Female Opera Singers – Ira Malaniuk

Ira Malaniuk (1919 – 2009) was one of the most famous female opera singers of her time. She was awarded the prestigious Kammersänger award twice – once in Austria and once in Germany. As a resident soloist in Zurich, Bayreuth, Munich and Vienna, she perfomed a wide range of mezzo soprano roles.

Ira Malaniuk performed all over Europe in opera houses festivals and concert halls. She toured North America, South America and Australia. Press critics and the public of the 1950s and 1960s considered Ira Malaniuk to be a geat mezzo soprano. The people of Austria, Switzerland, Germany and Ukraine count Ira Malaniuk to be one of their famous opera singers.

Click to hear….

Click to hear Ira Malaniuk sing Eboli from the opera Don Carlo by Giuseppe Verdi, from the archives of the S.Krushelnytska Museum, Lviv, Ukraine.

Short Biography of a Famous Female Opera Singer

Ira Malaniuk as Eboli in Don Carlo
Ira Malaniuk as Eboli in Don Carlo

Ira Malaniuk was born on January 29, 1919 in Stanislaviv, which at that time was part of Poland. Today, this is the city of Ivano-Frankivsk in Ukraine.

As a young 16 year-old, Ira Malaniuk began taking opera voice lessons at the Music Conservatory in her home town.

In the fall of 1939, Ira Malaniuk started travelling between her hometown of Stanislaviv and Lviv, some 135 kilometres away. Adam Didur, the famous bass opera singer, became her teacher.

  • May, 1939, operatic debut as Amneris in Verdi’s opera Aida on the stage of the Lviv Opera House

  • December 13, 1945, debut at the Opera House in Graz, Austria as Azucena in the opera Il trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi

  • August 11, 1951, unexpected debut at the Bayreuth Festival as Fricka in Das Rheingold by Richard Wagner, conducted by Herbert von Karajan

  • March 8, 1954, La Scala debut as Waltraute, a Valkyrie, and the Second Norn in Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) by Richard Wagner

  • May 14, 1976, appeared for the last time in a concert in Vienna.

“I cannot say, where the beginnings of my love of opera were. Already in childhood, they shone for me like a guiding star. Although, in all truth, there was a female opera singer in our family, that reached world wide fame – Salomea Kruszelnicka. She was the daughter of my paternal grandmother’s brother, in short my father’s cousin. Our paths never crossed – I never met Kruszelnicka, never saw her peform on stage, but perhaps some drop of her artistic blood courses through my veins.”

from the autobiography Voice of the Heart by Ira Malaniuk

Ira Malaniuk passed away on February 29, 2009, one month after her 90th birthday. She is buried in Zirl, Austria.

Why do the People of Switzerland Consider Ira Malaniuk to be One of Their Famous Mezzo-sopranos?

l-r. Ira Malaniuk, Lisa Della Casa
l-r. Ira Malaniuk, Lisa Della Casa

Ira Malaniuk spent 5 years (1947 – 1952) as a resident female opera singer-soloist at the Zurich Opera House (then known as the Stadttheater).

While at the Stadttheater, she participated in the world premiere performance in 1949 of Die Schwarze Spinne (The Black Spider) by the Swiss composer, Willy Burkhard with the libretto by Swiss writer, Robert Faesi. The plot of the opera is based on a popular Swiss folk tale that was written down by the Swiss clergyman Albert Bitzius (pen name: Jeremias Gotthelf).

In the world premiere performance of the opera Die Schwarze Spinne, conducted by Hans Knapperstbusch, Malaniuk performed the mezzo soprano role of the nurse, while Lisa Della Casa performed the soprano role of the young village maid.

Malaniuk performed with the Swiss soprano Lisa Della Casa on other occassions, including:

  • the 1949-1950 season premiere at the opera theatre in Zurich in Erwin und Elmire by the Swiss composer Othmar Schoeck

  • the 1956 innaugural orchestra concert at the Salzburger Festspiele under the musical direction of Bruno Walter.

Ira Malaniuk became a Swiss citizen when she married the Swiss doctor, Ernst Baasch on June 22, 1952.

Why is Ira Malaniuk Among the Greats of Austrian Female Opera Singers?

Female Opera Singer Ira Malaniuk, 1999
Female Opera Singer Ira Malaniuk, 1999

As a young 26 year old, following the end of World War II, Ira Malaniuk began her Western European career at the Opera House in Graz. In less than 2 years (1945 – 1947), she performed 10 major roles. At that time, operas in Europe were sung in the local language and Malaniuk performed all her roles in Austria in the German language.

Ten years after leaving Austria, Ira Malaniuk returned as a resident soloist. Over the next seventeen years (1956 – 1973), according to her personal autobiographical calculations, she performed:

  • 270 times as a soloist at the Volksoper Wien

  • 212 times as a soloist at the Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper).

This is an average of 3 soloist performances per month during the opera season!!! In 1973, Ira Malaniuk was awarded the titular Austrian title of Kammersängerin.

Austria was the country where Ira Malaniuk finished her singing career. When she retired from the stage, she continued to teach as Professor at the Graz Music Conservatory (later the University of Music and Performing Arts) from 1970 to 1991.

