Obituary: Pilar Lorengar

The Spanish soprano Pilar Lorengar had one of the most beautiful voices heard in the post-war years. Creamy-toned and perfectly placed, her voice remained firm and youthful in timbre for more than 30 years.

As a young woman she was extremely handsome in appearance, as she demonstrated on her Covent Garden debut in 1955 as Violetta in La Traviata. That year she also made an adorable Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro at Aix-en-Provence, and during the early part of her career, Mozart was what she sang best and most frequently - Pamina in Die Zauberflote and the Countess in Figaro at Glyndebourne; Pamina in Buenos Aires under the baton of Sir Thomas Beecham; Ilya in Idomeneo and Pamina at Salzburg; Donna Anna, the Countess and Fiordiligi at Covent Garden; Donna Elvira for her Metropolitan debut in 1966. By then Lorengar's voice had developed greater strength without losing any of its delicate bloom and, though she continued to sing her Mozart roles, she added Verdi, Puccini and even Wagner to her repertory.

Born Pilar Lorenza Garca in Saragossa, Pilar Lorengar studied in Madrid, where she made her debut in 1949 as a mezzo singer of zarzuela. Two years later she became a soprano. Cherubino at Aix was her first genuinely operatic role, and in 1955 she also sang Rosario in a concert performance of Goyescas by Granados in New York. Her four-year engagement at Glyndebourne (1956-59), during which she sang Pamina, Echo in Ariadne auf Naxos, and the Countess, was of particular importance to her later career. She was coached by Carl Ebert, then artistic director of Glyndebourne as well as the producer of Die Zauberflote, and was struck by the integrated ensemble of the Sussex opera house. In 1959 Carl Ebert engaged the soprano for the Stadtische Oper (which later beame the Deutsche Oper) in Berlin, and she remained a member of the company, one of the few operatic ensembles remaining in Europe, for more than 30 years.

In Berlin Lorengar sang, as well as her usual repertory, roles such as Marenka in The Bartered Bride, Jancek's Jenufa, Regina in Mathis der Maler, Ysabella di Castiglia in Falla's L'Atlantida and Valentine in Les Huguenots. Adored by the Berlin audiences, she was known as "unsere Pilar" - our Pilar! Meanwhile she continued to sing throughout Europe and America. Her later roles at Covent Garden included Donna Anna, the Countess, Fiordiligi, Gluck's Eurydice and Alice Ford in Falstaff. She first sang at San Francisco in 1964, as Desdemona in Otello, Liu in Turandot and the Countess, returning the following year as Eva in Die Meistersinger, Melisande and Donna Anna. After her debut at the Metropolitan in 1966 as Donna Elvira, she returned for 11 more seasons, singing Elsa in Lohengrin, Eva, Agathe in Der Freischutz and Butterfly, as well as the Countess and Pamina.

She appeared in Vienna, in Sydney, where she sang Tosca in 1985, in Madrid and Barcelona, where in 1986 she made a belated debut at the Teatro Liceu as Elsa, and Pittsburg, where she offered a radiant Elisabeth in Don Carlos the same year. She made one of the very few mistakes of her career in 1988 when she sang the title role of Manon Lescaut at San Francisco. Though her voice was practically untouched by age, it was difficult to see Puccini's teenage heroine in a plump 60-year-old, and some of the reviews were less than kind. However, amends were made the following year, when Lorengar was awarded the San Francisco Opera Medal for 25 years of devoted service. She retired in 1991.

Lorengar recorded many of her finest roles, including Pamina, Cherubino, Donna Elvira, Fiordiligi, Violetta and Mimi, as well as the title role of Gluck's Iphigenie en Tauride and Nedda in Pagliacci. The recordings give a faithful impression of the tonal beauty of her voice and the sensitivity of her phrasing, but the essence of her stage personality - its purity, nobility, modesty, feminity - remains elusive.

Elizabeth Forbes

Pilar Lorenza Garca (Pilar Lorengar), singer: born Saragossa, Spain 16 January 1928; died Berlin 2 June 1996.

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