Magda László studied at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest with Irene Stowasser and Ferenc Székelyhedi and joined the Budapest Opera in 1943, making her stage debut as Elisabeth / Tannhäuser, followed by Amelia / Simon Boccanegra. She left Hungary in 1946, settling in Italy where initially she sang in concerts with the pianist Luigi Cortese. These were followed by successful radio and opera appearances: she sang Isolde in a 1947 production of Tristan und Isolde for Italian radio (RAI) and created the part of the Mother in Luigi Dallapiccola’s Il prigionero, firstly for RAI in 1949 and then on stage at the 1950 Florence Maggio Musicale, with Hermann Scherchen conducting.
By the time László participated in the 1951 festival of contemporary music at Frankfurt, she had established a strong reputation as an interpreter of modern music. She created the role of Cressida in Walton’s Troilus and Cressida at the Royal Opera House in 1954, the same year in which she sang the part of Manon Lescaut in Henze’s Boulevard Solitude; and sang in Schoenberg’s Von Heute auf Morgen at the Holland Festival in 1958. At Bologna she once again sang the role of the Mother in 1966, followed by Marie / Wozzeck in 1969.
In more traditional repertoire, she took the part of Asteria in Boito’s Nerone in Rome during 1950 and sang the title role in Gluck’s Alceste at the Glyndebourne Festival in 1953, returning the following year to sing the same part as well as Dorabella / Così fan tutte. Also at Glyndebourne, she sang in the 1962 and 1963 performances of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea in Raymond Leppard’s edition, a production which kick-started the post-war revival of interest in this composer’s operas.
Among the numerous parts László sang for Italian radio were the title roles in Alfano’s Sakuntala, Richard Strauss’s Daphne, Busoni’s Turandot and Handel’s Agrippina, as well as Damara / La figlia del re (Lualdi), Griselda / I Lombardi (Verdi), Roxana / King Roger (Szymanowski), Caterina / Madame Sans-Gêne (Giordano), Renata / The Fiery Angel (Prokofiev) and Elena / Paride ed Elena (Gluck).
László’s American debut took place at Town Hall, New York. She also appeared at the Ojai Festival with Stravinsky and with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Reiner.
A notable singing actress, László was also a concert singer of the first rank. During the 1950s she was Scherchen’s favoured soprano for many of his recordings on the Westminster label.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).