Magdalena Kožená ‒ Biography
Magdalena Kožená’s international career was securely established during her mid-twenties. The Czech mezzo-soprano, who won critical plaudits for her profound musicianship and beguiling artistry at an early age, signed an exclusive recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon in 1999. Kožená has since matured to become one of the foremost singers of her generation, a great communicator able to hold song recital, concert hall and opera audiences spellbound. Her insightful interpretations arise from a profound feeling for words and their meaning and total immersion in each work in her wide-ranging repertoire.
Magdalena Kožená was born in the Czech city of Brno on 26 May 1973. She sang with Kantiléna, the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra’s youth choir, and progressed to study voice and piano at the Brno Conservatory. In 1991 Kožená enrolled at Bratislava’s Academy of Performing Arts to study singing with Eva Bláhová. She made her breakthrough as winner of the Sixth International Mozart Competition in Salzburg in 1995, joined the Vienna Volksoper ensemble the following year, and launched significant creative partnerships with the pianist Graham Johnson and conductor Marc Minkowski in 1998. She was signed by Deutsche Grammophon in 1999 after the company recognised her star qualities and immediately released her first album of Bach arias on its Archiv label. Her recital debut recording with Graham Johnson, an album of songs by Dvořák, Janáček and Martinů, appeared on Deutsche Grammophon’s yellow label in 2001 and was honoured with Gramophone’s Solo Vocal Award.
Kožená has worked with many of the world’s leading conductors, Claudio Abbado, Pierre Boulez, Gustavo Dudamel, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Bernard Haitink, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Mariss Jansons, James Levine, Sir Charles Mackerras, Sir Roger Norrington and Sir Simon Rattle among them. Her list of distinguished recital partners includes the pianists Daniel Barenboim, Yefim Bronfman, Malcolm Martineau, András Schiff and Mitsuko Uchida, with whom she has performed at such prestigious venues as Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall, Alice Tully Hall and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, and at the Aldeburgh, Edinburgh and Salzburg festivals. Kožená’s understanding of historical performance practices have been cultivated in collaboration with outstanding period-instrument ensembles, including the English Baroque Soloists, the Gabrieli Consort and Players, Il Giardino Armonico, Les Musiciens du Louvre, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Venice Baroque Orchestra. She is also in demand as soloist with the Berlin, Vienna and Czech Philharmonics and the Cleveland, Philadelphia and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestras. In 2014 she will perform Bach’s St John Passion at the Baden-Baden Festspielhaus with the Berliner Philharmoniker and Rattle and join the orchestra and conductor for an extensive autumn tour of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, including performances at the Lucerne Festival and Carnegie Hall.
During the early 2000s Kožená established her reputation as an opera singer of the front rank. She brought charisma, glamour and vocal authority to her onstage interpretations of roles in the operas of Mozart, making her debut at the Salzburg Festival in 2002 as Zerlina in Don Giovanni and joining Simon Rattle the following year for a series of performances as Idamante at the Salzburg Easter Festival, the Glyndebourne Festival and in Berlin and Lucerne. Kožená made her first appearance at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 2003 as Cherubino in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and has been a regular guest at the Met ever since. She sang Zerlina for the company’s tour to Japan in 2006 and returned to New York to take the title-role in Jonathan Miller’s production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande in 2010/11. Her opera credits also include Angelina in Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Royal Opera House, 2007), Oktavian in Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier (Berlin Staatsoper, 2009), Lazuli in Chabrier’s L’étoile (Berlin Staatsoper, 2010), and the title-role in Bizet’s Carmen (Salzburg Easter and Summer Festivals, 2012).
The broad scope of Magdalena Kožená’s repertoire is reflected in her Deutsche Grammophon discography. Her latest release, Prayer (issued in April 2014), comprises works for voice and organ, blending sacred songs by Bach, Bizet, Dvořák, Duruflé, Purcell, Ravel and Verdi with lieder by Schubert and Wolf. Her albums also include a recital of songs by Britten, Ravel, Respighi, Schulhoff and Shostakovich; Songs My Mother Taught Me, an anthology of Czech songs made in company with Malcolm Martineau; two recordings of arias by Handel and Vivaldi with the Venice Baroque Orchestra and Andrea Marcon; a collection of French opera arias with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and Minkowski; Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn with Christian Gerhaher, the Cleveland Orchestra and Boulez; and Love and Longing, a programme of orchestral songs by Ravel, Dvořák and Mahler with the Berliner Philharmoniker and Rattle. She was named Artist of the Year by Gramophone in 2004 and has won numerous other awards since, including the Echo Award, Record Academy Prize, Tokyo, and Diapason d’or. Kožená was appointed a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 2003 for her services to French music.