Singers of our lives: She would have been 75

The unforgettable soprano Lucia Popp died 21 years ago this weekend, aged 54. Had she lived, she would have been just 75 today.

Slovak by origin, trained in Bratislava and Prague, she was recruited by Herbert von Karajan for his Vienna cast and given her first Queen of the Night by Otto Klemperer. Later, as she turned from coloratura to lyric roles, she was closely involved with Carlos Kleiber and Georg Solti. The last time I heard her, in Salzburg, two years before her death from brain cancer, she gave the most serene and flawless performance of Martinu’s Julietta one could ever wish to hear. Few singers are irreplaceable. Lucia Popp was.

lucia popp

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  • A really grievous loss. I was at one of her very last performances (the Dvorak Requiem with Sawallisch) in Lucerne and will never forget her bravery and refusal to show any sign of weakness. Thank heavens her art is preserved on so many recorded documents.

  • Had the pleasure and privilege of working with her on just one memorable occasion when I managed a packed Lieder recital she gave for a musical charity at Wigmore Hall. She was one of the true greats and much loved.

  • She was indeed one the very finest and most enchanting singers in recent memory, especially in Mozart roles where her work will endure for as long as his music is played. Along with Kathleen Ferrier and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, she stands out to me as one of the truly great singers of the post-war period that were taken from us when still at their absolute prime.

  • The first full opera I ever heard was The Bartered Bride – a movie starring a very young Lucia Popp. I was enchanted. Many years later I attended a Wigmore Hall recital and rate this as one of the highlights of my musical odyssey. I own nearly every recording she made and play them regularly, with sadness at such a tragic loss.

  • That was a rough year, 1993. Lucia Popp, Tatiana Troyanos and Arleen Auger – all 54, I believe – when they passed that year.

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