The Russian mezzo-soprano, Elena [Yelena] Obraztsova Elena [Yelena] Vassilievna Obraztsova (Russian: Елена Василиевна Образцоваwas) was born in Leningad to Vasily Alekseevich Obraztsov (1905-1989) and Natalia Ivanovna Obraztsova (1913-1994). Memories of Elena’s childhood are connected to war and blockade. Her father left for the front and the family remained in besieged Leningrad up to the end of winter of 1942. Later, Elena, her mother and grandmother were evacuated across Ladoga lake to a small town Ustjuzhnu of the Vologda area where they lived until summer of 1945. After war living was hard and difficult. Her father returned after a year, her mother had to work and Elena was given to a kindergarten. At the age of 5 Elena started singing. She sang what she heard, mainly Strauss's waltzes. As a schoolgirl she had her first lessons in music – she sang for herself or listened to recordings. She spent hours sitting at a loudspeaker during opera transmissions. Since childhood music was the central point of her life. She liked domestic musical evenings where also her father, an engineer by profession, performed: he was an excellent baritone and besides he played violin. From a business trip to Italy he brought a big collection of recordings from which the little girl got acquainted with voices of the well-known singers of that time - Beniamino Gigli, Caruso, Galli-Curzi.
From 1948 to 1954 Elena was a member of the Children's chorus of the Leningrad Palace of Pioneers. The founder and the permanent head of chorus was Maria Fedorovna Zarinskaya. " This chorus has affected me very much", - the singer once admitted. - "There, I actually was “born” as a musician. Maria Fedorovna was certainly an oustanding person and teacher. She made me “fall in love" with singing and was the first person who convinced me that I can become a singer ". Elena was the indispensable participant of all concerts of school amateur performances. On these occasions she performed with great pleasure gipsy romances and popular songs of these years.
From 1954 to 1957 in connection with business translocation of her father, the family lived in Taganrog, then a year in Rostov - at river Don. In Taganrog Lena met the remarkable teacher Anna Timofeevna Kulikova with whom she studied for two years at Tchaikovsky Musical school. At a contest concert at her school she was heard by the director of the Rostov musical school, M.A. Mankovskaja and under her recommendation in 1957 Elena was accepted in the school at once on 2-nd level and after only one year, in August 1958, after successful audition, she was admitted to preparatory branch of the Leningrad conservatory.
Sceptically concerned with their daughter’s “hobby” singing, her parents insisted that she went to a technical college, but Elena - still on preparatory branch - continued her vocal studies: from 100 persons, taking part in the tests the vocal faculty accepted only three, and among them – Elena Obraztsova.
The year 1962 already brought great success to Elena’s life. Two gold medals - at the World Festival of Youth and Students in Helsinki and at the M. I. Glinka - All-Union Competition of Vocalists in Moscow - caused an invitation to Bolshoi Theatre. In 1963/64 she was offered a season contract to prepare Marina Mnishek's part, Polina and Amneris.
In the class of professor A.A. Grigorieva (A. N. Kireev's opera class) she graduated from Leningrad state conservatory in 1964. Elena was allowed to graduate from conservatory without further attending the lectures. On May, 11, 1964 her final examination took place, on which Sofia Petrovna Preobrazhenskaja, chairman of the commission, gave to Elena Obraztsova a “5 plus” - an extraordinary high estimation which has not been given to any student by Leningrad conservatory for about 40 years.
On December 17, 1963, still a student, Elena Obraztsova debuted on the stage of Bolshoi Theatre in the role of Marina Mnishek in M.P. Mussorgsky's opera Boris Godunov with tremendous success - amazing and exciting all Moscow.
Soon after, she travelled with the Bolshoi to Milano and made her debut on October 28, 1964, as Marfa in Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina. The following month she portrayed Maria in War and Peace at La Scala before leaving with the Bolshoi to Montreal's Expo 67. Since that time, Obraztsova established herself as one of the major stars of the Bolshoi. She was also greatly in demand elsewhere, most particularly at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Everything that followed in the largest cities and capitals of the world - Paris, London, Vienna, Milan, Munich, Hamburg, Salzburg, Prague, Berlin, Barcelona, New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, etc. - brought to Elena Obraztsova the glory of becoming one of the most brilliant stars of vocal art of our time.
