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Simionato and Olivero on Bruna Rasa

Giulietta Simionato on Mascagni and Lina Bruna Rasa,
From the Outtakes to the Film
Opera Fanatic: Stefan and the Divas

Stefan Zucker: Did you sing Cavalleria under Mascagni’s baton?

Giulietta Simionato: I did Mamma Lucia once with him, in 1940, for the recording. I also did Lola with him, for Cavalleria’s 50th anniversary. I didn’t make it in time for Santuzza. I did L’amico Fritz near Rome and other things, not Cavalleria. But he heard me.

SZ: What is your opinion of Mascagni’s tempos as a conductor?

GS: One should not exaggerate with the slowness, because the drama suffers and the voices are only human. You can’t stretch out the score forever. Even with singers who have good breath spans it becomes too much. His tempos grew progressively slower until it no longer was possible to follow him. Singers took emergency breaths in the middle of phrases, trying to please him.

SZ: Did he accept the tempos of other conductors?

GS: Yes. However, he said, “I wrote it. I know what the tempos should be.” He was a little bit of a bully.

SZ: Can you compare your Santuzza with Lina Bruna Rasa’s?

GS: Bruna Rasa had a beautiful voice, but the poor thing soon became a little demented. She was a favorite of Mascagni because he had written Cavalleria for a soprano, and he didn’t like it sung by mezzos. So when he heard me sing it, naturally he had his doubts. But afterwards he said, “I didn’t believe that . . . I was wrong.”

SZ: Did Bruna Rasa use chest voice?

GS: Yes. She sang a [middle-voice] A with chest, for example, at “Io piango, io piango” [at the end of “Voi lo sapete”]. I couldn’t, but she did. It was ugly, certainly, but she was able to do it because she had an emission that allowed it. Mascagni permitted her to do it. Another thing—Mascagni in his music always resolved at the passaggio [change of register]. He had a strange fondness for that note. Unfortunately down there you can’t force or push your head voice. A singer with a long career in back of her might be astute enough to bring up chest resonance without damaging her voice, but most would not be able to do this. Without chest it just isn’t possible to resolve on those notes with enough force. Even in L’amico Fritz, all of Beppe’s arias finish on F-sharp, right in the middle of the passaggio.

SZ: Where is your passaggio?

GS: It’s F-sharp-for everyone, sopranos and mezzos alike. I don’t know about men, because I’ve never looked into that.

Magda Olivero on Mascagni and Lina Bruna Rasa,
From the Outtakes to the Film
Opera Fanatic: Stefan and the Divas

Stefan Zucker: Was the part of Santuzza suited to you?

Magda Olivero: I studied it with Maestro [Luigi] Ricci, who was the last repository of all these composers—Giordano, Puccini, Mascagni. Maestro Ricci added a sheet of paper to every page in his scores, with the metronome marks and directions of the composer. In fact all the metronome marks of Cavalleria were changed over the years. Ricci gave me all the correct metronome marks. All the authentic suggestions of the composer, vocal and scenic, are there.

SZ: I am confused because the tempos are different in the two recordings of Mascagni conducting Cavalleria—one a studio recording with Gigli and Bruna Rasa, the other, live, from Holland two years earlier, with Antonio Melandri and Bruna Rasa.

MO: With the passing of the years Mascagni’s arms grew heavier, and therefore his tempos grew slower and slower. Toward the end of his life his tempos had grown so slow that it became a real problem for his singers.

SZ: Do you think one of the versions of Cavalleria has the correct tempos?

MO: I wrote down in my score all the metronome marks that Maestro Ricci gave me. They correspond exactly to what Mascagni wanted.

SZ: It would be of great importance to publish Ricci’s notes.

MO: Yes. I will have to talk to the Sonzogno music publishers, particularly to Mrs. Ostali, the head. You’ve given me the idea. I’ll have to ask her, “Does your Cavalleria have the correct metronome markings or those that have changed over time?”

SZ: Did you sing under….

MO: Mascagni? No. I met him. I was present at a dress rehearsal of Cavalleria, with Bruna Rasa. I believe it was one of her last appearances.

SZ: Did she use chest voice?

MO: The voice was bellissima! And she was a beautiful woman too.

SZ: I believe you sang Santuzza just once.

