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Soviet mezzo-soprano Yelena Obraztsova dies aged 75
In this picture taken on February 25, 1992 Opera singer Elena Obraztsova gets applause during a performance in the Grand Hall of the State Conservatory in Moscow. Opera singer, People's Artist of the USSR Elena Obraztsova died on January 12, 2015, aged 75, according to TASS news agency. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER NEMENOV.

MOSCOW (AFP).- Russian mezzo-soprano Yelena Obraztsova, who became one of the best-known stars of Soviet opera abroad, performing to acclaim at the Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden and La Scala, has died aged 75, her charitable foundation said.

Her career spanning half a century began at the Bolshoi Theatre in 1963, and she became one of its top stars in the 1970s and 1980s.

Her 1976 debut at the Metropolitan Opera in "Aida" drew a 15-minute ovation.

Obraztsova played Carmen opposite Placido Domingo's Don Jose in a 1978 staging by Franco Zeffirelli at the Vienna State Opera.

"It's no exaggeration to use the word 'great'," said Vladimir Urin, general director of the Bolshoi Theatre, in a comment following her death to the TASS news agency.

"She was a world-level star. She was applauded at the best opera houses on the planet."

President Vladimir Putin also expressed condolences to her family and fans.

Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky called her "the best Carmen," saying "her divine voice will always stay in our hearts."

Obraztsova taught at the Moscow Conservatory for many years. From 1996 she headed an arts centre bearing her name in Saint Petersburg that sponsors a competition for young opera singers.

When the Bolshoi reopened after lengthy renovations in 2011, Obraztsova was seated next to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

For her 75th birthday she held a gala event at the Bolshoi with stars including Anna Netrebko and Dmitry Khvorostovsky performing. 

Showing a populist streak, she recently judged a celebrity duet contest on Russian television. She made no secret of undergoing cosmetic surgery, saying it was essential for a stage performer.

Born in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) in 1939, she and her mother and grandmother took refuge in a nearby town during the German army's 1941-44 Siege of Leningrad. 

She studied at the city's Conservatory before becoming a soloist at the Bolshoi in Moscow.

Obraztsova was awarded the title Heroine of Socialist Labour and People's Artist of the Soviet Union and won the Lenin Prize in 1981.

"I have never been involved with politics. Absolutely not," she told The New York Times in 1987.

She was married twice, to physicist Vyacheslav Makarov and then to Bolshoi conductor Algis Zhuraitis.

She died in a German hospital. She is set to be buried in Moscow but the date of her funeral has not yet been announced.

© 1994-2015 Agence France-Presse

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