Obituary: Gladys Kuchta

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The Independent Culture
GLADYS KUCHTA, the American-born dramatic soprano, spent most of her career in Germany, in particular in Berlin, where she was a member of the Deutsche Oper for 17 years.

She made many guest appearances in other German cities, in London, Paris, Rome, Vienna, New York, San Francisco and Buenos Aires, in a repertory that during the early years contained several Italian roles, but which gradually turned more and more to German opera, notably Richard Strauss and Wagner. However, she continued to sing Turandot, which displayed her large, opulent-toned voice and dramatic temperament to superb advantage.

Kuchta was born in Chicopee, Massachusetts, in 1923; her family was of Polish origin. She studied in New York, at the Juilliard School of Music, and with Sinalda Lissitschkina (a coloratura soprano who sang the Queen of Night in The Magic Flute at Glyndebourne in 1937).

In 1951 Kuchta was awarded a scholarship stipend to travel to Italy for further study, and made her debut in Florence that year as Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni. After engagements in Flensburg and Kassel, in 1958 she joined the then Stadtische Oper, which in 1961 became the Deutsche Oper, in West Berlin. She remained a member of the company until her retirement in 1975.

One of her earliest successes was in 1959 as Ursula in the Berlin premiere of Hindemith's Mathis der Maler (with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in the title role). Her repertory included Amelia in both Simon Boccanegra and Un ballo in maschera, as well as another Verdi role, Lady Macbeth. She also sang Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, Leonore in Fidelio, the title role of Ariadne auf Naxos and the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier. In 1960 she made her debut at Covent Garden, as Chrysothemis in Elektra; although Kuchta was greatly admired in that part, she soon moved on to Elektra herself, which became one of her finest chracterisations, and which she sang with the Hamburg State Opera at Edinburgh in 1966, when she caused a furore.

Kuchta made her Metropolitan debut in New York as Sieglinde in Die Walkure, and once again she soon gave up the role for that of Brunnhilde. At San Francisco in 1964, she sang another Verdi role, Abigaille in Nabucco, and also sang the Dyer's Wife in Die Frau ohne Schatten. She repeated the Dyer's Wife in Buenos Aires in 1965, and the following year she sang it with the Hamburg company on a visit to London at Sadler's Wells.

This was the British premiere of Strauss's opera, and, despite the smallness of the theatre, it was an overwhelming success, to which Kuchta contributed no small part. She remained loyal to the Dyer's Wife throughout her career, and sang the role in Paris in 1972.

Meanwhile, in Berlin Kuchta was launched on a series of Wagner roles: Senta in Der fliegende Hollander, Kundry in Parsifal, and Isolde, as well as Brunnhilde, which she sang in a complete cycle of Der Ring des Nibelungen in a new production at the Deutsche Oper in 1967. She also sang Brunnhilde at Bayreuth in 1968 and 1969.

It was in Gotterdammerung that she excelled: her stamina was legendary, and she never appeared to tire. As Isolde she also seemed to have inexhaustible breath, and energy to spare. I heard her give a performance at Munich in 1968, and her rage against Tristan in the first act was white-hot in its passionate emotion. That same year she sang a concert performance of Fidelio at the Royal Festival Hall, but Kuchta needed the stage to generate the dramatic intensity she usually displayed.

By the early 1970s the top of Kuchta's voice began to show the strain of singing such heavy roles for more than 20 years. On 16 June 1975 she gave her farewell performance at the Deutsche Oper; she sang Isolde. In her retirement from the stage she taught singing at Dusseldorf, where her husband, the influential German singers' agent Friedrich Paasch, was based. When he retired, the couple moved to Keitum, on the island of Sylt.

Elizabeth Forbes

Gladys Kuchta, soprano: born Chicopee, Massachusetts 16 June 1915; married Friedrich Paasch; died Hamburg 7 October 1998.