Soprano Sena Jurinac (pronounced Sehn-ya Yoo-ree-nahts) was among that extraordinary ensemble of Mozart singers to have emerged from the Vienna Staatsoper immediately after the end of WW II. Even in the company of Schwarzkopf, Seefried, Höngen, Kunz, Schöffler, and others, the young artist with the glowing voice and assured stage manner proved herself a unique singer, making her mark with definitive interpretations of Cherubino and Octavian, Dorabella and Donna Elvira (the latter second only to Schwarzkopf's magnificent portrayal). She later undertook more dramatic roles, interpreting them expertly, if sometimes sounding out of her depth vocally. Nonetheless, she was one of the world's most treasured artists in the third quarter of the twentieth century and many of her greatest roles are preserved on disc.
The daughter of a Croatian doctor, Jurinac began her musical training early. While in the primary and secondary schools of Zagreb, she pursued music at the Zagreb Musical Academy. After studying with Milka Kostrencic and less than a week before her 21st birthday, she made her operatic debut with the Zagreb Opera in the role of Mimì. Her success led to further leading roles in Le nozze di Figaro and Faust as well as secondary, but critical, roles in Parsifal and Das Rheingold. On the first of May 1945, Jurinac made her debut with the Vienna Staatsoper in one of her signature roles, Cherubino in Figaro. Her full lyric soprano made her valuable for both soprano and mezzo roles and she was assigned numerous parts done equally well by either voice category. Not surprisingly, she was engaged by Salzburg in 1947 and again in 1948 and was well received on both occasions. Her La Scala debut as Cherubino also took place in 1948. The next year brought triumphs at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and at the Edinburgh Festival.
In 1949, she also began an affiliation with England's Glyndebourne Festival, endearing herself to the English public and giving them several of her most enchanting Mozart interpretations. Three recordings resulted from her Glyndebourne association, recordings which still merit strong recommendations.
During the early '50s, Jurinac began to gravitate toward roles less equivocal in placement, adding the Countess to her endearing Cherubino, moving from Dorabella to Fiordiligi and later replacing her Octavian with a poised and reflective Marschallin. She moved from Marzelline in Fidelio to Leonore, a considerably greater leap in terms of vocal depth. The former role was captured effectively on disc in 1953 with Furtwängler leading the Vienna Philharmonic, while her Leonore was recorded in the late 1950s under the direction of Hans Knappertsbusch. Likewise, Jurinac moved from Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni to Donna Anna, where her short top register was sorely taxed. Still, the voice remained uniquely beautiful even as recorded under Fricsay.
Jurinac's relationship with America was less than fortunate. Intended by Samuel Barber for the title role in his opera Vanessa, she began study of the music, but did not proceed and was replaced by Eleanor Steber. Although Steber was highly creditable in the assignment, the thought of Jurinac's stillborn performance lingers as a tantalizing might-have-been. In San Francisco, she made her debut as Butterfly in 1959 and returned not often enough, finally giving the audience there her mature, well-conceived Marschallin. Chicago heard Jurinac in only one role, Desdemona in a 1963 production of Otello.