OP0183. MADAMA BUTTERFLY, recorded 1957, w.Leinsdorf Cond. Rome Opera Ensemble; Anna Moffo, Cesare Valletti, Renato Cesare, Rosalind Elias, etc. 2-RCA 4145-2-RG, w.85pp Libretto-Brochure. Long out-of-print, Final Copy. - 07863541452
“Anna Moffo, an American soprano who was beloved for her rosy voice, dramatic vulnerability and exceptional beauty, was drawn early on into television and film, playing host of her own variety show on Italian television for many years. She might not have fulfilled her promise, but for a good dozen years Ms. Moffo enjoyed enormous success and won a devoted following at a time when her competition for roles like Verdi's Violetta, Puccini's Mimi and Donizetti's Lucia included Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi and Joan Sutherland. Though Ms. Moffo's voice was not large, it was warm and rich, with soft pastel colorings and a velvety lower range. Agile coloratura technique allowed her to sing high soprano bel canto repertory impressively, especially LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR. She was a thoroughly trained musician, having studied the piano and viola when she was a voice major on scholarship at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
Her RCA recording of LA TRAVIATA, with Richard Tucker and Robert Merrill, is still prized for the subtlety and pathos she brings to her portrayal of Violetta. Still, her career could be seen as a cautionary tale about doing too much too soon. In 1954 she entered and won the Philadelphia Orchestra Young Artists Auditions. Awarded a Fulbright fellowship, she went to Rome to study voice, master the Italian language and train for opera.
Ms. Moffo made her stage opera debut in 1955 as Norina in Donizetti's DON PASQUALE in Spoleto. Her big breakthrough came the next year, when she starred in a television production of Puccini's MADAMA BUTTERFLY, directed by Mario Lanfranchi, a producer for RCA Victor and RAI. She and Mr. Lanfranchi married in 1957. Sensing her star potential, he pushed her too hard. Recalling this period in a 1977 interview, Ms. Moffo lamented that she sang an average of 12 new roles a year for the first four years of her career, all star parts. ‘I was working too hard and traveling too much’, she said. ‘I got mixed up in TV, films, things like that. Psychologically, I was miserable, always away, always alone’.
Her Met debut in 1959 was as Violetta in LA TRAVIATA. The reviews, though encouraging, were cautious. Ms. Moffo soon became a favorite at the Met, and remained so well into the 1960s. She appeared some 200 times with the Company, including her portrayal of Liù in the legendary production of Puccini's TURANDOT in 1961 that starred Birgit Nilsson and Franco Corelli. By the late 1960s, her voice was often unreliable. In his book THE AMERICAN OPERA SINGER, the critic Peter G. Davis writes of a now infamous 1969 Saturday afternoon broadcast performance of LUCIA at the Met. Rudolf Bing, the general manager, was so dismayed by her singing that he considered stopping the performance before Lucia's daunting ‘mad scene’ was broadcast to millions. That same year, Ms. Moffo caused a scandal in Italy when she appeared to be nude in a scene in the film UNA STORIA D'AMORE. In later years she insisted that she had not been totally unclothed.
In 1972 she and Mr. Lanfranchi divorced. Two years later she married Robert W. Sarnoff, the chairman of RCA, who was enthralled with his glamorous wife. Under Mr. Sarnoff, RCA built a promotional campaign around her, including an ill-advised recording of Massenet's THAÏS, with Ms. Moffo in the title role. The reviews, predictably, were very poor. For a brief time, though, Ms. Moffo was a lovely singer and appealing artist who broke out of the traditional career mode to reach the larger public. ‘You may not like what I do’, she said in a 1972 interview, ‘but you can't say I'm dull’."
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 11 March, 2006