Elisabeth Söderström (1927-2009)

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Swedish soprano renowned for her portrayal of Janáček heroines

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The acclaimed Swedish soprano Elisabeth Söderström has died at the age of 82.

Born in Stockholm in 1927, Söderström grew up in a musical household. Her father, a Swedish naval captain, regularly took her to hear the great singers of the time, including the Swedish tenor Jüssi Björling. Although Söderström's initial ambition was to be an actress, both the rejection of her application to study at the Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts and the recognition of her vocal gift led her to the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm.

Her debut soon followed at the age of 20, as Bastienne in Mozart's Bastien und Bastienne. In 1950 Söderström made her first appearance at the Swedish Royal Opera, a company she was a member of for the rest of her career. A decade later she first became known to British audiences when she played the Composer in Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos, while she made her debut in the US as Susanna in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro at the New York Met.

Throughout her early career, Söderström was acclaimed for her performances of Mozart and Strauss – she played all three female roles in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, and in 1959 became the only person to do so in one year. She went on to become famous for her portrayals of Janáček’s heroines, particularly as Emilia Marty in The Makropulos Case, and in the title roles of Kat’a Kabanová and Jenufa, all of which she performed in Sir Charles Mackerras’s recordings of these operas for Decca.

Once described by Vladimir Ashkenazy, who accompanied her in three CDs of Rachmaninov songs, as 'the sunshine of my generation,' Söderström was adored for her down-to-earth approach to opera, and her warm personality. She's survived by her husband Sverker Olow and her three sons.