A formidable Lulu has died

A formidable Lulu has died


norman lebrecht

September 29, 2021

The American-born soprano Karan Armstrong has died at 79 in Marbella, Spain.

Married to the hyperactive German opera director Götz Friedrich she enjoyed many leading roles in modern operas on the Continent and at Covent Garden. She was the first Lulu I ever saw, a dominant stage persona in Friedrich’s 1970s production, albeit lacking the delicate vocal qualities that others brought to the role.

She created roles in a number of world premieres, among them Gottfried von Einem’s Jesus’s Wedding, Giuseppe Sinopoli’s Lou Salomé, Luciano Berio’s Un re in ascolto, York Höller’s Maître et Marguerite and Siegfried Matthus’s Desdemona und ihre Schwestern.

Originally from Montana, Armstrong won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 1966, which brought a number of minor roles at the Met.

Her career took off with a Carmen and Salome in Strasbourg in 1974, followed by Elsa at Bayreuth, where she met her husband.


  • Paul Dawson says:

    RIP. You’ve brought back sad memories of that ROH Lulu being sold out after it got rave reviews. It taught me to follow my guts, rather than await reviews. My free cashflow was very restricted, so I had to be careful, but I regret missing out on that.

    • David Edwards says:

      A remarkable singing actress, Armstrong also appeared at Covent Garden in Friedrich’s 2nd Ring cycle as Sieglinde and Gutrune. They were a devoted couple and she was a very physical performer, particularly in Lulu – none would have known she was several months pregnant in the revival in 1983.

      • Paul Dawson says:

        Thanks for the reminder. I’d forgotten about that. Indeed I don’t recall very much of that second production, which suggests it neither set me alight, nor made me furious.

        Very polarised views about the hydraulic platform production. Rather like the machine in the more recent Met Ring, I thought it dominated the production far too much, but on occasion – especially the opening of Act 3 of Siegfried – I thought it was wonderful.

  • Brian Morgan says:

    Thank you for the tribute to one of my favorite singers. Armstrong and Friedrich met, actually, for the first time in the “Salome” you mentioned.

    • Tamagno says:

      They first met not in Strasbourg but on occasion of Götz Friedrich’s Salome production in Stuttgart (cf. Armstrong’s authorized bio Das Mädchen aus dem goldenen Westen, by Ruth Renée Reif: 1996).

      • Michael says:

        This is correct. Armstrong and Friedrich met in Stuttgart, neither Strasbourg nor Bayreuth. Norman, you may amend your post.

  • AndrewB says:

    Karan Armstrong was indeed a singer with total physical engagement in several demanding roles, but lets not underrate her lovely voice which generally stayed on pitch during the most taxing moments of singing – not always the case with some otherwise admirable and more famous singers . In fact she had great technical resources to match her vocal timbre. This allied with her sensitivity to words and acting skills made her a fine singing actress.

    • Peter F says:

      I performed in the orchestra in Stuttgart when Karan Armstrong sang Kundry in her husband’s production of Parsifal and can vouch for your every word. She was a truly great artist and I heard evidence of some very delicate vocal qualities and shades, which were on no account absent from her portrayal of that particular rôle. The reaction of everyone in the house was unanimous- from the representatives of the Wagner Gesellschaft to my parents who failed to nod off for a single moment that Armstrong was on the stage- a litmus test in deed!

  • Denise Brain says:

    RIP Karan Armstrong. I saw her in a Cincinnati Opera production in the 1970s as Giuletta in Tales of Hoffmann. A wonderful artist and a fine actress too. Will always have fond memories of her.

  • psq says:

    The last time I saw Karan Armstrong on stage was a theatre production of Harwood’s play “Quartet” in 2016 in the Renaissance Theatre of Berlin.

    A gentle reminder: it’s about 4 retired opera singers in a retirement home.

    The 4 main roles were all assumed by real retired opera singers: Armstrong, Ute Walther (mezzo), Rene Kollo (Rene who?!), and Victor von Halem:


    Both Armstrong and von Halem were permanent members of the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

    Was impressed by Rene Kollo when he sang a snippet of something, but can’t remember if the others three sang. The way opera gossips were bandied was given an easy off-the-cuff feel.

    Of course, there is the film version with Maggie Smith, although I found Billy Connolly priceless.

  • What sad, sad news. A beautiful and formidable woman, singer, and artist. Sad too, to see that the teacher who she credited with the growth of her voice into the larger rep is regularly left out of remembrances in the media of her life and work. Lotte Lehmann is regularly credited in other notices, but after Lotte Lehmann she worked with Dean Verhines for years, and credited *him* with the formidable development of her voice. Indeed, when I ran into her in Japan about 15 years ago she asked me if I “still practice and teach Dean’s exercises” because they “work magic.”