Sona Cervena, a Czech opera singer who became known for playing Carmen and more than 110 roles in San Francisco and other opera houses behind the Iron Curtain, has died aged 97.
Cervena died on Sunday at a hospital in the Czech capital where she was being treated for an unspecified illness, the National Theatre in Prague said.
Born on September 9 1925 in Prague, Cervena was a guest singer at the Unter den Linden opera and the Berlin State Opera in the Soviet-controlled part of Berlin when she emigrated to West Berlin in January 1962 through the last opened crossing in the newly built Berlin Wall.
The Iron Curtain kept her outside her country for 30 years.
In the West, Cervena was based at the Frankfurt Opera, but she became known for her guest performances in numerous opera houses in Europe and the United States, including in Vienna, Milan, Paris, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Chicago and festivals at Bayreuth and Glyndebourne and many others.
In 1962, Cervena started her 11-year regular co-operation with the San Francisco Opera in the title role of Georges Bizet’s Carmen, her trademark character.
Others followed, including Azucena in Il trovatore and Dame Quickly in Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi, as well as Mother Goose in The Rake’s Progress by Igor Stravinsky. She returned again to San Francisco in 1980.
After she retired from opera, she moved to the Thalia Theatre in Hamburg, Germany, where she worked with US director Robert Wilson as an actress.
After Cervena returned home following the 1989 collapse of communism, she starred in Wilson’s productions at the National Theatre in Prague.
Cervena performed last year on September 29 in Jan Zastera’s oratorio Saint Ludmila at the Lateran Basilica in Rome to mark the Czech presidency of the European Union.
Among her awards, she received the Gold Medal in the Arts from the John F Kennedy Centre in Washington in 2013 and received a medal of merits, a Czech state decoration the same year.