OP2217. ANNA BOLENA, Live Performance, 18 Aug., 1958, w.Gavazzeni Cond. RAI Ensemble, Milano; Leyla Gencer, Giulietta Simionato, Plinio Clabassi, Aldo Bertocci, Anna Maria Rota, etc. (E.U.) 2-Myto 00294. - 0801439902947
"When you sing, you have to feel what you are saying.... I actually cried on stage. Once in a while a note would issue forth that was not orthodox. That's why the American critics don't like me. But I don't care. They want music with water and soap."
- Leyla Gencer
“Leyla Gencer was the greatest Turkish opera singer of the 20th century and a singing actor of formidable power and individuality. Although she came from what she herself referred to as a ‘Muslim and oriental’ background, she had the good fortune, as a student in Istanbul, to study with the famous Italian dramatic soprano Giannina Arangi-Lombardi, so that when she went to Italy in 1953, she was thoroughly grounded in the traditions of Italian opera. Gencer was a very beautiful woman, with large dark eyes, a wide, generous mouth and a natural command of the stage. She made her début as Santuzza in CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA at the open-air summer festival in Naples in 1953, and remained a particular favourite with the Neapolitans. Throughout her career, Gencer had a very wide repertoire, ranging from Monteverdi, Gluck and Mozart to Verdi, Ponchielli and Puccini. During her career she sang virtually every soprano rôle in Verdi's operas, but it was especially in the revival of bel-canto works by Bellini, Donizetti and Pacini that she made her mark. To some extent, Gencer shot to fame in the immediate aftermath of the end of Maria Callas' Italian career - Gencer followed Callas as Anna Bolena at La Scala, and in the rôle of Paolina in Donizetti's POLIUTO - the last new part Callas undertook. As Queen Elizabeth I of England, first in Donizetti's ROBERTO DEVEREUX, and then in Rossini's ELISABETTA, REGINA D'INGHILTERRA, Gencer preceded Montserrat Caballé and Beverly Sills, who later recorded the rôles. Although Gencer's career was mostly in Italy, she appeared in the United States, where she made her début in San Francisco as Lucia in 1957, returning there, as well as to Chicago and Dallas. John Ardoin described her voice in a memorable LUCREZIA BORGIA in 1974, as ‘poignant, compelling’ and mentioned the ‘strange colours and deep pathos of her art’. In England she was heard at Glyndebourne as the Countess in FIGARO, and as Anna Bolena. At Covent Garden she was Donna Anna in Zeffirelli's 1962 production of DON GIOVANNI, then Elisabeth de Valois in DON CARLOS. Gencer's most memorable UK appearances were undoubtedly in the title rôle of Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, at the Edinburgh Festival in 1969. The sparks that flew on stage in the confrontation - historically absurd but dramatically thrilling - when Gencer as Mary Stuart ripped off her glove and flung it in the face of Shirley Verrett as Elizabeth I at the words, ‘Vil bastarda’ will surely live in the memory of all who witnessed it. Gencer had no career whatsoever as a recording artist, but many of her broadcasts from Italian radio have now been issued on disc and are a fine memorial to her voice and dramatic ability.”
- Patrick O'Connor, The Guardian, 12 May, 2008
“Giulietta Simionato was the greatest Italian mezzo-soprano of her era, an artist whose singular career was shaped as much by her innate elegance as by her extraordinary musical and dramatic gifts. In an era before opera singers were pigeonholed as ‘specialists’, Simionato constructed a personal repertoire that stretched from the eighteenth-century graces of Mozart, Gluck and Cimarosa to the bel canto heroines (and heroes) of Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini to the formidable ladies of Verdi, Mascagni, Ponchielli and Cilèa. Today, it would be highly unlikely for an impresario to cast the same artist as Cherubino and Amneris, but Simionato sang them both - as well as Carmen, Octavian, Mignon, Berlioz's Didon, Valentine in LES HUGUENOTS and nearly one hundred other rôles.
Simionato's voice, brilliant in the upper register and luminous in mid-range, was not so large as those of her Italian contemporaries, but her arresting combination of verbal clarity and emotional honesty made her one of the most charismatic artists to emerge on the international scene in the 1950s. She was a petite woman, but her superb figure and perfect posture - to say nothing of the very high-heeled shoes she favored both on- and offstage - made her seem statuesque. Simionato's characterizations, unfailingly bold yet never broad, were charged with enormous compassion: audiences succumbed as much to her generous spirit as to the sheer beauty of her sound.
Born in Forlì, in Romagna, Simionato made her stage début at seventeen, in a musical comedy at the Teatro Sociale in Rovigo, and studied voice with Guido Palumbi in Padua. After a few professional appearances in small rôles, she won a singing competition sponsored by the Maggio Musicale that brought her a contract for her Florence début, in the world premiere of Pizzetti's ORSÈOLO, in 1935. The following year, Simionato began her professional association with La Scala, as a Flowermaiden in PARSIFAL. For the better part of the following decade, she was chiefly confined to comprimario rôles in Milan, a situation in part due to the seniority (and political connections) of other mezzos on the La Scala roster, such as Gianna Pederzini and Cloe Elmo. Simionato's luck began to change after she acquired new management and won good notices as Dorabella in Geneva, Octavian in Trieste and Cherubino at the Edinburgh Festival. A particularly successful 1947 engagement in Genoa as Thomas' Mignon, a character to which she was ideally suited, brought an invitation to repeat the rôle at La Scala. Simionato made an enormous hit, and her status as a major star was assured.
