Anna Russell (1911-2006)
I note here with sadness the passing of Anna Russell, the funniest lady in classical music. I was privileged to see her perform at Carnegie Hall twice. The first time, in 1965, the hall was nearly empty. The second time, for her farewell tour in 1984, the place was packed and the audience was in stitches. She had impeccable timing, an upper crust British accent that made everything funnier (to American audiences, at least), and knowledge of music and musicians that skewered the pompous, the pretentious, and the just plain silly.
The obituary in The New York Times was excellent (registration required and it’s probably on Times Select by now). Other good pieces are in The Telegraph, The Washington Post, and Opera News, which has a lovely photo of Ms. Russell in her salad days. A personal reminiscence from a Canadian point of view is in this piece from La Scena Musicale.
The picture below is of Russell and the Valkyries from a Canadian production of Die Walküre in 2004.
Some clips are posted at google.com (here and here) for anyone who never saw her and for anyone who did. VAI has a DVD taped at her (First) Farewell Tour, television appearances from the 1960s and 70s, and a CD of her performance in Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf’s opera, Arcifanfano or You’re Always Too Old to Learn, with the great American soprano Eleanor Steber, as well as a live performance of some of her opera pieces from 1973.
It’s a cliche, but true nevertheless, that we will not see her like again.