25 October 1926 – 11 December 2012
One of the most celebrated Russian sopranos of all time, Galina Vishnevskaya made her professional stage debut in 1944 singing operetta and later graduated to becoming a member of the Bolshoi Theatre.
Years of performances in various roles at the Bolshoi followed but they were ever marred with constant political interferrence and difficulties. Clashes even occured between fellow artists such as Elena Obraztsova . Vishevskaya wrote one of the most revealing autobiographies (Galina - A Russian Story) outlining the harshness of her early life including fights with the Soviet system and artists like Obratsova whom she personally identified as being one of those who had contributed to making life difficult for them with the authorities.
On the 9th of May 1960, Galina made her first appearance in Sarajevo at the National Theatreas Aida, making her Metropolitan Opera debut in the same role a year later.
The following year she made her debut at the Royal Opera House also singing Aida. For her La Scala debut in 1964, she sang Liù in Turandot, opposite Birgit Nilsson and Franco Corelli.
In addition to the roles in the Russian operatic repertoire, Galina Vishnevskaya has also sung roles such as Violetta, Tosca, Cio Cio San, Leonora, and Cherubino with great distinction.
Benjamin Britten wrote the soprano role in his War Requiem (completed 1962) specially for her.
Married to the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich (pictured with her) until his death in 2007, they performed together regularly (he on the piano or on the podium). Both she and Rostropovich were friends of Dmitri Shostakovich, and they made an electrifying recording of his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk for EMI.
Aleksander Solzhenitsyn stayed at their dacha from 1968 while writing much of The Gulag Archipelago. It was this incident that caused a furore that led to them falling out with Soviet authorities and eventually leaving the Soviet Union in 1974.
On leaving the Soviet Union they settled in the United States and Paris. In 1982, the soprano bade farewell to the opera stage, in Paris, as Tatyana in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin.
In 1984, she published her memoir, Galina: A Russian Story and in 2002, she opened her own opera theatre in Moscow, the "Galina Vishnevskaya Opera Centre".
Galina Vishnevskaya was clearly one of the pre-emminent sopranos of her generation and many say way beyond. It is a great pity that her career was undoubtedly marred by the politics and the times in which she was at the peak of her powers.
Her extraordinary talents can still be appreciated in a number of recordings that are still available today. She will go down in history as one of the most significant artists of all time having had more work written especially for her than any other.
In recent years following the collapse of the Soviet Union she was finally acknowledged as the great artist that she was- and finally welcomed home. Aside from many other awards she recieved during her career- she was awarded a supreme state honour in the last week of her life by Vladimir Putin. I wonder if he kept his shirt on for the ceremony?