A regular reader asked why I had never written about Raina Kabaivanska. I had no reason apart from inadvertence and said I would put something together about her. This is it.

Ms Kabaivanska (born 1934) is a Bulgarian soprano now retired. She currently devotes her time to teaching. She was a lirico-spinto (with more emphasis on the lirico) who centered her career around Verdi and Puccini. Her repertoire is at the end of this article.

She was a very attractive figure and a fine actress who had an outstanding vocal technique. Its most outstanding feature was her ability to sing long piano lines with full vocal support – ie, she was a mistress of filatura. While she was very good in Verdi, I think she was at her best in Puccini.

Kabaivanska sang at every important opera house in Europe and the Americas. She made her Met debut in 1962 as Nedda in Pagliacci. Her last performance at the New York house was in 1979 as Tatiana in Eugene Onegin. She continued to appear onstage untill she was about 60. After she retired she became a professor at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana, in Siena, Italy. She also holds master classes throughout Europe.

I’ll start with Verdi – two arias and a duet from Il Trovatore. Tace la notte placida occurs in the first act. This excerpt includes the cabaletta. D’amor sull’ali rosee is from the opera’s fourth act. It is the supreme test of a Verdi soprano. Udiste… Mira, di acerbe lagrime is the duet from the same act. It’s the one where the soprano prefers death by poison to a liaison with a baritone. The rejected baritone in this excerpt is Piero Cappuccilli. These clips show the strengths and weaknesses of this fine soprano. Her vocal line is superb as is her piano singing. She fudges the trills and lacks the voluptuous round sound needed to fully realize this Leonora as well as the identically named character in La Forza Del Destino. Pace, pace mio Dio has the same vocal demands as ‘D’amor…’. Kabaivanska’s singing show a little age related unsteadiness, but otherwise has the same characteristics found in the Trovatore selections.

Violetta in La Traviata requires a sound more suited to the soprano’s lyrical voice. Addio del passato includes the reading of the letter. Desdemona in Otello can be sung by either a lyric or spinto soprano. The role was regular part of her repertoire. Ave Maria is from the opera’s last scene. Its prayer to God is always unanswered as she is murdered by Otello shortly after it’s finished. Kabaivanska’s reading of the aria is particularly affecting. Her voice is a perfect fit to the music.

Before moving to Puccini, here’s the first act aria Io son l’umile ancella from Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur. The role and the aria are a diva’s delight. The Bulgarian soprano gets everything out of it.

As I mentioned above, her voice was especially apt for Puccini. She made a film of Tosca with Plácido Domingo and Sherrill Milnes. Vissi d’arte is from the soundtrack. Her reading of Senza mamma from Suor Angelica is close to the gold standard for the aria set by Diana Soviero. Chi il bel sogno di Doretta from La Rondine is given a bravura performance that displays Kabaivanska’s complete mastery of filatura and breath control.The sense of fragility is palpable.

Below is a remarkable video of Kabaivanska singing the death scene from Madama Butterfly recorded when the soprano was two months shy of her 60th birthday. It take courage above and beyond to sing Puccini’s passionate and then suicidal teenager when you are old enough to be her grandmother, but amazingly she brings it off.

Finally, a bon-bon, Hanna’s aria – ‘Es lebt’ eine Vilja, ein Waldmägdelein’ (sung in Italian) from Lehar’s The Merry Widow. In summary, an outstanding artist who combined good looks, exceptional acting ability, and a fine vocal technique that made her one of the best sopranos of the last part of the 20th century.


Giuseppe VerdiDon CarloElisabeth of Valois
La traviataVioletta Valery
FalstaffAlice Ford
Il trovatoreLeonora
La forza del destinoLeonora
Les vêpres siciliennesLa Duchesse Hélène
Giacomo PucciniLa BohèmeMimì
Madama ButterflyCio-Cio San
ToscaFloria Tosca
Manon LescautManon Lescaut
Richard WagnerRienziIrene
Francesco CileaAdriana LecouvreurAdriana
Gaetano DonizettiRoberto DevereuxElisabetta
Charles GounodFaustMarguerite
Ruggero LeoncavalloPagliacciNedda
Jules MassenetManonManon Lescaut
Alfredo CatalaniLa WallyWally
Pyotr Ilyich TchaikovskyThe Queen of SpadesLisa
Eugene OneginTatiana
Richard StraussCapriccioCountess
Riccardo ZandonaiFrancesca da RiminiFrancesca
Gaspare SpontiniLa VestaleJulia
Christoph Willibald GluckArmideArmide
Leoš JanáčekThe Makropulos CaseEmilia Marty
Franz LehárThe Merry WidowHanna Glawari