Teresa Żylis-Gara (born 23 January 1935 in Landwarów, Second Polish Republic, now Lentvaris in Lithuania) is a Polish operatic soprano who had a major international career during the 1950s through the 1990s. Although chiefly known for her portrayals in operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Giacomo Puccini, and Giuseppe Verdi, she sang a broad repertoire that encompassed a wide array of musical periods and languages. In addition to her work on the stage, she has been active as a concert singer and recitalist, and is particularly admired for her interpretations of the works of Bach, Handel, Mozart, and Brahms.
Żylis-Gara studied for nine years at the Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła Muzyczna in Łódź under Olga Olgina (in Polish). In 1954 she won first prize at the Polish Young Vocalists Contest in Warsaw which led to engagements to sing on the Polish National Radio and to perform as a soloist with the Kraków Philharmonic. In 1956 she made her professional opera debut with Opera Krakowska as the eponymous character in Moniuszko's Halka. She returned there the following year to portray the title role in a lauded production of Puccini's Madama Butterfly.
In 1958 Żylis-Gara won 2nd prize at the Concours of Toulouse and in 1960 she won 3rd prize at the International Music Contest in Munich. The latter competition win led to her engagement at the opera house in Oberhausen and from this moment on her career was largely centered in Germany for the next decade. She continued her voice training in Germany with studies under Dietger Jacob. She was offered a long term contract with the Dortmund Opera in 1962, singing there for the next three years. When the new Opernhaus Dortmund was opened in 1966 she portrayed Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier, along with Elisabeth Grümmer as Marschallin and Kurt Böhme as Ochs, the Dortmunder Philharmoniker conducted by Wilhelm Schüchter. In 1965 she joined the roster of principal singers at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf where she sang through 1970, and then later returned often as a guest artist. She also appeared as a freelance artist with the Opern- und Schauspielhaus Frankfurt, the Hamburg State Opera, the Oper der Stadt Köln, the Bavarian State Opera, and the Vienna State Opera during the 1960s and 1970s.
In the mid 1960s Żylis-Gara began to become a major presence on the international stage, beginning in 1965 with her debut at the Glyndebourne Festival as Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier. She later returned to that festival in 1967 to sing Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni. In 1966 she performed for the first time at the Palais Garnier in Paris which led to a contract with the Opéra National de Paris through 1969. The year 1968 proved to be a banner year for Żylis-Gara. She made her Royal Opera, London debut as Violetta in La traviata and sang Donna Elvira for her debuts at the Salzburg Festival in the summer, the San Francisco Opera on November 8 and her Metropolitan Opera debut on December 17.
Rudolf Bing, General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, was highly impressed with Żylis-Gara's debut performance and offered her a long term contract with the company beginning in January 1970 with the role of Pamina in The Magic Flute. She remained on the Met roster for the next 14 seasons, portraying such roles as Countess Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro, Amelia in Un ballo in maschera, Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly, Desdemona in Otello, Elisabeth in Tannhäuser, Elsa in Lohengrin, Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte, Leonora in Il trovatore, Liù in Turandot, Marguerite in Faust, Mimì in La bohème, Octavian, Tatiana in Eugene Onegin, Violetta, and the title roles in Adriana Lecouvreur, Suor Angelica, and Tosca. Her final and 233rd performance at the Met was in the title role of Manon Lescaut on March 31, 1984 with Vasile Moldoveanu as Des Grieux, Allan Monk as Lescaut, and Nello Santi conducting.
In the 1970s Żylis-Gara continued to work as a freelance artist while the Met was her principal home. She was particularly active at the Deutsche Oper Berlin and the Vienna State Opera. She sang annually at the Royal Opera, London from 1976-1980. She was also a soloist at La Scala in Milan, Teatr Wielki in Warsaw, the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, the Teatro Real in Madrid, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. She also performed in operas in Vienna, Hamburg, Amsterdam, and Miami.
The art of Teresa Żylis-Gara is recorded in opera, concert and Lied: Entries to Teresa Żylis-Gara in WorldCat.
Recordings include the Polish songs by Frédéric Chopin and songs by Karol Szymanowski, the title role Manon of Jules Massenet (conductor Jean Fournet), the part of the composer in Ariadne auf Naxos by Strauss (conductor Rudolf Kempe), Mosè by Gioachino Rossini, (conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch), Elvira in Mozart's Don Giovanni (conductor: Karl Böhm), and Elisabeth in Don Carlo by Verdi (conductor Thomas Schippers). She recorded Mozart's Requiem with Wolfgang Gönnenwein. In 1966 she recorded Bach cantatas with the Windsbacher Knabenchor, conducted by Hans Thamm, including Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten, BWV 93. She is heard in the 1968 Gönnenwein (EMI) recording of the St Matthew Passion. She was the soprano soloist in a 1969 recording of the St Matthew Passion with Peter Schreier, Hermann Prey, Margarita Lilova, Coro di Voci Bianche dell'Oratorio dell'Immacolata di Bergamo, Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Milano della RAI, conducted by Claudio Abbado. A performance of Donizetti's Anna Bolena, broadcast from Cologne by West German Radio in 1967, featured Żylis-Gara in the title role, Karl Ridderbusch (Enrico), Vera Little (Giovanna), Gene Ferguson (Percy), Wolfgang Anheißer (Rochefort), Barbara Scherler (Smeton) and Werner Hollweg (Hervey) under Alberto Erede, and has been reissued on CD. In 1986 she recorded live Bach cantatas including Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut, BWV 199, at the inauguration of the Théâtre La Colonne in Miramas, conducted by Dominique Debart.
- "Żylis-Gara Teresa". Internetowa encyklopedia PWN. Retrieved 2007-03-18.
- "Żylis-Gara Teresa". WIEM Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2007-03-18.
- Literature by and about Teresa Żylis-Gara in the German National Library catalogue
- Teresa Żylis-Gara (Soprano) on bach-cantatas