Elena Vassilievna Obraztsova -
Елена Василиевна Образцова
(mezzo-soprano); Leningrad July 7, 1939 - Leipzig,
January 12, 2015
Father - Vasily Alekseevich Obraztsov
Mother - Natalia Ivanovna Obraztsova
First husband - Vyacheslav Petrovich
Makarov (* 1938), a physicist.
Second husband – Algis Martselovich
Zhiuraitis (1928-1998), conductor.
Elena had a daughter from
her first marriage - Elena Vyacheslavovna Makarova (* 1966), who is a
singer (soprano) and a grandson - Alexander
Makarov (*1988) and a granddaughter.
of Elena’s childhood are connected to war and blockade. Her father left for
the front and the family remained in besieged Leningrad up to
of winter of 1942. Later, Elena, her mother and grandmother were evacuated
across Ladoga lake to a small town Ustjuzhna of the Vologda
area where they
lived until summer of 1945. After war living was hard and difficult. Her
father returned after a year, her mother had to work and
Elena was given to
age of 5 Elena started singing. She sang what she heard, mainly Strauss's
waltzes. As a schoolgirl she had her first lessons in music – she sang
herself or listened to recordings. She spent hours sitting at a loudspeaker
during opera transmissions. Since childhood music was the central point
her life. She liked domestic musical evenings where also her father, an
engineer by profession, performed: he was an excellent baritone and
he played violin. From a business trip to Italy he brought a big
collection of recordings from which the little girl got acquainted with
voices of the well-known singers of that time - Gigli, Caruso, Galli-Curzi.
to 1954 Elena was a member of the Children's chorus of the Leningrad Palace
of Pioneers. The founder and the permanent head of chorus
was Maria Fedorovna Zarinskaya. " This chorus has affected me very much", - the singer
once admitted. - "There, I actually was “born” as a musician.
Maria Fedorovna was
certainly an outstanding person and teacher. She made me “fall in love" with
singing and was the first person who convinced me
that I can become a
singer ". Elena was the indispensable participant of all concerts of school
amateur performances. On these occasions she
performed with great pleasure
gipsy romances and popular songs of these years.
to 1957 in connection with business translocation of her father, the family
lived in Taganrog, then a year in Rostov – at river Don.
In Taganrog Lena
met the remarkable teacher Anna Timofeevna Kulikova with whom she studied
for two years at Tchaikovsky Musical school.
At a contest concert at her
school she was heard by the director of the Rostov musical school,
M. A. Mankovskaja and under her recommendation
in 1957 Elena was accepted in the school at once on 2nd level and after only one year, in August 1958,
after successful audition, she was admitted
to preparatory branch of the
Sceptically concerned with their daughter’s “hobby” singing, her parents
insisted that she went to a technical college, but Elena - still on
branch - continued her vocal studies: from 100 persons, taking
part in the tests the vocal faculty accepted only three, and among them -
The year 1962
already brought great success to Elena’s life. Two gold medals - at
the World Festival of Youth and Students in Helsinki and at the
M. I. Glinka -
All-Union Competition of Vocalists in Moscow - caused an invitation to
Bolshoi Theatre. In 1963/64 she was offered a season contract to
Marina Mnishek's part, Polina and Amneris.
class of professor A. A. Grigorieva (A. N. Kireev's opera class) she graduated
from Leningrad state conservatory in 1964. Elena was allowed to
from conservatory without further attending the lectures. On May, 11, 1964
her final examination took place, on which Sofia Petrovna
chairman of the commission, gave to Elena Obraztsova a “5 plus” - an
extraordinary high estimation which has not been given
to any student by
Leningrad conservatory for about 40 years.
December 17, 1963, still a student, Elena Obraztsova debuted on the stage
of Bolshoi Theatre in the role of Marina Mnishek in M. P. Mussorgsky's
"Boris Godunov" with tremendous success - amazing and exciting all Moscow.
she traveled with the Bolshoi to
and made her debut on October 28, 1964, as Marfa in Mussorgsky's
month she portrayed Maria
at La Scala
before leaving with the Bolshoi to
Expo 67. Since
that time, Obraztsova
established herself as one of the major stars of the
Bolshoi. She was also greatly in demand elsewhere, most particularly at the
Everything that followed in the largest cities and capitals of the world -
Paris, London, Vienna, Milan, Munich, Hamburg, Salzburg, Prague, Berlin,
Barcelona, New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, etc. - brought to
Elena Obraztsova the glory of becoming one of the most brilliant stars of
vocal art of our time.
