OPERA NEWS - Viewpoint: The Voice of History
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Viewpoint: The Voice of History

By F. Paul Driscoll

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Hilde Zadek as Donna Anna at the Met, 1952

SOPRANO HILDE ZADEK, who died on February 21 at the age of 101, was an artist whose extraordinary career was shaped by the political and social tumult that engulfed Europe in the 1930s. Zadek was born on December 15, 1917, in Bromberg, a city in the Prussian province of Posen that was assigned to Poland by the 1919 Versailles Treaty. When she was a child, Zadek’s family moved to the German city of Stettin; in 1935, determined to escape the anti-Jewish atmosphere in Germany, Zadek emigrated to Haifa, in what was then Palestine. In Jerusalem, Zadek worked as a nurse and studied voice and music with other emigrés from Europe, including German composer Josef Tal and Hungarian soprano Rosa Pauly. Determined to make a career in opera, Zadek moved to Switzerland, where she worked as an au pair and studied with Ria Ginster at the Zurich Conservatory.

On February 3, 1947, at the age of twenty-nine, Zadek made her Vienna State Opera debut as Aida at the Theater an der Wien. She was terrified: it was her first opera performance anywhere, and the Vienna audience was packed with would-be demonstrators who planned to disrupt her performance because she was Jewish. There was no demonstration: Zadek’s deeply musical, passionate Aida was a personal and professional triumph that began a love affair with the Viennese public that continued until her retirement from singing, in 1971, and beyond. Zadek sang 786 Staatsoper performances of thirty-nine roles, including Aida, Countess Almaviva, the Marschallin, Donna Anna, Ariadne and Eva in Die Meistersinger, among others. Although she sang at other international houses—including Salzburg, where she was Eurydice in the 1949 world premiere of Carl Orff’s Antigonae, and the Met, which presented her eight times during the 1952–53 season—Zadek’s artistic home would always be Vienna, where she was recognized as a Kammersängerin (1951) and an honorary member of the Vienna State Opera (1977). Beginning in 1967, Zadek mentored and inspired new generations of artists as a teacher.

As we were going to press, we learned of the death of another artist who left Europe because of Nazism—composer, conductor and pianist André Previn, who died in New York City on February 28. A full obituary for Previn is available at www.operanews.comspacer 

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