More than 60 years on stage, Anja Silja is 80 today

More than 60 years on stage, Anja Silja is 80 today


norman lebrecht

April 17, 2020

The formidable soprano Anja Silja is still out there, listening to offers of roles.

After a Vienna Opera breakthrough as Queen of the Night in 1959, she was cast by Wieland Wagner as Senta in the following summer’s Flying Dutchman at Bayreuth and was itsw shing star in the early 1960s. ‘When Wieland died,’ she once said, ‘I thought of giving up singing altogether,’ but she was only 26 and a rich life stretched ahead.

She married the conductor Christoph von Dohnanyi and had three children, divorcing in the 1980s.

She moved on from Wagner and Verdi to Janacek, singing in Czech the heartrending roles of Kostelnicka and Emilia Marty, as well as Lady Macbeth in Shostakovich’s opera.

Few female singers have enjoyed a longer, flawless career.

Happy birthday, Anja.


  • RW2013 says:

    Absolutely ageless!
    To listen to her speak about her life is a revelation.

    • CHNina says:

      Ach, Anja, she always tells the truth. Her autobiography, Die Sehnsucht nach dem Unerreichbaren, is very interesting, not least because her chapter about Dohnanyi, with whom she was married for 25 years and had three children, is by far the shortest entry. Wieland and Cluytens get a lot more space.

      Indomitable Anja! She always drinks from a full cup. Long may she wave.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    The finest EVER Marie (Wozzeck), Lulu, and Kostelnicka.
    Happy Birthday, dear Anja!

  • Dalledu Alletre says:

    Hard to believe that someone who had just turned 19 was singing the Queen of the Night at the Vienna State Opera.

  • Tom Hase says:

    Last year I heard her perform as the witch in the original melodram version of Humperdinck’s Königskinder. Her stage presence is as overwhelming as ever, and her voice was still more than sufficient for that purpose.

  • MezzoLover says:

    Wieland Wagner’s muse – and an incomparable Lulu, in Wieland’s last production.

    Her mesmerizing 1981 recording of Schoenberg’s Erwartung with Christoph von Dohnányi and the Vienna Philharmonic opened the door to the Second Viennese School for me, and taught me that atonal music, when performed with total conviction and consummate artistry, can be incredibly moving.

    Ageless indeed!

  • Petros Linardos says:

    A question to vocal experts: how did Anja Silja get away with singing so many risky parts so early?

  • Hermann the German says:

    By the way: you forgot another German octogenarian, this time a tenor born on the same day: Siegfried Jerusalem. Congratulations to both of them.

  • Melisande says:

    Many congratulations to Miss Silja.
    It was in 1968 during the Holland Festival that I attended Berg’s opera Salome. This performance made an everlasting impression on me as a two years younger person than Salome and at that time I was unfamiliar with this opera work.
    The Concertgebouw Orchestra was conducted by Jaroslav Krombholc, direction by Renate Ebermann in the production of Wieland Wagner.
    I still treasure this musical memory.

  • Mike Schachter says:

    Saw her in the Makropoulos case at Glynde Bourne, fabulous, allegedly her retirement performances!

  • Wienerin says:

    Ich habe sie in Wien oftmals als Salome und nicht ganz so oft als Lulu (mit Hans Hotter als Schigolch!) gesehen. Unvergleichlich – unvergesslich. Danke!

  • Melisande says:

    Slip of the mind in this hectic time:
    Of course it is Richard Strauss who composed the opera Salome.

  • Jack says:

    She looks wonderful!

  • Edgar Self says:

    I always forget Schoenberg’s “Pelleas and Melisande;, thanks for reminding me, Melisane. It’s a popular subject. I usually have no troubleremembering Faure’s and even Sibelius’s. But Debussy was first and best, written to Maeterlinck’s play, but not for his lady-friend as he wished; I’ve known jt since Roger Desormiere’s classic version from Occupied France, and have a live performance from La Scala with Schwarzkopf and Karajan, in Italy!, a real Internazionale. Just saw your message, ‘