International Polish mezzo dies, aged 81

International Polish mezzo dies, aged 81


norman lebrecht

August 25, 2014

We have been informed of the death of Barbara Miszel Giardini, a celebrated mezzo-soprano in major European opera houses.

Here is an obituary by Breandáin O’Shea, in Berlin.


Last week saw the passing of a modest diva, the great Polish singer, Barbara Miszel Giardini. The mezzo-soprano was celebrated in opera houses across Europe for her interpretation of roles as diverse as Bizet’s Carmen, the title role in Rossini’s “La Cenerentola,” or as Judith, in Honneger’s renowned work of the same name. The few recordings that exist of this exceptional singer bear witness to the warmth and beauty of her voice, as well as her great artistry.

Opera critics often noted the exquisiteness of Miszel Giardini’s voice, but also applauded her impeccable technique that enabled her not only to sing a broad dramatic repertoire with great intensity, but also to execute virtuosic coloratura passages with clarity and precision – a rare attribute among singers. The great Italian mezzo-soprano, Gianna Pederzini, one of the 20th century’s most-celebrated Carmens, said in an interview in 1984 that, “Miszel has one of the most exceptional voices.” And the German newspaper, the Düsseldorfer Nachrichten, praised her voice for its “overwhelming expressiveness in both dramatic and lyrical roles.”

Born in 1932 in Lvov, then Poland, today Ukraine, Barbara Miszel Giardini’s family moved to Warsaw prior to World War Two. There, the young singer witnessed the hardships of the Warsaw Ghetto and the destruction of her beloved city during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Throughout her life, she often recalled her horrific childhood experiences in Warsaw at that time.

Initially, the young Barbara wanted to study medicine, but a chance encounter led to her auditioning at the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music in Warsaw to study singing. She completed her studies there, obviously with great success, as just three years later she won first prize in the prestigious Warsaw Singing Competition. A series of recordings for Polski Radio followed, where she recorded Lieder by Moniuszko, Karłowicz, Niewiadomski, Żeleński, Opieński and Foster, as well as Schuman and Brahms. Throughout her career, critics praised her interpretation of Lieder for its sensitivity and the attention she gave to language and poetic nuances.

barbara mizsel



Barbara Miszel Giardini’s stage debut came in 1956, when she was engaged by the opera in the Polish city of Posen. There she sang Hansel in Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel,” and Magdalena in Verdi’s “Rigoletto.” The role of Marina in Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov” followed at the Warsaw Opera, as did Amneris in “Aida” and, subsequently, the title role in Honegger’s “Judith,” which became one of her most-celebrated roles. Indeed, her recording of “Judith” with the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Henryk Czyż, remains a milestone recording today, and is broadcast frequently by Polski Radio.

Already at this early stage of her career, Barbara had a busy concert career, appearing regularly with the Polish Philharmonic in Warsaw, the Cracow Philharmonic and the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, as well as giving guest performances in Denmark, Yugoslavia and Italy. In 1960 a scholarship enabled the young singer to study at La Scala in Milan, Italy. These were formative years in her career, Milan being at that time, the epicentre of opera in Europe. Alongside the excellent training her scholarship provided her, she had the chance to hear Sutherland, Tabaldi and di Stefano at the height of their careers.

In 1962, the-then Barbara Miszel married the Italian physicist, Salvatore Giardini. They lived for a short while in Milan, before moving to  Rome. After the birth of their son, Miszel Giardini returned to the stage. First in Poland at the Warsaw Opera, where she sang a much-celebrated Carmen, and then to Germany and the Hessischen Staatstheater in Wiesbaden, the Cologne and Frankfurt Operas and Düsseldorf’s Deutsche Oper am Rhein. The following decades were a golden age for the Oper am Rhein, when the house flourished under the direction of the legendary stage director, Grischa Barfuss. A great admirer of Miszel Giardini, Barfuss persuaded the singer to leave Wiesbaden and join his ensemble. The house became important for her, as there, alongside her celebrated Rossini roles, she received much critical acclaim for her performances of the dramatic Verdi characters of Eboli in “Don Carlos”, Azucena in “Troubadour”, Ulrica in “Maskenball,” and Quickly in “Falstaff,” as well as Santuzza in Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana”.

The 70s and 80s saw Barbara Miszel Giardini appearing regularly not just at major opera houses in Germany, but also at many of Europe’s leading opera houses including Paris, Lyon, Zürich, Basel, Athens, Lucerne and Geneva. She sang diverse roles, from Amneris in Verdi’s “Aida”, to virtuosic Rossini characters such as Isabella in “The Italian in Algiers”, or Rosina in “The Barber of Seville.” At the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, she sang the title role in “La Cenerentola.” The Rossini operas were all part of a series directed by the renowned director Jean-Pierre Ponnelle‎.

She worked with conductors Henryk Czyż, Heinz Wallberg, Georg Schmöhe, and Alberto Erede. She was to have performed Honegger’s “Judith,” with Herbert von Karajan, but was forced to cancel the performance after her mother died suddenly.

Barbara Miszel Giardini’s warm and friendly disposition made her a much-loved member of opera ensembles and she made many great friends during her career. These included not just esteemed singing colleagues and conductors, but also répétiteurs, pianists, chorus members, make-up and costume artists and secretaries. Barbara was loved and cherished by the many who were privileged to work alongside her; many  became lifelong friends. Important as her career was to her, family came first for Barbara Miszel Giardini. Despite her voice still being in top form, it was a personal tragedy that led to her retiring from the stage in the late 1980s. She subsequently made her home in Düsseldorf. While she remained interested in the happenings of the opera and music world, she started to enjoy travelling, free of demanding rehearsal schedules. She did teach a little, but felt it was not a profession suited to her. She remained modest and only spoke of her remarkable career if she was asked about it.

In 2011 Barbara Miszel Giardini moved to Berlin, where she died on August 19, 2014. She is survived by her only child, the opera set and costume designer, Gilberto Giardini.


  • Michael says:

    A fascinating piece – thank you – but surely there is no such thing as “a modest diva”! You are either a diva or you are not!

  • Martin Kisling says:

    Polish city of Posen!? Sounds like German city of Muenchen.There is no such name in English. Should be Poznań. Posen refers to pre-Versailles Treaty period.