Nature had generously gifted Elena Obraztsova: a timbre of unique
velvetiness, a voice of rare beauty - ranging from nearly masculine depths
to the heights of a dramatic soprano - and an extraordinary scenic appearance.
She gave to her opera heroines a rare dramatic presence and
her talent as an actress was outstanding. - All this was connected to the
artist’s fanatical devotion to music. For Elena singing was not
profession, it was the focal point and supreme meaning of her life.
Therefore, the performances of the singer possessed such huge attractive
and Elena was able to touch the souls of the audience - her personality
Especially the ”Northern Capital” became the basis for the development of
Elena’s talent: as the door to Europe, Leningrad/Petersburg helped her
to get in touch with all sorts of musical repertoire. Thus, Elena, who
easily got access to different musical styles - yesterday performed Schumann's
songs, the other day she switched to Zeller’s couplets, or to the romances of
Granados and Weill songs.
role of the Countess in Tchaikovsky’s "Queen of spades", fragile and
staunch, Elena became a symbol of Petersburg and all its refined
sophisticated beauty. In Dargomyzhsky’s romances Elena and her frequent
accompanist Vazha Chachava, brought to life the spirit of Petersburg, in
romances of composers of the end of XIX century the burning passions of the
city of Dostoevsky and Block break outside.
Petersburg is often called “the Italian City” – may be this was the reason why in
Elena’s voice the italian passions found a natural haven: just remember her
Amneris, Azucena, Ulrica, Santuzza.
also took to the heroines of the French repertoire – here she did not
“borrow” the French refinement, she lived it: in her Carmen, the first
ever she performed in French language, she showed all the French glamour and
her Charlotte penetrated into the essence of the French lyricism.
life was also strongly connected to Moscow and the Bolshoi Theatre: here
Elena impressed the audience in many roles, e.g. as pious and
Marfa in Mussorgsky’s Chovanshtchina; here she lived the sorrow of abandoned
Lyubasha in Rimsky Korsakov’s "Tsar’s bride” bringing
tears to the eyes of
the spectators for Lyubasha’s struggle for love.
Moscow, destiny brought her to Georgy Sviridov, one of the most original
Russian composers of XX century, who made Elena the passionate
his music. Performing G. Sviridov's music is one of the most important
milestones of Elena Obraztsova’s creative achievements.
became extraordinary events of art in public life. It is essential to
mention here E. Obraztsova's interpretation of the vocal cycle
" Ten songs
on Alexander Blok's verses " (1980), which the author
to her and Elena’s performance of a composition on Sergej Esenin's
verses " Cast-off Russia " (1983) Sviridov especially created for Elena Obraztsova.
an unique talent to perform the music of high romantic feelings – filled
with deep, passionate expression, impetuosity, lyrical
Elena’s repertoire contained
roles in operas of Russian and European classical repertoire, but also
operas of composers of XX century,
operetta and drama:
Marina Mnishek ("Boris Godunov", 1963), the Governess, Polina, Milovzor
(1964), Countess (1965, "Queen of spades"), Lyubasha
(" Tsar’s bride ", 1967), Kochakovna ("Prince Igor", 1968), Marfa ("Chovantchina",
1968). Lyubava ("Sadko", 1979), Amneris ("Aida", 1965), Azucena
("Troubadour", 1972), Eboli (" Don Carlo ", 1973), Santuzza (" Cavalleria
Rusticana ", 1977), Ulrica ("Un ballo in maschera", 1977), Principessa di
(" Adriana Lecouvreur ", 1977), Adalgisa ("Norma", 1979), Giovanna
Seymour ("Anna Bolena", 1982), Orfeo (" Orfeo and Eurydice ", 1984), Neris
("Medea", 1989), Leonora ("La Favorita", 1992), Principessa ("Suor
Angelica", 1992), Carmen ("Carmen", 1972), Charlotte ("Werther", 1974),
(" Samson and Dalila ", 1974), Hérodiade ("Hérodiade", 1990), Oberon
(" Mid Summernight’s Dream " B.Britten, 1965), Zhenia Komelkova,
are quiet " K.Molchanov, 1975), Judith (" Bluebeard’s Castle " B.Bartok,
1978), Iocaste ("King Oedip" I.Stravinsky, 1980), Eudossia
Fiamma", 1990); Frossia (S.Prokofjev’s "Semyon Kotko", 1970), Princess
Maria (1964), Helen Bezukhova
(2000, "War and peace"), Babulenka ("The Gambler", 1996) and
In 1999 Elena Obraztsova debuted on the stage of a dramatical theater in the
play "Antonio von Elba" of Renato Mainardi.
