Elena Nikolaidi (Greek: Έλενα Νικολαΐδη; June 15, 1909 – November 14, 2002) was a noted Greek-American opera singer and teacher. Nikolaidi sang leading mezzo-soprano roles with major opera companies worldwide and made numerous recordings.
Her birth year is given as 1906 in some sources.
Early life and musical study
Elena Nikolaidi was born in Smyrna, Ottoman Empire (which is now İzmir, Turkey). In 1922, after the invasion of Turkey in Smyrna, she moved with her family to Greece. She studied voice on scholarship at the Athens Conservatoire under Thanos Mellos. She made her debut with orchestra in Athens in a performance conducted by Dimitris Mitropoulos. Her first stage appearance was in the premiere of The Ghost Bridge by Theophrastos Sakellaridis.
Nikolaidi married Mellos, her voice instructor, in 1936. However, she would retain "Elena Nikolaidi" as her professional name.
In 1936, Nikolaidi traveled to Vienna to compete in the Belvedere vocal competition. She placed fourth but earned a second hearing with the great conductor Bruno Walter, which resulted in her being cast as Princess Eboli, a leading role, in Verdi's opera Don Carlos with the Vienna State Opera on December 16, 1936. Nikolaidi was "an instant, memorable success." She became a star in Vienna; after one performance as Carmen she received an ovation reported as being between 15 and 30 minutes in length—the longest ever recorded there.
In 1948, Nikolaidi came to the United States with her husband and their son, Michael. She made her Town Hall debut recital in New York City in January 1949. The following morning, Jerome D. Bohm of the New York Herald Tribune wrote: "In 20 years of music reviewing and in twice that number spent in listening to most of the world's best singers, I have encountered no greater voice or vocalist"; the New York Times critic wrote of her "rare brilliance." She made her American operatic debut as Amneris in Verdi's Aïda with the San Francisco Opera and reprised the role for her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1951 alongside the debut of George London. In the early 1960s she retired from opera but continued concertizing extensively for a number of years.
In 1960, Nikolaidi accepted a position on the voice faculty of Florida State University in Tallahassee. In 1977, she came to Houston, Texas, as the primary voice instructor for the newly established Houston Opera Studio, a young-artist training program that was at that time a joint venture of Houston Grand Opera and the University of Houston; she also instructed a select few university students who were not in the HOS program. Nikolaidi's students have since sung major roles in many of the leading opera houses of the world. Among her most successful protégés are Bruce Fowler, Richard Paul Fink, Bruce Ford, Denyce Graves, Janice Grissom, Fernando del Valle, Jason Alexander (tenor), Eric Halfvarson, Diane Kesling, Edrie Means, Susanne Mentzer, Erie Mills, Robynne Redmon, Chris Pedro Trakas, Samuel Welch, Stella Zambalis, and Linda Zoghby.
Madame Nikolaidi retired from teaching in 1994 and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico where she died at 92 years of age in 2002.
Elena Nikolaidi made numerous recordings. A small selection is listed below:
- Legendary Voices (CD, Preiser Records; also issued as Lebendige Vergangenheit by Albany Music Distribution). Nikolaidi with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, and pianist Jan Behr performing music of Rossini, Verdi, Bizet, Weber, Richard Strauss, Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms. (Recorded 1943, 1949, 1950; released 2003)
- Elena Nikolaidi: In Recital (DVD, Video Artists International). Nikolaidi with Guy Bourassa, piano, performing music of Gluck, Wolf, Canteloube, and traditional Greek songs. (Recorded 1961; released 2005)
- A recording of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, recorded live in 1953 with Bruno Walter and the New York Philharmonic and released on an Archipel CD in 1997 and 2003. In some sources this recording is credited to Bulgarian mezzo-soprano Elena Nicolai, but that is probably an error.
- "Ciao, Niki" by Charles Ward. Houston Chronicle, 8 May 1994.
- "Elena Nikolaidi (1909–2002)" at beautyinmusic.com
- "Mezzo-Soprano Elena Nikolaidi Is Dead at 96" by Ben Mattison. Houston Chronicle, 19 November 2002. (link)
- Social Security Death Index
- "TENNA KRAFT - ELENA NIKOLAIDI" at classicalcdreview.com
- "Velvet." TIME magazine, 31 January 1949. (link)