Ira Malaniuk married Walter Goldschmidt, an Austrian citizen, in the spring of 1946. In her autobiography, Malaniuk claims that this was a marriage of convenience and that they married so that she could obtain Austrian citizenship. The marriage allowed her to get legal working documents. Indeed, the union didn’t last long and the couple separated shortly after the marriage.

Ira Malaniuk also had ancestral ties to Austria.

Malaniuk’s maternal grandmother, Gabriela von Klyucharich, was born in Vienna. At that time, the lands of present-day Western Ukraine were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Habsburg Empire). As a young woman, Ira Malaniuk’s grandmother met Oleksandr-Marjan Zhukovsky. The young couple married in 1883 and moved to Hlushkiv, a village near the city of Stanislaviv. This is where some 35 years later, Ira Malaniuk was born.

As a child, Ira Malaniuk grew up speaking both the German and Ukrainian languages at home.

Why is Ira Malaniuk on the List of Famous People From Germany?

Kammersängerin Ira Malaniuk
Kammersängerin Ira Malaniuk

The Bayreuth Festival is an annual summer festival dedicated to the music of Richard Wagner. Performances take place in a special theatre constructed to the specifications made by Wagner himself.

After World War II, in 1951, Richard Wagner’s grandsons renewed the tradition of the Bayreuth Festival. That innaugural season, Ira Malaniuk signed a contract with Wieland Wagner and Wolfgang Wagner for 11 performances in a variety of roles. For the next 4 summer seasons, until 1954, she perfomed regularly at the Bayreuth Festival.

At that time, the first performance at the Bayreuther Festspiele opened with a performance of Symphony №9 (more commonly known as Ode to Joy) by Ludwig van Beethoven. Ira Malaniuk sang the contralto solo at the 1953 festival opening with conductor Paul Hindemith and the 1954 festival opening with conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler.

From 1952 to 1956, Ira Malaniuk was resident female opera singer-soloist with the Munich Opera. At this time, the Munich Opera was housed in the Prinzregententheater, while the main building was being restored after the war. This was the period of Ira Malaniuk’s greatest fame: tours, guest-appearances, recordings, operas, concerts, interviews…

In 1957, Ira Malaniuk was awarded the German titular title of Kammersängerin.

Why do the People of Ukraine Deem Ira Malaniuk to be One of Their Famous Opera Singers?

Ira Malaniuk spent her childhood and youth in what is present-day Ukraine.

Ira Malaniuk made her operatic debut as a female opera singer on the Lviv Opera House stage and spent the War Years (1941 – 1944) as resident soloist there. With the advancing Soviet armies, she left for Vienna, not to return until some 50 years later in 1994.

“After the War, I became an citizen of Austria, afterwards – a citizen of Switzerland. But, in my heart, I always remained a Ukrainian. And so every country was for me “a foreign land”, those places where I lived – “a second homeland”.

Concert Dedicated to Famous Female Opera Singer Ira Malaniuk
Concert Dedicated to Famous Female Opera Singer Ira Malaniuk

Two years ago, when I was in Vienna and walking past the Staatsoper theatre, I was pleasantly surprised to see Ira Malaniuk’s CD on display in one of the windows. At that time, she was 87 years old and as a singer, a mezzo-soprano had not sung on this famous stage for many years.

At the same time, I was distressed and saddened by the fact that in Ukraine and particularly in Lviv, very few people know anything about her. This world-renowned diva made her opera debut in 1939 as a young 20 year old in the role of Amneris in G. Verdi’s Aida on the stage of the Lviv Opera House. How many singers from Ukraine, or Russia for that matter, had the chance to perform on the stage of the Wagnerian Festival in Bayreuth, or were partnered by such greats as Giuseppe Di Stefano, Mario del Monaco, Birgit Nilsson, or appeared with conductors of the caliber of Herbert von Karajan, Karl Bohm, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Sergiu Celibidache… Personally, I’m not aware of too many…

Understandably, there was the iron curtain. Through luck and good fortune Ira Malaniuk ended up on the other side of that divide. Long ago in 1947, she slipped away from under the nose of the KGB at Semmering’s train station. Perhaps that is the reason why the cultural officials in independent Ukraine have surrounded this famous Ukrainian name in such a shroud of silence.

Whatever the opinions of others, I felt that a concert in honor of Ira Malaniuk had to happen and so it did on May 20, 2009 in the Lviv Philharmonic as part of the International Music Festival “Virtuosi”.

Judging from the reaction of the capacity crowd, the Gala Concert participants were satisfied with the impressive project – a symphony orchestra, 12 opera soloists, the Lviv Opera House Choir, a highly regarded musicologist to introduce the audience to Ira Malaniuk and last, but not least – a full house at the Lviv Philharmonic.

In planning the concert program, I tried first to choose pieces from among those that were the best in Ira Malaniuk’s repertoire. Of course, I also had to consider the capabilities of the singers, whom I had invited to take part in this project. So, there was Mozart and Wagner and von Gluck, and of course, - Verdi, Bizet and Mussorgsky… Unfortunately, despite my attempts, we were unable to perform something by Richard Strauss. Maybe next time! And rest assured, that there will be a next time.

(Myron Yusypovych blog entry – Mary 20, 2009)