Nature has generously gifted Elena Obraztsova: a timbre of unique velvetiness, a voice of rare beauty - ranging from nearly masculine depths to the heights of a dramatic soprano - and an extraordinary scenic appearance. She gives to her opera heroines a rare dramatic presence and expressiveness; her talent as an actress is outstanding. - All this is connected to the artist’s fanatical devotion to music. For Elena singing is not simply a profession, it is the focal point and supreme meaning of her life. Therefore, the performances of the singer possess such huge attractive force and Elena is able to touch the souls of the audience - her personality is really magnetic.
Especially the ”Northern Capital” became the basis for the development of Elena’s talent: as the door to Europe, Leningrad/Petersburg helped her to get in touch with all sorts of musical repertoire. Thus, Elena, who easily gets access to different musical styles - yesterday performed Robert Schumann's songs, today switched to Zeller’s couplets, tomorrow to the romances of Granados and the day after tomorrow to Weill songs.
In the role of the Countess in Tchaikovsky’s Queen of spades, fragile and staunch, Elena became a symbol of Petersburg and all its refined sophisticated beauty. In Dargomyzhsky’s romances Elena and her frequent accompanist Vazha Chachava, brought to life the spirit of Petersburg, in the romances of composers of the end of 19th century the burning passions of the city of Dostoevsky and Block break outside. Petersburg is often called “the Italian City” – may be this is why in Elena’s voice the italian passions find a natural haven: just remember her Amneris, Azucena, Ulrica, Santuzza. Elena also took to the heroines of the French repertoire - here she did not “borrow” the French refinement, she lives it: in her Carmen, the first role ever she performed in French language, she shows all the French glamour and her Charlotte penetrates into the essence of the French lyricism.
Elena’s life is also strongly connected to Moscow and the Bolshoi Theatre: here Elena impressed the audience in many roles, e.g. as pious and suffering Marfa in Mussorgsky’s Chovanshtchina; here she lived the sorrow of abandoned Lyubasha in Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Tsar’s bride bringing tears to the eyes of the spectators for Lyubasha’s struggle for love.
Here in Moscow, destiny brought her to Georgy Sviridov, one of the most original Russian composers of 20th century, who made Elena the passionate performer of his music. Performing G. Sviridov's music is one of the most important milestones of Elena Obraztsova’s creative achievements. These concerts became extraordinary events of art in public life. It is essential to mention here E. Obraztsova's interpretation of the vocal cycle Ten songs on Alexander Blok's verses (1980), which the author dedicated to her and Elena’s performance of a composition on Sergej Esenin's verses Cast-off Russia (1983) Sviridov especially created for Elena Obraztsova. Elena has an uniquetalent to perform the music of high romantic feelings - filled with deep, passionate expression, impetuosity, lyrical depth and spirituality.
In total Elena’s repertoire contains nearly 40 roles in operas of Russian and European classical repertoire, but also operas of composers of 20th century, operetta and drama: Marina Mnishek (Boris Godunov, 1963), the Governess, Polina, Milovzor (1964), Countess (1965, Queen of spades), Lyubasha (Tsar’s bride, 1967), Kochakovna (Prince Igor, 1968), Marfa (Chovantchina, 1968). Lyubava (Sadko, 1979), Amneris (Aida, 1965), Azucena (Troubadour, 1972), Eboli (Don Carlo, 1973), Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana, 1977), Ulrica (Un ballo in maschera, 1977), Principessa di Bouillon (Adriana Lecouvreur, 1977), Adalgisa (Norma, 1979), Giovanna Seymour (Anna Bolena, 1982), Orfeo (Orfeo and Eurydice, 1984), Neris (Medea, 1989), Leonora (La Favorita, 1992), Principessa (Suor Angelica, 1992), Carmen (Carmen, 1972), Charlotte (Werther, 1974), Dalila (Samson and Dalila, 1974), Hérodiade (Hérodiade, 1990), Oberon (Benjamin Britten’s Mid Summernight’s Dream, 1965), Zhenia Komelkova (K.Molchanov’s Dawns are quiet, 1975), Judith (Béla Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle, 1978), Iocaste (Igor Stravinsky’s King Oedip, 1980), Eudossia (Ottorino Respighi's La Fiamma, 1990); Frossia (S. Prokofjev’s Semyon Kotko, 1970), Princess Maria (1964), Helen Bezukhova (1971), Madame Akhrosimova (War and peace", 2000), Babulenka (The Gambler, 1996) and others.
