Irina Arkhipova (1925-2010)

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Celebrated Bolshoi theatre contralto dies aged 85

Irina Arkhipova, former Bolshoi opera singer, died last Thursday after suffering a cardiac arrest at Moscow’s Botkin hospital, according to the director of the Arkhipova Foundation.

Arkhipova rose to fame during the late 1950s playing the mezzo-soprano roles of Carmen in Bizet’s opera, Marina and Marfa in Musorgsky’s Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina, and Helene in Prokofiev’s War and Peace. Outside of Russia, she reached international fame during the 1960s and 1970s, making acclaimed appearances at major opera venues throughout Europe and the US, including London’s Covent Garden and La Scala in Milan.

After graduating from the Moscow Architectural Institute in 1953, Arkhipova switched to singing and studied with Leonid Savransky at the Moscow Conservatory. She made her operatic debut in 1954 at the Sverdlovsk Opera, before joining the Bolshoi theatre two years later, making her debut as Carmen. Such was the impact of her emotionally driven, intense performances, that a year later she was awarded the title of ‘People’s artist of the USSR’. In her latter years her voice settled into a true contralto type.

A committed educator, Arkhipova taught at the Moscow Conservatory from the mid-1970s. In 1993, she set up the Arkhipova Foundation with her husband and former Bolshoi tenor, Vladislav Piavko, committed to the support and promotion of the next generation of opera stars.