Maria Cebotari Romanian soprano 1910-49

Maria Cebotari Romanian soprano 1910-49

Maria Cebotari (10 February 1910 – 9 June 1949) was a celebrated Romanian soprano and actress, one of Europe’s greatest opera stars in the 1930s and 1940s. Beniamino Gigli considered Cebotari one of the greatest female voices he ever heard. Maria Callas was compared to her,and Angela Gheorghiu named Maria Cebotari among the artists she admires the most. Her funeral was ”one of the most imposing demonstrations of love and honor any deceased artist has ever received” in the history of Vienna, with thousands of people attending.

Maria Cebotari Romanian soprano 1910-49

Maria Cebotari was born at Chişinău, studied singing at the Chişinău Conservatory, and in 1929 joined the Moscow Art Theater Company as an actress. Soon she married the company’s leader, Count Alexander Virubov.
Moving to Berlin with the company, she studied singing with Oskar Daniel for three months and made her debut as an operatic singer by singing Mimi in Puccini’s opera La Bohème at Dresden Semperoper on 15 March 1931. Bruno Walter invited her to the Salzburg Festival, where she sang Euridice in Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice.
In 1935, she sang the part of Aminta in the world premiere of Richard Strauss’ opera Die Schweigsame Frau under Karl Böhm at Dresden Semper Opera House. Strauss advised her to move to Berlin, and in 1936 she joined the Berlin State Opera, where she was a prima donna until 1946. That year, she sang Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro, Zerlina in Don Giovanni, and Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier for Dresden Semper Opera Company’s performances at Covent Garden Royal Opera House of London. From then on, she appeared at many great opera houses including Vienna State Opera and La Scala Opera House of Milan.
She divorced Count Virubov in 1938, and married the Austrian actor Gustav Diessl, with whom she had two sons. In 1946, she left Berlin and joined the Vienna State Opera House. She visited Covent Garden again in 1947 with Vienna State Opera Company and sang Salome, Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, Countess Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro. On September 27, she was Donna Anna to the Ottavio of Richard Tauber, making his final stage appearance, less than a week before his cancerous left lung was removed. [Ref: Diana Napier Tauber, Richard Tauber, Edinburgh & London, 1949]
Her husband, Gustav Diessl, died of a heart attack on March 20, 1948. She suffered from severe pain during the performance of Le nozze di Figaro at La Scala Opera House in early 1949. At first, doctors did not take it seriously. However, on March 31, 1949, she fell down during the performance of Karl Millöcker’s operetta Der Bettelstudent in Vienna. During surgery on April 4, doctors found cancer in her liver and pancreas. She died from cancer on June 9, 1949 in Vienna. British pianist Sir Clifford Curzon adopted her two sons.
Maria Cebotari had an extremely versatile voice, and her repertoire covered coloratura, soubrette, lyric and dramatic roles; for example, she sang both Carmen and Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro, Violetta in La traviata and Salome in the same season. She concentrated on four composers – Mozart, Richard Strauss, Verdi, Puccini. Richard Strauss described her as ”the best all-rounder on the European stage, and she is never late and she never cancels”. Herbert von Karajan, during a BBC interview decades after her death, said she was the greatest ”Madame Butterfly” he had ever conducted.


