09 October 2015


After the success obtained in America, Gencer stepped into La Scala where she would later call “home”. She worked at La Scala for more than 50 years. Gencer spent the first half of fifty years on the stage and later she worked continuously at “her” La Scala until May 10 2008, the date she passed away.

Gencer’s debut at La Scala stage was on January 26, 1957. She sang in the world premiere of Poulenc’s Dialoghi delle Carmelitane. However she had been offered to sing Aida by Victor de Sabata, former artistic director of La Scala. Unfortunately, due to his health problems, De Sabata retired and the new opera management gave the role of Aida to the Italian soprano Antonietta Stella. Consequently, Gencer was asked to perform Dialoghi delle Carmelitane at La Scala even though she didn’t get along well with the composer and the stage director. Gencer’s first years at La Scala passed under the shadows of a myth such as Callas and of Italian artists such as Tebaldi and Stella. Having said “I’ll sing at La Scala otherwise I’ll never sing” Gencer unwillingly performed the contemporary opera only because it was at La Scala.

Other than Dialoghi della Carmelitane, Gencer sang various contemporary operas such as Pizzeti’s L’Assassino nella Catedrale (Milan 1958) and Lo Straniero (Naples 1969), Prokofiev’s L’Ange de Feu (Spoleto, Trieste 1959), Britten’s Albert Herring (Milan 1979, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Ferrara 1980), Rocca’s Monte Ivnor (Naples 1956 – Rai 1957), Weinberger’s Schwanda (Rai 1958), Menotti’s The Council (Ankara 1954), d’Albert Tiefland (Ankara 1951). But as she declared in some interviews, she wasn’t very happy about singing them, yet she felt much happier singing operas of Verdi and Donizetti.

Despite her great desire to work with Arturo Toscanini Gencer never had the chance. However she sang “Libera me” in Verdi’s Messa da Requiem in the great conductor’s funeral service which took place at the Duomo Cathedral of Milan on February 18, 1957. She was accompanied by the Orchestra and Choir of La Scala and her successful performance was highly praised.

Along with Giuseppe di Stefano, Gencer sang La forza del destino at Cologne Opera which was La Scala’s first tour to Germany after the war. Between the years of 1957 – 1980 she sang leading roles in Verdi's Don Carlos, La forza del destino, Aida, Macbeth, Simon Boccanegra, I Vespri Siciliani; Bellini's Norma; Donizetti's Poliuto, Lucrezia Borgia; Mozart's Idomeneo; Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea; Gluck's Alceste; Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades and Britten's Albert Herring at La Scala. She also sang the leading role in the world premiere of Pizzetti’s L'Assassinio nella Cattedrale at La Scala in 1958.

Gencer was the glorious primadonna of La Scala for over 25 years, an era during which legendary names such as Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi, Monserrat Caballé, Joan Sutherland and Beverly Sills reigned in the opera world. About her extraordinary career, it would only be moderate to reiterate the words of Michel Parouty from Opéra Magazine: "She was the last diva of the 20th century, an embodiment of perfection.

"Having achieved an international career in a very short time and performed with distinguished Italian maestros such as Vittorio Gui, Tullio Serafin, Gianandrea Gavazzeni and Riccardo Muti, Gencer's outstanding performances of Donizetti's forgotten operas inscribed her name in all opera books identifying the great soprano with the "Donizetti Renaissance."

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