La diva Turca!
...A beautiful, grand voice, a rare soprano with an unbelievable belcanto technique ... these were reviews since Leyla Gencer stepped on the podium the very first time.
Leyla Gencer was born Ayse Leyla Ceyrekgil on 10 October, 1928, as the daughter of a Polish mother, Aleksandra Angela Minakowska, who descended from the Lithuanian aristocracy (a catholic who later converted to Islam) and her father was Hasanzade Ibrahim Bey, who descended from the ancient Bektashi family of Safranbolu (he took name Ceyrekgil, due to a 1934 Turkish law). The family was wealthy. Leyla grew in harmonious surroundings in Cubuklu on the Anatolian side of Bosporus. She lost her father at a very young age and grew up with her mother.
She started to study music at the Istanbul Conservatoire, but didn’t like it much, dropped from the studies and took a private teacher, the well known Italian soprano Giannina Arangi-Lombardi. Leyla was fortunate because Arangi-Lombardi was a very good teacher who taught her all the tricks and trades of the traditional Italian opera and when Leyla came to Italy in 1953, she was almost a perfect singer. She was a beautiful woman with large dark eyes, a wide generous mouth and a commanding presence on the stage.
In 1946 she married Ibrahim Gencer, a wealthy banker, who unfortunately died a few years later. Her debut came in 1953 at the Teatro San Carlo di Napoli as Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana) and year later she sang at the same theatre in Madama Butterfly and Eugene Onegin which was the beginning of a highly successful and distinguished career. In 1957 she made her debut at La Scala and began her lifelong co-operation with that theatre in roles such as Leonora in La forza del destino, Norma, Elisabeth in Don Carlo, Leonora in Il Trovatore etc.
(Un ballo in maschera)
In 1962 Gencer sang for the first time at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni and Elisabetta di Valois. Despite the fact that she never sang at the Met, she compensated that fact with performances at the San Francisco Opera, Chicago Lyric Opera and many others. She was also an avid recitalist with a wide repertoire of 19th and 20th centuries songs and people were astonished at what they had witnessed after every concert.
In 1969 Leyla Gencer sang the title role in Maria Stuarda at the Edinburgh Festival. The sparks that flew on stage in the confrontation – historically absurd, but dramatically thrilling – when Gencer as Maria Stuarda ripped off her glove and flung it in the face of Shirley Verrett as Elizabeth I with the words ... Vil bastarda ... will surely live in the memory of all who witnessed it.
In 1985 Gencer retired from the operatic stage with performance of Gnecco’s La Prova di un’opera seria at the Teatro La Fenice di Venezia. Throughout her career she had been known as a Donizetti interpreter with performances of Belisario, Lucrezia Borgia, Maria Stuarda, Caterina Cornaro, Poliuto and Anna Bolena. She also appeared in rare operas like Spontini’s Agnese di Hohenstaufen, Pacini’s Sapho, Rossini’s Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra etc.
In 1987 she was the first recipient of the Donizetti’s prize awarded by the City of Bergamo and in 1995 the Leyla Gencer Voice competition was established in Istanbul. In many years before she died, she became the artistic director of La Scala Accademia di perfezionamento per cantanti lirici.
Throughout her career, Leyla Gencer had a very wide repertoire, ranging from Monteverdi, Gluck and Mozart to Verdi, Puccini and Ponchielli. Her voice was not that of a natural dramatic soprano and she sang all the coloratura roles, like Amina, Gilda, Lucia, Elvira (I Puritani) etc. But her voice had strange and smoky quality, unusual colours, deep pathos, high flowing style and dramatic abilities, all that which hailed Gencer as the greatest prima donna of her days. When she started her career, she was very sure of one thing. She did not believe she had a personality but she was sure of her technique.
Singing opera has to be more than making beautiful sounds. You have to deal with the words, emotion and passion and if you can master this, it is true bel canto, in which Gencer was one of the best. Operatic singing must be a religion. She claimed she always had an ideal audience and kept saying ... I wish I could take my voice out of my body, sit quietly and listen to it in the theatre like an ordinary spectator ... She had very strange feelings every time she sang, probably the same feelings as those of many other top performers. [It is interesting to reveal that Montserrat Caballe, like many others, talks about the same strange sensations].
Gencer’s career took place mostly in Italy, but she sang all over the world as well, like the Glyndebourne and Salzburg Festivals and in America from Chicago to Dallas. Gencer frequently talked about herself as being a fatalist, “my temperament is gentle and I am not putting up a fight for anything”.
To be an opera singer is an uneasy cohabitation, taking a heavy toll on the possibility of a personal life. Gencer had an impressive natural talent, dramatic instinct and self control which has something to do with the fact she was accused many times that her singing was too detached emotionally.