MO: Yes, at the San Carlo in Naples.

SZ: Why not more performances?

MO: I don’t know, my career always has been very strange. I took it as it came. I never tried to organize my career. I never was deadly serious about it. Artistically, perhaps, yes, but as a career per se, I took it rather lightly.

SZ: Was the part too heavy for you?

MO: No. If it had been, I wouldn’t have sung it even once. Maestro Ricci agreed I could perform it. I sang Medea—and if that isn’t heavy! [laughs.] Much worse than Cavalleria! Terrible!

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Iris Adami Corradetti

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Iris Adami Corradetti in the 1920s and in Opera Fanatic

“The first act of Butterfly should be sung very sweetly but not with the voce infantile [a childlike or white voice suggestive of innocence and virginity]. Butterfly has renounced her family and changed her religion—the actions of a mature woman.”

Demonstrations: Butterfly

Adami Corradetti was born in 1903. Her father, Ferruccio Corradetti, was among the most important baritones from the late 19th century into the 1930s as well as an actor and critic. Her mother, Bice Adami, created the leading soprano part in Mascagni’s Le maschere. Both parents made many recordings. Adami Corradetti began as a concert pianist. Toscanini attended a party at which she not only played but sang. He engaged her for La Scala, where she made her debut in 1927, as the Page in Wolf Ferrari’s Sly. For several years she mostly sang comprimaria parts. She appeared under Toscanini’s baton and those of every other famous Italian conductor of the period as well as of Blech, Mascagni, Zandonai and Strauss. Adami Corradetti performed nearly 100 parts in operas by composers from Carissimi to Menotti, creating roles in 35 operas, including many by more than 20 now-obscure composers favored by the fascist regime. Famous for Zandonai’s Francesca, at La Scala from 1938 she “owned” Butterfly. In 1946 she married and, to please her husband, retired—a decision she came to regret.

Adami Corradetti grew up disliking opera and claimed to have absorbed little about it from her parents or anybody else. Her singing technique was largely self-taught.

A critic remarked that she wedded verismo expressivity to such traditional graces as legato. Another critic maintained that, as an interpreter, she “balanced head and heart.”

In her recordings of “Flammen, perdonami” (Lodoletta) and “Paolo, datemi pace” (Francesca da Rimini), from 1940, she brightens her tone to imbue it with more tenderness, fragility and pathos. In Italy at this time characterful tones were prized and it didn’t matter if they were so bright and penentrating as to be acerbic. Bianca Scacciati and Adelaide Saraceni sang with vowels that were still brighter and more open and penetrating than Adami Corradetti’s. (In Germany, England and the U.S. singing was expected to be mellow.) But by the time of Adami Corradetti’s song recordings from 1954 and ’57, she too was cultivating a mellow sound—darkened and rounded—as is now expected worldwide.

All the divas in the film teach or have taught singing. Adami Corradetti’s protégées included Ricciarelli and Margherita Rinaldi. Carteri, Valentini Terrani and Mara Zampieri also studied with her. Adami Corradetti told me she was opposed to the use of chest voice. However, her pupil Diana Fanizza said Adami Corradetti didn’t stop her from singing with it.

Adami Corradetti had musical intuitions so powerful that, without being able to verbalize her reasons, she phrased as if by intellectual analysis of the music’s structure. After I interviewed her I sat in on a lesson. A soprano sang “Oh! quante volte” from Capuleti, making the notes of cadenzas equal in value—and the result was dull. From time to time Adami Corradetti stopped her and demonstrated the way she felt a phrase should be sung. In singing a cadenza she would begin slowly, accelerate in the middle and then slow down at the end.

Adami Corradetti also sang an ascending half-step dissonance slightly sharp, which made it more telling. In general she emphasized dissonances—moments of harmonic tension—and deemphasized their resolutions. But when I asked her why, she was unaware of what she had done and had no explanations as to the reasons she had lengthened certain notes and shortened others.

Having appeared as Liù to Cigna’s Turandot, in 1930, Adami Corradetti declared:

Cigna’s kind of Turandot is far removed from the way I conceive the role. I’m not so enthusiastic about virago interpretations such as Cigna’s and Nilsson’s because, from my point of view, the princess is a fragile girl, psychologically weak, who in the end falls in love like all women do. Nevertheless I recognize that Cigna gave some stupendous performances of this opera, with her beautiful, cutting, vibrant voice.

