Renowned Ital­ian so­prano, Mirella Freni, dies

Antelope Valley Press - - WEATHER / OBITUARIES - By RON­ALD BLUM

Mirella Freni, an Ital­ian so­prano whose un­com­mon el­e­gance and in­ten­sity com­bined with a sump­tu­ous voice and in­tel­li­gence to en­thrall au­di­ences for a half-cen­tury, has died at age 84.

Freni died Sun­day at her home in Mo­dena, Italy, from a de­gen­er­a­tive mus­cu­lar dis­ease and a series of stokes, ac­cord­ing to her man­ager, Jack Mas­troianni of IMG Artists.

She was the last in a line of Ital­ian so­pra­nos who prompted ova­tions with their en­trances alone, a link to singers from the golden era and ear­lier such as Re­nata Te­baldi, Li­cia Al­banese, Magda Oliv­ero, Maria Caniglia, Amelita Galli-Curci and Luisa Te­trazz­ini. Broad­way play­wright Al­bert In­nau­rato dubbed Freni “the last prima donna.”

“She didn’t play the part of the prima donna. She was clearly the first lady on the stage,” said Chicago Sym­phony Orches­tra mu­sic di­rec­tor Ric­cardo Muti, who con­duced Freni many times at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala. “It’s an­other big piece of the chain of great Ital­ian singers that is dis­ap­pear­ing, and the fu­ture is not very beau­ti­ful. It is quite cloudy in the world of opera.”

When Freni made her Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera de­but as Mimi in Puc­cini’s “La Bo­hème” on Sept. 29, 1965, at the old house, Zinka Mi­lanov went back­stage and told as­sis­tant man­ager Fran­cis Robin­son: “She’s so won­der­ful, this girl, she sounds like a young me.”

From her pro­fes­sional de­but at Mo­dena’s Teatro Mu­nic­i­pale as Mi­caëla in Bizet’s “Car­men” on March 3, 1955, to her opera fi­nale as Joan of Arc in Tchaikovsk­y’s “The Maid of Or­leans” at the Wash­ing­ton Na­tional Opera on April 11, 2005, Freni chose roles with care and cau­tion.

As video be­came in­creas­ingly important dur­ing the sec­ond half of her ca­reer, she thrived for her abil­ity to con­nect as ex­pres­sively with view­ers at home as she did with the “log­gion­isti” up in La Scala’s gallery.

In a 2002 in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press, she re­called telling stu­dents dur­ing master classes to be wary of think­ing solely about the notes on the score.

“It’s not enough to have a beau­ti­ful voice,” she said. “It’s the depth of in­ter­pre­ta­tion that is dif­fer­ent. To be a gifted artist, you have to be able to in­ter­pret in a cer­tain way. Last year, I had a young Ja­panese singer, a lyric so­prano. Beau­ti­ful. But it was just tech­nique. I said, `My dear, lis­ten a mo­ment. If you have a scene with your lover and you have to tell him, I love you, do you scream out I LOVE YOU!?’”

Born Mirella Fregni on Feb. 27, 1935, in Mo­dena, she changed the spell­ing of her stage name, think­ing it would be eas­ier to pro­nounce.

Her aunt was the so­prano Valentina Bar­tolo­masi, and young Mirella had the same wet nurse as the baby boy born seven and a half months later who would be­come Mo­dena’s most fa­mous singer: Lu­ciano Pavarotti.

“You can see who got all the milk!” she once told au­thor Fred Plotkin.

Their moth­ers worked in the same fac­tory, and Freni said they some­times dressed young Mirella and Lu­ciano in iden­ti­cal cloth­ing. Freni had old photos as proof.

“There was a spe­cial place in the to­bacco man­u­fac­turer where my mother and the mother of Lu­ciano, they worked to­gether,” she said. “When we were lit­tle ba­bies, we stayed for a long time. In the even­ing, when the mam­mas fin­ished the work, they brought us home.”

Freni and Pavarotti trav­eled to­gether to Man­tua to study with Ital­ian com­poser and teacher Et­tore Cam­pogal­liani, who also taught Te­baldi, Re­nata Scotto and Carlo Ber­gonzi. Two years be­fore his death in 2007, Pavarotti called Freni “a colos­sal, beau­ti­ful artist and per­son.”

Af­ter her de­but at age 20, she mar­ried her teacher, the piano player and con­duc­tor Leone Magiera, in 1955. She took a break af­ter mar­riage to start a fam­ily and re­sumed her ca­reer in 1958 as Mimi the Teatro Re­gio in Turin, Italy.

Freni gained at­ten­tion at Eng­land’s Glyn­de­bourne Fes­ti­val, where she sang Zer­lina along­side Joan Suther­land’s Donna Anna in a 1960 stag­ing of Mozart’s

“Don Gio­vanni” and Ad­ina two years later in a Franco Zef­firelli pro­duc­tion of Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore (The Elixir of Love).”

She de­buted at Lon­don’s Royal Opera on May 10, 1961, as Nan­netta in Verdi’s “Fal­staff” and at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala as Mimi on Jan. 31, 1963, with Her­bert von Kara­jan con­duct­ing in the pre­miere of the Zef­firelli stag­ing. Kara­jan would be­come a sig­nif­i­cant sup­porter of the Ital­ian singer.

He and Freni left a rich recorded le­gacy that in­cludes “La Bo­hème,” Puc­cini’s “Madama But­ter­fly,” and Verdi’s “Aida,” “Don Carlo” and “Otello.” Among Freni’s no­table record­ings with other con­duc­tors are Verdi’s “La Travi­ata” with Lam­berto Gardelli, “Si­mon Boc­cane­gra” with Clau­dio Ab­bado and “Fal­staff” with Ge­org Solti.

No­table videos from her ca­reer in­clude Jean-Pierre Pon­nelle’s movies of “Madama But­ter­fly” and Mozart’s “Le nozze di Fi­garo (The Mar­riage of Fi­garo)”, and John Dex­ter’s Met pro­duc­tion of “Don Carlo” with Freni as Elis­a­betta.

FRENI

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