OP0209. LA GIOCONDA, Live Performance, 1 July, 1956, Firenze, w.Tieri Cond. Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Ensemble; Anita Cerquetti, Gianni Poggi, Ebe Stignani, Ettore Bastianini, Giuseppe Modesti, Lucia Danieli, etc. (Croatia) 2-Myto 031.272. Long out-of-print, final copies! - 608974502720
“Anita Cerquetti, a gifted Italian soprano who rose to instant fame in 1958 when she was called on to substitute for the mythic and sometimes mystifying Maria Callas in one of opera’s most dramatic episodes, and three years later surprised people again by ending her own career, died 11 October,in Perugia, Italy. She was 83. Her death was confirmed by Alfredo Sorichetti, a conductor who helps oversee an annual singing competition and academy named in Miss Cerquetti’s honor, in her hometown, Montecosaro. She had been hospitalized for several days after a heart attack, he said.
The drama that brought Miss Cerquetti worldwide attention began on 2 Jan., 1958, a Thursday, the opening night of Bellini’s NORMA at the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome. After Callas, the glamorous American-born prima donna in the lead role, received a few derogatory whistles amid much applause for the first aria, ‘Casta Diva’, she began to appear tense. She never emerged for the second act, locking herself in her dressing room. Boos, hoots and foot-stomping shook the cheap seats. In the royal box, the president of Italy, Giovanni Gronchi, and his wife waited nearly an hour before leaving, and the show never resumed. Callas retreated to her hotel, insisting she was ill, and stayed there for five days. She could hear chants in the street below: ‘Down with Callas!’. By Saturday, there was a new chorus: ‘Long live Italian women!’.
Those were the words that met Miss Cerquetti, a rising star who happened to be performing the same role in Naples, when she stepped in for Callas at the Teatro dell’Opera for the first time on that Saturday night. The audience loved her, roaring at her version of ‘Casta Diva’.
Callas apologized for her absences and offered to return to the stage the following week — to sing two performances free. The manager of the opera house declined, and the Italian government, which subsidized the opera house, ordered her replaced. The role now belonged to Miss Cerquetti, who had a powerful, dramatic voice that audiences adored. Miss Cerquetti, who was just 25, had already impressed opera lovers in the United States, making her début with the Chicago Opera in 1955, singing the role of Amelia in Verdi’s UN BALLO IN MASCHERA. But while replacing Callas thrust her to a new level, it also took a toll. She went on to noted performances at La Scala in Milan and elsewhere, and on Italian radio broadcasts, but just three years after those tumultuous days at Teatro dell’Opera, she abruptly retired and all but disappeared. This time, it was Miss Cerquetti who faced questions. Had her voice failed? Did she have neurological issues? Heart problems? She blamed fatigue. ‘It got to the point where I had absolute need of physical rest. Above all, I needed to sleep. This was from stress. But, thank God, my vocal cords remained intact and have remained so until today. This is the truth’.
‘Miss Cerquetti’s recorded performance of arias by Verdi, Bellini, Spontini and Puccini leaves no doubt that her voice is a remarkable instrument’, John Briggs wrote in The New York Times in 1957 in a review of an Operatic Recital by Anita Cerquetti, one of a small number of commercial recordings she made. ‘Whether it is being used with skill is another question’.
‘I received many offers to return. There were moments when I almost accepted. But then I thought, what’s the point? I’ve already found my peace, my serenity. To return under the gun? Basta! And so I closed the door’.”
- William Yardley, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 16 OCT., 2014
“The career of Anita Cerquetti was all too brief. She withdrew from the scene in 1961 after establishing herself as one of the leading artists of the world. It was a stupendous instrument, to my ears a more natural voice than either Callas’ or Sutherland’s. Cerquetti recorded very little, though there is a good deal of live material. Her recording of ‘Casta diva’ from Bellini’s NORMA is singing to be treasured.”
- Michael F. Bott, THE RECORD COLLECTOR, 2011
“In a career that lasted barely a decade, dramatic soprano Anita Cerquetti established an immense reputation that survives into the twenty first century. Why did she retire at age 30? Countless explanations have been advanced to justify Cerquetti's early departure from the stage, ranging from heart problems to ennui, impending motherhood to an instrument about to collapse owing to overuse. Yet not one seems satisfactory. Spasms in the facial nerves were an initial cause cited by the singer. After retiring for a period to rest, she returned to the stage. Why, then, did she permanently retire shortly after her reappearance? Cerquetti has suggested that she was tired and looking forward to giving birth to a child. That child, however, made her appearance some years after Cerquetti's retirement. The real truth may never be known and is perhaps unknown even to the diva herself. Despite the mystery surrounding the closing of Cerquetti's career, those ten years were of an undeniable magnitude. The soprano's voice -- large, bright, firmly supported up to an E flat above high C, searing in its penetrative power -- would have been a phenomenon in any age. Although its agility stopped short of the rapid-fire precision demonstrated by Maria Callas or Joan Sutherland, its keen focus was of the sort that stopped listeners in their tracks. Like other such densely compacted voices with fast vibratos, it sometimes veered sharp on top and was sensitive to dry acoustics. Cerquetti's was an instrument that required open spaces to fully unfold. Following a mere year of vocal study at the Conservatory in Perugia, Cerquetti made her début in Spoleto singing the title rôle in Aïda. From the very beginning, she was exposed to intense pressures to help fill the critical need for sopranos who could sing the dramatic repertory. For her début, she was also asked to assume the rôle of the High Priestess for a singer who had fallen ill. From that point through her final great year in 1958, she expended herself coming to the aid of those who had pressing need of her. When she was called upon to take over the rôle of Norma from Callas during a January 1958 production in Rome, she sang the rôle both there and in Naples, where she was already contracted. America heard too little of her, but she made an unforgettable impression in Chicago when Tullio Serafin (a mentor to the artist) brought her to the Lyric Opera for Verdi's UN BALLO IN MASCHERA, which also starred Jussi Björling and Tito Gobbi. When the soprano returned two years later, she was in less-glowing voice, but her Elisabetta in DON CARLO was well received. Despite her considerable size, Cerquetti learned to move with poise on-stage; with advice from both Serafin and coach Mario Rossi, she likewise learned to phrase with eloquence and beauty of sound. Though lacking a true pianissimo, she achieved the effect of softness and reflection by keeping her instrument truly and gently on the breath.”