Iris Adami Corradetti died June 26, 1998. This interview is the only footage of her. (Another portion of it was used in The Tenors of the 78 Era, Volume 1) Her last words to me were, “I’d still love to be able to sing, to give, because my soul is still alive.”—Stefan Zucker

Download the complete essay, including the chest voice and vocal technique articles, in PDF format:

Opera Fanatic: Biographies, Opinions—and Dish

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Gigliola Frazzoni


“Throughout the first act of Butterfly I used the voce infantile.

Demonstrations: Butterfly, Fanciulla and Tosca


Frazzoni demonstrates her Butterfly in Opera Fanatic


Born in 1927, she debuted in Bologna, as Mimì, in 1948, and appeared in Rome, Venice, Turin, Palermo, Parma, Verona, Munich, Stuttgart, Wiesbaden, Zurich, Geneva, Bordeaux, Cairo, Dublin and Vienna. She made her Scala debut in 1955, replacing Callas in Chénier. There she also sang Cavalleria, Fanciulla, Butterfly and Pagliacci. Her recordings include Tosca, Fanciulla and the world premiere, at La Scala, of I dialoghi delle Carmelitane. Her Minnie was filmed.

An uneven singer with an ample, round, dark sound, at her best she had a warm vocal personality—tender, endearing, adorable, sensuous, feminine, passionate, cuddly. She was a Minnie who laughed, loved, raged, suffered and exulted—electrifying. She was wild at “Vieni fuori! Vieni fuori!” in Act II. She sometimes sang slightly flat. She was insecure on high B and C.

Frazzoni tells her story:

My teacher took me from Bologna to Milan to audition for the agent Liduino. In another part of the office Serafin was making up the cast for Francesca da Rimini. He said, “This voice interests me. Don’t send her away.” He signed me for a small part, Samaritana. Thus I made my debut.

Later Liduino blocked my career because I represented a threat to someone he was protecting. Once Del Monaco and Gobbi were in Chicago for Fanciulla. Steber was supposed to sing Minnie but was sick—in reality she was on a bender—and they recommended me. Liduino called me and asked me how much I wanted. I wasn’t accustomed to big fees. To make my American debut, in my opera, I would have gone if they had covered my expenses. I told Liduino I left the money up to him. I was afraid of flying but for that occasion was prepared to. I bought a valise. When nothing happened my husband called Liduino’s office and was given a runaround.

A week later I received a letter from Del Monaco saying he was ashamed to know me because I’d asked for so much money—Liduino had demanded $3,000 a performance although I would have gone for $300. He didn’t want me to go to America because he managed Stella and a number of other sopranos. Steber mimed the performance with someone singing from behind the curtain. Bing flew from New York to Chicago to hear me, in vain.

As a result my good friend Tebaldi ended up performing Fanciulla at the Met and recording it for Decca. She wanted to do everything. She was one of the greatest singers, with a sweet voice, an exquisite legato. She was wonderful in Lohengrin, Otello, above all, and was even a good Maddelena, but she was unsuitable for verismo. (I would have been a bad Desdemona because I needed to run around onstage.) Her temperament was too controlled for Minnie and she was too static onstage. Minnie has to be violent at moments. She was too sweet for that.

The Fanciulla recording was to have been done at La Scala with Votto conducting but Decca moved it to Rome because he said, “I want to record Fanciulla with the cast we had at La Scala.” [At La Scala Frazzoni was the Minnie, Del Monaco and Corelli the Johnsons. The recording was conducted by Capuana and starred Del Monaco and Tebaldi.]

In 1958 I was scheduled to do seven performances of Butterfly at La Scala. They were so successful that the theater added 10 additional performances, whereas Callas only got to do 14 of Traviata.

In the first act of Butterfly you must seem fifteen. Butterfly and Violetta each require two voices. I try to adapt my sound to the situation. I had the discipline to decline engagements, to prepare myself for certain roles. When I performed Butterfly I only did that part that year because I had to make my voice smaller and childlike for the first act. But in the second act I became a spinto and threw out all the voice I had.

