Magazine article Opera Canada

Lilian Sukis 1939 - : Great Canadian Musical Figures

Magazine article Opera Canada

Lilian Sukis 1939 - : Great Canadian Musical Figures

Article excerpt

LILIAN SUKIS WAS BORN IN KAUNAS, LITHUANIA, IN 1939, the daughter of an army captain and a university lecturer. The family relocated to Germany during World War Two and immigrated to Canada in 1950, settling in Hamilton, Ontario.

As she grew up, Sukis showed a flair for both music and languages. She earned her ARCT in voice and piano (1961 and 1962 respectively), and her honors B.A. in French and German from McMaster University in 1962. Although she had been offered a Royal Society of Canada scholarship to finance further vocal training in Germany, she chose instead to move to Toronto in 1962 to study with Irene Jessner, Greta Kraus and Arnold Walter at the Artist Diploma Course, Royal Conservatory Opera School (University of Toronto Opera Division). She graduated in 1965 with first-class honors, winning the $1,000 Eaton Graduation Scholarship for Excellence. The previous year, her vocal performance in competition had been awarded the Kiwanis Music Festival Rose Bowl and second prize in the CBC's Talent Festival.

Blessed with a lovely lyric soprano that was enhanced by an expressive stage presence, Sukis quickly began to make a name for herself. In 1964, she sang Lady Billows in Albert Herring at the opening of the MacMillan Theatre at the U of T, Alice Ford in Falstaff at the Banff Centre for the Arts, and Kate Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly for the Canadian Opera Company. In 1965, she performed the title role in the stage premiere of Healey Willan's opera, Deirdre, which was followed by a sensational Countess in the Stratford Festival production of Le Nozze di Figaro, a role that became her signature piece. She also sang Mimi for the COC in La Boheme. The following year, she gave concerts in Ontario and the United States, sang Violetta in La Traviata and appeared in a new opera based on Prosper Merimee's Lokis, both in Chicago. She also appeared in a special concert sponsored by Jacqueline Kennedy at Cape Cod.

Her Stratford success led to a Metropolitan Opera audition. In the house was Herbert von Karajan, who immediately wanted Sukis to come to Salzburg. Instead, the soprano opted for New York, joining the Met in May, 1966. She made her debut there on March 17, 1967, as Helen Niles in the premiere of Martin David Levy's Mourning Becomes Electra.

Sadly, Sukis was consigned to comprimario parts at the Met, and Canadian companies did not invite her to perform the big roles. Frustration finally led the soprano to conduct her own audition tour of Europe. "I am Lilian Sukis from the Met, and I would like to audition for you" read the note she sent to companies, and in 1969, she signed a contract with the Munich State Opera, scoring a triumph as Fiordiligi in Cosi fan Tutte at the Munich Festspiele that year. …

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