Biography

Ljuba Welitsch was born in Borissovo, Bulgaria on July 10, 1913. When her musical talents were discovered she moved to Sofia, where her talents got her into the Academy of Music in Vienna. After singing small operatic roles in provintial opera houses, and believing that she needed a little extra something to make herself stand out, Welitsch dyed her hair flaming red...and people took notice. Welitsch pushed her high, lyric soprano into a register that wasn't completely appropriate for her, which brought about rather quick destruction of her voice. But in her prime (which, unfortunately, coincided with WWII) she became a legend. Singing at the Vienna State Opera, Covent Garden in London, the Metropolitan in NY, she had to refuse La Scala in Milan because there was no time on her schedule. Her most famous role was Richard Strauss' Salome, which sang for the first time for Strauss himself in 1944 in honor of his 80th birthday in Vienna. (Strauss coached her in the role.) Soon performances of "Salome" followed at Covent Garden (in a notorious production designed by Salvador Dali and staged by Peter Brook.) She took NY by storm in this opera in 1949, with tickets for performances being scalped at unheard of at that time $100 per seat. (She once sang Musetta in "La Boheme" at the Metropolitan. Doing her best to upstage everyone else she did all kinds of jumps and backflips...sans underwear. The general manager never let her sing the role again there.) In a famous performance of Puccini's "Tosca" at the Met in 1950 her partner was the legendary baritone Lawrence Tibbett, who stepped in at the last minute for an ailing colleague. Because the two had no rehearsals their violent confrontation in Act II was a virtual fight. She sang "Vissi, d'arte" on her knees - which is how she landed after Tibbett threw her - and when she stabed Tibbett's character at the end of the act, she stabbed him repeatedly and then kicked his "lifeless" body. The audience was very amused. By singing roles that were essentially too heavy for her, and by singing them a lot, Welitsch's voice began to deteriorate very rapidly. (Surgeries to remove nodes on her vocal cords, no doubt, contributed to the decline). By the late 1950s the voice was in pieces. She retired from opera, but until her death in 1996 acted on the stage, films, and sang light roles in operettas. Welitsch died on September 1, 1996. She is buried at the City Cemetery in Vienna, in a special section called "Graves of Honor." Her neighbors there include Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, and Richard Strauss.