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Russian opera's Galina Vishnevskaya dies at 86

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Galina Vishnevskaya, the Russian opera singer whose soprano voice entranced composer Benjamin Britten and persuaded cellist and composer Mstislav Rostropovich to become her third husband has died at the age of 86, her theatre said on Tuesday.

The teenaged Vishnevskaya came to prominence shortly after World War Two and by the 1960s had become an international opera sensation filling the world's greatest theatres.

Her talents were so mesmerizing that British composer Britten wrote the soprano part of his "War Requiem" especially for her and Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich chose her for a renowned rendition of his opera "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk".

"Vishnevskaya was a flag-bearer of Russian culture, a singer of the highest rank," Georgian-born tenor Zurab Sotkilava told Kommersant daily newspaper.

Tributes from President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and others appeared in the Russian media quickly for a singer born in the Soviet city then known as Leningrad (St. Petersburg), who went on to live a life nearly as dramatic as some of the roles she sang on stage.

Vishnevskaya took to the local stage for the first time at the age of 18. But she went on to enchant audiences as one of the lead soloists at Moscow's prestigious Bolshoi theatre. The theatre held a minute of silence in her honor before Tuesday's performance of "Turandot".

The Soviet authorities forced the singer and her husband Rostropovich to flee the country in 1974 for supporting Nobel prize-winning dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

She lived, performed and directed opera in the United States and France until 1982 and then wrote the autobiography "Galina", criticizing the Soviet authorities in 1984.

She is famed for her roles in such opera classics as Giuseppe Verdi's "Aida", Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin" as well as Giacomo Puccini's "Tosca" and "Madame Butterfly".

Vishnevskaya returned home after the collapse of the Soviet Union and opened her own opera center in Moscow in 2002, which has since trained a number of international stars. She remained artistic director until her death.

(This story removes reference to return to Russia in paragraph eight in December 11 story)

(Reporting by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya, editing by Paul Casciato)

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