Elena Souliotis

Soprano hailed as a successor to Maria Callas

The Greek-born soprano Elena Souliotis had a fine voice of wide range and plenty of temperament, but success came to her too early, before she had learnt to use that voice properly. Hailed as the successor to Maria Callas, Suliotis (as she was originally known) sang many roles to which she was entirely unsuited so early in her career, and as a result, after 10 years of frantic singing in Europe and North America, her once beautiful voice lay in ruins.

Elena Suliotis (Elena Souliotis), operatic soprano: born Athens 28 May 1943; married (one daughter; marriage dissolved); died Florence 4 December 2004.

The Greek-born soprano Elena Souliotis had a fine voice of wide range and plenty of temperament, but success came to her too early, before she had learnt to use that voice properly. Hailed as the successor to Maria Callas, Suliotis (as she was originally known) sang many roles to which she was entirely unsuited so early in her career, and as a result, after 10 years of frantic singing in Europe and North America, her once beautiful voice lay in ruins.

This was all the more tragic in that she could, with greater control, have become a great artist. Some performances stand out like beacons: the title role of Verdi's Luisa Miller in Florence; Abigail in the same composer's Nabucco at La Scala, Milan; Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana at Covent Garden.

Elena Suliotis was born in Athens in 1943. When she was five years old her family moved to Buenos Aires, where she received her first singing lessons. In 1962 she travelled to Italy to study with Mercedes Llopart in Milan. Two years later, now aged 21, she made her début at the San Carlo, Naples, as Santuzza. The performance was a huge success, and the young soprano was deluged with offers from all over Italy. During 1965 she sang Luisa Miller in Trieste, Amelia in Un ballo in maschera in Florence and Como; and made her US début in Chicago as Helen of Troy in Boito's Mefistofele. The comparisons with Callas were based on the timbre of her voice, and not on any similarities of technique or phrasing.

In 1966 Suliotis appeared to go crazy. In Italy she sang Aida in Mantua, Leonora in La forza del destino in Naples and Leonora in Il trovatore in Genoa, as well as Luisa Miller in Florence. She sang Abigail in Lisbon, Amelia in Madrid and Buenos Aires, and Aida in Mexico City. She sang the title role of Ponchielli's La gioconda (very much a Callas role) in Chicago and made her New York début at Carnegie Hall in a concert performance of the title role of Donizetti's Anna Bolena (another Callas role). Finally she sang Abigail at the seasonal opening of La Scala on 7 December. This production of Nabucco was taken to Montreal for Expo 67. Callas had sung Abigail in Naples in 1949 (aged 26), but thereafter avoided it. The role is a killer.

In 1967 Suliotis acquired a new role, Bellini's Norma, which she sang in September in Mexico City, in November in a concert performance in Carnegie Hall, and in December in Piacenza and Florence. Again, the comparison with Callas was inescapable, and to the detriment of the younger singer. Whereas roughness of tone and audible gear changes between registers could be overlooked in Nabucco, they certainly could not be ignored in Norma. Nevertheless Suliotis continued to sing the role, at Chicago in 1968, at Catania in 1969, at Naples in 1970 and in Tokyo in 1971.

Meanwhile in 1968 she returned to La Scala, singing the title role of Catalani's Loreley and repeating Abigail in a new production of Nabucco. I went to one of those performances, and it was truly magnificent.

In November 1968 Suliotis gave a concert performance of Nabucco for the London Opera Society at Drury Lane. Some of her singing of Abigail was extremely exciting, some suffered from careless phrasing and poor intonation. Suliotis returned to London in June 1969, making her Covent Garden début as Lady Macbeth in Verdi's Macbeth. It was her first attempt at the role and again, certain scenes were magnificent, others went for nothing.

Another new role that year was Desdemona in Verdi's Otello, which she sang in Naples. She also gave another concert performance at Drury Lane, this time of La gioconda. Her performance began shakily, but the final scene showed Suliotis at her very considerable best.

In 1970 she announced that she wished her name to be spelled Souliotis. At Naples during 1971 she acquired two new roles, in Puccini's Manon Lescaut, in which she was partnered by Placido Domingo, and Tosca, which was much admired, especially the last act.

Souliotis returned to Covent Garden in 1972 to sing Abigail in a new production of Nabucco. She was not in good voice, and was booed at the end of the performance. Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana the following year was very much more enjoyable, and the soprano was much applauded.

In May 1974 she sang another new Puccini role, Minnie in La fanciulla del West in Rome. That was virtually the end of her career. In 1979 she sang Fata Morgana in Prokofiev's Love for Three Oranges, in Florence in January and in Chicago in September. Then in February 1981 she had a small role, Susanna, in Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina at La Scala. Souliotis was only 38, but she had worn her voice out with constant misuse.

Elizabeth Forbes



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