I used chest voice when the drama called for it, for example, at the end of “Voi lo sapete”—the way Bruna Rasa did. The word “piango” calls for it. I reconciled chest voice with my masque placement. You shouldn’t really dig into those notes. They should sound natural, not forced. [She demonstrated the phrase with great passion and a sob at the tied note on “piango” but used chest very lightly if at all, I thought.] Bruna Rasa once came backstage to congratulate me after a performance. Incidentally, the poor thing went crazy because of syphilis.

The first requirement in singing is to have temperament and sensibility. You must be happy, joyful, full of love. In Puccini every phrase teaches you to sing with happiness and humility.

There are no more Giocondas. Today Bohème-type voices sing heavy repertory and they lack impact as Santuzza. Voices that would have sung Micaëla or Liù end up doing Gioconda and Fedora.

What I regret most of all is not having any children—I would have liked to have had six.

Frazzoni on Adami Corradetti: She made me feel a lot of tenderness.

On Simionato: In Cenerentola she sounded like a soprano leggero. She had great facility with high notes.

On Stignani: She was a mezzo but she sang the high C in Norma. Callas told her, “But why do you put in the C? Only I do it.”

On Gavazzi: She was one of the last with great temperament. She also had a beautiful voice.

On Olivero: Her recording of “Ah! fors’è lui. . . . Sempre libera” is unsurpassable and was an inspiration to me. Those who do Adriana today are ridiculous compared to her. But unfortunately she was one of those singers who had to do everything, and so she even performed Fanciulla. Her Minnie is of no interest to me.

SZ: Why is that?

GF: No comment!

On Corelli vs. Del Monaco:

SZ: You sang Fanciulla with both Del Monaco and Corelli. Please compare them.

GF: Del Monaco was a normal person. He didn’t create problems for others. With Corelli you never knew if he’d sing or not. Offstage he was unbearable. “I don’t feel well—this bothers me, that hurts me.” After performances he disappeared. Del Monaco instead was a tranquil man. He was very serious about his singing. He listened to himself while he sang. Offstage he was like a brother. He was happy, he gave joy. After the performance he was able to sing through the entire opera again in full voice in the hotel, after he had eaten. His wife, Rina, was a dear, good person. Del Monaco had a beautiful voice, but his singing was more calculated.

Corelli was the Callas of tenors. His voice was not beautiful but it had an allure that excited the public. Callas had a pathos, something great inside her, that Franco also had. His voice gave me goosebumps. He threw himself into the performance. He was Johnson—he was more true to the drama.

He sang, “Minnie, Minnie” with such tenderness! Onstage I was in love with him, offstage less so because he was impossible.

After performances with Corelli women said to me, “He touched you! That must have been so thrilling!”

Stefan Zucker


Frazzoni in Chénier with “the Callas of tenors”

Download the complete essay, including the chest voice and vocal technique articles, in PDF format:

Opera Fanatic: Biographies, Opinions—and Dish

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Gina Cigna

“If you don’t know how to breathe, you don’t know how to sing… Opera has lost spontaneity, beauty and freedom.”

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Gina Cigna

Born in 1900 in Paris to a well-to-do family, Cigna studied music theory, also piano with Cortot and voice with Calvé. She was a painter and ceramist. In 1927 she debuted under her married name, Ginette Sens, at La Scala, as Freia. After studies with Storchio and Russ and performances in the Italian provinces, she reemerged under her own name at La Scala as Donna Elvira and went on to appear in Florence, Verona, London, Paris, Cologne, Buenos Aires, Berlin, Vienna, Amsterdam, Brussels, Munich, Hanover, Dusseldorf, Berlin, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Toronto. In 1947 on her way to perform Tosca in Vicenza she was in an auto accident. She crawled out the window of the car, arrived at and sang the performance but at some point suffered a heart attack. This caused her retirement.

Her repertoire included 50 roles, from Poppea to Kostelnicka. Her principal parts were Turandot (which she performed 493 times), Norma, Gioconda and Violetta. She also sang a prodigious number of recitals. Her recordings include Norma, Trovatore, Turandot and Aïda.

Cossotto coached repertory with Cigna and Pobbe coached Aïda with her. Her voice students included Casapietra, Mauti Nunziata, Dimitrova and Luis Lima.

