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Suzanne Danco (Soprano, Mezzo-soprano)

Born: January 22, 1911 - Brussels, Belgium
Died: August 10, 2000 - Fiesole, just above Florence, Italy

The admired Belgian soprano (and mezzo-soprano), Suzanne Danco, was born and brought up at Brussels in a Flemish milieu. Her family did not give her much encouragement when she decided to become a singer. Instead she was supported in her studies at the Brussels Music Conservatory by the Queen of the Belgians. Then, on the advice of the distinguished conductor Erich Kleiber, and after winning the Vienna vocal competition in 1936, she worked with the celebrated teacher Fernando Carpi, then resident in Prague.

Suzanne Danco then went to Italy, where she made her debut as a concert artist in 1940. She made her stage debut at the Genoa Opera in 1941, as Fiordiligi, the role that was to become her calling-card in many theatres. It was as much a favourite with her as with her audiences. Shortly after the war, she had much success at Milanís La Scala, where she sang in the Italian premiers of Peter Grimes (as Ellen Orford, 1947) and Oedipus Rex (as Jocasta, 1948). Then at the San Carlo in Naples, she undertook Marie in the Neapolitan premiere of Wozzeck. Her performances in these roles not only showed her eclectic taste but also proved what she later averred, namely that she always loved everything she sang.

Suzanne Danco's first stage appearances in Britain were at Glyndebourne in 1951 as Donna Elvira, a role well fitted to her vocal and histrionic style. That year she also made her debut at Covent Garden, as Mimì. In spite of her success in the part ≠ Opera magazine reported that "she was a convincing Mimì, really looking the part, and achieving the utmost pathos with the simplest of means" ≠ she never seems to have been invited back to the house. Danco was prominent in the early years of the Aix-en-Provence Festival in her Mozart roles, encouraged there by the Festival's presiding conductor, Hans Rosbaud, who was noted for choosing his casts with discernment. She takes Elvira in his live recording from Aix of Don Giovanni. She sang in the USA for the first time in 1950.

Suzanne Danco was praised for her wide musical culture and refinement both on stage and in recital. Danco was much admired for her Mozartian roles and for Mélisande in Debussy's Pelleas et Mélisande. Ernest Ansermet thought her an ideal interpreter of French music, and she participated in many of his classic performances for Decca, among them Mélisande in his first recording of Debussy's opera. She took part in his set of Ravel's two one-act operas, and several recordings by French composers of songs with orchestra. At the same time Erich Kleiber remembered her for his benchmark set of Le nozze di Figaro, where she undertakes Cherubino. Among her other notable roles were Donna Anna, and Alban Bergís Marie.

Suzanne Danco was especially praised as a concert artist, excelling in the French repertory, particularly in works of Berlioz, Debussy, and Ravel. Danco was sometimes criticised for a 'coolness' in her singing. Hers was more of an 'instrumental' sounding voice than a full-blooded Italianate one. It was especially suited to the improved medium of recording after WWII and her recordings for Decca in the 1940's and 1950's are justly prized. Suzanne Danco was the epitome of the well-schooled, clear-voiced soprano in the French tradition. She sang her wide repertory with impeccable taste and an unerring sense of the requisite style for the music in hand. She impressed audiences throughout the early postwar years with her deeply wrought and intense interpretations, which graced many of the opera houses of Europe and beyond.

Her operatic career rather petered out after 1960, but she continued to appear occasionally in concert. Her final appearance was as the soprano soloist in Gustav Mahler's Fourth Symphony in 1970. After she retired she became a sought-after teacher at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena. More recently, she was a frequent visitor to the Britten-Pears School at Snape, near Aldeburgh in Suffolk. There she dispensed the wisdom of her years in a strict but friendly manner. Those who attended her classes will never forget her joint courses with the veteran Swiss tenor Hugues Cuénod, which were entertaining events in themselves and object-lessons in the teaching of the impeccable style of which both had been such fine exponents in their respective careers. She named her villa at Fiesole (where she died), 'Amarilli', probably after the song of that name by Caccini, which became something of a signature piece in her repertory.

Source: Bakerís Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997); Decca Website; Liner notes to the CD ĎSuzanne Danco: Bachís Cantatas & arias (Alan Blythe, 2003); Bill DePeter (June 2004)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (June 2001, June 2004)

Recordings of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works




George Enescu


BWV 232

Karl Münchinger


BWV 51, BWV 202, BWV 478, BWV 516

Links to other Sites

Decca Music Group: Suzanne Danco
Suzanne Danco (Skynet)

Testament: Booklet notes: Suzanne Danco - Bachís Cantatas & arias

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