Although Suzanne Danco grew up with a Flemish background, her native language was French. She studied at the Brussels Conservatoire, where she won several prizes and gained valuable experience as a chorus member. In 1936 she won a singing competition in Vienna and, on the advice of the conductor Erich Kleiber, went on to study with the distinguished teacher Fernando Carpi in Prague.
During 1940 Danco gave a series of recitals in Italy and sang a small role in the first performance of Dallapiccola’s Volo di notte at the Maggio Musicale in Florence. Her debut as Fiordiligi / Così fan tutte at Genoa in 1941 was well received: this role was to remain central to her repertoire for many years. She returned to the Maggio Musicale in 1942 as Donna Elvira / Don Giovanni and in 1943 as Dorabella / Così fan tutte.
Following the end of World War II Danco firmly established herself as a leading singer of her generation, participating in two important Italian premieres at La Scala, Milan: as Ellen Orford in Britten’s Peter Grimes in 1947 and as Jocasta in Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex in 1948. She then sang Marie in Berg’s Wozzeck at the San Carlo, Naples in 1949, declaring that the part held no difficulties for her; and in the same year appeared at the Aix-en-Provence Festival for the first time as Donna Elvira. Having toured America during 1950 with the pianist Paul Ulanowsky, Danco made her English debut at Glyndebourne in 1951 as Donna Elvira and in the autumn of the same year sang Mimì / La Bohème with the Covent Garden Company at the Royal Opera House, London. Opera magazine was enthusiastic: ‘…she was a convincing Mimì, really looking the part, and achieving the utmost pathos with the simplest of means.’
Throughout the 1950s Danco was one of the most notable of European sopranos. Her roles included Rosina / Il barbiere di Siviglia, Norina / Don Pasquale, Adina / L’elisir d’amore, Violetta / La traviata, Elsa / Lohengrin, Eva / Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Sophie / Der Rosenkavalier, Marguerite / Faust (Gounod), Leila / Les Pêcheurs de Perles and the title roles in Manon (Massenet) and Louise (Charpentier). She established a strong presence at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in the productions conducted there by Hans Rosbaud. Another major conductor with whom she enjoyed an especially close musical relationship was Ernest Ansermet, then a significant Decca recording artist with the
Suisse Romande Orchestra, based in Geneva, with whom Danco made a number of important recordings. She also recorded for Decca with her old mentor Erich Kleiber.
The epitome of the well-schooled, clear-voiced soprano in the French tradition, Danco was extremely successful in song: she performed a wide repertoire with impeccable taste and an unerring sense of the appropriate style. By 1960 her operatic career was beginning to slow down, although in 1965 she sang Cherubino / Le nozze di Figaro at the Teatro Communale, Florence and Geneviève / Pelléas et Mélisande as part of the following year’s Maggio Musicale. She continued to sing in concert until 1970, when she made her final appearance as the soprano soloist in Mahler’s Symphony No. 4.
Danco then taught widely, notably at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena and at the Britten-Pears School at Snape in Suffolk. Her teaching partnerships with the tenor Hugues Cuénod were notable for their stress on the impeccable style of which they had both been such fine exponents. She died at her villa outside Florence, named ‘Amarilli’ after the song by Caccini and perhaps linked to her 1949 Decca recording of it, which gained high critical praise for its faultless vocalism.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).