Celebrated Russia Opera Star Galina Vishnevskaya Dies at 86

Wednesday, 12 Dec 2012 05:21 AM

By Bill Hoffmann

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MOSCOW — Celebrated Russian opera star Galina Vishnevskaya — whose fiery dissident views forced her into exile for 16 years — has died at the age of 86.
 
The beloved soprano made her professional debut in 1944 and went onto sing at the Metropolitan Opera in 1961 and La Scala in 1964, in such operas as Aida and Turnadot.

Her most famous roles included that of Violetta, Tosca, Cherubino, and Leonore.
 
Vishnevskaya was married to acclaimed cellist Mstilav Rostropovich, who she performed with regularly around the world.

But the two sparked the wrath of the Soviet government with their criticism of the Soviet government and friendships with such dissidents as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who stayed at their country home to write “The Gulag Archipelago,’’ his famed look at Soviet forced labor camps.

In 1974, the couple asked the Soviet government for an extended leave and went into exile, eventually moving to the United States where Vishnevskaya’s career continued to soar.

Their ongoing criticism of Soviet regime, prompted the Soviet Union to strip the couple of their citizenship in 1978. But they made a triumphant return to Russia in 1990 under the relaxed leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev.

Over her career, she was lauded with many awards including She received the Order of Lenin and the coveted title of People's Artist.

"What she did for Russian culture, for the development of Russian society, cannot be overstated," Mikhail Shvydkoy, the Kremlin's envoy on international culture, told London’s Guardian newspaper.

"She was an amazing woman, an amazing singer, and an amazing person. This is a great loss not just for Russian, but for world, culture."

Gorbachev told Interfax: “This is a huge loss for Russian culture. She was an outstanding performer and singer, a person with a global name.’’

One of Vishneyskaya’s legacies is an opera training school she founded in Moscow in 1992.

Late in life, Vishnevskaya became a movie star, playing the role of a grandmother in Alexander Sokurov’s 2007 drama “Second Chechen War.’’

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