In 2001, she
appeared in the first of two Met premieres of operas by
she sang the role of Babulenka
followed in 2002
by Madame Akhrosimova in War and Peace, which also marked
the debut of
She also sang the Countess in The Queen of Spades for
Los Angeles Opera
(2001) and for
Of her performance, one reviewer said,
"Elena Obraztsova inhabited the role
of the Countess, down to the trembling head and hands, the penetrating gaze,
the world-weary impatience
and disdain. The worn edges around the veteran
mezzo's voice only enhanced the effect." In 2003-4, she appeared as Prince Orlovsky in
at Washington Opera;
followed in 2006 with a tremendous success as Marquise de Berkenfeld In
"La Fille du Régiment" in Tokyo with Stefania Bonfadelli
and Juan Diego Florez in the cast.
career, Obraztsova has sung over thirty operatic roles
She was one of the first singers from Russia to become internationally
famous. Several of her Met performances have been broadcasted on radio and
television and she has an extensive discography and videography.
thrilling voice made her a favorite at the Met and at La Scala, mostly due
to her theatrical flair and vocal intensity.
Obraztsova performed at the leading opera theatres of the world: Marseilles
Opera (debut in 1973 as Carmen), " Liceo " (debut in 1974 as Dalila),
State Opera (debut in 1975 as Carmen and Amneris), San Francisco (debut in
1975 as Azucena), " La Scala " (debut in 1976 as Charlotte),
Opera" (debut in 1976 as) Amneris), the International musical festival in
Orange (debut in 1978 as Dalila), musical festival in Salzburg
1978 as Eboli), theatre " Covent-Garden " (debut in 1981 as Azucena), Teatro
Colon (debut in 1982 as Marfa); and also in Paris, Munich,
Stockholm, Rome, Parma, Venice, Lisbon, Madrid, Zurich, Prague, Sofia, Athenes, Bratislava, Belgrade, Budapest, Seoul, Macao,
Taiwan, Tokyo, etc.
Obraztsova maintained active concert activity in Russia and worldwide. The
repertoire of her recitals / concerts included the music of more
Russian and foreign composers: M.I. Glinka, A.S. Dargomyzhsky, N.A.
Rimsky-Korsakov, M.P.Mussorgsky, P.I.Tchaikovsky S.V. Rakhmaninov,
Prokofiev, G. V. Sviridov, J. S. Bach, G. F. Haendel, W. A. Mozart, L. v.
Beethoven, R. Schumann, R. Wagner, J. Brahms, K. Weill, G. Mahler,
Donizetti, G. Verdi, G. Puccini, P. Mascagni, F. Cilea, H.
Bizet, J. Massenet, C. Saint-Saens, G. Faure, F. Poulenc, E. Satie, M de
E. Granados, etc.
Unforgettable Russian songs, ancient romances sound stunning in Elena’s
participated in performances of oratorios,
cantatas, masses (A.Vivaldi,
Pergolesi, Rossini, Beethoven,.
Brahms, A.I. Khachaturian) and productions of Russian sacred music
(S. V. Rakhmaninov,
P. G. Chesnokov).
concerts devoted to the music of classical operettas (Offenbach, Strauss,
Lehar, Kalman, etc.), her performances of the songs of Kurt Weill
added new facets to her many-sided talent - for many people completely
singer worked with many renowned accompanists: A. P. Erokhin (1965-1977), V. N.
Chachava (since 1978 - 2011), G. Sviridov, A. Nasedkin,
Wustman, E. Shenderovich, E. Muller, etc.
In 2003 - 2004 Elena gave a series of concerts surprising the audience with
a program containing songs of classical jazz only - e.g. songs of Ellington,
Gershwin, Marcus, etc. - accompanied by Butman Quartet and "The Sultani
opera and in concerts Elena’s partners were outstanding musicians and
conductors such as: F. Molinari-Pradelli; H. von Karajan, G. Gavazzeni,
C. Abbado, R. Muti, G. Patané, C. Giulini, G. Sinopoli, R. Chailly, N. Santi,
J. Levine, L. Maazel, G. Prêtre, D. Barenboim, J. Ferenczyk, C. Kleiber,
R. Bonynge, von Dohnaniy, P. Maag, K. Kord, S. Ehrling, E. Svetlanov, J.
Temirkanov, G. Rozhdestvensky, V. Gergiev, V. Fedoseev, V. Spivakov,
S. Sondeckis, V. Minin; and singers such as F. Barbieri, J. Sutherland, M.
Caballé, R. Scotto, M. Freni, I. Cotrubas, R. Kabaivanska, L.Price, M.
