“The golden voice” – this is how Gundula Janowitz, the soprano with the bright and unmistakable timbre, has been described. She has been celebrated for decades the world over not only as a consummate interpreter of the lyrical female roles of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Richard Strauss, but also as a sensitive concert and Lied singer with a broad repertoire ranging from Johann Sebastian Bach to Paul Hindemith and Carl Orff.
Born in Berlin but raised in Graz, she was “discovered” in Bayreuth in 1959. She came to the Wagner city on a scholarship and sang an audition at the Festival Theater at which record producer Walter Legge was present. Legge immediately recommended her to Herbert von Karajan, who invited her to the Vienna State Opera in 1960. This marked the beginning of Janowitz’s international career, and she continued her relationship with the Vienna opera until her stage farewell in 1990.
“Heavenly singing, with a beautiful, pure, and sometimes steely tone” is how Charles Osborne described her voice. She was not only one of Herbert von Karajan’s “favorite voices,” but also received regular invitations from such conducting legends as Karl Böhm, Georg Solti, and Carlos Kleiber.
Gundula Janowitz is born on August 2, 1937 in Berlin
1960 debut at the Vienna State Opera, in the minor role of Barbarina in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro; first performances at the Bayreuth Festival (flower maiden in Parsifal) the same year
From 1963 to 1981 regular guest at the Salzburg Festival – in opera productions, concerts, and song recitals
Appearances at the festivals in Aix-en-Provence and Glyndebourne as well as at the Bayerische Staatsoper Munich, Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London, Opéra de Paris, and New York’s Metropolitan Opera
Performs nearly 50 roles at the Vienna State Opera, including 71 times as the Contessa in Le nozze di Figaro, 48 times in the title role of Ariadne auf Naxos, 43 times as the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, 29 times in the title role of Arabella, 27 times each as the Countess in Capriccio and Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, 22 times as Pamina in Die Zauberflöte, and 18 times as Fiordiligi in Cosi fan tutte
Served briefly as director of the Graz Opera after her stage farewell in 1990 – and continued to be active as a Lied performer
A scholarship from the Richard Wagner Society in Graz permitted her to travel to Bayreuth in 1959, where she auditioned and was heard by producer Walter Legge, conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch, and Wagner’s grandson Wieland.
Did you know?
After her father’s early death, the young Gundula Janowitz had to work as a stenotypist for a Graz publishing house to earn money.
Herbert von Karajan brought the singer to the Vienna State Opera in 1960. She gave her Salzburg Festival debut under Karajan in 1963 and sang the role of Sieglinde in Karajan’s opening premiere at the first Salzburg Easter Festival in 1967. Janowitz also gave her Met debut under the maestro’s baton in 1967.
Besides Mozart and Strauss roles, Janowitz has appeared in operas by Puccini, Bizet, Smetana, Beethoven, Wagner, Gluck, and Weber, as well as by Giuseppe Verdi in roles including Elisabetta (Don Carlos), Odabella (Attila), the title role in Aida, and Amelia in Simon Boccanegra.
In addition to Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus, Janowitz’s operetta appearances have included Kálmán’s Countess Maritza – at the Seefestspiele Mörbisch in 1987.
“I have achieved much more than I ever dreamed of. I did all the big Mozart roles, and other than Chrysothemis, everything by Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner that I could have sung. Of course you’ve got to accept missing out on many roles. But that’s all right. For me, the unfulfilled dreams are still the most beautiful!” (Gundula Janowitz in a 1987 interview with Michael Blees)