La diva Turca died on May 10, 2008, in Milan. Following the funeral service in the San Babila Church and a subsequent cremation in Milan, her ashes were taken to Istanbul and spread in the waters of the Bosporus on May 16, 2008, according to her wish.
Audio files (to be released)
1. Giuseppe Verdi - Aida
O ciel azzurri............................................4.04
2. Giuseppe Verdi - La Traviata
Addio del passato......................................3.23
(b. in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, 1914 d. in Rome, 1993)
Boris Christoff a Verdian basso par excellence!
There are two kinds of listeners as far as Boris Christoff's voice is concerned. Those who swear he is one of the few definitive bassos and those who cannot stand even his name being mentioned.
I belong to the first group. His voice had everything that a good Italian basso voice should have. And he was not even Italian.
Boris Christoff was born in the Bulgarian town of Plovdiv on 18 May, 1914. While receiving formal education, he started singing in the Alexander Nevsky’s Cathedral (a beautiful Bulgarian cathedral) which was an experience he cherished all his life. After he finished formal studies, he started to work as a judge and in his spare time sang with the Gusla chorus. He always knew he wanted to be an opera singer and did everything possible to realize that dream. In 1940, not long after his studies, he had his first recital at the Sala Bulgaria in Sofia and sang regularly in military concerts while a member of the armed forces during WW II.
King Boris II heard him at a private concert and arranged for Christoff to study in Italy and in May 1942 he migrated to Rome, Italy, where Riccardo Stracciari and also Giuseppe De Luca coached him on the way of singing difficult roles in the operatic repertoire: Padre Guardiano, Don Basilio, Leporello, Philip, Ramfis and Mefistofele. Christoff returned to Sofia briefly in 1943 for a few concerts and in 1944 migrated from Bulgaria first to Austria and then to Italy.
In 1946, he debuted at a concert of the Santa Cecilia Academy and a year later sang the role of Colline in La Bohéme at Reggio Calabria. It was a very successful debut, reviews were excellent and offers from prestigious opera houses came in fast. In 1949, he debuted as Tsar Boris in Boris Godunov at Covent Garden, as Philip II in Don Carlo at Firenze and in other roles at the opera theatres of Naples, Barcelona, Rio de Janeiro, Lisbon, Milan, etc.
In 1948, at the Teatro La Fenice, Venice, he sang King Mark in Tristan und Isolde with Callas, Barbieri and Tasso, Serafin conducting, then he replaced an ailing Tancredi Pasero as Tsar Boris in Boris Godunov. As Dosifey in Khovanshchina at the Teatro Verdi, Trieste, a star was born. He was now hailed as one of Italy’s leading basso singers. He sang mostly in Italian but always in Russian in Russian operas. The London Times quoted, “… the fact that Christoff sang the role in Russian was a small price to pay for such a fine interpretation”. In fact, London was talking about Covent Garden having found a new Chaliapin. He sang more than 40 operatic roles in 6 different languages.
In 1950 he was invited to sing at The Met. Rudolf Bing decided to put on a new production of Don Carlo and invited Boris to sing for the opening night. But, Christoff was refused entry to the country due to the fact that Bulgaria was a member of the Soviet Bloc States. When restrictions were lifted, he debuted at the San Francisco Opera in 1956, but despite offers from The Met later on, he refused any further invitations and never appeared at The Met. 1951 was South America’s turn. Christoff debuted at the Teatro Municipal of Rio de Janeiro, singing Oroveso (Norma) with Callas, Nicolai and Picchi. In the 1952 New Year’s Day, he sang Tsar Boris at the Teatro Liceu of Barcelona and from there it was France and Italy again. He was Faust in Rimini, Philip II in Bologna, Ramfis in Naples and many other roles.
King Philip II
1958 was a very unfortunate year in Christoff’s career. At the Rome Opera during rehearsal as Philip in Don Carlo confronting his son, he became so angry with Corelli, who sang Don Carlo, that his sword came crashing down upon Corelli’s body and blows were struck. With the help of Gobbi, Christoff left the stage and withdrew from the production, declaring that Corelli was devoid of artistic integrity. When Christoff recovered from this outburst three months later, he sang in an unforgettable production at the Teatro San Carlo of Naples as Padre Guardiano in La forza del destino with Tebaldi, Dominguez, Corelli and Bastianini, which is rated as one of the best ever made. And again, over the years until 1965, he sang in his usual repertoire all over Europe to great applause of audiences everywhere.
