Soprano sang on opera's top stages

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Inga Nielsen, the Danish soprano who performed in some of the world's leading opera houses, died Sunday. She was 61.

Nielsen died at a hospital in Copenhagen, said Michael Schoenwandt, Royal Danish Opera music director. He declined to give the cause of death. Nielsen had suffered from cancer in recent years.

One of Denmark's best-known sopranos, Nielsen performed on such stages as those of La Scala in Milan, the Vienna State Opera, London's Covent Garden and the Santa Fe Opera.

"She was unique. She was born with a great voice, and, at the same time, she had a great feeling for musicality," Schoenwandt told the Associated Press. "The opera world has lost a big voice."

Nielsen sang at festivals across Europe, including Bayreuth in Germany and Salzburg in Austria, Aix-en-Provence in France and Edinburgh, Scotland, as well as at the Mostly Mozart festival in New York.

Born in Holbaek, Denmark, on June 2, 1946, Nielsen was the daughter of an Austrian mother and a Danish father who was a professor of languages. Her father landed a teaching position in Iowa when she was 3 and the family lived there several years.

She was considered a musical prodigy. She was singing in radio talent shows at age 6, and she made her first recordings -- Danish folk songs and Christmas carols -- at age 9.

After returning to Europe, she studied at the Vienna Academy and then in Stuttgart, Germany; and Budapest, Hungary.

She began her professional career in 1971 as a soubrette at Gelsenkirchen, in Germany's industrial Ruhr region. In 1975, she became a member of the ensemble at the Frankfurt Opera.

Some of her most memorable performances came when she sang "Constance" in Mozart's "The Abduction From the Seraglio" in Salzburg and when she played Salome in Richard Strauss' work of the same name, Schoenwandt said.

In 2006, she made her last major public appearance at Copenhagen's Tivoli gardens to celebrate her 35 years as a professional singer.

Nielsen was married briefly to American baritone Robert Hale. She had no children.

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