The American soprano, Ina Souez, was born to a family of Cherokee descent in Windsor, Colorado. Her real name was Rains, Souez being the name of her maternal grandmother. She studied singing in Denver the Canadian contralto Florence Hinman (Florence Hinricks), who sent her to Europe in 1931, and studied with Sofia del Campo in Milan.
After making her debut in 1928 at Ivrea as Mimi in Puccini’s La Boheme, Ina Souez sang at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo. In May 1929 she made her Covent Garden debut as Liu, with Eva Turner as Turandot. She caused a sensation, but was not re-engaged. For the next decade she made her home in England. It was Hamish Wilson, who designed the sets for all the pre-war productions there, apart from Verdi’s Macbeth, who brought Ina Souez to the notice of Glyndebourne. As a result of her success as Fiordiligi, Souez was asked back to Covent Garden for the 1935 season, causing a crisis at Glyndebourne, where the management, taking it for granted that she would return, had not contracted her for W.A. Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte. In the end matters were sorted out: Souez sang Fiordiligi on May 30, and June 7, 1935 at Glyndebourne; between the performances she sang Micaela at Covent Garden on June 4, with Conchita Supervia as Carmen, conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham. Once again she was very well received, but not re-engaged. In 1936 she added Donna Anna to her Glyndebourne repertoire and by all accounts this part suited her vocally and temperamentally even better than Fiordiligi. She sang both roles for the next three seasons, and also appeared in Stockholm (1939) and The Hague, where she sang in Verdi’s Requiem.
Ina Souez was the prima donna of the Glyndebourne festival in its formative years (1934-1936) and made her home in England for a while. Cosi fan tutte, an opera much less well-known then than now, rapidly became popular. Souez, who married in 1929 an Englishman and lived in London until 1938, was described in the programme as English. Returning to Glyndebourne every year until the outbreak of World War II, she continued to sing Fiordiligi and, from 1936, Donna Anna in W.A. Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Her Donna Anna was described as ‘superbly fiery and brilliant’, while her Fiordiligi was thought to have increased in technical security and dramatic strength with every season that passed.
At the beginning of World War II, Ina Souez returned to the USA and enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps. After singing Fiordiligi with the New Opera Company in New York in 1941 and with the New York City Opera in 1945, she retired from opera and became a jazz singer She toured America with Spike Jones and his City Slickers, whose popularity was at its height in the late 1940’s. “Spike was offering me some real money,” she later said. She spent more than 10 years with him as the butt of his musical satire, with members of the band removing pigeons from her huge hat as she sang.
After leaving the band, Ina Souez taught voice in San Francisco and later in Los Angeles. She had lived at the home for eight years after a stroke, She died at a nursing home in Santa Monica, California. She was 89 years old.
The passion and involvement that Ina Souez brought to her singing of W.A. Mozart in no way detracted from its stylishness as can be heard on the Glyndebourne recordings of Cosi fan Tutte and Don Giovanni, in which she takes her accustomed roles. Those recordings were the first commercial recordings of those two W.A. Mozart operas and are treasured by collectors. Her recorded performance of Fiordiligi in Cosi fan tutte is widely regarded as the yardstick by which all subsequent interpretations have been measured. These recordings, frequently reissued, remain as a worthy souvenir of a gifted singer who, although her career was not of long duration, will not be soon forgotten. She also won praise for her performances of Verdi’s Requiem with the tenor Jussi Bjoerling.