In 1999 Elena Obraztsova debuted on the stage of a dramatical theater in the play Antonio von Elba of Renato Mainardi. In 2001, she appeared in the first of two Met premieres of operas by Prokofiev when she sang the role of Babulenka in The Gambler, followed in 2002, by Madame Akhrosimova in War and Peace, which also marked the debut of Anna Netrebko. She also sang the Countess in The Queen of Spades for Los Angeles Opera (2001) and for Washington Opera (2002) with Plácido Domingo and Galina Gorchakova. Of her performance, one reviewer said, "Elena Obraztsova inhabited the role of the Countess, down to the trembling head and hands, the penetrating gaze, the world-weary impatience and disdain. The worn edges around the veteran mezzo's voice only enhanced the effect." In 2003-4, she appeared as Prince Orlovsky in Die Fledermaus at Washington Opera; followed in 2006 with a tremendous success as Marquise de Berkenfeld In Donizetti's opera La Fille du Régiment in Tokyo with Stefania Bonfadelli and Juan Diego Florez in the cast.
During her career, Elena Obraztsova has sung over thirty operatic roles on the stage. She was one of the first singers from Russia to become internationally famous. Several of her Met performances have been broadcasted on radio and television and she has an extensive discography and videography. Her thrilling voice made her a favorite at the Met and at La Scala, mostly due to her theatrical flair and vocal intensity.
Elena Obraztsova performed at the leading opera theatres of the world: Marseilles Opera (debut in 1973 as Carmen), Liceo (debut in 1974 as Dalila), Wiener Staatsoper (debut in 1975 as Carmen and Amneris), San Francisco (debut in 1975 as Azucena), La Scala (debut in 1976 as Charlotte), Metropolitan Opera (debut in 1976 as) Amneris), the International musical festival in Orange (debut in 1978 as Dalila), musical festival in Salzburg (debut in 1978 as Eboli), theatre Covent-Garden (debut in 1981 as Azucena), Teatro Colon (debut in 1982 as Marfa); and also in Paris, Munich, Hamburg, Oslo, Stockholm, Rome, Parma, Venice, Lisbon, Madrid, Zurich, Prague, Sofia, Athenes, Bratislava, Belgrade, Budapest, Seoul, Macao, Taiwan, Tokyo, etc.
Elena Obraztsova maintains active concert activity in Russia and worldwide. The repertoire of her recitals / concerts include the music of more than 100 Russian and foreign composers: M.I. Glinka, A.S. Dargomyzhsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, M.P. Mussorgsky, P.I. Tchaikovsky, Sergei Rachmaninov, S.S. Prokofiev, G.V. Sviridov, J.S. Bach, George Frideric Handel, W.A. Mozart, L.v. Beethoven, Robert Schumann, R. Wagner, Johannes Brahms, K. Weill, Gustav Mahler, G. Donizetti, G. Verdi, G. Puccini, P. Mascagni, F. Cilea, H. Berlioz, Georges Bizet, J. Massenet, Camille Saint-Saëns, Gabriel Fauré, Francis Poulenc, E. Satie, M de Falla, E. Granados, etc. Unforgettable Russian songs, ancient romances sound stunning in Elena’s interpretations. Elena also participated in performances of oratorios, cantatas, masses (Antonio Vivaldi, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Rossini, L.v. Beethoven,. Verdi, J. Brahms, A.I. Khachaturian) and productions of Russian sacred music (S. Rachmaninov, P.G. Chesnokov).
The concerts devoted to the music of classical operettas (Offenbach, Strauss, Lehar, Kalman, etc.), her performances of the songs of Kurt Weill have added new facettes to her many-sided talent - for many people completely unexpected.
The singer worked with many renowned accompanists: A. P. Erokhin (1965-1977), V. N. Chachava (since 1978 - 2011), G. Sviridov, A. Nasedkin, J. Wustman, E. Shenderovich, E. Muller, etc.
In 2003 - 2004 Elena Obraztsova gave a series of concerts surprising the audience with a program containing songs of classical jazz only - e.g. songs of Ellington, Gershwin, Marcus, etc. - accompanied by Butman Quartet and The Sultani Swing Orchestra.
