Sari Barabas: Opera singer celebrated at Glyndebourne

 

Sari Barabas was a glamorous Hungarian coloratura soprano who, despite the interruption of the Second World War when she was in her twenties, had a long and successful career in opera and operetta. She was a member of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich for 22 years and also sang in Vienna, London and, most memorably of all, perhaps, at Glyndebourne. For five summers during the 1950s she appeared there in three different operas, delighting audiences with her grace and beauty as well as her flexible voice.

Sari Barabas was born in Budapest in 1914. She trained as a dancer but an accident prevented her from continuing and she took up singing, studying privately in Budapest. She made her debut there with the Hungarian National Opera in 1939 as Gilda in Verdi's Rigoletto. After the war she resumed her operatic career, leaving Budapest. She sang in Zurich and at the Vienna Volksoper, then in 1949 joined the Bavarian State Opera in Munich.

In 1950 Barabas made her American debut in San Francisco as the Queen of Night in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. The following year she first appeared at Covent Garden, singing Gilda, followed in 1952 by the Queen of Night, both in English. Neither performance, though perfectly acceptable, made much impression, perhaps because of language problems. They resulted, however, in her engagement at Glyndebourne for the 1953 season.

She made her debut as Constanze in Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail, directed by Carl Ebert. In 1954 Barabas did not sing at Glyndebourne, but appeared with the company at the Edinburgh Festival as the Countess Adèle in Rossini's Le Comte Ory. Directed by Ebert, designed by Oliver Messel and conducted by Vittorio Gui, with a splendid cast led by Juan Oncina in the title role, the opera was introduced to Glyndebourne in 1955, becoming one of its greatest successes.

The role of Countess Adèle was in every way perfect for Barabas, whose silvery voice and coloratura skill, which coped easily with the music, together with the charm of her appearance, ensured that the character sprangto vivid life. She repeated Adèle at Glyndebourne in 1957 and 1958, having recorded the opera in 1956. Later she sang it at the Maggio Musicale in Florence, conducted by Gui and again scoring a great success. Her third role at Glyndebourne was Zerbinetta in Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos, which she sang for several performances in 1957 when a German soprano cancelled at the last minute.

Meanwhile in Munich Barabas was singing the Queen of Night and Constanze, as well as Violetta in Verdi's La traviata, Isotta in Richard Strauss's Die schweigsame Frau and the soprano Italian Singer in Strauss's Capriccio, with her husband Franz Klarwein as the tenor Italian Singer. She also appeared in many operettas, including Lehar's Die lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow). In 1962 she flew to New York to sing Hanna Glawari, the title role, in a concert performance of Lehar's operetta for the American Opera Society at Carnegie Hall when the soprano originally engaged became ill.

In 1970 Barabas returned to London to star in a revival of The Great Waltz, a 1930s American musical aboutthe competition between Johann Strauss I and II (father and son), which ran successfully at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. She retired officially in 1973, but after the death of her husband in 1991 she occasionally played non-singing operetta roles in Munich, notably Anhilde in Kalman's Die Czardasfurstin (The Gypsy Princess), last appearing in 2007.

Sari Barabas, operatic soprano: born Budapest 14 March 1914; married firstly, secondly Franz Klarwein (died 1991); died Munich 16 April 2012.

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