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Zara Dolukhanova (Mezzo-soprano, Contralto)

Born: March 5, 1918 - Moscow, Russia
Died: December 4, 2007 - Moscow, Russia

The great Armenian mezzo-soprano and contralto, Zara [Sara] Dolukhanova [Doloukhanova, Doluchanova], was born in a musically talented family. Her mother was A leading Armenian singer while her father-engineer played the flute, the clarinet and the trumpet. She later maried to noted composer Alexander Pavlovich Dolukhanian. She first studied the piano, then the violin, to finally decide at age 16 that she wanted to study singing. She studied at the Gnessin Institute in Moscow with V. Belyayeva-Tarassevitch.

Zara Dolukhanova debuted on stage in 1938 at the Erevan Opera as Siebel (Faust). With Alexander Doloukhanian she became familiar with the chefs D'oeuvre of classical music. During the World War II Doloukhanova started to work in Opera Theatre in Yerevan. They were preparing Meyerbeer's The Huguenots. At the first rehearsal (she was singing the Page aria) conductor Mikhail Tavrizhian suddenly realized that he had witnessed the birth of a great chamber singer. Doloukhanova soon left the theatre and never had regrets about it. In opera she felt too dependent on conductor, partners, etc. Sometimes she didn't like the concept of staging, of musical interpretation, she felt she would not self-express as an individual, and someone else's taste would take over. Chamber singing gave her freedom for exploring individual approach. She realized that this was her vocation.

Zara Dolukhanova sang many roles on the opera stage, but her career was especially dedicated to concert and radio. In 1944, she became a soloist with Moscow Radio, then in 1959 became a leading soloist of the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra. Her stage roles included Marfa in Khovanshchina, Lel in Snow Maiden as well as Verdi roles but especially Rossini, (Italiana, Cenerentola, Arsace (Semiramide). She performed and recorded many recitals of classical lieder, Russian Romances, and popular songs of Armenia and other countries in various languages.

People from all over the world were dedicating their music and poetry to Zara Dolukhanova. She premiered, among many others, Puccini's Suor Angelica, which had never been performed in Soviet Union. The conductor was Gennady Rozhdestvensky. Those who were lucky enough to attend the performance will never forget it. When she appeared on the evening of the premiere, she had a special magic, charm, and appeal. Her image in that role was unbelievably beautiful, composed, benevolent, irradiating warmth. Her singing was impressive and dramatic. At the end the audience did not clap until after a few moments of silence.

Zara Doloukhanova was one of the first artists to cross the iron curtain and to sing in western countries. In the late forties only the Bolshoi Ballet, Gilels, Oistrakh and possibly Moiseev's dance group were permitted to perform. Critics raved about her deep understanding of styles and the sophistication of her interpretations. Her name is a legend. For a Soviet artist she toured extensively - England, France, East Europe, Scandinavia, Latin America. and she appeared in the USA, first in New York in 1959. In her first American tour she enjoyed great acclaim. She toured America again in 1970. In 1966 she was awarded the Lenin Prize.

Her voice is a rare coloratura -mezzo, of unique clarity and extended range, especially suited for Rossini's orignal scores, and to a degree anticipating the styles of Marilyn Horne or Cecilia Bartolli. The range of her voice was as extensive as her flexibility. In the early 1960's she started to perform the soprano repertory.

After 1970 she went on teaching. Last we heard, she is alive and well, living in Moscow and teaching at the Gnesin Institute. Zara Doloukhanova's creative spirit extends beyond music. She loves to paint, a passion that she has carried throughout her life.

