In Soviet times, it was widely whispered that the great mezzo-soprano was an agent of the secret police. There are two documented sources for this suspicion. One is an account by the American soprano Astrid Varnay that she had been warned by western opera managements to stay on the right side of the Russian mezzo as she had the power to call a Soviet boycott. KGB spies within the arts certainly helped to blight many careers.
The other report comes from Galina Vishnevskaya in her memoirs (pp. 452-7). Galina had been Elena’s teacher and mentor. When she and Slava Rostropovich fell foul of the Politburo for their support of the persecuted writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Obraztsova went to the Central Committee to denounce the pair and demand that Rostropovich be banned from conducting.
According to Galina, who called Obraztsova a Judas, even hardened apparatchiks were amazed at her eagerness to please the men in power.
The full facts cannot be ascertained and it is impossible to know whether the diva joined the secret state out of ambition, or (like many others) under duress. It is worth noting, however, that Putin’s ex-KGB apparat paid for the diva’s special medical treatment in Germany in her final weeks.
UPDATE: A reader adds: I should like to tell you, as someone who was often in Moscow in the 1970s and 1980s, there was nothing ‘whispered’ in Moscow about the lady’s KGB connections. It was a well known, and oft stated, fact. Another fact was that her ability to come and go freely from the Soviet Union was entirely due to those connections.
There were often Soviet “minders” travelling with her too. I recall seeing her leaving La Scala the night of the famous Caballe-Anna Bolena cancellation, (1982), in what appeared to be full stage make up, accompanied by two thuggish looking men, who helped her into a car with the masses of bouquets she had received. The two men may as well have had K.G.B. stamped on their foreheads, so obvious did they look the part.
I would not presume to judge the actions of any Soviet citizen as I never had to live under such a regime, but I’ve seen much more circumspect behaviour from other Soviet artists of the opera and the ballet who managed to maintain their careers and their integrity without denouncing their colleagues.