Beside her successful career at the opera houses, Cebotari appeared in several films related to opera—such as ”Verdi’s Three Women”, ”Maria Malibran”, ”The Dream of Madame Butterfly”.
She also played in the movie ”Odessa in fiamme (Odessa in flames)”, in 1942, directed by Italian director Carmine Gallone (script by Nicolae Kiriţescu). The movie is a Romanian-Italian co-production, about the drama of the refugees from Bessarabia (Republic Moldova), in World War II and does homage to the Romanian troops who freed Bessarabia from the Red Army which occupied it in 1940. The movie includes contemporary newsreels showing refugee columns running away. It won the great prize at the Festival of Venice, in 1942.
Maria Cebotari plays the role of Maria Teodorescu, opera singer from Bessarabia, who was in Chisinau with her 8-year-old son at the time of the invasion. The boy was taken somewhere in Odessa. The mother was told that he will be maintained in a camp, where he will be educated as a man again, as Soviet. The mother agrees to sing Russian songs in theaters and taverns but only to get her son back. Maria Teodorescu sings in those places, sharing pictures of hers. One such image is found by chance by her husband, who is in Romanian army with the rank of captain (he was in Bucharest at the time of the invasion). In the end the family reunites. Unfortunately, the history of the movie was a sad one. Because of the invasion by Soviet troops in Bucharest in 1944, the movie became banned, along with many others, and the actors in the movie arrested. Many such movies were either destroyed or censored and nothing was heard of it for more than 50 years. Luckily, someone re-discovered it in the Cinecittà archives in Rome, and it was shown for the first time in Romania in December 2006.
Director Victor Druc’s documentary ”Aria” (2005) about the life of Maria Cebotari faced difficulties when screening in Moldova during the Communist administration (which ended in 2009), due to a part in the movie where the soprano self-identifies as Romanian, contrary to the official policy of the Communist government that calls the ethnic majority Moldovan, rather than Romanian  See also Controversy over linguistic and ethnic identity in Moldova.


Many of her surviving recordings are from live performances – either in the opera houses or in the studio for radio broadcast. They have now been almost all digitally remastered and their general quality is remarkable. Her complete recording of Salome (live performance on September 30, 1947, at Covent Garden) shows that she is one of the greatest Salomes captured in recordings, in spite of extremely poor sound quality.
The Austrian CD label Preiser has issued several of her CDs, among which is The Art of Maria Cebotari and Maria Cebotari singt Eichard Strauss.

  • Mozart – Le nozze di Figaro (Böhm 1938, in German/Ahlersmeyer, Teschemacher, Schöffler, Wessely, Böhme) Preiser
  • Puccini – Turandot (Keilberth 1938, in German/Hauss, Buchta, Hann, Eipperle, Harlan, Schupp, Kiefer), Koch-Schwann
  • Schoeck – Das Schloss Dürande (Heger live 1943, excerpts/Anders, Berglund, Fuchs, Domgraf-Fassbaender, Greindl, Hüsch), Jecklin
  • R. Strauss – Salome (Krauss 1947 live/Rothmüller, Höngen), Gebhardt
  • R. Strauss – Taillefer (Rother 1944/ Walter Ludwig, Hans Hotter), Preiser
  • Verdi – Luisa Miller (Elmendorff 1944, in German/Böhme, Hopf, Hann, Herrmann, Eipperle), Preiser
  • Verdi – La traviata (Steinkopf 1943, in German/Rosvaenge, Schlusnus), Iron Needle
  • von Einem – Dantons Tod (Fricsay live 1947/Schöffler, Patzak, Klein, Weber, Alsen, Hann), Stradivarius
  • Recital (Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, Leoncavallo, J. Strauss, Arditi, Rachmaninov, Beckmann, Mackeben, Tchaikovsky), Preiser – LV
  • Recital – Maria Cebotari singt Arien (Mozart, J. Strauss, Gounod, Puccini and R. Strauss), Preiser – LV
  • Maria Cebotari – Arien, Duette, Szenen (Mozart, Bizet, Verdi, Puccini), Preiser
  • Recital – Maria Cebotari singt Richard Strauss (Salome, Feuersnot, Der Rosenkavalier, Daphne, Taillefer), Preiser (Berliner Rundfunk Sinfonie Orchester, Artur Rother, 1-4 recorded 1943, 5 in 1944).
  • Maria Cebotari: Arias, Songs and in Film, Weltbild
  • Recital – Maria Cebotari singt Giuseppe Verdi (La traviata, Rigoletto), Preiser
  • Four Famous Sopranos of the Past (Gitta Alpar, Jarmila Novotná and Esther Réthy), Preiser – LV
  • Bruno Walter Vol. 1, Symphony No 2 and No 4 (1948/50), LYS
  • Helge Rosvaenge in Szenen aus André Chénier und Rigoletto – Duets, Preiser
  • Helge Rosvaenge – Duets, Preiser – LV
  • Grosse Mozartsänger Vol. 1 1922 – 1942, Orfeo
  • Von der Königlichen Hofoper zur Staatsoper ‘Unter den Linden’, Preiser – LV

Read more