The world of opera is in mourning this week after legendary lyric soprano Maralin Niska passed away on Saturday. She was 89 years-old.
According to the New York Times, Niska joined the New York City Opera in 1967 and quickly became a fixture there. Known for her movie star looks, Niska’s most famous roles included Cio-Cio-San in Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly,” Violetta in Verdi’s “La Traviata” and the title role in Richard Strauss’s “Ariadne auf Naxos.”
Niska played the lead in 29 productions for the New York City Opera, more than any other singer. Her breakout role was in Janacek’s “The Makropulos Affair” as Emilia Marty, a singer who lived for 342 years after drinking a magic potion.
“Miss Niska was sensational,” the critic Harold C. Schonberg wrote in The New York Times. “It was clear that her mother was a vampire, her father a lycanthrope. She looked like a Gibson girl with the best features of both her parents. Implacable, beautiful, cold, selfish, hard, amoral, she lowered the temperature of the stage to near absolute zero.”
Though she became a legend during her career, Niska was always uncomfortable with being labelled a star.
“It almost means not being a human being, because you feel you have to be perfect every time,” she told The Times in 1971. “I want to experiment, or be allowed to fail or be told I’m bad when I’m bad. I want to know what people are saying behind my back.”