- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 20, 2009

TOKYO — Soprano Hildegard Behrens, one of the finest Wagnerian performers of her generation, has died while traveling in Japan. She was 72.

Jonathan Friend, artistic administrator of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, said Tuesday in an e-mail to opera officials that Miss Behrens felt unwell while traveling to a festival near Tokyo. She went to a Tokyo hospital, where she died Tuesday of an apparent aneurysm.

Mr. Friend’s e-mail was shared with the Associated Press by Jack Mastroianni, director of IMG Artists.

Her funeral was planned in Vienna.

Organizers of Miss Behrens’ visit said she was in Japan to perform at a music festival and then give lessons at a hot springs resort.

Miyuki Takebayashi, an official at the Kanshinetsu Music Association, said Miss Behrens was taken to a hospital Sunday night and died there Tuesday.

“Her son and daughter were at her bedside when she passed away,” she said.

Miss Behrens was among the finest actors on the opera stage during a professional career that spanned more than three decades. She made her professional stage debut in Freiburg, Germany, as the countess in Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” in 1971 and made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Giorgetta in Puccini’s “Il Tabarro” in 1976.

One of her breakthrough roles came the following year, when she sang the title role in Richard Strauss’ “Salome” at the Salzburg Festival in Austria.

She sang 171 performances at the Met, where she appeared until 1999. She was most acclaimed in the late 1980s and early 1990s for her portrayal of Bruennhilde in the Otto Schenk production of the Ring Cycle, the Met’s first televised staging of Wagner’s tetralogy.

“She is the finest Bruennhilde of the post-Birgit Nilsson era,” Associated Press critic Mike Silverman wrote in 1989. “Though she lacks the overpowering vocal resources of a great Wagnerian soprano, she makes up for that with dramatic intensity as she changes before our eyes from a frisky young Valkyrie to a passionate and then betrayed lover, and finally to a compassionate woman whose sacrifice returns the ring to its rightful owners, the Rhinemaidens.”

A dramatic soprano, her Met career included Elettra in Mozart’s “Idomeneo,” Isolde in Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde,” Senta in “The Flying Dutchman,” Donna Anna in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” Santuzza in Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana,” the title roles in Strauss’ “Elektra” and “Salome” and Puccini’s “Tosca,” and Marie in Berg’s “Wozzeck.”

She was injured during the final scene of Wagner’s “Goetterdaemmerung” at the Met on April 28, 1990, when Valhalla collapsed prematurely and an overhead of foam rubber landed on her. Miss Behrens walked off the stage under her own power and was taken to Roosevelt Hospital.

She missed subsequent performances because of the injury and later sued the Met. Company spokesman Peter Clark said Wednesday the suit had been settled long ago.

According to Miss Behrens’ Web site, she was born in the north German town of Varel-Oldenburg. Her parents were both doctors, and she and her five siblings studied piano and violin as children. She earned a law degree at the University of Freiburg, where she was also a member of the student choir.

She received Germany’s Bundesverdienstkreuz (Order of the Merit Cross) and Bavaria’s Bayerischer Verdienstorden service medal and was honored by both the Bavarian State Opera in Munich and the Vienna State Opera.

Associated Press writer Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this report.

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