Cigna’s voice often had a touch of omnipresent conspicuous fast vibrato, seldom heard since her day. Throughout a wide range her voice was plangent. Sometimes, though, it sounded unsupported at ends of phrases, and her breathing sounded labored. In her recordings from 1930-32, she used chest resonance sparingly, but in those from the late 30s she didn’t stint. She claims not to have employed chest resonance. However, her pupil Françoise Detchenique (seen with her in the film) says Cigna advised her to use it with restraint.

Her singing communicated understanding of musical structure: harmonically unimportant notes subordinated, notes of harmonic tension emphasized, those of harmonic relaxation deemphasized. She built crescendos note by note, propelling melodies toward their points of greatest dissonance. Sometimes, however, her treatment of dynamics was a little too understated (perhaps because of her French background).

She was a singer of many aspects. In Gioconda her voice was dark like a mezzo’s, but in Faust it was bright. In dramatic repertory she could sound like a mature woman, yet in Faust she was girlish. Although Cigna is remembered principally for Turandot, she often sang with Innigkeit (with inward or interior feeling), like a Lotte Lehmann of the Italian repertory. (Cigna’s vocal personality wasn’t quite as warm.) Her singing created an atmosphere, her characters oozed mystery, so that in listening to her one believes they felt even more than they expressed.

Stefan Zucker

For a performance with Cigna, go to Il trovatore

Download the complete essay, including the chest voice and vocal technique articles, in PDF format:

Opera Fanatic: Biographies, Opinions—and Dish

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Anita Cerquetti


Anita Cerquetti in Opera Fanatic: Stefan and the Divas:

“Singers should stay motionless when they sing. Otherwise the voice shifts. The singer has to be an actor through gestures, face, arms and hands. Through the voice.“

Demonstration: Norma

Born in 1931, Cerquetti first studied violin and sang for her own pleasure. At 16 she performed the Bach-Gounod “Ave Maria” at a friend’s wedding and was persuaded to audition for the Perugia conservatory, where she was accepted. She performed Leonora (Trovatore) at Modena but her official debut was in 1951, as Aïda, at Spoleto. She appeared throughout Italy, France, Switzerland and in Chicago, and she sang Abigaille with Serafin at Verona in 1956. In 1957, in her only New York appearance (at The Town Hall), she sang Paride ed Elena (Gluck). Among her recordings are Gioconda, Oberon, Norma, Forza, Vespri, Tell, Ernani and Abencerages (Cherubini). She retired abruptly. We discussed this:

AC: I sacrificed my career for my family.

SZ: How?

AC: By leaving my career so early.

SZ: There are various explanations regarding why you stopped. For example, RAI [Italian radio] told me you had a brain disease.

AC: Uff! [Sound of disgust] What?

SZ: And that you could no longer remember your parts.

AC: They told you that at RAI? What dears! How nice of them! No, thank God, no! Do you know why this rumor got started? I was studying Il pirata, which I was scheduled to sing in Palermo. At the same time I was singing Norma at the Rome Opera, substituting for Callas and going back and forth between Rome and Naples, where I was also performing Norma. Naturally, traveling back and forth like that, and singing in both cities, there was little time to study. When I arrived in Palermo, knowing they had a cover ready, I said, “Because I haven’t prepared this opera well, I don’t feel I should sing it.” From that point people began to say I had lost my memory. The Milan paper wrote, “Anita Cerquetti has suddenly lost her memory.” It wasn’t that I’d lost my memory; it was simply that I hadn’t studied. This is the truth.

SZ: Let me read this quote of Franco Corelli [the Pollione of the Rome performances]: “Cerquetti strained her voice by singing too much.”

AC: Yes [sardonically].

SZ: “She substituted for Callas in Rome while performing Norma at the San Carlo in Naples at the same time, and after three months she developed nodes on her vocal cords.”

AC: This is another lie, because, thank God, I have never had nodes. Instead I was overcome by stress because I was tired, very tired.

SZ: When did you have the stress?

AC: I was very tired because I couldn’t sleep at night and during the day I sang. 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. And other things were said as well, not just that. They said my husband left me, didn’t they? [Her husband, Edo, grunts affirmatively.] They also said I had lost my mind, that I had had a heart operation (this news arrived from America). So many things were said—understandably—because I had left my career at its most beautiful moment. It’s only natural that people asked why. And since everyone needed a reason, each one invented his own.

