Galina Vishnevskaya

Fiery Vishnevskaya, diva of the Bolshoi during Soviet times, was the muse of both Britten and Shostakovich, and a formidable interpreter of Russian repertoire.

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Temperament incarnate, the great Russian soprano burned with a passionate intensity that could sometimes seem excessive. Yet she had a host of colours in her formidable vocal armoury, equally adept at the tenderness of Tchaikovsky songs as at the steel and satire of Musorgsky. It was after hearing a monumental Aldeburgh recital featuring Musorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death that Britten composed the declamatory soprano role in the War Requiem for her. Shostakovich immortalised her full dramatic range in his Blok song cycle and the 14th Symphony. Never the most beautiful of voices, the strain began to tell in later recordings, and she should have avoided taking the role of the teenage Natasha in Prokofiev’s War and Peace for a second time at the age of 50. Still, hearing her earlier recorded Natasha, along with a compelling Tatyana in Eugene Onegin, remains a moving experience. Her delivery of Russian songs, sensitively accompanied by husband Rostropovich, is always idiomatic. An autobiography, Galina, makes compelling reading.

David Nice.

In her own words: ‘When I joined the Bolshoi I was already a creature of the stage, ready to sing the opera parts and to act the roles – to create stage images in the full sense of the words.’

Greatest recording: Musorgsky songs etc EMI 365 0082 (3 discs) 

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