Buon compleanno, Signora!

Happy Birthday, cara Mirella!

One of the greatest Sopranos of our time Ms Mirella Freni turns 83 today!

By Opera Views, March 2nd, 2018

Born in Modena Freni made her singing debut at the early age of 10, singing “Un bel di vedremo”, an aria of Cio Cio San from Puccini’s “Madams Butterfly” at the local singing competition. Beniamino Gigli, one of the greatest Tenors of his generation, warned her not to start to sing too early and be careful about chosen repertoire. Freni followed this advice and during her whole career was very aware of performing the repertoire that would not harm her voice. This intelligent and very clever attitude towards herself as a singer and to the art of Opera singing secured Freni a long-lasting career, even though sometimes she had to stand firm against conductors and impresarios, who would push her into the heavier Fach.

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Mimi in “La Bohéme”. Foto

Soprano made her operatic debut at the Teatro Municipale in Modena on 3 March 1955, then 20 years old, as Micaëla in Bizet’s “Carmen”. After the marriage to her teacher Leone Magiera, she performed Mimì in Puccini’s “La Bohème” having her international break-through at Glyndebourne, where she sang as Adina in Franco Zeffirelli’s staging of Donizetti’s “L’ elisir d’amore”. There she also performed the roles of Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro and Zerlina in Don Giovanni. In 1961, Freni made her Royal Opera House in London, and in 1963, her La Scala debut as Nanetta in Verdi’s “Falstaff”. After meeting and initial work with Herbert Von Karajan’s, she became one of his favourite singers, working with him in operas and concerts.

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Great friendship on stage and behind. Source

In 1965 she made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Mimì and later appeared there as Liù in Puccini’s Turandot, Marguerite in “Faust” and Juliette in “Roméo et Juliette. From the early 1970s into the 1980s Freni sang heavier Verdi roles, particularly Elisabetta in “Don Carlos”, Desdemona in “Otello” (opposite Jon Vickers), Amelia in “Simone Boccanegra”, Elvira in “Ernani”, Leonora in “La Forza del Destino”, and the title role of “Aida”. She also added some new Puccini roles to her vast repertoire, singing in “Manon Lescaut”. Keeping firm to her vocal strategies of the wise use of own vocal resources she only recorded the role Tosca and all the three roles in “Il Trittico” whiteout ever performing them on stage.

In an article in the April 2013, Opera News Freni’s spoke about the approach to roles considered to be more dramatic: “Freni was a judicious singer; she never tried to give more than she had vocally, and she consistently limited her exposure to roles that she knew would be too testing. She refused Karajan’s offers of Leonora in Trovatore and Turandot. Elvira in Ernani was set aside after a single run at La Scala (and despite offers to sing the role elsewhere). She recorded Cio-Cio-San twice but never sang the full role in the theatre.

From the early 1970s into the 1980s Freni sang heavier Verdi roles, particularly Elisabetta in “Don Carlos”, Desdemona in “Otello” (opposite Jon Vickers), Amelia in “Simone Boccanegra”, Elvira in “Ernani”, Leonora in “La Forza del Destino”, and the title role of “Aida”. She also added some new Puccini roles to her vast repertoire, singing in “Manon Lescaut”. Keeping firm to her vocal strategies of the wise use of own vocal resources she only recorded the role Tosca and all the three roles in “Il Trittico” whiteout ever performing them on stage.

In an article in the April 2013 Opera News Freni’s spoke about the approach to roles considered to be more dramatic: “Freni never tried to give more than she had vocally, and she consistently limited her exposure to roles that she knew would be too testing. She refused Karajan’s offers of Leonora in Trovatore and Turandot. Elvira in Ernani was set aside after a single run at La Scala (and despite offers to sing the role elsewhere). She recorded Cio-Cio-San twice but never sang the full role in the theatre. As Freni told OPERA NEWS in 1987, ‘I am generous in many ways, but not when I think it will destroy my voice. Some singers think they are gods who can do everything. But I have always been honest with myself and my possibilities.” 

An admired colleague and charming personality Freni enjoyed the long-term professional relationship with Luciano Pavarotti, (they were even born on the same day) and performed with Plácido Domingo, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Hermann Prey among others.

Source: Pintest.com
Love on and behind the stage. Source: Pinterest

In 1978 she married Nicolai Ghiaurov, one of the leading operatic basses of the post-war period. There great love and admiration for each other was evident to anyone and created a mystical atmosphere whenever they were performing together. In 2002 they participated in the establishment of the Centro Universale del Bel Canto in Vignola (now apparently closed), where they began giving master classes in 2002.

Following Ghiaurov’s death in 2004, Freni continued their work of preserving the bel canto tradition and currently teaches young singers from around the world. Starting 1990s Freni went on in extending her repertoire with Italian Verismo, singing in Cilea’s “Adriana Lecouvreur” and Giordano’s “Fedora. As a tribute to her beloved husband Nicolai Ghiaurov, who was also her Russian language coach, she started to sing Tatjana Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” and vocally demanding roles of Lisa in “The Queen of Spades” and Ioanna in “The Maid of Orleans“.

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The royal opera couple in “Eugene Onegin”. Source

Almost at the age of 70, she succeeded in portraying of the teenage girl (Tatjana), a heartbroken young woman (Lisa) and true heroine (Ioanna) impressing with her excellent Russian diction and deep understanding of the mysterious Russian soul as well as the tragical magic of Tchaikovsky’s music.

For her achievements in the field of Italian classical opera, Freni was awarded the Italian Cavaliere di Gran Croce and the French Légion de’ honneur in March 1993. The University of Pisa awarded her an honorary degree in 2002 for her “great contribution to European culture.”

We wish Ms Freni all the best for years to come and we are grateful to her for her great art and wonderful voice.

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