With a singer of his magnitude, there was only one big problem. While Boris Christoff was an absolute star on the stage, it was a different story behind the scenes. Most singers, producers and people behind the scenes were cursing his behaviour, which was not the best. His brother-in-law, Italian baritone Tito Gobbi, did his utmost to smooth things over, Boris managed to behave, provided they sang together in the same production. His offstage antics are well known. In 1961, his contract with the Teatro alla Scala was terminated due to an open dispute with fellow Bulgarian Nicolai Ghiaurov, whom Boris blamed for collaborating with the Bulgarian Communist Regime.
In 1964 he was operated for a brain tumour and he did not sing at all during that year. Later he came back but at a slower pace. In 1967, he was also allowed to come back to Bulgaria for the first time to attend his mother’s funeral at the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. He really slowed down after that and his last concert was at the Accademia di Bulgaria in Rome on 22 June, 1986. On 23 June, 1993, Boris Christoff died in Rome as the result of a stroke he had suffered six years earlier. His body was returned to the Nevsky Cathedral, where he had sung as a young boy, this time for his funeral. He was 79.
It was a powerful, very easily recognizable voice belonging to one of the greatest interpreters of the Italian repertoire and also of Russian operas. He had a huge impact on the operatic scene due to his temperament and unchallengeable stage presence. His voice was able to fill large halls and auditoriums. True, his voice was not that large, but it was like a dark arrow ever so penetrating and his top had almost a baritonal brightness. At the other end of the vocal spectrum, he was renowned for high, floated pianissimi which he brought to many roles. He was a total package of voice, make-up and acting. Boris sang mostly in the Italian and Russian repertoires. He was absolutely matchless in the Russian church and chamber music.
Boris set modern standards to many famous roles from Verdi, Gounod, Mussorgsky, Glinka, Borodin etc. His interpretations of the Tsar Boris (Boris Godunov), Dosifey (Khovanshchina), Gomez da Silva (Ernani), Philip II (Don Carlo), Zaccaria (Nabucco), Fiesco (Simon Boccanegra), Attila (Attila), Padre Guardiano (La Forza del Destino), Mephistopheles (Faust), Ivan Susanin (A Life for the Tsar), Tsar Ivan (Ivan the Terrible), Galitzky (Prince Igor) and others were absolutely matchless. I admire him as a singer of Old Russian folk and traditional songs, songs by Mussorgsky, Borodin, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov, Balakirev and Glinka. When he sings them accompanied only by the piano, it is a very moving experience.
1. Alexander Borodin - Prince Igor
Prince Galitsky's aria.............................3:48
2. Giuseppe Verdi - Don Carlo
Ella giammai m'amò...............................9:12
(b. Modena 1935 d. Modena 2007)
Luciano Pavarotti an artistic icon!
Luciano Pavarotti was born in Modena on 12 October, 1935, a son to Fernando, a local baker and an amateur tenor, and to Adele, a worker at a cigar factory. The boy was Luciano named after his beloved grandmother Giulia, who had lost her daughter Lucia.
The whole family used to live in a very small flat outside Modena. When WW II began and Luciano was 8 years of age, the whole family moved to Gargallo near Carpi. When the war finished, they moved back to Modena. Little Luciano used to sing with his father in the local church as a choir boy. At home, he had plenty of records sung by Schipa, Caruso and Martinelli, to whom his father used to listen all the time.
When 12 years of age, Luciano was taken by his father to see Beniamino Gigli at a concert. Little Luciano told Gigli he wanted to be a singer like him and asked him how long did he study. Gigli replied, ‘You have heard me studying now. I have just finished for today. I am still studying, do you understand?’. It made great impression on the young boy.
The time came for Luciano to decide what to do in life and after some teaching at the local elementary school and selling insurance, to support himself while studying under Arrigo Pola, Luciano decided that singing would be his career. He debuted on 20 April,1961, at the Municipale in Reggio Emilia as Rodolfo in Puccini’s La Boheme. His Mimi was Mirella Freni and Musetta was Gianna Galli with Leone Magiera conducting.
The early years of Pavarotti’s career were spent singing at small concerts. He sang without pay because he believed he was not good enough then. In the year of his debut, he married Adua Veroni and the couple had three daughters. In 1963, Pavarotti stepped in at the Royal Opera House for Di Stefano, in La Boheme, making his international debut, and in 1965 he began a most legendary partnership in vocal history – Pavarotti/Sutherland at the Miami Opera theatre, singing Lucia di Lammermoor.
In 1965, Pavarotti sang for the first time at La Scala, again as Rodolfo, under Herbert von Karajan. Very few opera singers are good actors and Pavarotti was not among them. Despite that, in 1982 he appeared in the movie “Yes Georgio” which was not the best thing for him to do. His album ‘O Sole mio’ outsold any other recording by a classical singer. In the hugely successful concerts of ‘The three tenors’, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras brought classical music to the masses at a level never seen before. Luciano was thrilled.
