Deborah Riedel: Versatile lyrical soprano admired in Europe and the United States

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The Independent Online

The Australian soprano Deborah Riedel, greatly admired in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, was also a welcome guest in Europe and the United States. At first a mezzo, she soon developed into a lyrical soprano with a beautiful, warm, creamy-toned voice, who sang Mozart, Verdi and Puccini, as well as Berlioz, Gounod and Bizet, with much success. Later in her career, there were strong signs that Richard Strauss and Wagner might provide the road forward, but Riedel, after fighting cancer for nearly a decade, died at the age of 50.

Riedel was born and brought up in Sydney. At first she worked as a school teacher, but decided to become a singer and studied at the Sydney Conservatory. In 1983 she joined the chorus of Australian Opera, occasionally singing small roles. In 1986 she won the Sydney Sun Arts Award and began her solo career, singing Enrichetta in Bellini's I Puritani in Melbourne, followed by Hansel in Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel and Meg in Verdi's Falstaff, both in Perth, Western Australia.

During the next five years, she sang Arminda in Mozart's La finta giardiniera and Sylva in Kalman's operetta The Czardas Princess in Adelaide; Marguerite in Gounod's Faust and Leila in Bizet's Les Pêcheurs de Perles in Melbourne; and Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro and Pamina in Die Zauberflöte in Sydney.

In 1991, as a fully fledged soprano, Riedel embarked on her international career. On 9 November she made her British debut at Covent Garden as Freia in Das Rheingold, part of Wagner's Ring cycle, directed by Götz Friedrich. The following year she sang Teresa in Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini at Geneva, followed in 1993 by the same role at Opéra Bastille in Paris. She returned to Covent Garden later that year to sing Mimi in La Bohème. Riedel, as one critic put it, was "a strapping Australian girl", but she sang the music so beautifully, and with such tenderness, that there was not a dry eye in the house.

Her next port of call was Amsterdam, where she sang Violetta in Verdi's La traviata. Meanwhile, she had been returning to Australia each year, to sing Gounod's Juliette and Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni in Sydney, and Donna Anna (her usual role in the same Mozart opera) in Brisbane.

Riedel made her US debut at San Diego in 1994, singing Amina in Bellini's La sonnambula. She returned in 1996 for Adina in Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore, in 1997 for Violetta, and in 1999 for Alice in Falstaff.

In 1995 Riedel took the place of an ailing Angela Gheorghiu to sing Mimi at Covent Garden again and then appeared at the Rome Opera as Teresa in Benvenuto Cellini. She sang Marguerite in Gounod's Faust at Geneva and Donna Anna in San Francisco, where she returned in 1997 for Ellen Orford in Britten's Peter Grimes. Back in Sydney she had one of her greatest triumphs, singing all four heroines in Offenbach's Les contes d'Hoffmann in 1996 and scored another huge success in the title role of Donizetti's Maria Stuarda in 1997. That year she made her debut at the Metropolitan, New York as Donna Anna.

After a passionate Leonora in Il trovatore and a spitfire Elettra in Mozart's Idomeneo, in 2000 Riedel appeared with the Welsh National Opera in Cardiff as the Marschallin in Strauss's comic opera Der Rosenkavalier. Her performance was widely lauded by critics and public alike, but was not, unfortunately, followed by other Strauss roles. Riedel was already ill by this stage, although she continued to sing for several years. She returned to WNO in 2002 for the title role in Puccini's Tosca, which she had first sung in 2000 in Adelaide, and she sang Bellini's Norma in Sydney in 2004.

In the same year, Riedel scored possibly the greatest success of her entire career, as Sieglinde in Die Walküre in Adelaide. Riedel returned there in 2007 for Amelia in Verdi's Un ballo in maschera. Her last appearance was as a soprano soloist in a concert performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in August 2008 in Sydney.

Deborah Riedel, opera singer: born Sydney 31 July 1958; married Paul Ferris; died Sydney 8 January 2009.