Maria Cebotari was born in in Romania in 1910. She studied singing at the Chişinău Conservatory but joined the Moscow Art Theater as an actress in 1929. She didn’t stay in Moscow long. By 1931 she was singing Mimi in Dresden. Her combination of good looks, acting skill, and most importantly a beautiful voice that could sing almost anything made her an immediate success.
In 1935, she sang the role of Aminta in the world premiere of Richard Strauss’ opera Die Schweigsame Frau under Karl Böhm. Her versatile voice allowed her to sing Carmen, Salome, Violetta, Mimi, Butterfly, Susana and the Countess, Sophie, and Zerlina among others.
Her voice is dark and smooth though she sang many light roles. Her high notes are characteristic of the German style soprano who sings a lot of Mozart and Strauss. There’s sometimes a charming ambiguity of pitch and support to them similar to the high notes of Schwartzkopf and Della Casa.
Cebotari died of pancreatic cancer at age 39. She never sang in the US. The only negative about her career was that it was mainly based in Nazi Germany. What her relationship with the Third Reich was is unclear to me. She was blacklisted from the Salzburg Festival after the war. She was said to have been the mistress of Nazi state commissar Hans Hinkel. She divorced her first husband, Alexander Virudov, in 1938 the same year she married her second, actor Gustav Diessl.
Here’s Dove sono from Mozart’s Figaro. Then the Boheme Act 1 finale (in German); the bright tenor is Marcel Wittrisch. Finally, Es gibt ein Reich from Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos.
Cebotari made numerous recording, many of which are still in print. She also appeared in several films. She was a great artist who is known only to opera aficionados. Her work deserves serious attention.
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