But he had his share of criticism and rejection as well. What he did not take easily was being booed at La Scala during a performance of Don Carlo. In 1993 he sang before five hundred thousands in Central Park, New York, and was criticised for being too concerned with making money, yet the crowd loved his performance.
Duca di Mantova
through the forest
in equestrian attire
Luciano divorced Adua and in 2003 married Nicoletta Mantovani with whom he had another daughter Alice, born in the same year. We could talk about Luciano’s career for days but his many successes are well documented.
There were enormous successes. He was applauded enthusiastically by audiences and the press, not because he was known as the “King of the high C” but for his ability always to deliver a ringing tone over the whole register.
He always felt indebted to the people of Modena and they felt the same towards him. He was never unconscious of his celebrity, everything seemed natural to him and he was definitely beloved not only for his voice but because he remained down to earth throughout his singing career.
In 2004, Pavarotti gave his last performance in opera as Cavaradossi at The Met and in 2005 he started his last farewell tour. Later he survived emergency surgery for pancreatic cancer and all his future appearances were cancelled. Pavarotti died of kidney failure on September 6, 2007, in his hometown of Modena, surrounded by his family. He was laid to rest with his parents in the family tomb of Montale Rangone cemetery near Modena.
The ‘vocal chords kissed by God’, as people use to call this remarkable tenor, were no more. Rest in peace, dear Maestro.
Luciano Pavarotti is indisputably the Italian tenor of the 20th century. He became the ‘tenor of tenors’ only with countless hours of hard practising the musical scales. He literally earned his incomparable voice with very hard work and up until his later years he still began each morning with vocal exercises. Nothing came free to him.
He was not only one of the famous voices of our era but there was another side of Pavarotti – energetic, enthusiastic, warm and generous, dedicated and committed. He also had rhythm, artistic intelligence, musical memory and a perfect pitch.
Pavarotti’s range of repertoire and interests was much larger than many people realise. His artistry was able to encompass styles as diverse as those required to interpret Gluck, Liszt, popular and Neapolitan songs. Pavarotti grew up with those songs and they represented his childhood. He always had a desire to share these songs with his public, which is a great Italian tradition. He lived for his audience and in return audiences adored him when he finished his concerts with an incredible smile on his face.
When concerts were sung in the open air, the loved tenor had a gift to reach the hearts of even those who would never contemplate entering a theatre. Even those who went along with sceptical feelings could not fail to be affected by the ability of one singer to touch an audience with his outpourings in the manner of a pop artist. Luciano Pavarotti mostly sang in his native tongue, concentrating on Italian items, his beloved Puccini very much to the fore. He kept his voice intact almost to the end, he had the innate ability to spin a pure legato and articulate the given text with natural inflections in all his career.
Another favourite composer, perhaps the one most grateful to Pavarotti’s particular voice and one very dear to the singer was Donizetti. His earliest international success is associated with Donizetti. He caused a sensation in La Fille du Regiment and is renowned for his appearances in Lucia di Lammermoor. But his favourite Donizetti role was Nemorino in L’elisir d’Amore. This role captured the central aspect of Pavarotti’s art – it is not only high Cs and great emotions, it is humanity and depth of feeling that mattered most in his portrayals.
Luciano has been also convinced … in his own words, “ If it had not been for my dear teacher Arrigo Pola, I would not be what I am today”. Arrigo Pola also introduced Luciano to another great teacher, Ettore Campogalliani of Mantua.
Luciano boasted a bright, ringing tone with high notes that could sound with effortless clarity and there was a ripe and sensual beauty to his singing that penetrated the heart….an Intelligent and thoughtful musician, he established a benchmarks for current and future singers.
Luciano Pavarotti was definitely acclaimed as the greatest opera singer since Caruso. His recordings are still selling by the millions, he was known and loved throughout the world because he brought opera into the lives of everyone.
1. Gaetano Donizetti - La Favorita
Si, che un solo accento.............................3:08
2. Giacomo Puccini - Manon Lescaut
Donna non vidi mai....................................2:46
1. Giacomo Puccini - Turandot
The arioso Nessun dorma in the video above was sung by Luciano Pavarotti at New York Central Park in 1993. He was 58 years of age at the time. His rendition of the famous arioso is not as good as that he sang at a London studio in 1973 when he was 38 years old. Nevertheless, we preferred to publish the video in order to convey the great tenor's facial expression in going through the arioso, the enthusiastic applause he received, the immense popularity he enjoyed and his satisfaction at the end.