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Gundula Janowitz

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Gundula Janowitz
Born (1937-08-02) 2 August 1937 (age 86)
Berlin, Germany
OccupationSoprano singer
Years active1959–1997
OrganisationVienna State Opera
AwardsAustrian Decoration for Science and Art

Gundula Janowitz (born 2 August 1937)[1] is an Austrian lyric soprano singer of operas, oratorios, lieder, and concerts. She is one of the most renowned opera singers of the 20th century and was pre-eminent in the 1960s and 1970s.


Janowitz was born in Berlin, but grew up in Graz, Austria, where she became a naturalised Austrian.[2] She studied at the Graz Conservatory in Austria,[3] and had already begun to sing at the highest level by the end of the 1950s (Haydn's The Creation, with Herbert von Karajan in 1960). In 1959, Karajan engaged her as Barbarina in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro at the Vienna State Opera, of which she became a permanent member in 1962.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Janowitz became one of the most popular singers in her field internationally and she developed a comprehensive discography of works ranging from Bach to Richard Strauss. Those eminent conductors with whom she performed included Karajan, but also Otto Klemperer, Eugen Jochum, Leonard Bernstein, Rafael Kubelík, Karl Böhm, Georg Solti, and Carlos Kleiber.

One of the emphases of Janowitz's work was the development of song recitals, which she gave several times at the Salzburg Festival. Following her vocal career, she was active as a vocal teacher. In 1990, she temporarily took over the position of Opera Director in Graz.[3]

Janowitz appeared on many of the great stages of the world, including the Glyndebourne Festival Opera, the Bayreuth Festival, the Salzburg Easter Festival, the Metropolitan Opera, the Paris Opera, La Scala and the Royal Opera House. In 1980, she sang the part of the Countess in a now legendary new production of The Marriage of Figaro (with Georg Solti as conductor, Giorgio Strehler as director and Ezio Frigerio as set designer). Her recording of Schubert's Lieder for female voice has been twice awarded Germany's Deutscher Schallplattenpreis.[4]

Janowitz's farewell to the operatic stage was on 18 May 1990, at the Vienna State Opera in the title role of Ariadne auf Naxos (with Heinrich Hollreiser as conductor, and Filippo Sanjust [de] as director and designer). She kept singing Lieder recitals until 1997, when she completely retired from performing. As well as being an honorary member of the Vienna State Opera and of the Academy of Music in Graz, she was appointed an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in London in 2000.

Voice and repertory[edit]

Janowitz's voice is recognizable by its pure,[5][6] "creamy"[7] tone, and rapid vibrato.[8] Like her predecessor Maria Stader, who had a similar timbre to hers, and like her contemporary, Elizabeth Harwood, Janowitz mastered first and foremost the high and middle register and lyrical-emotional expression. Despite her comparatively weak sound projection, she occasionally performed in dramatic roles (Sieglinde, Leonore, Elsa) or comic roles (Marzelline, Rosalinde), but she was most highly regarded as Fiordiligi, Countess Rosina Almaviva, Pamina, Agathe, Arabella, Ariadne, Countess Madeleine, and in sacred music (the Angel Gabriel, The Creation).[1] Of her interpretation of Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss, David Bowie wrote: "Although Eleanor Steber and Lisa Della Casa do fine interpretations of this monumental work, Janowitz’s performance [...] has been described, rightly, as transcendental. It aches with love for a life that is quietly fading. I know of no other piece of music, nor any performance, which moves me quite like this."[9] With a few exceptions, she avoided foreign-language roles (although recordings exist of her singing Don Carlos and Verdi's Requiem and all three Mozart/DaPonte operas in Italian). An excerpt of her portrayal of the Figaro Countess in the duettino "Canzonetta sull'aria" with Swiss soprano Edith Mathis features prominently in the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption.

Selected discography[edit]



  • Gundula Janowitz: In Concert (recorded live) (1970, conductor Berislav Klobučar, Video Artists International Inc.)
  • Beethoven Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op.125 "Choral" (1968, conductor/director Herbert von Karajan, Unitel Classica)
  • Bach Mass in B minor BWV 232 (1969, conductor Karl Richter; director Arne Arbom, Unitel Classica)
  • Mozart Requiem K.626 (1971, conductor Karl Böhm; director Hugo Käch, Unitel Classica)
  • Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem, op.45 (1978, conductor/director Herbert von Karajan, Unitel Classica)


Decorations and awards[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Janowitz, Gundula" by Alan Blyth, Grove Music Online (subscription required)
  2. ^ "Glückwunsch: Gundula Janowitz 70 - WELT". DIE WELT (in German). 2011-11-16. Retrieved 2023-09-20.
  3. ^ a b "Gundula Janowitz (Soprano) - Short Biography". www.bach-cantatas.com. Retrieved 2023-09-20.
  4. ^ a b "BBC - Wales - Cardiff Singer of the World - About Cardiff Singer - Gundula Janowitz". www.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2023-09-20.
  5. ^ "Gundula Janowitz (Gala 337)". Norbeck, Peters & Ford. Retrieved 2015-09-02.
  6. ^ "Gundula Janowitz - (The) Golden Voice". by James Jolly, Gramophone (2006-04-01)
  7. ^ "Sinfinimusic - Deutsche Grammophon". www.deutschegrammophon.com.
  8. ^ Ferrante, Isidoro (2011-09-02). "Vibrato rate and extent in soprano voice: A survey on one century of singing" (PDF). The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 130 (3): 1686. doi:10.1121/1.3621017. PMID 21895105.
  9. ^ "David Bowie's Favorite Albums". Vanity Fair. 2003-11-20. Retrieved 2023-09-20.
  10. ^ "Joseph Marx :: Joseph Marx Society". www.joseph-marx-gesellschaft.org.
  11. ^ "Reply to a parliamentary question" (PDF) (in German). p. 1250. Retrieved 2013-01-21.
  12. ^ "Hugo-Wolf-Medaille für österreichische Sopranistin Janowitz". Salzburger Nachrichten. dpa. 2019-07-22.

External links[edit]

Online Archive of the Österreichische Mediathek (registration required) Retrieved 7. November 2022