SZ: Did you commit acts of divismo?

AC: When I canceled the Pirata, all kinds of things were said about me—that I did scandalous things, that I turned a hotel upside down because I couldn’t find a room to my liking. They called me hysterical, a crazy woman—everything. And no one—no one—spoke up for me. No one said, it’s not true, that’s not the way it is. Apparently it was convenient at that moment for some people that I disappear. Since I needed my family and affection—in this life you need more than just success—I said “Basta: I’m closing the door, and that’s the end of it.”

SZ: Do you have the desire to sing, to perform?

AC: Not today. The first years, yes, but no longer.

SZ: And the first years?

AC: In the first years it was hard, because I withdrew abruptly, no longer seeing people or listening to music. I wanted to erase those memories even though they can never really be erased. But at least I wanted to keep them at a distance, put them in the back of my mind.

SZ: Why didn’t you attempt a return to the stage?

AC: 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.

Today one tends to think of dramatic soprano voices as heavy, in the manner of Marton’s, but Cerquetti’s instead was brilliant and penetrating, with soaring top notes. Her breath span was a trifle short. She was expert at such elusive subtleties as the grace notes in “O patria mia.” Her temperament sometimes seems a little cool, lacking in pathos, her sound Nordic. (In Opera Fanatic she warmly interprets words in demonstrating an excerpt from Norma.) Gioconda inspired her to sizzle. She sang the part with a heavier tone.

SZ: What is your opinion about chest voice?

AC: I hate it.

SZ: To me you sound as if you used pinches of it as Gioconda.

AC: Well, I used chest notes despite myself—but lightly. The part brought them out of me. I couldn’t sing with heavy chest resonance if I wanted to because I’ve always tried to avoid it.

SZ: Are chest notes harmful to the voice?

AC: Yes. They ruin the middle voice, and they are ugly. I prefer a note that is less forte but more beautiful. If you throw a note into the chest you hear the difference when the sound rises and passes the first passaggio [change of register]. You hear that it’s no longer the same voice, that something has happened. It’s as if you open a door and find a narrower hallway because the notes in the middle voice are comparatively thinner and weaker.

Cerquetti on Cigna: Cigna, by the way, used chest resonance.

On Olivero: Few singers have pathos. Olivero did. Almost all others are scholastic. Her voice by itself serves for nothing.

On Barbieri and Simionato: [They] always hated one another.

Stefan Zucker

For a performance with Cerquetti, go to Ernani (CD)

Download the complete essay, including the chest voice and vocal technique articles, in PDF format:

Opera Fanatic: Biographies, Opinions—and Dish

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Carla Gavazzi

In Opera Fanatic, Gavazzi compares and contrasts various interpretations of “Amami Alfredo” from Traviata.


Carla Gavazzi as Santuzza

SZ: Cerquetti, Adami Corradetti, Barbieri, Simionato, Pobbe and Olivero are all opposed to the use of chest resonance.

CG: Chest resonance is indispensable. They are ignorant! They don’t know anything! Olivero used a lot of chest voice. Did she ever, in order to become successful. Even to a vulgar degree!

Demonstrations: Traviata, Tosca


Gavazzi was born in 1913, in Bergamo, to a prosperous, artistic and educated family. She was sent to boarding schools in Switzerland and France, where she studied violin as well as French and German. She debuted, as Mimì, in 1940. Her career, interrupted by war, marriage and the birth of a son, resumed in 1946. Her repertoire included modern and chamber music as well as Semiramide, Pamina in Flauto magico, Faust, Liù in Turandot, Margherita in Mefistofele, Manon, Manon Lescaut, Otello, Micaëla in Carmen, Margherita da Cortona (Refice), L’incantesimo (Montemezzi), La favola del figlio cambiato (Malipiero), Mathis der Maler, La campana sommersa (Respighi), Cyrano de Bergerac and Risurrezione (both by Alfano). Alfano chose her for the world premiere of his song cycle based on the poetry of Tagore. Gavazzi sang at Florence, Milan, Parma, Brescia, Trieste, Bologna, Verona, Rome, Naples, Palermo, Barcelona and Lisbon. She recorded Elvira in Giovanni, Adriana, Fanciulla and Pagliacci and filmed Cavalleria.