Simionato was active at all the principal theaters in Italy but remained especially beloved at La Scala, where her legendary triumphs included Rubria in Boito's NERONE under Toscanini (1948); Giovanna to Maria Callas' Anna Bolena (1957); Didon in the La Scala premiere of LES TROYENS (1957); Valentine in LES HUGUENOTS (1962); and Arsace to Joan Sutherland's Semiramide (1962). She appeared regularly at Salzburg, where she made memorable appearances as Orfeo (1959) and Azucena (1962) under Karajan's baton, and in Vienna, Paris, Mexico City and London, where her Covent Garden appearances included Adalgisa to Callas' Norma (1953) and Azucena in Luchino Visconti's staging of IL TROVATORE (1964).
Simionato made her U.S. opera début in 1953, as Charlotte to Cesare Valletti's Werther, at San Francisco Opera. San Francisco also heard Simionato as Rosina and as Marina in BORIS GODUNOV (in Italian) during her first SFO season, but she did not sing with the company again until 1962, when she returned as Azucena, Santuzza and Mistress Quickly.
Like many of the leading Italian artists of her generation, Simionato considered her artistic home in the U.S. to be Lyric Opera of Chicago (then known as Lyric Theatre of Chicago), where she bowed in 1954, as Adalgisa to Callas' Norma. Simionato sang thirteen rôles in her six seasons with the company, allowing Chicago to hear a more generous sampling of her great specialties than any other North American city. In October 1957, immediately after making her New York début as Giovanna in an American Opera Society concert of ANNA BOLENA, Simionato traveled to Chicago, where she sang two performances each of MIGNON, Santuzza, Laura in LA GIOCONDA, Cherubino and the Princesse de Bouillon in ADRIANA LECOUVREUR for Lyric Opera, all within the span of a month. Six days after her final Chicago ADRIANA - during which she injured her ankle and sang Act III seated in an improvised wheelchair - Simionato made another significant U.S. début, when she appeared in L'ITALIANA IN ALGERI during the inaugural season of Dallas Civic Opera. Two weeks after her final Dallas ITALIANA (on 24 November), Simionato opened the La Scala season, as Ulrica in a brand-new UN BALLO IN MASCHERA. Such a rigorous schedule was business as usual for the fiercely disciplined Simionato, who typically sang eighty performances a year during the 1950s - and rarely canceled.
In 1954, the Met announced that Simionato would make her company début that season, as Orfeo, but she canceled her scheduled appearances, ceding the run of Gluck's opera to Risë Stevens. Simionato finally arrived at the Met on the opening night of the 1959–60 season, when she was Azucena in a new TROVATORE, directed by Herbert Graf. Despite her acclaim from the New York press and a significant number of devoted fans in Manhattan, Simionato sang just twenty-eight performances in four seasons with the Met - twelve as Amneris, six as Azucena, five as Santuzza and two as Rosina in BARBIERE, plus three 1965 tour performances of SAMSON ET DALILA, in which she sang Dalila in Italian, while the rest of the cast sang in French. The SAMSON presented during the 1965 spring tour's stop in Detroit marked Simionato's final Met performance and her final opera performance in the U.S.
The following season, when her second marriage, to the celebrated Italian physician Cesare Frugoni, was about to take place, Simionato decided to retire from the opera stage. She chose the thirtieth anniversary of her La Scala début – 6 February, 1966 - as the date. When she learned that the opera on the Scala schedule that night was Mozart's LA CLEMENZA DI TITO, Simionato learned the soprano rôle of Servilia in a few days and did a single performance of the opera at Piccola Scala. She did not sing in public again, save for a 1979 gala in honor of Karl Böhm, the maestro who had paced her first Cherubino, some thirty-two years earlier; in tribute to him, Simionato sang ‘Non so più’, transposed down an octave. Simionato enjoyed a long and comfortable retirement, frequently serving as a competition adjudicator and relishing the opportunity to comment on the state of singing in the years after she left the stage. After Frugoni's death, in 1978, Simionato married industrialist Florio De Angeli, who died in 1996.
Thanks to the impressive number of recordings she made during her great years, Simionato's artistry remains present and persuasive. Other artists may have filled Verdi with more sheer power or charged Rossini with a higher degree of virtuosity, but more than seventy-five years after her début, Simionato still sounds fresh and modern and natural in every measure. One cannot resist the spontaneity of her phrasing, the unerring simplicity with which she weights every word and reveals her profound connection to her music. It is a gift that will always set her apart from her rivals - if one chooses to accept that she had any.”
- F. Paul Driscoll, OPERA NEWS, May, 2010