Her powerful portrayal of the composer's Brünnhilde – a role she dominated throughout the 1980s and 1990s – led The New York Times to declare that "a new Wagnerian queen has emerged" when she captivated the Met in the new Otto Schenk production of 1983. Even in her sixties Hildegard Behrens's voice could reach the back row of the largest opera house, notes finding their targets like well-aimed missiles, and emotion pouring forth with intensity.
While Brünnhilde was her calling card, Salome, Elektra, Emilia Marty (in Janacek's Makropulos Case) and Tosca were among this formidable soprano's repertoire. She enchanted audiences in the world's leading opera houses, working under conductors including Leonard Bernstein, Georg Solti and Herbert von Karajan.
It was with Karajan – who had heard her rehearsing Wozzeck in Düsseldorf and signed her immediately – that she achieved international stardom as a mesmerising Salome at the Salzburg Festival in 1977, earning fame as one of the few singers to win an argument with the autocratic maestro. With Bernstein, she made an unforgettable recording of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde in three sessions between 1980 and 1981, giving birth to her daughter just six weeks before the third act was committed to disc.
Although relatively late in developing an international career (she was nudging 40 before she was first heard in London), Hildegard Behrens's voice, and the characters she chose to portray, were ideally suited to the older woman; and more than one critic noted that maturity brought fresh insights in her performance. In short, she was, as one judge observed, "reliable, but never merely predictable".
In Bayreuth's "British Ring" of 1983 (brought together by Solti, Peter Hall and William Dudley), Hildegard Behrens stole the show with a Brünnhilde in shiny black leather and sequinned studs. She looked, wrote John Higgins, "like a Saint Joan calling her amazon army to battle".
Nevertheless, Hildegard Behrens was not without her detractors, who would unkindly compare her with Brünnhildes of old; indeed, she was destined to sing forever in the shadow of Birgit Nilsson, the Swedish Wagnerian who herself had suffered from not being Kirsten Flagstad. Meanwhile, Herbert Breslin, Pavarotti's manager, referred to Hildegard Behrens in his notorious memoir as "the eccentric, gap-toothed German diva".
Conductors and audiences, however, thought the world of her. The octogenarian Karl Böhm called her his "last great Fidelio", while managers noticed that she was a box office draw on both sides of the Atlantic. Whether in opera or concert performance, she drew roars of approval and 15-minute standing ovations.
Hildegard Behrens was born on February 9 1937 at Varel, near Oldenburg, in northern Germany, the youngest of seven children of two doctors. Although she described her upbringing as a musical one, it was an elder brother who was marked out for greatness (he is a piano professor in Germany); the young Hildegard was dispatched to study Law at the University of Freiburg. She was 26 when she began to take singing seriously.
It was in Freiburg that she made her debut, as the Countess in Mozart's Marriage of Figaro in 1971; five years later she was Leonore in Beethoven's Fidelio at Covent Garden. When there was no understudy for her Salome in London in 1977, she went on stage with an indifferent voice – earning sympathy for her determination, rather than the condemnation she feared. From then on she rarely shrank away from the seemingly impossible, on one occasion singing Sieglinde in Die Walküre under Wolfgang Sawallisch having not touched the role for a year.
Although she lived latterly in the United States, Hildegard Behrens continued to maintain a formidable schedule, with regular appearances in Britain, including Bernard Haitinck's magical concert performance of The Ring at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, and the Royal Albert Hall, London, in 1998, when the aptly-named Siegfried Jerusalem was the ideal counterpoint to her darkly conspiratorial Brünnhilde.
A decade earlier her depiction of Strauss's Elektra, with Christa Ludwig, under Seiji Ozawa at the Royal Festival Hall, was described by The Times as "nothing short of stupendous".
On one occasion she was in Chicago to record Fidelio with Solti. While riding in a lift she began sweating, and Solti tried to comfort her: "Hildegard, don't be afraid of me." The singer retorted: "Maestro, I'm not afraid of you. I'm afraid of Beethoven."
In 1990 she was injured during the final scene of Götterdämmerung at the Met when the great castle of Valhalla collapsed prematurely, burying her under an avalanche of foam rubber and leaving her with a bad back and black eyes. In the aftermath she became a vegetarian in order to lose weight and reduce pressure on her spine.
Hildegard Behrens, who won three Grammy awards between 1989 and 1992, died while at Kusatsu International Summer Music Festival, near Tokyo, in Japan, where she was a regular guest. ın telegraph.co.uk, 5:58PM BST 19 Aug