In a career that lasted more than half a century, from her debut in her native Bratislava, in what is now Slovakia, until her retirement last year, Ms. Gruberova became recognized as “a spectacularly accomplished coloratura soprano and one of the most beloved stars of her generation,” in the description of an obituary published in Opera News.
Ms. Gruberova sang in the world’s leading opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera in New York, La Scala in Milan and London’s Royal Opera House at Covent Garden. But she was best known for her association with the Vienna State Opera, where she debuted in 1970 as the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” and where she returned for dozens if not hundreds of performances before a farewell concert in 2018.
She built a career characterized by variety as well as longevity, with a repertoire that encompassed the 18th-century works of Mozart; the bel canto canon of Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti; Italian warhorses such as “La Traviata”; and German standards such as “Ariadne auf Naxos” by Strauss.
“My God, if only Strauss had heard your Zerbinetta!” Karl Böhm once remarked to her, according to the Vienna State Opera, which noted that the Austrian conductor “was not exactly prone to praise.”
Zerbinetta, a principal female role in “Ariadne auf Naxos,” was one of Ms. Gruberova’s most celebrated parts. Others included the title role of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” the fragile heroine whose descent into insanity provides a dramatic showcase for the soprano in the opera’s “mad scene.”
Ms. Gruberova’s most famous predecessors as Lucia included such stars as Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland. Octavio Roca, a music critic then writing for the Washington Times, declared in 1993 that Ms. Gruberova was “without doubt the finest interpreter of Donizetti’s mad heroine singing today.”
In other bel canto roles, she distinguished herself as Rosina in Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” and Elvira in Bellini’s “I Puritani.” She braved Donizetti’s Tudor queens trilogy, singing the title roles of “Anna Bolena” (Anne Boleyn) and “Maria Stuarda” (Mary Stuart) and the part of Elizabeth I in “Roberto Devereux.”
Ms. Gruberova found a calling card in Verdi’s “La Traviata,” a tragedy about a self-sacrificing courtesan who discovers true love just as she expires from consumption.
Her “limpid trills and transparent pianissimos in all registers are models of the bel canto approach to coloratura singing,” Frederick M. Winship, a critic for United Press International, wrote in 1989. “She can also build her voice to grand, rapturous climaxes as haunting in their dramatic power as those produced by great Violettas of recent memory — Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland, and Montserrat Caballe.”
Such was Ms. Gruberova’s affinity for the role that she returned to it at age 64, more than four decades after she had first sung Violetta’s cherished arias in a small theater in Czechoslovakia. “I love Violetta as much as ever,” she told the Associated Press in 2010, amid performances of the opera in Germany and Austria.
The tenor who played her love interest, Alfredo, was roughly half her age — but no matter.
“I think the more experiences you gather in life that you can transfer into music, into song, the better,” she remarked. “And my voice is still there.”
Edita Gruberova was born in Bratislava on Dec. 23, 1946, the daughter of a German father and Hungarian mother. “Singing always comforted me. My mother liked singing, too, and from her I inherited the voice,” Ms. Gruberova once said, according to the Czech News Agency.
She studied at a conservatory in Bratislava before debuting in that city in “The Barber of Seville” in 1968. Her Met debut came in 1977, as the Queen of the Night.
“Miss Gruberova’s voice is not big, but neither is it of the pallid, chirping kind sometimes associated with coloraturas,” Allen Hughes wrote in a New York Times review. “It had enough edge in this first New York appearance to assert itself over the orchestra, and that alone provided a semblance of dramatic impact.”
In addition to her long association with the Vienna State Opera, Ms. Gruberova performed over the years at the Glyndebourne, Salzburg and Bayreuth festivals, as well with the Bavarian State Opera in Munich and the Zurich Opera House, among many others. She stopped singing only last year amid the shuttering of theaters around the world because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ms. Gruberova’s marriage to Stefan Klimo ended in divorce, and she was separated from her partner Friedrich Haider.
Survivors include two daughters from her marriage, Klaudia Klimo and Barbara Klimo, both of Zurich, and three grandchildren.
In addition to her extensive discography, Ms. Gruberova appeared as Gilda in director Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s film version of “Rigoletto,” which also featured tenor Luciano Pavarotti as the lecherous Duke of Mantua and baritone Ingvar Wixell as Gilda’s father, the hunchbacked jester desperate to shelter her from the evils of the world.
Ms. Gruberova once confessed that if the applause after a performance lasted less than 20 minutes, “it bothers me.” Many fans gladly obliged. During a 2011 performance of “Anna Bolena” at Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu, audience members in the balcony lowered a banner that read “Edita, La Regina” — “Edita, the Queen.” The curtain calls, according to an account in the Associated Press, went on for more than 20 minutes.
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