Gundula Janowitz

Gundula Janowitz (born August 2, 1937)[1] is a German-born Austrian lyric soprano singer of operas, oratorios, lieder, and concerts. She is one of the most renowned opera singers of the 20th century and was pre-eminent in the 1960s and 1970s.


Janowitz was born in Berlin, but grew up in Graz, Austria, where she became a naturalised Austrian.[2] She studied at the Graz Conservatory in Austria,[3] and had already begun to sing at the highest level by the end of the 1950s (Haydn's The Creation, with Herbert von Karajan in 1960). In 1959, Karajan engaged her as Barbarina in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro at the Vienna State Opera, of which she became a permanent member in 1962.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Janowitz became one of the most popular singers in her field internationally and she developed a comprehensive discography of works ranging from Bach to Richard Strauss. Those eminent conductors with whom she performed included Karajan, but also Otto Klemperer, Eugen Jochum, Leonard Bernstein, Rafael Kubelík, Karl Böhm, Georg Solti, and Carlos Kleiber.

One of the emphases of Janowitz's work was the development of song recitals, which she gave several times at the Salzburg Festivals. Following her vocal career, she was active as a vocal teacher. In 1990, she temporarily took over the position of Opera Director in Graz.[3]

In 1978, Janowitz was awarded the Joseph Marx Music Prize of the state of Styria, Austria, named for the composer Joseph Marx.[4] Most unusually, she was given the title Kammersängerin twice: first in 1969 in Vienna, and again in 1974 in Berlin.[5]

Janowitz appeared on many of the great stages of the world, including Glyndebourne Festival Opera, the Bayreuther Festspiele, the Salzburg Easter Festivals, the Metropolitan Opera, the Paris Opéra, the Teatro alla Scala and the Royal Opera House. In 1980, she sang the part of the Countess in a now legendary new production of Le nozze di Figaro (with Georg Solti as conductor, Giorgio Strehler as director and Ezio Frigerio as set designer). Her recording of Schubert's Lieder for female voice has been twice awarded Germany's Deutscher Schallplattenpreis.[6]

Janowitz's farewell to the operatic stage was on May 18, 1990, at the Vienna State Opera in the title role of Ariadne auf Naxos (with Heinrich Hollreiser as conductor, and Filippo Sanjust as director and designer). She kept singing Lieder recitals until 1997, when she completely retired from performing. As well as being an honorary member of the Vienna State Opera and of the Academy of Music in Graz, she was appointed an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in London in 2000.

Voice and repertory

Janowitz's voice is recognizable by its pure,[7][8] "crystal clear”,[9] "creamy"[10] tone, and rapid vibrato.[11] Like her predecessor Maria Stader, who had similar timbre to hers, and like her contemporary, Elizabeth Harwood, Janowitz mastered first and foremost the high and middle register and lyrical-emotional expression. Despite her comparatively weak sound projection, she occasionally performed in dramatic roles (Sieglinde, Leonore, Elsa) or comic roles (Marzelline, Rosalinde), but she was most highly regarded as Fiordiligi, Countess Rosina Almaviva, Pamina, Agathe, Arabella, Ariadne, the Angel Gabriel (The Creation), Countess Madeleine, and in sacred music.[1] Of her interpretation of Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss, David Bowie wrote: "Although Eleanor Steber and Lisa della Casa do fine interpretations of this monumental work, Janowitz’s performance [...] has been described, rightly, as transcendental. It aches with love for a life that is quietly fading. I know of no other piece of music, nor any performance, which moves me quite like this."[12] With a few exceptions, she avoided foreign-language roles (although recordings exist of her singing Don Carlos and Verdi's Requiem and all three Mozart/DaPonte operas in Italian). An excerpt of her portrayal of the Figaro Countess in the duettino "Canzonetta sull'aria" with Swiss soprano Edith Mathis features prominently in The Shawshank Redemption (1994).

Selected discography



  • Gundula Janowitz: In Concert (recorded live) (1970, conductor Berislav Klobučar, Video Artists International Inc.)
  • Beethoven Symphony No.9 in D minor, Op.125 "Choral" (1968, conductor/director Herbert von Karajan, Unitel Classica)
  • Bach Mass in B minor BWV 232 (1969, conductor Karl Richter; director Arne Arbom, Unitel Classica)
  • Mozart Requiem K.626 (1971, conductor Karl Böhm; director Hugo Käch, Unitel Classica)
  • Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem, op.45 (1978, conductor/director Herbert von Karajan, Unitel Classica)


Decorations and awards


  1. "Janowitz, Gundula" by Alan Blyth, Grove Music Online (subscription required)
  2. "Gundula Janowitz 70" by Manuel Brug, Die Welt (August 2, 2007) (in German)
  3. Gundula Janowitz at
  4. Joseph Marx: The Life and Works of the Composer Joseph Marx
  5. "Gundula Janowitz". Archived from the original on December 27, 2014. Retrieved February 19, 2016.
  6. "BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Jury Members".
  7. "Gundula Janowitz (Gala 337)". Norbeck, Peters & Ford. Retrieved September 2, 2015.
  8. "Gundula Janowitz - (The) Golden Voice". by James Jolly, Gramophone (April 1, 2006)
  9. Daily Mail, July 1964, quoted here:
  11. Ferrante, Isidoro (September 2, 2011). "Vibrato rate and extent in soprano voice: A survey on one century of singing" (PDF). The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 130 (3): 1686. doi:10.1121/1.3621017.
  12. Bowie, D., "Confessions of a Vinyl Junkie", Vanity Fair, Nov., 2003.
  13. "Reply to a parliamentary question" (pdf) (in German). p. 1250. Retrieved January 21, 2013.
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