Many thanks to Charles Winecoff who provided all of the information and most of the pictures for this page.
"I think to be true and to be honest to yourself, and never lie to yourself, is most important. And if you get a chance, even at a very young age, take it." -Sylvia Sass
See an article about Sass and Callas (Courtesy of J.A. Muñoz)
Sylvia Sass (pronounced "Shahsh") was born near Budapest, Hungary, in 1951 to a very musical family. Her mother was a coloratura soprano and her father was a high school music teacher. At the age of 14, Sass made her stage debut with the school orchestra in Adam's operetta Nurnberger Puppe. Soon after, she studied music at Hungary's Liszt Academy, where she completed a five-year program in just two years. She then began her seven-year stay with the Hungarian State Opera. This led to her professional debut as Frasquita in Carmen in 1971.
Sass sang to great acclaim in Budapest in roles such as Freia in Das Rheingold, Violetta in La Traviata, and Mimi in La Bohème. It wasn't until 1976, though, that Sass attained international stardom, singing Giselda in Verdi's I Lombardi at Covent Garden in London. In 1977, she made her Italian debut in Turin as Lady Macbeth, and that same year made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Tosca with José Carreras. In 1978, she conquered the last of the major opera houses, debuting at La Scala with Placido Domingo in Puccini's Manon Lescaut.
By this time, Sass was already being heralded as "the new Callas", a comparison that did her in with critics and caused excessive expectations in audiences. Sass responded by stating, "First of all, Callas was so great and so unique. I just don't think it's fair to compare somebody with such a great artist." A great story (though I'm not sure if it's true or not) is that she was once introduced to someone who said to her, "I hear that you're the new Maria Callas." Sass replied by saying, "No, I am the first Sylvia Sass."
Sylvia Sass is also known for starring in some lesser-known operas. In 1984, she starred in a revival of Franz Schrecker's Der Ferne Klang in Venice and also performed the world premiere of Alfano's ending of Turandot in 1982. She also performed in the world premiere of Malipiero's Sogno di un tramonto d'autunno in Mantova in 1988. She has been honored with many awards, her first in 1972 when she won first prize at the Kodály Voice Competition in Budapest. In 1973, she won the Grand Prix as Violetta in La Traviata at the International Opera Competition for Young Singers. In 1974. she won the Silver Medal (there was no First Prize) at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. She was also made an Honored Artist of Hungary in 1977.
Sylvia Sass has kept herself busy in recent years, though many opera fans have commented on her apparent disappearing act. Besides working on an opera libretto she has written, Sass runs her own music business and voice school in Budapest and has started her own record label, Cant-Art, which has released four Sass CDs so far. She continues to give recitals and recently sang her first Carmen at a Budapest music festival. She is also an accomplished painter, and has nine art exhibits throughout Hungary, and even a documentary about her artwork broadcast on Hungarian television. Sass, who has no children, has been married three times (twice to the same man) but she is currently single. Her most recent CD, released by Cant-Art, is entitled "Sylvia Sass/Károly Fekete: Schubert/Brahms."