Following is a partial list of composers whose works Doloukhanova sang:
Benedetto Marcello, Antonio Vivaldi, Carissimi, J.S. Bach, George Frideric Handel, Schubert, Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt, Grieg, Johannes Brahms, Wolf, Richard Strauss, W.A. Mozart, L.v. Beethoven, Francis Poulenc, De Falla, Ravel, Gabriel Fauré, Debussy, Obradors, Alberto Ginastera, Guastavino, Rossini, Puccini, Charles Gounod, Verdi, Camille Saint-Saëns, Meyerbeer, Massenet, Bellini, Glinka, Dargomizhski, Anton Rubinstein, Taneyev, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Scriabin, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Igor Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Medtner, Sergei Rachmaninov, Gomidas, Doloukhanian, Arutunian, Khachaturian, Shaporin, Miaskovsky, Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich, Sviridov, Rodion Shchedrin, Gavrilin, Tariverdiev, Weinberg, Levina, Peiko, Kochurov, Karetnikov.

A lyric singer, Zara Dolukhanova excelled in the Romantic Russian repertoire. Never has there been a program (or an outfit) repeated on the same stage. The audience that has been raised by Zara Doloukhanova learned to appreciate not just a virtuoso vocalist, not just a gifted dramatic artist, but also a highly intelligent personality with a broad spectrum of aesthetic interests and a refined taste in arts.

Zara Dolukhanova was, and still remains the biggest and brightest figure of Art Song in Russia during the 20th century. Great artist of our time, with the most outstanding personality. Her concerts remained forever in memories of thousands of enthusiastic listeners. Audiences were amazed at her musicality, the quality and sophistication of programs. Her appearance was always perfect. There was an incomparable harmony of music and image. Her ability to work is still outstanding. She is a perfectionist and made an incredible demand upon herself to bring only super perfection on stage. Her programs included the works by many composers of different styles. Zara Doloukhanova sang each work in its original language, which was unheard of in the USSR at the time. Her concerts were festive events.

From the Press

As the critic Andras Perne wrote in "Magyar Nemzet" in December of 1967 "The concert of Zara Doloukhanova was a rare, outstanding event for the audience. This incredible artist is not bound by limitations of any sort. She possesses full power of her voice and of the audience. She expresses every exact feeling the composer wanted to convey with the music. The intensity of her singing astonished listeners even in the lowest pianissimo dynamic. What she knows about music one can compare only with the mastery of the most outstanding instrumentalists. Doloukhanova's command of her voice is such that, while having a two and a half octaves range, it actually feels like much more, because of the different qualities of sound she can produce. Technique is never her goal, and everything comes from a musical purpose of expressiveness. The peak of the concert was the performance of Ravel's Habanera, where it became clear that there is no such musical instrument that can be compared with the magic singing of Zara Doloukhanova."

An American critic said after her performance at Carnegie Hall, "Yesterday, deeply excited audience, had an unforgettable pleasure from the expressive mastery of Zara Doloukhanova singing songsand arias in different languages… People, who can really value and understand the beauty of vocal voice, were blessed to hear the Armenian song Krunk. Even just to listen to this song, it was worth going to Carnegie Hall under such terrible weather conditions. It had ecstatic waves of sound. The fantastic art of this woman charmed the listener more and more with a voice of huge diapason, rich with nuances, which she commanded with a divine ease. "

"Her universalism and her incredible vocal and dramatic gifts allowed Zara Doloukhanova to make a very successful interpretation of works of different epochs, national schools, styles and genres, and there was always an intensely musical approach, which among singers doesn't necessarily occur very often. Critics compare her with artists like Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Fischer-Dieskau. Doloukhanova brought in interpretation of opera works the finesse of chamber singing and the perfection of phrasing of an instrumentalist. The artistic craftsmanship of diction, sound, details, transparent and fine phrasings, always with the warmth of the soul."

Source: Great Russian Voices Website; Zara Dolukhanova Website (by Nina Svetlanova); Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (September 2005) ; Manfred Krugmann (May 2011)

Recordings of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works




Rudolf Barshai


BWV 169; Arias from BWV 68, BWV 144, BWV 244

Links to other Sites

Great Russian Voices: Zara Dolukhanova
Zara Doloukhanova (Official Website)

Zara Dolukhanova - Biography [Russian]

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