At the opera and in concerts Elena Obraztsova’s partners were oustanding musicians and conductors such as: F. Molinari-Pradelli; Herbert von Karajan, G. Gavazzeni, Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Muti, G. Patané, Carlo Maria Giulini, G. Sinopoli, Riccardo Chailly, N. Santi, James Levine, Lorin Maazel, G. Prêtre, Daniel Barenboim, J. Ferenczyk, C. Kleiber, Richard Bonynge, Christoph von Dohnányi, P. Maag, K. Kord, Sixten Ehrling, E. Svetlanov, J. Temirkanov, G. Rozhdestvensky, V. Gergiev, V. Fedoseev, Vladimir Spivakov, Saulius Sondeckis, V. Minin; and singers such as F. Barbieri, Joan Sutherland, M. Caballé, R. Scotto, Mirella Freni, Ileana Cotrubas, R. Kabaivanska, Leontyne Price, M. Price, M. Chiara, E. Marton, S. Verrett, K. Ricciarelli, Martina Arroyo, R. Hunter, A. Millo, Anna Tomowa-Sintow, G. Gorchakova; C. Bergonzi, A. Kraus, Plácido Domingo, L. Pavarotti, J. King, J. Carreras, P. Dvorsky, F. Bonisolli, J. Aragall, C. Cossutta, V. Lucchetti, N. Shicoff, N. A, V. Galuzin, P. Cappuccilli, I. Wixell, R. Bruson, J. Diaz, J. Pons, S. Milnes, José van Dam, S. Lejferkus, V. Chernov, C. Siepi, N. Ghiaurov, N. Giuselev, P. Plishka, R. Raimondi, M. Manuguerra, Martti Talvela, S. Estes, L. Nucci, L. Quillico, G. Zancanaro, and at the Bolshoi - the conductors A. Melik-Pashaev, O. Dmitriadi, B. Khaikin, Yuri Simonov, A. Zhiuraitis, M. Ermler and the singers: G. Vishnevskaja, T. Milashkina, M. Kasrashvili, B. Rudenko, P. Lisitsian, A.Ognivtsev, I. Petrov, Z. Andzhaparidze, A. Ivanov, A. Vedernikov, E. Nesterenko, A. Ejzen, J. Mazurok, V. Atlantov, Z. Sotkilava, and many others.
In 1986 she debuted as a stage director at the Bolshoi with .Massenet's opera Werther.
In 1991, after the phenomenal success of the Three Tenors, she appeared with Renata Scotto and Ileana Cotrubas in a concert entitled The Three Sopranos in the Roman amphitheatre in Syracuse, Italy with the Czech Symphony Orchestra. The concert which consists mostly of Italian and French arias was made into a video and DVD.
From 1973 to 1994 Elena Obraztsova gave lessons at the Moscow state conservatory; since 1984 - as a regular professor. Now she teaches at Tokyo musical academy , gives masters - classes in Europe and Japan and in the Academy of young opera singers at Marinskij theatre in Saint Petersburg. She was a member of the jury of the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow (1994), the international competition of vocalists in Marseilles (1997), the international competition in Saint Petersburg (1998), Ferruccio Tagliavini international competition in Deutschlandsberg Austria, 1998 and 1999, Montserrat Caballé’s international competition of opera singers (Andorra, 1999). The first of a series of contests in Elena Obraztsova’s own name, the 1st International competition of young opera singers took place in September, 1999 in Saint Petersburg (followed by competitions in 2001, 2003 and 2005 in St. Petersburg , 2006 in Moscow and 2007 and 2009 in St. Petersburg). In September 2008 Elena Obraztsova chaired the jury in a special tenors contest honouring the memory of Luciano Pavarotti (rip). In January 2010 Elena Obraztsova participated in the jury of 47th F. Vinas Competition in Barcelona. In 2011 an all mezzo soprano contest in memoriam Fedora Barbieri was scheduled for end of december, but there is no evidence yet whether the contest was held or not.
Elena Obraztsova also appeared in musical films: My Carmen (1977), My image will appear in front of you (1979), Happy cooperation, Elena Obraztsova in Japan (1980), Elena Obraztsova sings (1980), The Merry Widow (1984), Love and suffering of Elena Obraztsova (1988), Higher, than love (1991), Gift and fate (1993), The Great Elena (1995), etc. - In December 2006 Telekanal Kultura dedicated to Elena a special portrait in 4 parts where she talked about her carreer, life and art. On occasion of her 70th birthday Russian TV honored Elena with a portrait Life like a corrida. An outstanding work of the singer was the role of Santuzza in Zeffirelli’s film Cavalleria Rusticana (1981), which the well-known director based on his opera production at La Scala. Elena's partners were Plácido Domingo, Fedora Barbieri, Renato Bruson. " In my life” wrote Zeffirelli, “there were three shocks: Anna Magnani, Maria Callas and Elena Obraztsova, and the latter created a real miracle at the shootings of the film “Cavalleria Rusticana ". – How sad for us that several scenes of Elena were cut from the video… Nevertheless, several “visual” documents still give us evidence of Elena’s great operatic performances: Don Carlo at La Scala 1978, Carmen (Vienna 1978), Un ballo in maschera (1977), Queen of Spades (1987), Aida (1988), Three sopranos (1991), etc.
