The contralto Ira Malaniuk (above) was an Austrian singer of Ukranian descent who had a major career in Europe from 1939 to 1976 yet is rarely mentioned today in discussions of great voices from the past. Yet surely she is one of their number.
Malaniuk appears on several commercial recordings, some of which I have heard, yet it is a 1953 live recording of GOTTERDAMMERUNG from the 1953 Bayreuth Festival in which she sings Waltraute that made me sit up and take notice of this wonderful singer.
Malaniuk came to international attention at the 1951 Bayreuth Festival when she stepped in at the last minute for an ailing colleague; here is the story:
"It was 1951. The Wagnerian Festival at Bayreuth, Germany was taking place for the first time since the end of World War II.
Herbert von Karajan was the conductor. The opera was Das Rheingold (The Rhine Gold), the first of the four operas that comprise Wagner’s Der Ring Des Nibelungen. A complete Ring Cycle peformance was planned for this innaugural post-war season.
Elisabeth Höngen, a mezzo-soprano, was scheduled to sing. She had performed only a few days earlier. Suddenly on August 11, 1951, Höngen came down with an acute case of appendicitis and was hospitalized.
That fateful day, Ira Malaniuk, a young mezzo-soprano, came into the theatre not suspecting that she would be required to sing the part of Fricka that night. According to her own autobiography, not only had Malaniuk never sung the part, she hadn’t even heard it before.
And yet, with the assistance of the Bayreuth Festival staff, colleagues, prompters and conductor Karajan, Ira Malaniuk went on stage that night and sang. The critics raved. Bavarian Radio broadcast the production.
And, Ira Malaniuk went on to become a famous opera singer – a Kammersängerin – in both Germany and Austria."
Malaniuk had studied with the great basso Adamo Didur, and opera was always in her heart, as she relates in this charming story:
“I cannot say, where the beginnings of my love of opera were. Already in childhood, they shone for me like a guiding star. Although, in all truth, there was a female opera singer in our family, that reached world wide fame – Salomea Kruszelnicka. She was the daughter of my paternal grandmother’s brother, in short my father’s cousin. Our paths never crossed – I never met Kruszelnicka, never saw her peform on stage, but perhaps some drop of her artistic blood courses through my veins.”
Above, Ira Malaniuk with her soprano colleague, the radiant Lisa Della Casa.
Listen to Ira Malaniuk singing the Second Norn in this document from the Bayreuth Festival's 1953 GOTTERDAMMERUNG. Her sister-Norns are Maria von Ilosvay and Regina Resnik (in her soprano days); Clemens Krauss conducts.