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Katherine Hilgenberg (Soprano)

Born: December 29, 1920 - Chicago, Illinois, USA
Died: March 18, 1988 - Pinckney, Livingston, Michigan, Illinois, USA

Katherine E. Hilgenberg was a well-known opera singer. Her parents came from Russia in 1912 and 1916. She was one of nine children. Her father was David (Davidovich) Hilgenberg, who was born near Saratov, Russia. In the USA he worked as a product researcher for Westinghouse and then started a neon sign business, still being run by the Hilgenberg family.

Katherine Hilgenberg was on the roster of the San Francisco Opera, as one of the leading contraltos, from 1955 through 1961, with over 35 roles. She debuted as one of the three noble orphans in Der Rosenkavalier (also essaying Gertrude in Louise, the Countess in Andrea Chenier, a page in Lohengrin and Marthe in Faust). She was Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro in 1958, a cast that included Elisabeth Schwarzkopf as the Countess. She bowed out with Maddalena in Rigoletto, in a season where her other assignments included Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, the Innkeeper in Boris, Magdalene in Meistersinger. In addition, she had a small role in the Mario Lanza film, Because You're Mine, in a Cavalleria Rusticana operatic sequence, in which Hilgenberg played the role of Mamma Lucia.

Katherine Hilgenberg was a voice teacher at the University of Michigan School of Music until her death. Among her pupils was the mezzo-contralto Cadence de Lattre. She also directed operas for the Opera Theatre of this school, such as The Secret Marriage by D. Cimarosa (August 1973).

Recordings: Carousel as Nettie (1965, RCA recording of the Music Theater of Lincoln Center's production).

Niel Rishoi wrote: "Hilgenberg had a cathedral organ-like voice, voluminous, and with rich, velvety bottom notes. 'You'll Never Walk Alone' just pours out with unbelievable power."
Dan Kessler wrote: "Katherine Hilgenberg… stood out as an exceptional comprimario singer. I thought to myself, if she is the standard for smaller roles in this house, they really have something to be proud of. She had a wonderful stage presence and her mezzo dusky voice carried quite well in that house. I have yet to witness a Marcellina that equalled her. She certainly was special in a very special cast."

Source: Various websites, including Opera-L Mailing List (July 2001) & Hilgenberg's News Website (March 2001); Social Security records online
Contributed by Aryeh Oron (April 2006); Alan Williams (December 2006); Manfred Krugmann (Photos 01-02, July 2011)

Recordings of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works




Roger Wagner


BWV 65, BWV 106

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