V0234. LEYLA GENCER, w.Edoardo Müller (Pf.): Songs by Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti & Chopin; Arias from Anna Bolena, Roberto Devereux & La Sonnambula, Live Performance, 20 Oct., 1980, Paris. (Italy) Bongiovanni 2536. - 8007068253623
"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.
She made her début as Santuzza at the open-air summer festival in Naples in 1953, and remained a particular favourite with the Neapolitans. Her early successes were in verismo roles - Madama Butterfly, Tosca and Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini. By 1957 she had been engaged by La Scala where she created the role of the New Prioress in the world premiere of Poulenc's LES DIALOGUES DES CARMÉLITES, and shortly after sang the title role in LA TRAVIATA at the Vienna Staatsoper, under Herbert von Karajan.
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 role 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's Italian career - Gencer followed Callas as Anna Bolena at La Scala, and in the role 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 roles.
Gencer's voice was not a natural dramatic soprano - she sang all the coloratura roles, such as Lucia, Elvira (PURITANI), Amina and Gilda. The sound had a strange, smokey quality which could - and quite often did - turn sour and detracted from the pleasure of her singing.
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 role 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.
As a recitalist Gencer also had a wide repertoire of 19th and early 20th-century songs. Some of her later appearances were in recital in Paris at the Athenée in the 1980s, when a young French public, who had never had the opportunity to see her on stage, proved receptive to her high-flown style and hailed her as the greatest living prima donna. 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. Especially noteworthy are performances of Verdi's I DUE FOSCARI (under Serafin), Donizetti's BELISARIO (from Venice in 1970) and SIMON BOCCANEGRA, from the 1959 Salzburg Festival, in which she is partnered by Tito Gobbi.”
- Patrick O'Connor, THE GUARDIAN, 12 May, 2008