Upon greeting her interviewer at the Metropolitan Opera recently, the first matter the soprano Anja Silja wanted to take up was her birth date. She reached into her handbag and produced her passport for inspection.
This luminous and controversial soprano, sometimes called the “German Callas,” has long been bothered by questions about her age. For years, most reference works, including the authoritative New Grove Dictionary of Opera (1992), gave her birth date as April 17, 1935.
“They stole me five years,” Ms. Silja said. “I hate that. I’m old enough.” Indeed, her passport gives her date of birth as April 17, 1940, in Berlin, which would make her 66.
Of course, this means that she was 16 when she made her operatic debut as Rosina in “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” and 20 when she made her sensational debut in the demanding role of Wagner’s Senta in “Der Fliegende Holländer” at the Bayreuth Festival in 1960. But who’s arguing? The mild-mannered British musicologist Stanley Sadie, who died in 2005, was sufficiently persuaded by Ms. Silja’s representative that her birth year was 1940 that he changed the information for the latest edition of the general Grove dictionary, which came out six years ago.
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