09 June 2023

P.R. Jenkins

Karajan artists: Sena Jurinac – the silver with the silver rose

Srebrenka “Sena” Jurinac (1921 – 2011) was a Bosnian soprano. She became a feted darling with opera audiences and was one of Karajan’s favourite singers for almost twenty years, not so much for studio recordings but for more than a hundred live performances and – as Octavian – in Karajan’s legendary 1960 “Rosenkavalier” film.

In August 1944, Jurinac entered the manager’s office at the Vienna State opera and was asked by the secretary Frau Ketterer: “Who are you?” – “Srebrenka Jurinac” – “What do you want?” – “I’m engaged here.” – “Oh no, not that!” said Frau Ketterer.

Jurinac joined the Vienna State Opera but couldn’t perform in front of an audience because of constant bombing (when she returned home one evening, not only her flat had been wiped out but the whole street). Immediately after the war, Jurinac was part of the legendary “Wiener Ensemble” at the Vienna State Opera where she spent most of her artistic career.

On 1 May 1945, the Vienna Staatsoper was allowed (which means forced) by the Russian authorities to perform again and Jurinac was in the cast. Frau Ketterer commanded her to change her first name: “Nobody can pronounce it and we don’t have so much space on the programme leaflet.”

Under Karajan’s baton she appeared in works ranging from Monteverdi’s “L’incoronazione di Poppea” and Mozart’s “Magic Flute” to Schoenberg’s “Gurrelieder” in Vienna, Milano, Berlin and Salzburg.

Srebrenka means “the silver one”, so it is no wonder that Strauss’ “Rosenkavalier” (with its silver rose) was a central work in her career. Her last opera performance was the “Marschallin” at the Vienna State Opera in 1982. A feature about Sena Jurinac and Karajan would be incomplete without mentioning her “Octavian” in the “Rosenkavalier” film based on the Salzburg stage version by Rudolf Hartmann, conducted by Karajan and directed for the cinema by Paul Czinner in 1960. Watch the “Presentation of the Silver Rose”.

If you want to see Karajan and Jurinac in rehearsal for the “Rosenkavalier”, watch here a valuable television clip from our series “Treasures from the Archive”. Together with Anneliese Rothenberger and director Rudolf Hartmann they repeated their 1960 opening production of the new “Festspielhaus” in July 1963. As the rehearsal of act 2 is not in costume, Sena Jurinac appears in a “Dirndl”, a traditional Austrian dress and looks indeed more like “Mariandl” than “Octavian”!


The 1963 live recording of “L’incoronazione di Poppea” is a rare opportunity to listen to a project that Sena Jurinac who sang the role of Poppea “ranked among his finest achievements as Artistic Director.” (Osborne)

Jurinac as Poppea and Gerhard Stolze as Nerone


“…the non plus ultra concerning ‘Don Carlo’”

When Karajan (for the first time ever) decided to conduct Verdi’s “Don Carlo” at the “Felsenreitschule” for the 1958 Salzburg Festival, expectations weren’t very high. “Don Carlo” had never been produced before in Salzburg, but there had been plenty of performances in Vienna, most of them not very inspiring. In conjunction with the (in)famous director Gustaf Gründgens, Karajan created a dark-hued, vibrant Verdi, supported by a superb cast. Especially Sena Jurinac’s Elisabetta was praised as an ideal interpretation.

Listen to Jurinac and Fernandi in the scene between Carlo and Elisabetta in the first act.


“…Jurinac sang Eurydike: as touching an assumption of the role as you could want to hear.”

Richard Osborne

Gluck wasn’t a keystone of his repertoire, so Karajan’s only recording of “Orpheus and Eurydike”, live from Salzburg in 1959, is a rare encounter with the work of this early Viennese classic. Sena Jurinac, Giulietta Simionato and Graziella Sciutti are the soloists, supported by the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna State Opera Choir.

The role model for “Octavian” in “Der Rosenkavalier” was “Cherubino” in “Le Nozze di Figaro”. Sena Jurinac interpreted both of the famous “Hosenrollen” in Karajan productions, the Cherubino in his first ever complete opera studio recording in Vienna in 1950. Listen to Jurinac with Cherubino’s first aria “Non so piu”.

Karajan with Beethoven’s “Fidelio” live in Salzburg in 1957. The cast – including Christel Goltz, Giuseppe Zampieri, Paul Schöffler and Otto Edelmann – also features Sena Jurinac as Marzelline. Listen to her first-act aria.

This is a rare document – a 1954 live recording of Humperdinck’s “Hänsel and Gretel” with Sena Jurinac and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf – in Italian!

“Karajan taught me legato very patiently. ‘You have to sing this more legato’ he said all the time. ‘Remember to connect the vowels with short consonants. Don’t come in with a separate phrase but connect it!’ That was legato. He wanted everything sung legato. […] I’m very thankful because he cast me for parts nobody else would have done – Madame Butterfly for example. A singer with Rosenkavalier written all over her performs Butterfly – that wasn’t self-evident. He also cast me as Desdemona in ‘Otello’ and as Elisabetta in ‘Don Carlo’. I rehearsed many important roles with him, in Milan, Vienna and Salzburg. He was simply fond of me. When he was fond of someone, he was extremely kind. He had complete confidence and he did everything for you. […] He had a special sense of sound. The words were not so important for him but his vision for the sound was always there. He worked tirelessly to make this vision come true. He wouldn’t brook any compromises.”

Thomas Voigt, Fono Forum, 10/2001

Richard Osborne: “Karajan. A Life in Music” Chatto & Windus, London. 1998

Dieter David Scholz: “Mythos Primadonna/25 Diven widerlegen ein Klischee.” Parthas Verlag, 1999

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