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com
“Ebe Stignani sang more than one hundred roles in her career that lasted more than three decades! Her last appearance was as Ulrica in Florence in 1957. Clemens Höslinger wrote: ‘The mezzo-soprano Ebe Stigani had a prominent place in the ensemble of La Scala between the wars. She was a versatile, devoted artist, a lively and passionate actress, a singer with an expansive, metallic voice, eminently suited for dramatic, high-strung roles such as Amneris, Eboli, Carmen and Santuzza. Veracity of expression, absolute dedication to the artistic task in hand were characteristic of her personality….’ Her voice is glorious.”
- Andrea Shum-Binder, subito-cantabile
“Poggi is at his best in the shout-em-out-of-the-theatre arias....pealed out with trumpet clarity.”
- Charles H. Parsons, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, March/April, 2011
“While Ettore Bastianini's career was quite short, it was also distinguished. He was regarded as having one of the finest Verdi and verismo voices of his day, though his vocal gifts were not always matched by an equal musicianship.
Bastianini studied privately with Gaetano Vanni, and sang in the local choir. His professional solo début was in a concert in Siena early in 1945, and his operatic début was at the Ravenna opera as Colline in Puccini's LA BOHÈME later that year. He sang at the smaller houses throughout Italy and even went abroad to Cairo with a touring company, still singing the bass repertoire, including Mephistopheles in Gounod's FAUST. His La Scala début was in 1948 as Tirésias in Stravinsky's OEDIPUS REX. During these years, he began to wonder if he was truly a bass, and in 1951, he made his début as a baritone early in 1951 at the Bologna Opera as Germont in LA TRAVIATA. However, the performance was not especially successful, and he resumed intense studies over the next few months, giving special attention to developing his upper register. When he returned to the stage that summer, he had achieved just that goal, and his high notes were now considered his vocal glory. In 1953 Bastianini performed opposite Maria Callas for the first of many times, as Enrico Asthon in LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR at the Teatro Comunale Florence. That same year he sang the rôle of Carlo Gérard in Giordano's ANDREA CHÉNIER for the first time at the Teatro Regio di Torino. He made his Metropolitan Opera début as Germont on 5 December, 1953, opposite Licia Albanese as Violetta and Richard Tucker as Alfredo. The following January he sang Enrico to Lily Pons' Lucia and Jan Peerce's Edgardo at the Met. On 10 May, 1954, he made his début as a baritone at La Scala, in the title rôle of Tchaikovsky's EUGENE ONEGIN with Renata Tebaldi as Tatyana.
In the Fall of 1954, Bastianini joined the roster of the Metropolitan Opera where he sang regularly through May 1957. His rôles at the Met during this time included Amonasro, Carlo Gérard, Count di Luna, Enrico, Germont, Marcello in LA BOHÈME, Rodrigo in Don Carlo, and the title rôle in RIGOLETTO. He later returned to the Met in the Spring of 1960 to portray several rôles including Don Carlo in LA FORZA DEL DESTINO. He returned to the Met again in January 1965 where he spent most of that year singing in several of his prior rôles with the company, as well as performing Scarpia in TOSCA. His 87th and final performance at the Met was as Rodrigo on 11 December, 1965. It was also coincidentally the last performance of his career.
In 1956, he made his Chicago début as Riccardo in Bellini's I PURITANI. In 1962, he made his Covent Garden début as Renato in UN BALLO IN MASCHERA. Early in 1963, he left the stage for a few months, letting it be understood that he was resting, but in fact, he was undergoing treatment for throat cancer. His return performances and subsequent performances were poorly received, often with booing from the audience, as he was often hoarse, off-pitch, and under-powered. While he was deeply dismayed at this, he still did not speak of his illness; for all except family and close friends, it came as a complete surprise until after the announcement of his death. His last performance was in 1965 at the Metropolitan Opera.”
- Anne Feeney, allmusic.com