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She studied singing at Sofia Conservatory with professor Georgi Zlatev-Cherkin. After specializing in Vienna, she first appeared in Sofia in 1936. Engagements followed in Graz, Hamburg, Munich and finally at the Vienna State Opera.
Known for her red hair and exuberant vivacity, her most famous role was that of Salome, which she performed under the composer, Richard Strauss, himself in 1944 on his 80th birthday. She sang the same role for her London debut in 1947 and her first performance at the Metropolitan Opera, New York on 4 February 1949. She also sang the title roles of Tosca and Aida, Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, Minnie in La fanciulla del West and Musetta in La bohème.
Her voice was neither creamy nor shrill, possessing a small beat, to which the microphone is kind. This voice was very capable of riding the Straussian orchestra. Welitsch was a unique singer and her uniqueness was quickly established. Where others linger and milk the moment, she presses ahead, testing the ability of conductors to follow her. It is usually at the moment a doubt has formed that Welitsch confounds the listener by some sudden conversational intimacy that breaks through convention utterly. Even more astonishing is the way she achieves these moments without breaking the line for dramatic effect.*
A great artist, she was also capable of extraordinary over-the-top exhibitions and her exploits at the Metropolitan in New York were legendary, including a raunchy Musetta that struck fear into her colleagues, and a Tosca performance when she repeatedly kicked the supposedly dead body of the Scarpia, Lawrence Tibbett, to whom she had taken a personal dislike.
Her international career, already interrupted by the war, did not last long, although she actually continued singing until 1981. Appearances included those at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in the 1950s in a highly controversial production of Salome by Peter Brook with sets by Salvador Dalí. However when her voice deteriorated she started a second career in films (in America and Austria) and on Austrian television. In 1982 she was among a number of artists on stage at Covent Garden who congratulated Dame Eva Turner at a gala for Turner's 90th birthday.
She was married twice and divorced twice, with no children. She is buried in Vienna's Zentralfriedhof.
She did not make many recordings but her account of the final scene of Salome sets a standard by which every aspiring performer in the role is still judged. The Metropolitan performance of Salome from 1949 is available on CD (Gebhardt Records JGCD 0013).
Although Welitsch did not record for the studio often, her art can be appreciated in a collection entitled Ljuba Welitsch: The Radio Years RY102 in which she can be heard in arias by Weber, Verdi, Smetana, Dvořák, Puccini and Strauss and lieder by Schubert.
She can be seen and heard briefly in the movie "The Man Between", where the protagonists, James Mason and Claire Bloom attend a performance of "Salome". Welitsch is shown with the head of John the Baptist in the final moments of the opera. The scene is posted on YouTube.
A recording of Lieder by Richard Strauss, Josef Marx and Gustav Mahler was made in 1953 and released in 1974. Welitsch was accompanied by Paul Ulanowsky on piano; according to the anonymous liner notes it was thought that this might be a trial run for a later production which never occured. The lieder recorded were: Side 1: Strauss' Vier Letzte Lieder. Side 2: Strauss-Cäcilie; Strauss-Die Nacht, Marx-Hat dich die Liebe Berűhrt, Marx-Valse de Chopin, Mahler-Ich atmet' einen Linden Duft, Mahler-Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder, Mahler-Ich bin der Welt Abhanden gekommen. The liner notes to the recording allege that the first four lieder of Side 2 were "briefly available" on a 10 inch LP in the early 1950's. Library of Congress Catalog Card #73-750781 applies to this recording.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ljuba Welitsch.|
- Branscombe, Peter: Welitsch, Ljuba in 'The New Grove Dictionary of Opera', ed. Stanley Sadie (London, 1992) ISBN 0-333-73432-7
- James Beswick Whitehead, http://web.archive.org/web/20070621175054/http://www.btinternet.com/~j.b.w/welit.htm