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Gabriela Beňačková studied with Tatiana Kresanková in Zilina, Slovakia and then with Janko Blaho at the Bratislava Conservatory. She was a prizewinner at the 1962 Janáček Competition at Luhačovice, Moravia and also the 1963 Dvořák Competition at Karlovy Vary, Bohemia. She sang in several smaller theatres before joining the company of the National Theatre, Prague, where she made her début in 1970 as Natasha/War and Peace, going on to sing major lyrico-dramatic rôles there. She first sang one of her most famous assumptions, Janáček’s Jenůfa, in Prague in 1975, making her Vienna State Opera début in this part in1978. Her Covent Garden début was in 1979 as Tatyana/Eugene Onegin.

From 1981 Beňačková pursued a freelance career, appearing frequently in Munich and Vienna (she was made a Kammersängerin of the Vienna State Opera in 1988). Major rôles at this time included Maddalena/Andrea Chénier, Marguerite/Faust and the title rôle in Smetana’s Libuše, which she sang at the reopening of the Prague National Theatre in 1983. Beňačková made her American début in 1986 as Jenůfa at San Francisco and sang Dvořák’s Rusalka in a concert performance in New York in 1987. She first appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in 1992 as Kát’a Kabanová, returning to sing Leonora/Fidelio, Mimì/La Bohème, Jenůfa, Rusalka and Desdemona/Otello.

During the 1990s Beňačková took on some heavier rôles, singing Elisabetta/Don Carlo and Ariadne/Ariadne auf Naxos as well as Leonora, Maddalena and Rusalka in Zürich, where she was a guest from 1992. She appeared as Amelia/Un ballo in maschera in Paris in 1993 and as Senta/Der fliegende Holländer in Venice in 1995, as well as repeating her Jenůfa in Berlin in 1993.

Following her farewell tour in 2008 Beňačková took up the post of director of the Bratislava Opera. The possessor of both a luxuriant voice and an excellent stage presence, Beňačková was the pre-eminent Jenůfa and Rusalka of her generation and was equally at home in the traditional Italian and German repertoire, as well as being a fine concert singer. She committed many of her major rôles to disc, those recordings with Václav Neumann and Sir Charles Mackerras conducting being especially memorable.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers).

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