M. Chiara, E. Marton, S. Verrett, K. Ricciarelli, M. Arroyo, R.
Hunter, A. Millo, A. Tomova-Sintov, , G. Gorchakova; C. Bergonzi, A. Kraus,
L.Pavarotti, J. King, J. Carreras, P. Dvorsky, F. Bonisolli, J.
Aragall, C. Cossutta, V. Lucchetti, N. Shicoff, N. Andguladze, V. Galuzin,
I. Wixell, R. Bruson, J. Diaz, J. Pons, S. Milnes, J van
Dam, S. Lejferkus, V. Chernov, C. Siepi, N. Ghiaurov, N. Giuselev, P.
Plishka, R. Raimondi,
M. Manuguerra, M. Talvela, S. Estes, L. Nucci, L.
Quillico, G. Zancanaro, and at the Bolshoi – the conductors A.
Melik-Pashaev, O. Dmitriadi,
B. Khaikin, J. Simonov, A. Zhiuraitis, M. Ermler
and the singers: G. Vishnevskaja, T. Milashkina, M. Kasrashvili, B. Rudenko,
P. Lisitsian, A.Ognivtsev,
I. Petrov, Z. Andzhaparidze, A. Ivanov, A.
Vedernikov, E. Nesterenko, A. Ejzen, J. Mazurok, V. Atlantov, Z. Sotkilava,
and many others.
she debuted as a stage director at the Bolshoi
after the phenomenal success of the
she appeared with Renata Scotto and
in a concert entitled The Three
Sopranos in the Roman amphitheatre in
Italy with the
Czech Symphony Orchestra. The concert which consists mostly of Italian and
French arias was made into a video and DVD.
to 1994 Elena Obraztsova gave lessons at the Moscow state conservatory;
since 1984 – as a regular professor. She teached at Tokyo
musical academy , gave master - classes in Europe and Japan and in the Academy of
young opera singers at Marinskij theatre in Saint Petersburg.
She was a
member of the jury of the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow
(1994), the international competition of vocalists in Marseilles
international competition in Saint Petersburg (1998), Ferruccio Tagliavini
international competition in Deutschlandsberg Austria, 1998 and
Montserrat Caballé’s international competition of opera singers (Andorra,
1999). The first of a series of contests in Elena Obraztsova’s own name,
the 1st International competition of young opera singers took place in
September, 1999 in Saint Petersburg (followed by competitions in 2001, 2003
and 2005 in St. Petersburg , 2006 in Moscow and 2007 and 2009 in St.
September 2008 Elena Obraztsova chaired the jury in a special
honouring the memory of Luciano Pavarotti (rip). In January 2010 Elena
Obraztsova participated in the jury of 47th F. Vinas
Barcelona. In 2011 an all mezzo soprano contest in memoriam Fedora Barbieri
was scheduled for end of december, but the contest
postponed several times.
Obraztsova also appeared in musical films: " My Carmen " (1977), " My image
will appear in front of you "(1979), " Happy cooperation",
" Elena Obraztsova in Japan " (1980), "Elena Obraztsova sings" (1981), " The Merry
Widow " (1984),
" Love and suffering of Elena Obraztsova” (1988),
“Higher, than love "
(1991), ”Gift and fate" (1993), “The Great Elena " (1995), etc. – In
December 2006 Telekanal Kultura dedicated to Elena a special
portrait in 4
parts where she talked about her carreer, life and art. On occasion of her
70th birthday Russian TV honored Elena with a portrait
"Life like a corrida".
outstanding work of the singer was the role of Santuzza in Zeffirelli’s
film “Cavalleria Rusticana” " (1981), which the well-known director based
his opera production at " La Scala ". Elena's partners were Placido
Domingo, Fedora Barbieri, Renato Bruson. " In my life” wrote Zeffirelli,
were three shocks: Anna Magnani, Maria Callas and Elena Obraztsova,
and the latter created a real miracle at the shootings of the film
Rusticana ". – How sad for us that several scenes of Elena were
cut from the video…
Nevertheless, several “visual” documents still give us evidence of Elena’s
great operatic performances: “Don Carlo” at La Scala 1978,
1978), "Un ballo in maschera" (1977), "Queen of
(1987), "Aida" (1988), " Three sopranos " (1991), etc.
