Mastodon In Memoriam: Sena Jurinac - The Wagnerian

In Memoriam: Sena Jurinac

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday 25 November 2011 | 1:03:00 am

“The lad himself is played by Sena Jurinac, who has one of the most beautiful voices at the Vienna State Opera. She is charmingly natural both as the youthfully bewildered lover and as a rogue. The Cherubino-like nature of the character finds particularly delightful expression when playful amorousness turns to the tongue-tied awkwardness of the first real feeling of love.”
Karl Heinz Ruppel describing her Octavian, Süddeutsche Zeitung 1960

Obituary from the Telegraph:

Sena Jurinac, born October 24 1921, died November 22 2011

Sena Jurinac, who has died aged 90, was one of the great lyric sopranos of the postwar years; she was a mainstay of the Vienna State Opera — notably in Mozart and Strauss — for almost 40 years, having first appeared there in the last days of the Second World War as bombs rained down and Russian soldiers ran amok.

It was her appearances in Mozart at Glyndebourne in the 1950s, however, that propelled her to the top of the profession. It has been suggested that Vienna, where she sang regularly with Herbert von Karajan, saw her in a fresh light after her triumphs in East Sussex.

Throughout her career Jurinac dazzled the critics, who scrambled to find superlatives to describe her performances: “phenomenally fluent, charming, gloriously musical” was the description of her Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte at Glyndebourne in 1951; the following year her performance in Idomeneo led another critic to remark that “as Ilia she is such a stylist that it would be difficult for any other singer to appear advantageously with her on the same stage in Mozart”.

Over the decades her voice evolved from one of purity and simple beauty into a mesmerising force. For example, she was until the mid-1960s an outstanding Octavian, the young trouser role in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier; by the end of the decade she was donning the gown of the Marschallin, the aristocratic woman to whom, as Octavian, she used to make love.

O wär' ich schon mit dir vereint - Sena Jurinac

She was born Srebrenka Jurinac at Travnik, in Yugoslavia (now in Bosnia), on October 24 1921 to a Croatian physician and his Viennese wife. After studying with Milka Kostrencic she made her debut in Zagreb nine days before her 21st birthday, singing Mimi in La Bohème.

In 1944 Karl Böhm engaged her to sing in Vienna, but three days after her arrival the city came under heavy bombardment. On one occasion — when she had still not sung a note in public — the 23-year-old Jurinac was only feet away from a steel fire door when a blast blew it off its hinges.

The advancing Russians demanded to be entertained; and so, with the Intendant forced at gunpoint to put together a production, she sang Cherubino (The Marriage of Figaro) under Josef Krips on May Day 1945. Performances took place in the afternoon, and she recalled in one interview how Irmgard Seefried (who was singing Susanna) would go out in the morning on her bicycle to collect potatoes for the cast. Meanwhile, Jurinac had adopted the diminutive “Sena” at the suggestion of Böhm’s secretary, who feared that the Austrians would not be able to pronounce her first name.

Two years later Böhm brought the Vienna company to Covent Garden with Jurinac as Dorabella in Così fan tutte — her greatest memory, she said, was fish and chips on Floral Street. Moran Caplat heard her and immediately engaged her to sing the same role with the Glyndebourne company at the Edinburgh Festival in 1948, under Vittorio Gui. She sang the part at Glyndebourne itself the following year, and delighted audiences in 1950 by moving up to the role of Fiordiligi in the same opera, a remarkable change of musical personality and temperament.

"Cosi Fan Tutte" Retitativo & Per Pieta

Encouraged by von Karajan to explore the Italian repertoire in more depth, Jurinac sang Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly in Vienna in 1958 with remarkable success. “Butterfly, would you believe!” she later recalled. “I was not young. I was tall. It was extremely courageous of him.” Five years later she sang the title role when Karajan conducted L’incoronazione di Poppea, ranking it among the conductor’s finest achievements as artistic director in Vienna.

By the late 1950s she was moving on from Glyndebourne (Donna Anna in Don Giovanni in 1956 was her last appearance there), and indeed from her youthful Mozart roles.

She gave a distinguished account of Desdemona (in Otello) with Karajan at the Vienna Festival in 1957; an enchanting portrayal of Eva in Die Meistersinger at Bayreuth the same year; and scored a triumph in 1959 as Cio-Cio-San at Covent Garden (with Rudolf Kempe conducting), where she appeared on several occasions over the next few years, including her Marschallin debut in the Visconti production of Der Rosenkavalier conducted by Georg Solti .

Her recitals, at least in London, were few and far between. At Kingsway Hall in 1951 she demonstrated her enormous range of both pitch and colour; while at the Festival Hall with Gerald Moore in 1958 she showed the glory of her voice in repertoire that ranged from Handel to Strauss. A decade later she sang Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été with the Philharmonia under Sergiu Comissiona.

Undeterred by Kirsten Flagstad’s well-documented premiere of Strauss’s Four Last Songs in 1951, Jurinac recorded them just months later, reprising the work for the BBC Proms under Basil Cameron in 1954 and again under Malcolm Sargent in 1961.

Jurinac was occasionally heard in the United States, notably in Madama Butterfly in San Francisco in 1959; despite his best efforts, however, Rudolf Bing never managed to get her to the Met.

As recently as 1981 a faithful public packed the Festival Hall to hear her accompanied by Geoffrey Parsons: almost 40 years after her wartime debut, the voice had understandably changed, but her ability to hold an audience spellbound remained as intense as ever.

Appropriately enough, her final appearance was as Strauss’s Marschallin at the Vienna Staatsoper in 1982, which honoured her with the title of Kammersängerin. She retired to Augsburg in Germany, but would gladly take part in masterclasses. An exhibition devoted to the life and work of “Die Sena” is currently on show at the Vienna Staatsoper.

While Sena Jurinac leaves a modest legacy of recordings, including some wonderful archive film footage, she once — only half in jest — told an interviewer on Radio 3 that the biggest mistake in her career was not marrying a record producer.

In 1953 she married Sesto Bruscantini, her Don Alfonso at Glyndebourne (they sang together on the evening of their wedding and their Così was the first Glyndebourne production to be televised). They were divorced three years later, and in 1965 she married Josef Lederle.