American mezzo who became Solti’s Klytemnestra passes away at the age of 90.
Regina Resnik started out as a soprano, making an extraordinary Metropolitan Opera debut in 1944 when she stood in as Leonora in Il Trovatore for Zinka Milanov at the age of 22. Equally gifted as an actor she specialized in dramatic roles and soon developed an international career although she didn’t make her Covent Garden debut until 1957. Once asked in Germany where her voice came from, she replied: “I’m Jewish, and my ancestors who came from Russia were musical.”
Born in the Bronx to recent Ukrainian Jewish immigrants, Sam and Ruth Resnick (she dropped the ‘c’ when she began her stage career), she studied music at Hunter College, New York, graduating in 1942. She made her stage debut for Fritz Busch’s New Opera Company in New York at the age of 20 as Lady Macbeth. Asked later how she coped with roles at this age she replied, “I had the gift of a very strong throat.” Other early roles included Leonore in Fidelio, Micaëla and Santuzza.
Her unexpected Met debut was followed a few days later by her appearance as Santuzza and two weeks after that as Aida. In the following years she added roles like Ellen Orford, Eboli, Alice Ford, Tosca and Sieglinde to her repertoire – the latter was the role in which she made her Bayreuth debut in 1953 in the famous Clemens Krauss Ring.
By this stage in her career her voice had darkened and on the advice of baritone Giuseppe Danise, she retrained as a mezzo. New roles followed including Carmen, Marina in Boris Godunov and Klytemnestra, a role she sang all over the world. Her performance went on to be enshrined in Sir Georg Solti’s famous 1967 recording with Birgit Nilsson for Decca.
Her Metropolitan opera career went on to notch up over 300 performances and she created several roles including the Baroness in Samuel Barber’s Vanessa in 1958 – another performance preserved on CD. Her well managed career (she was a noted businesswoman) went on into the 1980s and 1990s and she appeared on Broadway in Cabaret in 1987 and in A Little Night Music for New York City Opera in 1990.
Her latter years included opera direction and a well-received series of masterclasses. Always proud of her Jewish heritage, in 2006 Resnik declared “I’m not a religious Jewess. I’m a cultural Jewess. I have Jewish roots up to my ears, but I wasn’t brought up to be rigid about religion…I know who I am.”
Resnik is survived by a son from her first marriage, which ended in divorce, and a brother.
Regina Resnik (August 30, 1922 – August 8, 2013)