remarkable manifestation of the art of this oustanding singer is a set of
ten complete operas, recorded in 70ies -80ies in the most renowned studios
of the world with well-known conductors and singers: H. von Karajan, C. Abbado, R. Muti, G. Prêtre, J. Levine, L. Maazel, C. M. Giulini,
R. Chailly, P. Domingo, R. Scotto, L.Price, P. Cappuccili, I. Cotrubas and
conditions of a rigid competition between the big Labels outside Russia it
was extremely difficult for her to manage the necessary "breaks"
studio work. Her presence often was required on short notice – which is a
problem of inconceivable complexity for a guest performer who
is not working
constantly in the West - but Elena Obraztsova resolved it with discipline
and the force of the great talent.
her discography contains more than 50 disks which have been released by the
well-known labels " Melodiya ", Роlуdor, DG, ЕМI, СВS, Philips,
them operas, an oratorio, cantatas, solo disks, recitals of chamber and
opera music: Borodin "Prince Igor", Mussorgsky "Boris Godunov",
Prokofiev "The Gambler", Bartok
Castle ", Bizet "Carmen", Verdi "Un ballo in maschera", "Luisa Miller",
"Aida", " Don Carlo ", "Nabucco", "Rigoletto", Massenet.
"Werther", Mascagni “Cavalleria Rusticana ", Saint-Saens " Samson and
Cilea " Adriana Lecouvreur ", Vivaldi
"Gloria", Pergolesi" Stabat Mater ", Rossini "Petite messe solennelle ",
Verdi "Requiem", Wagner "Wesendonck
Lieder ", Brahms " Alto Rhapsody ",
Schumann songs and romances, romances by Tchaikovsky,
Russian songs, ancient romances
2010, a new recording of Giordano "Andrea Chenier" has been released with
Elena Obraztsova as "Madelon".
Obraztsova's creativity was highly appreciated by the governments and
public organizations of many countries of the world. She is a
Artist” of the USSR (1976), a “Hero of Socialist Work” (1990), the winner of
the Lenin award (1976), the winner of the Glinka State award
award and the Gold medal " the Sickle and Hammer " (1990), two awards of the
Labour Red Banner (1971, 1980), an award " For merits
for the Fatherland "
III degree (1999), E. Granados medal (Spain 1970), " the golden feather of
critics " (Wiesbaden 1972), Bartok award (Hungary, 1982),
Grand prix of the
French Academy (1982), award of the Association of theatres of Sicily
(Italy, 1994), the award of San Francisco " For outstanding
merits for the
society " (USA), and also St. Nikolai's award (Ukraine, 1998), an award of
Russian Academy of Arts and Music (1999), the Honourable
Medal of the
Academy of Russian Art (1999), etc.
Obraztsova was the winner of the competition of vocalists of VIII World
festival of youth and students (a gold medal, Helsinki, 1962), the
II Glinka All-Union competition of vocalists (a gold medal, Moscow, 1962),
the winner of IV International Tchaikovsky competition
(a gold medal,
Moscow, 1970), the winner of VIII International Vinay competition of
vocalists (the Gold medal, Barcelona, 1970).
a honorary member of Pushkin Academy (1995), a member of Russian academy of
arts and music (1999), a member of the International
society of friends of
the Russian museum (1998).
October, 24, 1981 the little planet № 4623 received the name "Obraztsova".
Lateron Elena Obraztsova lived and worked in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
In June 2007 Elena Obraztsova was appointed art director of Mikhailovsky
Theater in St. Petersburg. In autumn 2008 her cooperation with Mikhailovsky
Theater as art director ended; nevertheless Elena Obraztsova regularly
performed at Mikhailovsky Theater - mainly in the role of the Countess in
Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades.
January 12, 2015 Elena Obraztsova died at a Hospital in Leipzig, Germany where she had
received medical treatment.
Note: I based the major part of this bio on a text in Russian internet (source:
biograph.comstar.ru) and I must admit that my
command of Russian language is just fragmental ...it took me hours to translate
the original text. However, this is not a 1:1 translation of the original; I
added own thoughts and made adjustments where I considered them
appropriate and of course added a few words as to the more recent
parts of E. Obraztsova's carreer. - If you should discover discrepancies or
could provide additional data, please do not hesitate to contact me
thus to help me keep my site true and up to date.