Irina Konstantinovna Arkhipova (2 January 1925 – 11 February 2010) was a Russian mezzo-soprano, and later contralto, opera singer.
She originally studied architecture but switched to voice and studied with Malisheva, graduating in 1953. That same year she won an international singing competition in Warsaw. She began studies with Savransky at the Moscow Conservatory and from 1954 to 1956 sang with the Sverdlovak Opera where her roles included Marina in Boris Godunov, Eboli in Don Carlos, Charlotte in Werther and Marfa in Khovanshchina. Her first appearance at the Bolshoi Theater was as Carmen in 1956 which became one of her most famous roles. The Bolshoi became her operatic home and she sang all of greatest roles there. At the Bolshoi she was especially noted for roles in Queen of Spades, War and Peace, Tsar’s Bride and Mazeppa as well as her earlier roles in Boris Godunov, Don Carlos and Khovanshchina. After 1960, she began to appear outside Russia and first won fame as Carmen in Naples. She sang Helene in Prokofiev’s War and Peace at Teatro alla Scala in 1964 where in later seasons she sang Marina in Boris Godunov and Marfa in Khovanshchina.
Her first American appearance was is a recital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with John Wustman as accompanist. Her sensational performance of Azucena at the Orange Festival in 1968 brought her even more international acclaim. Her San Francisco Opera debut came in 1972 as Amneris. In 1975, she made her debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in London, as Azucena and in 1988 she returned to London as Ulrica in Un Ballo in Maschera. Although she sang at the Metropolitan Opera House with the Bolshoi Theater several times, she did not sing with the Metropolitan Opera until 1997 when she sang Filippievna in Eugene Onegin at the age of seventy-two. She also appeared at the opera houses in Berlin, Paris, Hamburg, Lyon, Marseille, Belgrade and the Savonlinna Festival. She directed several opera productions as she moved into semi-retirement. She was married to heldentenor Vladislav Piavko. In 1993, a voice competition was set up in her name.
Arkhipova’s voice was a full, rich mezzo-soprano with great power and intensity. She did not lose quality as she moved between vocal registers, and she understood what her vocal strengths were and did not try to move beyond her best repertoire. Her voice had some of the edge that was often found in Slavic voices, but this helped give her voice an individuality which is sorely lacking in many singers today.
Her recorded legacy is vast but much of it has only been available in Russia. While her Marina in Boris Godounov was reissued by Melodiya, her Eboli in Don Carlos, Joan in the Maid of Orleans by Tchaikovsky and Laura in Dargomizhsky’s The Stone Guest are still unavailable. Almost none of her wonderful song recitals are currently available. In particular, the songs of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, and Mussorgsky bring out the best in her interpretive art. The LP disc with settings of poetry by Pushkin is very good and the reissue of some of her opera arias would be most welcome.
Artist Biography by Richard LeSueur