March 20, 1926 – May 10, 2018
Genia Las, a child prodigy from Buffalo’s East Side who rose to acclaim as a mezzo soprano in the great opera houses of Europe, died May 10 in Brothers of Mercy Nursing and Rehabilitation Center after a brief illness. She was 92.
Born Genia Jakubczak, her parents owned a bakery on Sycamore Street and had a baked goods stall in the Broadway Market.
Encouraged by a music teacher at Villa Maria Academy, she studied voice with Charles Morati and made her debut with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra at the age of 14.
Known then as Panna Genia, she was a guest soloist at the first Paderewski Singing Society concert in 1940 and made many appearances here as a teen.
She then went to New York City and studied for six years with noted opera singers and vocal coaches Maria Kurenko and Winifred Cecil.
“I was a soprano then,” Ms. Las told reporter Mary Ann Lauricella in 1971. “And one morning I woke up and found that my voice had changed. I had to start from the beginning with more study and training.”
Recast as a mezzo soprano, she appeared in concerts in Carnegie Hall, Town Hall and the old Metropolitan Opera House.
Ms. Las sang with symphony orchestras in Toronto, Detroit and Chicago and made her operatic debut in “Carmen” with the New York City Opera, remaining with the company for three years.
She also appeared on Broadway in “Music in My Heart” and “The Merry Widow.”
In 1957, she received a grant to study for a year in Italy and wound up staying for 20 years.
Her plans changed after an impresario heard her sing, and cast her in the premiere of a Russian opera in Rome, where she drew enthusiastic applause.
She then performed on Italian radio and in the world premiere of Gian Carlo Menotti’s “Maria Golovin” at the Brussels World’s Fair in 1958.
A two-month engagement in Palermo, Sicily, later that year drew rave reviews.
Ms. Las went on to perform on stages throughout Italy, including La Scala in Milan, and in other countries on both sides of the Iron Curtain. She worked under eminent conductors Herbert von Karajan and William Steinberg, among others, and sang with stars Carlo Bergonzi, Franco Corelli and Maria Callas.
She told The Buffalo News in 1980: “And there I was, a young singer on my own in Europe, rehearsing with the mightiest diva of her time, Maria Callas. On the stage of the Roma Opera. And she would only talk to the conductor. ... I began to feel left out, unwanted, maybe she thought I didn’t belong there. Then she looked down to the maestro in the pit and said, loud enough for everyone to hear, ‘This girl is very good.’ It was one of the soaring moments of my young life.”
During her career, Ms. Las sang in 87 operas, including 18 premieres, and recorded for RCA Victor and NBC.
She spoke English, Italian, French and Polish fluently and had a working knowledge of German and Spanish.
After a serious illness in Europe in 1974, her doctor warned her to avoid the stress of long performances.
“I came out of it completely,” she told The News when she returned home to stay in 1976, “and even sang ‘Parsifal’ in Rome afterwards. But I’ve decided to limit myself to an occasional concert, church work and teaching.”
Ms. Las taught voice at Daemen College and for 23 years served as chairman of the Voice Department at Community Music School, where she oversaw the program’s growth from four students to nearly 100.
Upon her retirement, in 1999, the school named her a Lifetime Distinguished Artist, only the second person to gain that distinction at the time.
Ms. Las received many other honors, including the Arts Council-Buffalo Niagara Partnership Arts Award for Individual Artist in 2002.
In 2012, she was one of the first inductees into the Chromatic Club Hall of Fame.
Ms. Las was an honorary member of the Chromatic Club and a member of the Wednesday Morning Musicale, the Polish Arts Club and the Polish Women’s Alliance of America.
Survivors include a brother, Dr. Leonard Jakubczak, three nieces and a nephew.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 19, in St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, 123 Townsend St.