09 October 2015


Gencer’s first major breakthrough beyond Europe was in San Francisco in September 1956. It was the production of Francesca da Rimini where she stepped in for Renata Tebaldi.

Upon the invitation of Kurt Herbert Adler, Artistic Director of San Francisco Opera, she went to the USA and inaugurated San Francisco Opera House with this opera that she hadn’t studied and sang before. Although the opera, performed for the first time in San Fransisco, was found rather dull by the audience because of its static style, Gencer was highly acclaimed and she was invited to Los Angeles to sing the same role.

After the performances of Francesca, Time magazine wrote “The voice of Gencer is strong, sweet, beautiful and moving. America will hear her voice a lot in the future. And Call-Bulletin wrote: “Mrs. Gencer has proved that she’s as great as the artist Eleanor Duse to whom she resembles.” 

In the same period Gencer’s negotiations with the Metropolitan Opera, North America’s biggest opera house, for the role of Tosca were in vain. Rudolf Bing, Metropolitan Opera’s Artistic Director of the time later mentioned in one of his speeches that he never forgave Gencer to have chosen the West Side for her American debut.

Her close relations with San Francisco opera continued yet in 1957 when Maria Callas cancelled her performance of Lucia di Lammermoor in the last moment. Within five days Gencer had to learn the opera that she barely knew and of which she had studied only one aria in Turkish. Her performances during the arias were often interrupted with applauses. Call-Bulletin Magazine wrote:  “Commemorating respectfully artists such as Lilly Pons and Mada Robins, I have to admit that Gencer’s performance was above them all.” San Francisco Chronical wrote “If Leyla Gencer continues having success as she had with Lucia, she will deserve to behave as proudly as the famous prima donnas, of whose names will not be mentioned in these columns for the first time after many weeks.” 

Between the years 1956 – 1978 Gencer sang La Traviata, Lucia di Lammermoor, Turandot, Don Carlos, Manon, Rigoletto, Lucrezia Borgia, Attila and La Giaconda mainly in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Philadelphia, Pasadena, Sacramento, New Jersey, Dallas and Chicago. On April 15, 1973, she performed succesfully in the American premiere of Donizetti’s Caterina Cornaro at New York’s famed Carnegie Hall. Gencer’s last performance in the USA was in San Fransisco in the Gold Jubilee concert of the world-renowned conductor Kurt Herbert Adler. At the gala concert she sang the aria “Al dolce guidami .....Coppia iniqua.” from the opera Anna Bolena.

Just like most significant artists of her time, Leyla Gencer visited South America and performed at Teatro Colon (Buenos Aires), the most important opera house of the region where she sang Rigoletto (1961), I Puritani (1961), Norma (1964) and Simon Boccanegra (1964).  On July 3, 1964; Gencer was expected to inaugurate Rio de Janeiro Teatro Municipal Opera with Mario del Monaco in Otello but because of del Monaco’s health issues all his performances were cancelled. So she prepared Verdi’s La Traviata in a very short period of time and performed on the 7th of August for the first time in Rio. Jose Faro from the Opéra Magazine was present at the premiere of La Traviata in Rio and he described her performance with terms such as “near to disaster, overdosed pianissimos, unfortunate performance, non-existent breath control and audience voiced their displeasure after the first aria.” But the recording of that performance proves us the opposite. Gencer’s performance of the first aria in the first act Ah forse lui... Sempre libera was greeted with applause, her line Amami Alfredo in the first scene of the second act was greeted with applause and cheers whereas her performance of the aria Addio del passato received a very big round of applause by the audience in the last act. Although La Traviata was one of the operas that she sang very often, her performance in Rio is her only recording of the opera although one hour of performance is missing.  

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