OP0545. LA CECCHINA, Live Performance, 25 Nov., 1969, Napoli, w.Caracciolo Cond. RAI Ensemble, Napoli; Mirella Freni, Werner Hollweg, Ronaldo Panerai, Sesto Bruscantini, etc.; DIDON, Live Performance, 16 April, 1970, Napoli, w.Rossi Cond. RAI Ensemble, Milano; Gabriella Tucci, Angelo Mori, Mario Petri, Nicoletta Panni, etc. (both Piccinni). (Italy) 2-Arkadia 596, w.19pp. Libretto-Brochure in Italian & French. Very long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 8011571596023
“Mirella Freni, an exemplary Italian prima donna for nearly 50 years, whose voice was ideally suited to lighter lyric roles but maintained its bloom even as she took on weightier, more dramatic repertory in midcareer, was hailed as a last exponent of the great Italian operatic heritage. ‘That tradition is ending’, Plácido Domingo was quoted as saying in a 1997 NEW YORK TIMES article about Ms. Freni. ‘Mirella is the end of a chain. After that you cannot see who really follows her’. Many opera lovers acknowledged Ms. Freni’s special claim on this tradition, which valued bel canto principles of producing rich, unforced sound; of shaping even, lyrical lines across the range of a voice; and of sensitively matching sound to words.
With her beguiling stage presence, quiet charisma and the affecting vulnerability she could summon in her singing, Ms. Freni made Mimì in Puccini’s LA BOHÈME a signature part. She won international acclaim in the role in a landmark 1963 production at La Scala in Milan, directed by Franco Zeffirelli and conducted by Herbert von Karajan, who became one of her major champions. Though vocal beauty and proper technique were central to the Italian tradition, Ms. Freni placed a premium on expressivity and feeling. Commenting on the state of opera in a 1997 interview with The Times, she said there were many young artists who sing well and move well. ‘But that is all’, she added. ‘Finito! I want something deeper. It is important to have emotion, to live through the music onstage’, she continued. ‘Also, the Italian singers have a special feeling for the language. Even when we speak it is musical’. Yet she steadily expanded her repertory and, as the colorings of her voice grew darker with maturity, sang more dramatically intense and vocally heavy roles, like Desdemona in Verdi’s OTELLO, Verdi’s Aida and Puccini’s Manon Lescaut. She was particularly urged on this course by Karajan, who brought her to the Salzburg Festival to sing Desdemona and the demanding role of Elisabetta in Verdi’s DON CARLO.
With the support of her second husband, the Bulgarian bass Nicolai Ghiaurov, she ventured into Russian repertory, singing Tatyana in Tchaikovsky’s EUGENE ONEGIN and Lisa in Tchaikovsky’s PIQUE DAME. Yet Ms. Freni never lost the warmth and richness of her lyric soprano origins. Reviewing her performance in MANON LESCAUT at the Met in 1990, THE TIMES’ Donal Henahan marveled at her longevity and excellence. ‘The wonder of Mirella Freni at this stage of her career’, he wrote, ‘is that she continues to sing Puccini with seemingly reckless ardor while preserving a surprisingly fresh and beautiful sound’. Still, Ms. Freni considered herself a judicious soprano. She could say no, even to the imposing Karajan, if she though a particular role was not right for her. She recorded Puccini’s Madama Butterfly twice, including a film version conducted by Karajan, but never performed the role complete in a staged production in an opera house.
‘I am generous in many ways, but not when I think it will destroy my voice’, she said in a 2013 OPERA NEWS interview. ‘Some singers think they are gods who can do everything’, she added. ‘But I have always been honest with myself and my possibilities’.
She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1965 as Mimì and returned regularly to sing, among various roles, Adina in Donizetti’s L’ELISIR D’AMORE, Liù in Puccini’s TURANDOT and a new 1967 production of Gounod’s ROMÉO ET JULIETTE opposite the star tenor Franco Corelli (with whom she recorded the opera splendidly the next year). But she had been absent from the Met for more than 14 years when she returned in 1983 as Elisabetta in DON CARLO, with James Levine conducting and Mr. Ghiaurov as Philip II. In 1996 the Met mounted a production of a rarity, Giordano’s FEDORA, for Ms. Freni and Mr. Domingo, garnering rave reviews for both. She sang more than 140 performances with the company in all.
Asked whether she thought of herself as the ‘last prima donna’, as she was sometimes called, Ms. Freni demurred. ‘You tell me why I am the last of a tradition’, she said. ‘I have done my job honestly. I have worked hard and with joy’.”
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 9 Feb., 2020
“Born in Rome, Italy, Tucci trained at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia with Leonardo Filoni, whom she later married, Tucci made her début at Spoleto, as Leonora in LA FORZA DEL DESTINO, opposite Beniamino Gigli, in 1951. She then took part in the famous Florence 1953 revival of Cherubini's MEDEA, as Glauce, opposite Maria Callas. She made her La Scala début in 1959, as Mimi in LA BOHÈME. The following year saw her débuts at both the Royal Opera House in London, as Aïda, and at the Metropolitan Opera, as Cio-Cio-San in MADAMA BUTTERFLY. She sang at the Metropolitan Opera until 1972, other roles included Euridice, Marguerite, Leonora in both IL TROVATORE and LA FORZA DEL DESTINO, Maria Boccanegra/Amelia, Violetta, Aïda, Desdemona, Alice Ford, Mimi, etc. Tucci also appeared in Vienna, Berlin, and Buenos Aires. She traveled with the La Scala Opera to Moscow and Tokyo, performances that have been documented in live recordings.
A versatile singer and an accomplished actress, Tucci was able to tackle a wide range of roles from bel canto to verismo,
singing Donna Elvira in DON GIOVANNI, Elvira in I PURITANI, Gilda in RIGOLETTO, Violetta in LA TRAVIATA, and Marguerite in FAUST, as well as Maddalena in ANDREA CHÉNIER and the title role in TOSCA.”
“The Italian tenor Gianni Raimondi had a prestigious career lasting three decades. From 1956 to 1976 he sang frequently at La Scala, where his partner a number of times during the early years was Maria Callas. His voice, smooth and warm in tone with a good coloratura facility and very strong top notes, was ideal for 19th-century Italian opera from Rossini and Donizetti to Verdi and Puccini and he rarely sang anything outside that repertory, apart from a few French rôles and a couple of modern operas.”
- Elizabeth Forbes, THE INDEPENDENT, 27 Oct., 2008