Life and career
Borkh was born as Ingeborg Simon in Mannheim, Germany, in 1921. She was initially an actress and had some training in dance, both of which served her well in opera: she became known both for her voice and for her dramatic intensity – the "singing actress" exemplified, years before the term became common usage.
She studied singing in Milan and made her debut in 1940 at the opera in Lucerne as Czipra in Johann Strauss II's Der Zigeunerbaron. She remained in Switzerland until 1951, when she sang a sensational Magda in the first German-language performance of Gian Carlo Menotti's The Consul in Basel. It was her key to international stardom, leading to engagements in the world's great opera houses: Vienna, Munich, Berlin, London, New York, and San Francisco.
She triumphed in her portrayals of the most challenging dramatic roles: Aida and Lady Macbeth (Verdi); Tosca and Turandot (Puccini); Fidelio (Beethoven); Medea (Cherubini); Elsa, Sieglinde and Senta (Wagner); Helena, Empress and Dyer's Wife (Richard Strauss); Euryanthe (Weber); and Antigone (Carl Orff). But it was as Salome and Elektra – both by Richard Strauss – that she gained her greatest fame. None of her performances were captured on film—except for the Dyer's Wife from Munich—but some of her great performances were recorded, and both complete works as well as excerpts from a wide array of performances are now available on CD. The complete works include Antigone, Turandot, Iphigénie, Medea (Gui), Die Frau ohne Schatten (Keilberth), Die Walkuere (Sieglinde / Bayreuth, Keilberth 1952), and her famed Elektra and Salome (Mitropoulos).
Borkh was one of the leading dramatic sopranos of the 1950s and 1960s, though she recorded infrequently. She can be heard on CD performing Scenes from Elektra and Salome, conducted by Fritz Reiner in the 1950s (RCA Victor 09026 68636-2) as well as a famous 1960 version of Elektra with the Dresden Staatskapelle Opera Chorus and Orchestra conducted by Karl Böhm (Deutsche Grammophon 445 329-2). Her Turandot was recorded for DECCA, conducted by Erede, with del Monaco, Tebaldi and Zaccaria in the other leading roles. Also for DECCA, she recorded a famous recital in which she sings mostly arias from Italian operas. In 1965 she recorded the role of Tove in Schoenberg's Gurre-Lieder under Rafael Kubelik for Deutsche Grammophon.
Borkh retired from opera in 1973 after seven performances of Elektra in Italy, and briefly went back to the theater as an actress of the spoken word. She also for a while turned chanteuse, doing a unique cabaret act, a souvenir recording of which, Inge Borkh singt ihre Memoiren, is available on Preiser CD.
She was married to the Yugoslav bass Alexander Welitsch (1906–1991).
- Kutsch, Karl J. and Leo Riemens: Großes Sängerlexikon. Dritte, erweiterte Auflage. K. G. Saur, München 1999. Band 1: Aarden-Davis, p. 396.
- Rosenthal, H. and Warrack, J. (eds.), "Borkh, Inge", The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera, 2nd Edition, Oxford University Press, 1979. p. 58