She retired around 1960 because of a goiter, which caused intermittent swelling in the neck, and because her son had polio.

Gavazzi often was aflame with passion. At moments her Adriana recording gives spinal chills. I’m an Oliveroite, but I have to admit that I sometimes find Gavazzi’s more rhythmic approach preferable because it enabled her to move a phrase ahead better. Her Adriana surpassed Olivero’s at aggressive, assertive moments. (Olivero’s Adriana had other, spiritual dimensions, also a rapt, girlish quality.) Sometimes Gavazzi sang with a flicker vibrato. At her best her intonation was uncommonly accurate. For example, unlike most singers, she sang half steps untempered (as a violinist would play them). She lacked a pianissimo.—Stefan Zucker

CG: I find that in general there is too much preoccupation today with making a rotund sound. All the singers are good and they are all the same, with beautiful pianos, which were much less common before. If Katia Ricciarelli hadn’t sung so many pianos, she would still be singing with that lovely voice she started with.

Download the complete essay, including the chest voice and vocal technique articles, in PDF format:

Opera Fanatic: Biographies, Opinions—and Dish

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Marcella Pobbe

“All I did was right. I didn’t make mistakes.”

pobbe Born in 1927 (some reference books give 1921), Pobbe studied in Vicenza, Pasero, Siena and won several vocal contests, making her debut, in 1948, in Spoleto, as Marguerite. The following season she sang at the San Carlo in a revival of Petrella’s I promessi sposi. In 1954-55 she appeared at La Scala as Elsa, as Betsabea in the house premiere of David (Milhaud) and as Agathe. In 1956 she sang in the world premiere of Rossellini’s La guerra, at the San Carlo. She appeared in Verona, London, Paris, Vienna and in South America. Her Met debut was in 1958, as Mimì.

Her recordings include Mefistofele, Isabeau (Mascagni), Jeanne d’Arc au Bûcher (Honegger), Carmen, Pêcheurs and Otello. She made films of Adriana, Ballo, Tosca, Francesca da Rimini as well as the Countess in Figaro and several recitals. Her repertory included Giulio Cesare, Ifigenia in Aulide, Orontea (Cesti), Kovàncina, Fiera di Sorocinski, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Strauss’s “Four Last Songs.”

pobbebwShe renounced her Met engagement for Elisabetta, in 1959, because she didn’t want to appear in the same house as Nicolai Gedda, with whom she was having a lovers’ quarrel. This step ended her Met career. (Her affair with Gedda continued off and on, notwithstanding his various marriages and lovers.) In watching the film it might be helpful to know that, on the phone before the interview, Pobbe herself spoke of all this heatedly and at length and asked to discuss it for the record, but when the cameras were rolling she clammed up.

She supposedly was dogged by ill luck. For example, she divorced a wealthy husband (the divorce was one of the first in Italy), only to have him drop dead the next day. She made bad investments.

Her sound was sweet, bright, charming, white, evocative of adolescence. She was an Italian Upshaw or Hong but with a more powerful voice. It was even from top to bottom and seemingly produced without effort. Her intonation was accurate, and she had excellent control over dynamics.

In Don Carlo she found more tonal body, but her voice had less focus and her vibrato was wider. She was well schooled but lacked sufficient emotion. Hers was a lighter, brighter sound than one associates with Don Carlo or Trovatore (in which she had a good high D-flat). Divas from the period often claim that, unlike Scotto and Freni, singers then didn’t undertake heavy roles if they had voices that were lyric in color. Pobbe is the counterexample. —Stefan Zucker

Download the complete essay, including the chest voice and vocal technique articles, in PDF format:

Opera Fanatic: Biographies, Opinions—and Dish


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Chest Voice: Some History

Since W.W.I women for the most part have been afraid of chest resonance, fearing it would ruin their voices. But in the 19th century women used it as a matter of course, a practice they inherited from the castratos. Most women on early recordings sing all notes from F at the bottom of the treble staff on down in chest voice. But they do not sing higher than that in chest voice. Voice teacher Giovanni Battista Lamperti dissuaded his pupil Marcella Sembrich from undertaking Aïda on the grounds that she lacked the requisite chest resonance. (Records attest to Sembrich’s having used chest resonance below G-flat, so presumably Lamperti must have felt her chest voice was too light for the part.) Lamperti did maintain it was unhealthy for the voice for women to carry chest resonance higher than F.

