Lisa Della Casa (2 February 1919 – 10 December 2012) was a Swiss soprano most admired for her interpretations of major heroines in operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Richard Strauss, and of German lieder. She was also described as “the most beautiful woman on the operatic stage”.
Della Casa was born in Burgdorf, Switzerland to an Italian-Swiss father, Francesco Della Casa, and a Bavarian-born mother, Margarete Mueller. She began studying singing at the age of 15 at the Zurich Conservatory, and her teachers included Margarete Haeser.
She made her operatic debut in the title role of Puccini's Madama Butterfly at Solothurn-Biel Municipal Theater in 1940. She joined the ensemble of Zurich Municipal Opera House in 1943 (staying there until 1950) and sang various parts, from the Queen of the Night in Mozart's The Magic Flute to Dorabella in Così fan tutte. Later she sang Fiordiligi. She sang the part of Zdenka in the performance of Richard Strauss's Arabella at Zurich Municipal Opera House alongside Maria Cebotari's Arabella in 1946. Cebotari recognized her talent and introduced her at the Salzburg Festival in 1947, where she sang Zdenka again in a production starring Maria Reining and Hans Hotter. After the premiere performance, Strauss himself commented, "The little Della Casa will one day be Arabella!" ("Die Kleine Della Casa wird eines Tages Arabella sein!"). That same year on 18 October, she made her debut at the Vienna State Opera House, singing the part of Nedda in Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. Soon she moved to Vienna and joined the ensemble of the Vienna State Opera House. In 1949, she made her debut at La Scala in Milan as Sophie in Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier and Marzelline in Beethoven's Fidelio. Victor de Sabata, the musical director of La Scala at that time, tried to persuade her to move to La Scala, but she chose to remain in Vienna.
Della Casa made her British debut singing the part of Countess Almaviva in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro at the Glyndebourne Festival. She went on to sing the title role in Arabella for the first time, at the Bavarian State Opera House in Munich in 1951. It became her signature role. She sang Eva in Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the Bayreuth Festival in 1952, in what proved to be her only appearance at Bayreuth.
In 1953, Della Casa sang Arabella in the Bavarian State Opera Company's performances at Covent Garden, and sang the part of Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier for the first time, at the Salzburg Festival. On 20 November 1953, she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York (the Met) as the Countess Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro. Since her debut, she sang a total of 173 complete opera performances at the Met until her last performance there on 9 December 1967 as Countess Almaviva. Her repertoire at the Met was as follows:
The Marriage of Figaro: Countess Almaviva (47 performances)
Don Giovanni: Donna Elvira (34 performances)
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: Eva (23 performances)
Der Rosenkavalier: Die Feldmarschallin (17 performances) and Octavian (8 performances)
Der Zigeunerbaron: Saffi (17 performances)
Arabella: Arabella (16 performances)
Ariadne auf Naxos: Ariadne (4 performances)
Lohengrin: Elsa (4 performances)
Madama Butterfly: Cio-Cio-San (2 performances)
La bohème: Mimì (1 performance)
In 1955, she sang the part of the Marschallin in Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier for the first time; this was in a series of performances to celebrate the opening of the restored Vienna State Opera House. As a result, she had sung all three parts - the Marschallin, Octavian, Sophie - in Der Rosenkavalier as well as a single performance as Annina replacing an indisposed singer in Zurich. The Salzburg Festival was one of the most important venues in her career. She sang Ariadne in Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos and Donna Elvira in Mozart's Don Giovanni in 1954, (once again) Donna Elvira in 1956, Chrysothemis in Strauss's Elektra and Countess Almaviva in 1957 (she also gave a recital at the Festival in the same year which has been preserved as a recording) and Arabella in 1958. Colleague Inge Borkh stated emphatically: "She was THE Arabella!" ("Sie war DIE Arabella!)".
Della Casa sang Pamina in The Magic Flute in 1959. On 26 July 1960, the newly built Salzburg Festspielhaus opened with a performance of Der Rosenkavalier under Herbert von Karajan. She sang the part of the Marschallin in this performance with Sena Jurinac as Octavian and Hilde Gueden as Sophie. Originally, Karajan and film director Paul Czinner planned to make a film of the performance; they asked Della Casa to sing the part of the Marschallin in the film too and she gladly accepted. But due to Walter Legge, well-known recording producer of EMI and husband of Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Della Casa was replaced by Schwarzkopf for the film (a reverse of the 1954 Salzburg Festival production of Mozart's Don Giovanni, where Schwarzkopf sang in the performances, but was replaced by Della Casa for the film production). Shocked, although she sang the scheduled performances of the season (the Marschallin and Countess Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro, she would never sing there again. When asked several times subsequently. Wide ThumbClearartFanart Banner User Comments