When the Vienna State Opera gave a three-week season at Covent Garden in the autumn of 1947, Sena Jurinac, one of the junior members of the company, sang only two performances of one role – Dorabella in Mozart's Così fan tutte.
Soon after, however, the soprano began a long and very fruitful association, first with Glyndebourne, later with Covent Garden, by singing Dorabella at the 1949 Edinburgh Festival. With her pure-toned yet richly vibrant voice, and by the moving simplicity of her acting, she won the collective heart of the British public.
As a convincingly youthful, boyish Cherubino in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro or as the sensitive, passionate Composer of Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos, Jurinac could pour out a flood of glorious tone, while immersed in the character and always remaining in absolute command of the vocal line. During the quarter-century she sang in Britain, Jurinac matured vocally and took on other, heavier roles, but the essential quality of her artistry did not alter, and neither did her hold on her audiences.
Srebrenka Jurinac was born in Travnik in what was then Yugoslavia in 1921, the daughter of a Croatian father (a doctor) and a Viennese mother. She studied in Zagreb and with Milka Kostrencic, the teacher of her illustrious compatriot, the soprano Zinka Milanov. At the age of 21 she made her debut as Mimi in Puccini's La Bohème with the Zagreb Opera, where she sang for two years. Engaged by the Vienna State Opera, she made her debut as Cherubino in May 1945 in the first opera in Vienna since the liberation of the city. As the State Opera lay in ruins, the performance took place at the Volksoper; later the Theater an der Wien also reopened and for 10 years Jurinac sang a variety of roles there, including Pamina in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte and Oktavian in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier.
At Glyndebourne, where she sang each year from 1950 to 1956, Jurinac established herself as one of the best-loved artists to appear there. After her initial Dorabella in Edinburgh, she switched roles in Così fan tutte to Fiordiligi, which became one of her finest interpretations. The wide vocal range of the music held no terrors for her, while dramatically she was wholly convincing. In 1953 Don Alfonso in Mozart's opera was sung by the Italian baritone Sesto Bruscantini, another Glyndebourne favourite. In June Jurinac and Bruscantini were married in Lewes, appearing together that evening in Così. At first the marriage was a great success, but as both singers launched into their international careers, the inevitable split occurred.
Her most popular role at Glyndebourne was the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos. Despite an intense femininity, Jurinac achieved perfect credibility in trouser roles by stressing the characteristics common to all adolescents, of either sex, in particular their emotional vulnerability and volatility.
In 1955, the rebuilt Vienna State Opera opened with much ceremony; Jurinac sang Donna Elvira and Oktavian. Now a mature artist, she was ready to take on heavier roles, including Elisabeth in Verdi's Don Carlos, wich she sang at the 1958 Salzburg Festival, and Puccini's Madama Butterfly, the role of her debut in 1959 at both Covent Garden and San Francisco. In London she rapidly gained the same popularity she had enjoyed in Sussex.
In 1966 Jurinac sang the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier for the first time at Covent Garden. Her portrait of the beautiful woman who renounces her young lover to a girl of his own age, though outwardly dignified, was deeply emotional under the calm surface. The Marschallin became the most admired characterisation in the second half of her career. Other successful roles during this period included Desdemona in Verdi's Otello, Monteverdi's Poppea, Janàcek's Jenufa, Marie in Berg's Wozzeck and Puccini's Tosca.
Jurinac retired from the stage in 1983, but gave master classes in Vienna and in 1988 at the Canterbury Festival and in London. Her Glyndebourne roles are mostly preserved on disc and she made many other recordings. Unfortunately, not all of them show her at her finest, though the marvellous recording of Der Rosenkavalier is an obvious exception. Even that can only hint at the special quality which imbued all her performances, a quality compounded from her generous, warm-hearted personality and the total conviction she brought to every note she sang.
Srebrenka Jurinac, soprano: born Travnik, Yugoslavia 24 October 1921; married 1953 Sesto Bruscantini (marriage dissolved), secondly Josef Lederle; died Augsburg 22 November 2011.
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