Monday, September 08, 2014
The great Italian soprano Magda Olivero has died at the age of 104. She was the other surviving member of her generation of singers, along with Licia Albanese, who died last month at 105.
Olivero had an odd career: debut in 1932, a successful career that included singing Liu on the first commercial Turandot, more than a decade of retirement, from about 1939 to 1950, a return to the stage around age 40 followed by a good 30 years more on the operatic stage. She made her Met debut at 65 as Tosca, and sang ten performances over two seasons there. She sang a couple of Toscas and five performances of La voix humaine here in San Francisco.
She was a great singer with a voice more compelling than beautiful, a superb technician with a deeply-felt and natural sense of Italian verismo style. That Turandot is well worth hearing, for Olivero, and also for Francesco Merli and Gina Cigna, and will give you a good sense of Olivero's style. In fact, here is an excerpt:
A friend seems to find it impossible that she only sang seven performances at SF Opera, but it's important to consider her repertory and who was available to sing it, both here and at the Met, after Olivero's return from retirement. I looked through the archives of both companies at Tosca from 1950 to 1970 - but not all of the Met performances - and found that at the two houses, that role was sung by Dorothy Kirsten, Licia Albanese, Renata Tebaldi, Lucine Amara, Giulia Barera, Marie Collier, Regine Crespin, Jeanine Crader, Stella Roman, Zinka Milanov, Maria Callas, Antoinetta Stella, Mary Curtis-Verna, Leontyne Price, Leonie Rysanek, and others. A couple of those singers are obscure, but that's a lot of competition. Not to diminish Olivero's genuine greatness, I understand why an opera company might stick with Tebaldi or Kirsten or Price rather than hire a singer with an odd voice who isn't so well known in the US.
RIP, Magda Olivero.
Update: NY Times obit by Margalit Fox