Nineteenth-century Italian opera composers seemingly took for granted that women would employ chest voice. (Consider Mascagni’s preference for Lina Bruna Rasa’s chest-voice-heavy Santuzza.) The majority of roles cannot be communicated adequately without chest color at one point or another. Women often find that unless they abstain from chest resonance, the music at certain moments causes them to use it. A challenge for women with modern vocal techniques is how to fulfill the chest requirement without hurting themselves.

In the last 160 years, while women have used chest voice less and less, men have used it more and more. For discussions of men, chest voice and head voice, see my “Last of a Breed: Giovanni Battista Rubini Ruled as the Paragon of Virtuoso Tenors, King of the High F’s” (Opera News, February 13, 1982) and “Seismic Shocker: Gilbert-Louis Duprez’s History-Making High C” (Opera News, January 1, 1983), also my “Different Kinds of High Notes and the Seismic Shock: Nineteenth-Century Tenors and the Meaning of ‘Falsetto’” (American Record Guide, March 1982). The Rubini and Duprez articles are reprinted in my The Origins of Modern Tenor Singingsee our full catalog.

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Chest Voice: The Divas’ Dispute

Gavazzi and Gencer claim that not only did they themselves employ chest resonance but that the other divas—in particular, Olivero, Cigna, Adami Corradetti, Simionato and Barbieri—did as well. (Frazzoni made some seemingly inconsistent statements about whether or not she herself used it.) These latter deny having resonated in their chests. I asked Gavazzi to explain this. She claimed they employed chest unknowingly.

This kind of explanation is common among singers. Corelli and Hines cannot conceive of any tenor singing above the staff without routinely covering his tone. Yet Alfredo Kraus and I claim we do exactly that. Speaking on the radio program “Opera Fanatic,” Corelli and Hines insisted we cover automatically, without being aware of it—a view we reject.

Also speaking on “Opera Fanatic,” Kraus asserted that Chris Merritt sings his high notes in falsetto—a view he rejects.

Usually I favor giving the singer the benefit of the doubt: if he says he’s not covering, then he’s not.

The dispute over chest voice may be a special case, however. The anti-chest divas were raised in the belief that chest resonance is vocally unhealthy. They also were told it fractures continuity of musical line. Still, certain powerful emotions and coloristic demands sometimes flushed chest out of them. But they hate to admit it. Each diva views her vocal technique as having the sanctity of religion. Each is mortified if the world knows she sinned. Barbieri insisted she wouldn’t attend The Bavarian State Opera’s showing of Opera Fanatic if Gencer were there, on the grounds that Gencer had insulted her by saying in the film that she—Barbieri—used chest voice.

Why should opera lovers care about whether or not someone sings with chest voice? Because the affective consequences are very great. My viscera aren’t satisfied if chest isn’t used in certain passages, the phrase “un gel mi prende” (Norma), for example.

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Vocal Technique

With the exception of Adami Corradetti, who at least from the 50s onward didn’t have a placement-based method, the divas in the film used a technique of resonation called “masque placement” (“placement” of the tone at the front of the face, anywhere between the forehead and the lower teeth). Masque placement prevailed in the period in which they sang.

For much of the19th century many singers placed their voices at the top of the head, at a point between but above the ears. Gemma Bellincioni, the first Santuzza, used this placement.

Today masque placement is being edged aside by mechanistic approaches, which do not involve placement at all. Instead, they require manipulation of the lips, mouth, tongue, soft palate, nostrils, jaw, position of the head or of the larynx.

With the exception of Adami Corradetti, who did not think about breathing, the divas used a breathing method involving pressing in at the diaphragm. Before, during and after the divas’ period a variety of other breathing techniques have been in use.

The divas all subscribe to the view that there is one god, one country and one singing technique—their own. (Olivero concurs that this is her stand.)

For more detailed information about these and six other fundamentally different kinds of vocal technique, see Opera Fanatic magazine, issue 2. (See our full catalog)