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November 29, 2010

Life imitates art; despondent soprano commits suicide

Just what you need as the holiday season is breaking out -- a sad story from Bucharest.

Over the weekend, Romanian soprano Roxana Briban died of an apparent suicide at the age of 39. Her husband found her body in a bathtub; her wrists were slit.

The AP reports that the singer, whose career included appearances at opera houses in Berlin, Amsterdam and Vienna, had been depressed since the the Bucharest National Opera canceled her contract last year.

In a decidedly operatic touch, the soprano posted a video clip on her Facebook page the day she died -- her own performance of Violetta's death scene in Verdi's "La Traviata." (Another of her roles was Cio-Cio San, the young Japanese woman who commits suicide in Puccini's "Madama Butterfly.")

Something about this story really stings, as did the horrible news of tenor Jerry Hadley's suicide a few years ago. I had not come across Roxana Briban before reading of her passing, but

the excerpts of her career that are preserved on YouTube reveal a passionate artist. Opera singers rarely have it easy, and any number of things can harm their physical and mental health. It seems that Roxana Briban reached some sort of crisis that she couldn't escape. I wish she had found a better way out.

Here's the soprano singing the poignant "Addio del passato" in the last act of "Traviata," when the heroine bids farewell to a happier past:

Posted by Tim Smith at 11:12 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Clef Notes, Opera


Thank you for posting this, Tim. I hadn't heard of Roxana either, but am sad as well. I wish sometimes that we were kinder to ourselves in the opera biz--particularly during the tougher bits, because there is life after opera no matter how hard it is to go through the rough career patches. I'm sorry that Roxana possibly didn't have the support system that she needed. I also really like some of the traits of her voice, and will search out other clips today. Thanks again, Tim.

What a tragedy! I've also never heard of her until I read about her the other day on an opera blog I sometimes read. She is so expressive in her singing, and so beautiful. What a tragedy!

A sad thing for me is that there was no announcement of her death on the web site of the Vienna State Opera, even though Roxana was once a member of the ensemble. This would have not happened during Ioan Holender's directorship, who put such announcements for every singer who once was part of the ensemble, even though he may not have been a "name"; Goran Simic is such an example.

Listening to her videos, I especially loved her pianissimi. RIP Roxana!

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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