09 October 2015


The exact year of Leyla Gencer’s birth has always been a mystery. She was born in Istanbul. Based on various records; her year of birth might be 1918, 1924 or 1928. Being an Italian High School graduate, the artist started her vocal training at the Istanbul Municipal Conservatory. Subsequently she went to Ankara where she had the opportunity to study with the famous Italian soprano Giannina Arangi-Lombardi and Apollo Granforte. 

Being 20th century’s one of the most unique divas and having a major importance in the opera history, Leyla Gencer sang 71 operas at 66 different opera houses. Not only she was one of the most active artists of her time, she was also renowned for riviving long-neglected operas and making major contributions to today’s opera repertoire. Her interpretations so called “Gencerates” are appreciated even more today than they were at the time. During her career, except for a few roles, Gencer sang only the roles that she loved and wanted to sing which she always interpreted in her own way. There were two people whose art she trusted and respected; Tullio Serafin and Gianandrea Gavazzeni.

On all occasions Gencer fulfilled the requests of these two great conductors of the Italian opera and executed them on the stage unconditionally. Gencer often had arguments with opera conductors and directors regarding her stage performances and was sidelined by many directors because of her attitude. During the rehearsals of her first production at La Scala in the opera Dialoghi delle Carmelitane, she had arguments with the director Margherita Wallmann and the composer Françis Poulenc. Such arguments might have led to the cancellation of the production but in the end she won. Although her Mozart interpretations were not fully appreciated by the critics in the 60’s, Gencer’s new approach to Mozart’s Italian operas are today considered among the best Mozart interpretations.  And her “noble” way of interpreting Leonora in the opera Il Trovatore is considered one of the best Il Trovatore interpretations. 

Gencer differs from the sopranos who just sing on the stage. Besides her singing capacity, she also had the acting potential to fulfill the requirements of her roles. Thanks to the combination of her acting talent, voice and interpretation; Gencer achieved the acting singer title which had associated with Maria Callas in the 20th century.

During her career, Gencer sang 71 different operas over 140 different opera houses in 236 different productions. She gave 126 recitals and and concerts and appeared on the stage approximately 900 times. The majority of these performances were of 15 operas which she sang very often. Gencer performed Macbeth 44 times, La Traviata 43 times, Aida 40 times, Norma 36 times, Madama Butterfly 39 times, Don Carlos 32 times, Le Nozze di Figaro 27 times, Tosca and Alceste 23 times Il Trovatore and La Gioconda 22 times, Lucrezia Borgia 21 times, Simon Boccanegra 20 times, You can see her performance details in Index. Unfortunately it’s not been possible to define the exact number of her performances since among all opera houses, La Scala was the only one to register the further dates of performances after the premieres.

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