Teresa Stratas in Mahagonny

Opera News announced yesterday that Teresa Stratas would be among five recipients of the tenth annual Opera News Awards. And the only question is, what took so long?

The legendary soprano began her career in the late fifties and soon became known not only as a great singer but a passionate actor as well, committed to well-rounded portrayals of complicated characters rather than merely standing and singing the notes. Her Met debut took place in 1959, but her appearance in Turandot in 1961 signaled the true beginning of a glorious career in the world’s greatest opera houses, including Covent Garden, La Scala, l’Opéra de Paris, and the Vienna Staatsoper. She sang 41 roles at the Met alone over the next forty years. Stratas headlined a Broadway show, Rags (1986), and has also taken non-operatic roles in two films, The Canadians and Under the Piano. Many of her performances have been captured on audio and video, and she has won any number of awards, including three Grammys, a Drama Desk Award, and an Emmy.

In 1979, Stratas was cast as Jenny in the Met premiere of Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (recently issued on DVD by the Met). Lotte Lenya, entranced at her portrayal, called Stratas her “dream Jenny” and bestowed upon her a number of unpublished Weill songs. Stratas repaid the gift with a recording, The Unknown Kurt Weill (Nonesuch 9-79019-2). A few years later, Stratas Sings Weill followed on Nonesuch. In the nineties, she sang Anna I in a video recording of Die sieben Todsünden directed by Peter Sellars and contributed performances of “Surabaya-Johnny” and “Youkali” to the film September Songs. Stratas’s contributions to the world of Weill have gone well beyond performance. 1998 was a turning point in the relationship between Stratas and the Weill Foundation: She received the Foundation’s Distinguished Achievement Award on the occasion of the first Lotte Lenya Competition finals in Rochester. Stratas’s objections to vocal competitions were well-known, but the Lenya Competition’s emphasis on creating complete, well-acted performances won her approval, and she served as a judge for the first six Competitions (nine altogether). Her endorsement did much to put the now-flourishing Lenya Competition on the map. Young singers who benefited from her coaching and encouragement have not forgotten the boost that she provided. Teresa Stratas has also served the Foundation as an Honorary Trustee since 2006. This year, she donated a portrait of Lenya that now hangs proudly on our wall.

Stratas will be honored on 19 April 2015 at the Plaza Hotel along with Piotr Beczala, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Sondra Radvanovsky, and Samuel Ramey. Opera News Editor-in-Chief F. Paul Driscoll reminds us, “Teresa Stratas is a singing actress whose uncompromising performances established an indelible standard in all the roles that she inhabited–from Alban Berg’s Lulu and Kurt Weill’s Jenny to Mimi in La bohème and Nedda in Pagliacci. But Teresa Stratas is more than an extraordinary artist: she is an extraordinary woman whose humanitarian work is an expression of her deep compassion and seemingly inexhaustible capacity for caring.” Indeed, Stratas interrupted her career to work with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, ministering to the poorest of the poor. Her devotion to the human race is not limited to nourishing us with great art.

We join Opera News and the Metropolitan Opera Guild in honoring and congratulating Teresa Stratas for an extraordinary career and in thanking her for so many unforgettable moments.

Teresa Stratas and Lotte Lenya

Teresa Stratas and Nora Kimball