24 October 1921 – 22 November 2011
I decided to compile this article because I am woefully ignorant of the life and work of this singer who died about a week ago and I would like to share some of what I have discovered. She came to my attention whilst comparing versions of the final trio of Der Rosenkavalier on YouTube and she strikes me as totally remarkable for being able to tackle both soprano and mezzo roles with equal facility and success. Quite a lady!
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Sena Jurinac, Anneliese Rothenberger, Wiener Philharmoniker
conducted by Karajan. From the 1962 film directed by Paul Czinner
video courtesy of UqbarTlon
Sena (Srebrenka) Jurinac was born in Travnik, Bosnia-Herzegovina and studied music at the Zagreb Acadamy of Music. She made her debut in Zagreb as Mimi in La Boheme in 1942, nine days before her 21st birthday. A mere two years later she was contracted to the Vienna State Opera by Karl Böhm. Because of the War she was not able to sing there until 1946 when her first role was Cherubino. I believe that in the first year at the Staatsoper she had to sing more than 150 performances! She remained with the company until November 1982 when she made her farewell as the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier. It was in Vienna that she acquired the diminutive Sena, suggested, apparently, by Karl Bohm’s secretary, as it was feared the pronunciation of Srebrenka would cause difficulties for the Austrians.
It was her appearances in Mozart at Glyndebourne in the 1950s that propelled her to the top of the profession. It has been suggested that Vienna, where she sang regularly with Herbert von Karajan, saw her in a fresh light after her triumphs in East Sussex. Throughout her career Jurinac dazzled the critics, who scrambled to find superlatives to describe her performances:.“Phenomenally fluent, charming, gloriously musical” was the description of her Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte at Glyndebourne in 1951. The following year her performance in Idomeneo led another critic to remark that “as Ilia she is such a stylist that it would be difficult for any other singer to appear advantageously with her on the same stage in Mozart”. She appeared regularly at Covent Garden between 1959 and 1963, singing Leonore in Fidelio in Klemperer’s production of the opera in 1961. Her American début was in the title role of Madama Butterfly in San Francisco in 1959 but despite his best efforts, however, Rudolf Bing never managed to get her to the Met.
Her recitals, at least in London, were few and far between. At Kingsway Hall in 1951 she demonstrated her enormous range of both pitch and colour, while at the Festival Hall with Gerald Moore in 1958 she showed the glory of her voice in repertoire that ranged from Handel to Strauss. A decade later she sang Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été with the Philharmonia under Sergiu Comissiona. Undeterred by Kirsten Flagstad’s well-documented premiere of Strauss’s Four Last Songs in 1951, Jurinac recorded them just months later, reprising the work for the BBC Proms under Basil Cameron in 1954 and again under Malcolm Sargent in 1961. As recently as 1981 a faithful public packed the Festival Hall to hear her accompanied by Geoffrey Parsons. Almost 40 years after her wartime debut, the voice had understandably changed, but her ability to hold an audience spellbound remained as intense as ever.
In 1953 Jurinac married Sesto Bruscantini, her Don Alfonso at Glyndebourne ( they sang together on the evening of their wedding and their Così was the first Glyndebourne production to be televised ). They were divorced three years later, and in 1965 she married Josef Lederle.
In 1982 the Vienna Staatsoper honoured her with the title of Kammersängerin – altogether she was on stage at the Vienna opera 1,268 times in 46 different roles. She retired to Augsburg in Germany, but would gladly take part in masterclasses and served on the juries of international singing competitions. An exhibition devoted to the life and work of “Die Sena” is apparently on show at the Vienna Staatsoper. Link to ORF.at for vocal extracts
Sena Jurinac died on November 22, 2011 in her home near Augsburg, Germany.