-036-XGR/2-Eurodisc 7795-2-RG (CD)

Soprano: Dvořák - Puccini - Leoncavallo - Mozart - Verdi. (1984?). Parnassus PAR-1012

Stratas Sings Weill. Y Chamb Symphony, Schwarz conductor. 1985-6. Nonesuch 9-79131-1

The Unknown Kurt Weill. R. Woitach piano. 1981. Nonesuch D-79019

The Unknown Teresa Stratas: Puccini - Offenbach - et al. (1987). Legendary LR-218

Verdi Otello. Bayerisches Staatsorchester, Gerdes conductor, Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper, Baumgart conductor. (1967). DG SLPEM-136-434/DG 2537-017/('Willow Song,' 'Ave Maria') DG 2538-244

- La Traviata. Bavarian State Opera O, Votto conductor. 1965. 2-Historical Recording Enterprises HRE-334-2

- La Traviata. Bavarian State Opera O and Chor, Patanè conductor. 1965. 2-GDS 2-CD-106

- La Traviata, soundtrack. Metropolitan Opera O and Chor, Levine conductor. 1982. 2-Elektra 96-02671/2-WEA 25-0072-1

Weill September Songs: The Music of Kurt Weill. Stratas, O'Hara. 1997. SK 63046 Sony Classical

-Seven Deadly Sins. 1997. Erato Disques

Zeller Der Vogelhändler. Kurt Graunke SO, Bauer-Theussl conductor. 1970. Philips 420-665-2 (CD)/('Schenkt man sich Rosen in Tirol') Philips 422-452-2 (CD)

Films and Videos

Strauss Salome, a film directed by Götz Friedrich. Vienna Phil O, Böhm conductor. 1974. Unitel/DG

Leoncavallo Pagliacci, a Franco Zeffirelli film. La Scala O and Chor, Prêtre conductor. 1982. Unitel-Aries/Philips

Puccini La Bohème, TV broadcast. Metropolitan Opera O and Chor, Levine conductor, Stratas (Mimi). 1982. Paramount Bel Canto/Home Vision/Pioneer Artists

Verdi La Traviata, a Franco Zeffirelli film. Metropolitan Opera Orch and Chor, Levine cond 1982. Universal/MCA Home Video

StrataSphere: A Portrait of Teresa Stratas, documentary by Harry Rasky. 1983. CBC/Kultur

Weill The Seven Deadly Sins, ballet with song. Lyon Opera Orch, Nagano cond. 1995. 440 071 266-3 London

Menotti Amahl and the Night Visitors, TV broadcast. Metropolitan Opera O and Chor. Home Vision

Weill The Seven Deadly Sins, ballet with song. Lyon Opera Orch, Nagano cond. 1995. 440 071 266-3 London

Menotti Amahl and the Night Visitors, TV broadcast. Metropolitan Opera Orch and Chor. Home Vision

Corigliano The Ghosts of Versailles. Metropolitan Opera 1992. 440 072 530-3 Deutsche Grammophon/Polygram Records 1993

Also other TV appearances with the Metropolitan Opera; films, videos and TV appearances with European companies