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Known for her unforgettably exciting stage presence, and the powerful radiance of her voice, HILDEGARD BEHRENS is widely regarded as "one of the finest singing actresses of our day.” "Here is a soprano,” writes The New York Times, “ who has it in her to evoke an elemental response in opera lovers, to send electric shocks through the house - a heroine in whose performances the crowd can abandon itself, for whom it can shout itself hoarse at the end."
Referred to as “the greatest living Brünnhilde” in Opera News, this status has been reaffirmed recently after performances in London of “pearly singing that ravish the senses” by the public’s “football-crowd roar, quadruple fortissimo” (The Times), and immediately after in Vienna, with the press describing her performances as “grandiose”, “astounding” and “singing of immense power”. The acclaim she has received for her electrifying Brünnhilde has indeed been far and wide, with praise ranging from “all-surpassing” for her first assumption of the role at the Bayreuth Festival in 1983, to her being rendered “the legitimate heir to the greatest Wagnerians of the century” by La Nacion of Buenos Aires in 1998, while her Metropolitan Opera assumption merited The Wall Street Journal to write: "you could wait a lifetime for singing as stirring and beautiful as this”.
No less impressive has been the acclaim she has earned for Elektra, another signature role of hers, described just recently as “phénoménale” in Paris, “historique!” in Montpellier, “colossal” in Buenos Aires, “awe-inspiring”, “breathtaking” and “the musical event of the century” at the Salzburg Festival, while her Metropolitan Opera portrayal had been described as “a drop-dead performance that had the house standing, stomping and cheering from the moment the music stopped.”
Along with her regular performances at the major opera houses and concert halls around the world, Ms. Behrens' calendar over the past few seasons featured the world premiere of Cronaca del Luogo, a new opera composed specifically for her by Luciano Berio, which opened the Salzburg Festival in the summer of 1999. Furthermore, her tour through Japan with a series of gala Wagner concerts under Seiji Ozawa, as well as her debut at the Los Angeles Opera with Salome in make further special highlights in 1998/99. In 1997, her return to the Deutsche Oper Berlin and the Covent Garden Royal Opera House in the role of Elektra met tremendous success as did her appearance at the Houston Grand Opera in a new production of Salome conducted by Christoph Eschenbach. Performances of Salome, Marie in Wozzeck and Brünnhilde in Wagner's Ring followed in Vienna. She also reprised her unforgettably moving portrayal of Brünnhilde in two cycles of the Ring at the Metropolitan Opera. In 1997 she was declared “Singer of the Year” by the German opera magazine Opernwelt.
In 1996, Ms. Behrens performed her legendary interpretation of Isolde in August Everding’s new production of Tristan und Isolde, opening the newly rebuilt Prinzregententheater in Munich, Lorin Maazel conducting, recorded and televised live across Europe. An immensely acclaimed Lieder piano recital at Carnegie Hall accompanied by Christoph Eschenbach followed as well as her debut in the role of Kundry in Wagner's Parsifal, performed in concert in Cologne. Then, in the summer of 1996, she closed the season with one of the most important musical events of the year - the new production of Elektra at the Salzburg Festival with Lorin Maazel conducting. Her performances were described by critics as “phenomenal,” “unforgettable,” “incomparable,” “the musical event of the century,” and “[demonstrating] that Hildegard Behrens is the greatest Elektra in the world.” She was also declared “Festival Artist of the Year” in 1996 by the German opera magazine Orpheus.
Ms. Behrens’ versatility as an artist is demonstrated by her forays outside of her German repertoire. She performed Tosca opposite Plácido Domingo in a new Franco Zeffirelli production for the Metropolitan Opera (recorded and televised worldwide) as well as with Luciano Pavarotti at the Opéra de Paris. Additionally, she has starred as Emilia Marty in Janácek’s The Makropoulos Affair and Katerina Ismailova in Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, both new productions mounted for her by the Bavarian State Opera, the first directed by her husband Seth Schneidman, the latter by German film director Volker Schlöndorff. She also performed Giorgetta in Puccini’s Il Tabarro for her debut at the Metropolitan Opera and Cassandra in Berlioz’s Les Troyens in Athens. She is an accomplished recitalist with a repertoire ranging from Bach and Mozart to Wolf and Elgar, and in November 1995 at Montpellier, she sang the world premiere of the song cycle Le Cercle Kleist, dedicated to her by the French composer René Koering.
At the Salzburg Summer Festival 2001, Ms. Behrens will be making her debut in the role of Kostelnicka in a new production of Leos Janácek's Jenufa to be staged by the American Film Director Bob Swaim under the baton of Sir John Eliot Gardiner.
In recognition of her contributions to German culture, Hildegard Behrens has been awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz by the Federal Republic of Germany, as well as the Bayerischer Verdienstorden from the state of Bavaria. The Bavarian State Opera awarded her its highest honor by naming her Bayerische Kammersängerin. The Republic of Austria bestowed upon her the correspondent honor by awarding her the title of Österreichische Kammersängerin of the Vienna State Opera. On June 6, 1998, Ms. Behrens was awarded the most prestigious ‘Léonie Sonnings Music Prize 1998’ of Denmark, joining great musicians as Stravinski, Bernstein, Schostakovich, Menuhin, Nilsson, Britten, Messien, Fischer-Diskau, Stern, Boulez, and Solti who have received the award since 1959. “Today at the end of the 90’s she stands as her generation’s ideal, setting the standards of interpretation of the great dramatic roles” (Copenhagen’s Berlingske Tidende). In 1999 she was honored with the "Lotte Lehmann - Gedächtnisring" at the Vienna State Opera. It was the late Leonie Rysanek who had chosen Ms. Behrens to be her successor in upholding the unique ring.
Hildegard Behrens’ discography includes releases of Deutsche Gramophone audio and video recordings of Wagner’s Ring with James Levine and the Metropolitan Opera, a recording of Berg’s Wozzeck (also available on video) with Claudio Abbado, and a recording of Liszt songs. On EMI she is again featured in audio and video releases of the Ring with the Bavarian State Opera under Wolfgang Sawallisch, recorded in High Definition (HDTV) by NHK; Salome with Herbert von Karajan; Great Scenes and Arias from Wagner Operas; and a recital disc including Schumann’s cycle “Frauenliebe und Leben” and songs by Brahms, Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Strauss, and Elgar. Philips has recorded her Isolde under Leonard Bernstein, and Elektra, under Seiji Ozawa. Her Decca catalogue includes Der Freischütz, with Rafael Kubelík; Der Fliegende Holländer with Christoph von Dohnányi; both Fidelio, and Die Frau ohne Schatten under Sir Georg Solti; and the recently released compilation on the Grandi Voci series, including a most distinct recording of Berlioz’ Nuits d’Été and Ravel’s Shéhérazade with Francis Travis conducting. Also available, on video only, are productions of Der Fliegende Holländer from the Festival of Savonlinna, released by Teldec/Warner Classics; and Idomeneo as well as Tosca, both from the Metropolitan Opera, available by Pioneer.
Born in Varel-Oldenburg, a small town on the northern coast of Germany, Hildegard Behrens graduated from Law School at the University of Freiburg, where she subsequently studied voice at the conservatory. She then joined the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf, where shortly after, she was discovered by Herbert von Karajan. It was Salome, under the maestro's direction, at Salzburg in 1977 that launched her brilliant career.