OPERA NEWS - Inge Borkh, 97, Incendiary Post-War Soprano Who Won International Acclaim as Salome and Elektra, has Died
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28 August 2018

Inge Borkh, 97, Incendiary Post-War Soprano Who Won International Acclaim as Salome and Elektra, has Died

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SOPRANO INGE BORKH, 97, a German soprano who won postwar acclaim for her vocally and histrionically searing portrayals of some of the most challenging roles in the soprano repertoire—in particular Strauss’s Salome and Elektra—has died. 

Borkh, who died at her home in Stuttgart on Sunday, was born Ingeborg Simon in Mannheim, Germany, on May 26, 1921. The daughter of a Jewish diplomat, Borkh’s family relocated to Austria in 1935, and, following the Anschluss, moved to Switzerland in 1938. 

Borkh initially endeavored to be an actress, studying at the Burgtheater in Vienna, before moving to Milan to study voice. She continued her musical studies at the Salzburg Mozarteum and made her professional debut in 1940 as Czipra in Lucerne performances of Der Zigeunerbaron; local performances of Agathe in Freischütz followed. The soprano remained in Switzerland during World War II and began to take on increasingly dramatic repertoire, including Senta in Der Fliegender Holländer, Elsa in Lohengrin, the title role in Strauss’s Ägyptische Helena, Turandot and Leonora in Il Trovatore and La Forza del Destino. Following the war, Borkh went on to make appearances in Munich, Berlin, Stuttgart and Vienna. 

Borkh received the first significant notices of her career in 1951 for her portrayal of Magda Sorel in Basel performances of The Consul that marked the German-language debut of Menotti’s opera. The role vaulted Borkh to international acclaim. Following 1952 performances as Freia and Sieglinde at the Bayreuth Festival, the soprano made her U.S. debut in 1953 as Elektra in San Francisco Opera performances of Strauss’s opera. She returned to the company soon thereafter for performances as Verdi’s Lady Macbeth. Borkh sang in the U.S. premiere of Britten’s Gloriana in Cincinnati in 1956. In 1958, she made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Salome under the baton of Dimitri Mitropoulos. She would make her Covent Garden debut the following year in the same role. 

In addition to Strauss’s Salome and Elektra, Borkh won international praise for her performances as the Dyer’s Wife and Leonore in Fidelio—both roles which she subsequently brought to the Met—as well as the title role in Turandot; she was also a compelling exponent of lesser-known contemporary roles such as Carl Orff’s Antigonaeand Ernest Bloch’s Lady Macbeth. 

Borkh retired from the opera stage following a 1973 run of Elektra performances in Palermo, but she continued to concertize and appear in cabaret. In 1977, she returned to straight acting.  

Borkh’s presence on recordings is limited, but what was captured of her work in opera shows the soprano in a state near her prime. Her Scenes from Elektra and Salome, recorded with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, is an incendiary example of the soprano's musico-dramatic prowess, and two separate recordings of Elektra—led by Dimitri Mitropoulos and Karl Böhm—remain nonpareil. While no commercially available recording of Borkh’s Salome exists, a live recording with the Bavarian State Opera, led by Rudolf Kempe, was released by Myto. Borkh also recorded her interpretation of the title role in Turandot under the baton of Alberto Erede, with a cast that included Mario del Monaco, Renata Tebaldi and Nicola Zaccaria. 

Following her retirement from opera, Borkh also documented her cabaret show with Inge Borkh Sings Her Memoirs, and in 1996 she published an autobiography, Ich Komm’ vom Theater Nicht Los …  (“I Can’t Shake the Theater … ”).

Borkh married bass-baritone Alexander Welitsch, who died in 1991. She is survived by a stepson. spacer

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