Russian opera singer Galina Vishnevskaya dies, aged 86

Russian opera legend Galina Vishnevskaya has died in Moscow. The celebrated soprano, who graced the world’s best stages in a career that spanned nearly 40 years, was 86.

Born in St Petersburg, then called Leningrad, in 1926, Vishnevskaya rose to stardom at the Bolshoi theatre in Moscow. She performed some of opera’s finest roles, from Tatyana in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin to Verdi’s Aida.

In 1955 she married the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. They performed and recorded together regularly. Rostropovich died in 2007.

Vishnevskaya was held up as an example of the cultural richness produced by the Soviet Union. She received numerous awards from the state, including the Order of Lenin and the coveted title of People’s Artist.

Yet, along with her husband, she harboured dissident feelings and forged friendships with government critics, including writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in a country that attempted to exercise total control over culture and squash independent thought. The couple were pushed into exile in 1974 and eventually settled in the United States. They were stripped of their Soviet citizenship in 1978 for their open opposition to the regime. They returned to Russia in 1990 as Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of perestroika ushered in a new era of change.

Vishnevskaya became one of the greatest critics of the modern day Bolshoi, lashing out at the grand theatre’s attempt to put on radical contemporary productions. After a 2006 staging of Eugene Onegin, she vowed “never to go to that theatre again”. Yet she attended the theatre’s reopening last year after a controversial renovation, sitting in the tsar’s box next to then president Dmitry Medvedev.

Medvedev issued his condolences on Tuesday, Interfax reported.

“What she did for Russian culture, for the development of Russian society, cannot be overstated,” said Mikhail Shvydkoy, the Kremlin’s envoy on international culture. “She was an amazing woman, an amazing singer, and an amazing person. This is a great loss not just for Russian, but for world, culture.”

Vishnevskaya is to be buried in the Novodevichy cemetery in Moscow, near her husband, on Friday.

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