Episode 265. Meet Hana Janků

Episode 265. Meet Hana Janků



Have you ever encountered a singer that no one has apparently heard of, yet once you have discovered them, you feel compelled to introduce them to practically everyone you know? I’ve had this experience more than a few times over the past five years of producing weekly Countermelody episodes, and today I bring you another such singer: friends, meet Hana Janků, the Czech soprano who lived from 25 October 1940 to 28 April 1995. Her voice is one of steely brilliance that she can taper down to the slightest whisper of a pianissimo. As important as her extraordinary voice was her profoundly-felt and deeply-etched characterizations of all the roles she assumed. As a young music lover, Hana’s aims were modest, but thanks to a voice teacher who recognized her gift, she moved from the chorus to a member of the ensemble at the Brno Opera before she was 20. Five years later in Bratislava, she first performed the role with which she would be most closely associated: Puccini’s Turandot. Two short years later, after an arduous audition process, she sang the role at La Scala and became a star overnight. Her large repertoire also encompassed roles such Tosca, Gioconda, and Lady Macbeth, French and Russian operas as well as Mozart and Wagner roles, with a large smattering of roles by Czech composers as well, in particular Smetana and Dvořák. Because of political unrest, she made the difficult decision to leave her native Czechoslovakia, performing instead throughout the world, including stints in the ensembles at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf and the Deutsche Oper Berlin. Ill health forced her to leave the opera stage prematurely, and she died of cancer in Vienna before she turned 55. Janků left very few commercial recordings, but I have been plumbing the internet for rare live recordings spanning her entire career, encompassing not only her legendary Italian roles, but also roles by Mozart, Gounod, and Othmar Schoeck, as well as a smattering of Czech repertoire. It is an honor to present to you the woman whom Birgit Nilsson dubbed the finest Turandot of her era and who was, as we shall hear, so much more as well! Vocal guest stars include Franco Corelli, Giorgio Merighi, Cornell MacNeil, Roland Hermann, William Holley, and Naděžda Kniplová.


Giuseppe Verdi, Salvadore Cammarano [after Antonio García Gutiérrez]: In quest’oscura notte… D’amor sull’ali rosee (Il trovatore). Hana Janků, Jan Štych, Brno State Theatre Opera Orchestra [1968]

Jan Štych

Giacomo Puccini, Giuseppe Adami [after Carlo Gozzi]: In questa reggia (Turandot). Hana Janků, Jan Štych, Brno State Theatre Opera Orchestra [1966]; Franco Corelli, Giuseppe Patanè, Orchestra e Coro dell’Arena di Verona [live Verona 31.VII.75]

Franco Corelli as Calaf

Bedřich Smetana, Josef Wenzig [Czech translation by Ervín Špindler]: A hle! Teď v mlhách sotva utvořených (Libuše). Hana Janků, František Jílek, Opera Orchestra and Chorus of the State Theater in Brno [live Brno 1968]

Giacomo Puccini, Giuseppe Giacosa, Luigi Illica [after Victorien Sardou]: Non la sospiri la nostra casetta (Tosca). Hana Janků, Gaetano Bardini, Brno State Theatre Opera Orchestra, unknown conductor [live 1960s]

Gaetano Bardini

Charles Gounod, Jules Barbier, Michel Carré [after Michel Carré and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe). Les grands seigneurs ont seuls des airs… Ah! Je ris de me voir si belle (Faust) [sung in Czech]. Hana Janků, Oldrich Pipek, Brno State Theatre Opera Orchestra [live 1966]

Naděžda Kniplová

Bedřich Smetana, Josef Wenzig [Czech translation by Ervín Špindler]: Ó nehroz, ó nehroz mi, ó bratře! (Dalibor). Hana Janků, Naděžda Kniplová, Jaroslav Krombholc, Orchestra of the National Theatre in Prague [1967]

Hana Janků (Mařenka) and Jiří Olejníček (Jeník) in Smetana’s The Bartered Bride

Bedřich Smetana, Josef Wenzig [Czech translation Ervin Špindler] Jak je mi [How confused I feel!] (Dalibor). Hana Janku, Jirí Pinkas, Brno State Theatre Opera Orchestra [1963]

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Lorenzo da Ponte [after Pierre Beaumarchais]: Porgi, amor (Le nozze di Figaro) [sung in Czech]. Hana Janků, unidentified conductor and orchestra [live 1960s]

Antonín Dvořák, Jaroslav Vrchlický [after Torquato Tasso]: Za štíhlou gazelou [Behind the gazelle] (Armida). Hana Janků, František Jílek, Brno State Theatre Opera Orchestra [1966]

With Amedeo Zambon in Turandot, Catania, 1974

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky, Modest Tchaikovsky [after Alexander Pushkin]: Уж плоночь близится [It is already midnight] (Pique Dame) [sung in Czech]. Hana Janků, Jan Štych, Brno State Theatre Opera Orchestra [1967]

Othmar Schoeck [after Heinrich von Kleist]: Mein Will’ ist, ihr zu tun (Penthesilea). Hana Janků, Carol Smith, Roland Hermann, Zdeněk Mácal, Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester [live Luzern 08.IX.73]

Zdeněk Mácal

Giacomo Puccini, Giuseppe Adami [after Carlo Gozzi]: Straniero, ascolta! [Riddle Scene] (Turandot). Hana Janků, Giorgio Merighi, Teresa Żylis-Gara, Barry McDaniel, William Wu, Zubin Mehta, Orchester und Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin [live 22.VI.75]

Giorgio Merighi

Amilcare Ponchielli, Arrigo Boito [as Tobia Gorrio, after Victor Hugo]: Ora posso morir… Or farmi più gaia (La Gioconda). Hana Janků, Cornell MacNeil, Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, Orchestra dell’Arena di Verona [live Verona 04.VIII.73]

Cornell MacNeil

Leoš Janáček [after Gabriela Preissová]: Co chvíla [What a moment!] (Jenůfa [Její pastorkyňa]). Hana Janku, Jan Štych, Brno State Theatre Opera Orchestra [live Brno 1990]

William Holley

Giacomo Puccini, Giuseppe Giacosa, Luigi Illica [after Victorien Sardou]: from Tosca. Hana Janků, William Holley, Karl Vüllings, Wolf Appel, Giuseppe Patanè, Düsseldorfer Symphoniker, Duisburger Philharmoniker [live Düsseldorf 30.VI.1970]:

Senti, l’ora è vicina… Amaro sol per te m’era il morire

Presto, su! Mario! Mario! Su, presto, andiam!

Janků’s first Turandot, with Imrich Jakubek as Calaf, Bratislava 1965

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