A remarkable manifestation of the art of this oustanding singer is a set of ten complete operas, recorded in 1970’s-1980’s in the most renowned studios of the world with well-known conductors and singers: Herbert von Karajan, Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Muti, G. Prêtre, James Levine, Lorin Maazel, Carlo Maria Giulini, Daniel Barenboim, Riccardo Chailly, Plácido Domingo, R. Scotto, Leontyne Price, P. Cappuccili, Ileana Cotrubas and many others.
Under the conditions of a rigid competition between the big Labels outside Russia it was extremely difficult for her to manage the necessary "breaks" for the studio work. Her presence often was required on short notice - which is a problem of inconceivable complexity for a guest performer who is not working constantly in the West - but Elena Obraztsova resolved it with discipline and the force of the great talent.
In total her discography contains more than 50 discs which have been released by the well-known labels: Melodiya", Роlуdor, DG, ЕМI, СВS, Philips, etc. among them operas, an oratorio, cantatas, solo discs, recitals of chamber and opera music: Borodin’s Prince Igor, Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, Khovanshtchina, Prokofiev’s The Gambler, B. Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle, G. Bizet’s Carmen, Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, Luisa Miller, Troubadour, Aida", Don Carlo, Nabucco, Rigoletto, Massenet’s.Werther, Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, C. Saint-Saëns’ Samson and Dalila, Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, A. Vivaldi’s Gloria, G.B. Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, Rossini’s Petite messe solennelle, Verdi’s Requiem, Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder, J. Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody, Robert Schumann songs and romances, romances by Tchaikovsky, S. Rachmaninov, Sviridov, Russian songs, ancient romances and more. In March 2010, a new recording of Giordano’s Andrea Chenier has been released with Elena Obraztsova as Madelon.
Elena Obraztsova 's creativity was and is highly appreciated by the governments and public organizations of many countries of the world. She is a “National Artist” of the USSR (1976), a “Hero of Socialist Work” (1990), the winner of the Lenin award (1976), the winner of the Glinka State award (1973), Lenin award and the Gold medal " the Sickle and Hammer " (1990), two awards of the Labour Red Banner (1971, 1980), an award "For merits for the Fatherland" III degree (1999), E. Granados medal (Spain 1970), "the golden feather of critics" (Wiesbaden 1972), Bartok award (Hungary, 1982), Grand prix of the French Academy (1982), award of the Association of theatres of Sicily (Italy, 1994), the award of San Francisco "For outstanding merits for the society" (USA), and also St. Nikolai's award (Ukraine, 1998), an award of Russian Academy of Arts and Music (1999), the Honourable Medal of the Academy of Russian Art (1999), etc.
Elena Obraztsova was the winner of the competition of vocalists of VIII World festival of youth and students (a gold medal, Helsinki, 1962), the winner of II Glinka All-Union competition of vocalists (a gold medal, Moscow, 1962), the winner of IV International Tchaikovsky competition (a gold medal, Moscow, 1970), the winner of VIII International Vinay competition of vocalists (the Gold medal, Barcelona, 1970).
Elena is a honorary member of Pushkin Academy (1995), a member of Russian academy of arts and music (1999), a member of the International society of frof the Russian museum (1998).
On October, 24, 1981 the little planet № 4623 received the name "Obraztsova".
Today Elena Obraztsova lives and works in Moscow and St. Petersburg. In June 2007 she was appointed art director of Mikhailovsky Theater in St. Petersburg. In autumn 2008 her cooperation with Mikhailovsky Theater as art director ended; nevertheless Elena Obraztsova regularly performs at Mikhailovsky Theater - mainly in the role of the Countess in Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades.
First husband: Vyacheslav Petrovich Makarov (b 1938), a physicist. Second husband: Algis Martselovich Zhiuraitis (1928-1998), conductor. Elena Obraztsova has a daughter from her first marriage - Elena Vjacheslavovna Makarova (b 1966), who is a singer (soprano) and a grandson - Alexander Makarov (b 1988).