P R E F A C E                                        

First of all; I would like to state that this is not a conventional blog. My purpose is to create a sort of an archive where one can access to all kinds of information about Leyla Gencer’s art which can be found separately in various websites.

Caterina Cornaro, New York, Carnegie Hall, 1973
Photo: © ERIKA DAVIDSON, New York

On the main page there’s a biography consisting of eight main chapters that I wrote including some information given to me by Leyla Gencer herself. And in the column on the right there’s a chapter containing information about Gencer’s opera performances, concerts and recitals that I gathered from various press and opera archives. The content of the mentioned column is based mainly on the biographical books of Franca Cella and Zeynep Oral; whereas I added the “cast lists” which I personally gathered from opera house archives and some websites. I’m certainly not hundred percent sure about the reliability of each data. I accessed too many articles about Gencer’s concerts in Turkey and abroad in the archive of Cumhuriyet newspaper; which I added to the blog. If you find out any inaccuracies in the blog or retain some more data about Leyla Gencer; I’d be delighted if you could share them with me. For instance; in the book “A story of passion”; Zeynep Oral wrote about Gencer’s performances of Luisa Miller and Manon Lescaut; but yet I was unable to find out at which opera houses or venues these operas were performed. Information that I’ve been searching is that as Leyla Gencer had told me herself, she had attended the rehearsals of Wagner’s Tannhauser but due to a strike at the opera house, the performances were canceled. I still haven’t found out the name of the mentioned opera house and the year in which the production was supposed to be realized.

The lists containing Gencer’s recordings, press reviews, awards and the memorial ceremonies can also be found in the column on the right.

I have attached the Youtube links of all her recordings under each opera title to which they are related. 

Deh! non volerli vittime from Norma

Video ©  Selçuk Metin / Borusan Sanat

I have tried to do my best in mentioning the copyright owners of the photographs that I used from the internet; nevertheless it’s not been possible to name each photographer. I’d be delighted if anyone who has such information or claims that some photographs should be excluded from the blog because of copyrights could contact me.

Sadly I haven’t been able to access to articles about Gencer published in the German, Polish, French and Norwegian press due to my limited knowledge in those languages. I’d again be delighted if you could share your knowledge regarding this necessity. I sincerely hope that this “Blog” will be improved by time and it will turn into a website in the future.



A  D I V A  W I T H  A  D I F F E R E N C E    

Giannina Arangi-Lombardi as Aida (Teatro alla Scala) 1927
A signed photo for Gencer in 1949

The exact year of Leyla Gencer’s birthday has always been a mystery. She was born in Istanbul. Based on various records; her year of birth might be 1919, 1924 or 1928. According to her school archives she was born in 1919. 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. 

with Apollo Granforte in 1953, Ankara

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 76 different opera houses. Not only she was one of the most active artists of her time, she was also renowned for reviving long-neglected operas and making major contributions to today’s opera repertoire. Her interpretations so called “Gencerate” 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.

with Tullio Serafin during the rehearsals of Yevgeny Onyegin, 1954
Photo ©  FOTO TRONCONE, Napoli

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.

from photo shooting "Musica Viva" 1981
Photo © LELLI E MASOTTI, Milano

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 in 255 different productions and 8 choral works in 10 concerts. She gave 167 recitals and and concerts and appeared on the stage approximately 1.150 times. The majority of these performances were of 15 operas which she sang very often. Gencer performed La Traviata 57 times, Macbeth 42 times, Aida 39 times, Norma 33 times, Madama Butterfly 35 times, Don Carlos 33 times, Tosca 89 times, Le nozze di Figaro 29 times, Alceste 27 times, Il Trovatore 32 times, La Gioconda 24 times, Simon Boccanegra 20 times and Lucrezia Borgia 17 times. You can see her performance details in Index II. Unfortunately, it’s not been possible to define the exact number of her performances since among all opera houses, La Scala and La Fenice were the only ones to register the further dates of performances after the premieres.

from photo shooting "Musica Viva" 1981
Photo ©  LELLI E MASOTTI, Milano

V O Y A G E     

New York JFK Airport, TWA Terminal, 11.04.1973
Photo ©   ASSOCIATED PRESS, New York

Gencer’s voyage with opera started in 1943 as she began participating concerts and radio programs. Her first orchestral concert was in Istanbul on May 9, 1947.
It was the premiere of Cemal Reşit Rey’s stage cantata Özsoy where she sang the brief soprano part under the baton of the composer himself. After leaving the Istanbul State Conservatory and going to Ankara, Gencer made her opera debut at Ankara State Opera in 1950 in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana.

Gencer had her first experiences abroad by giving recitals on radios. She gave recitals in Holland (in 1948), on BBC Radio (in December 1951), on Radio-Diffusion Française (1951). Her first radio recital in Italy was in July 1953 at Rai-Roma.

She was accompanied by pianist Giorgio Favoretto. In the same year she gave her first orchestral concert with Orchestra del Rai di Torino under the baton of Arturo Basile. She sang duets and arias from the operas Un ballo in maschera, Faust and La forza del destino with Agostino Lazzarini, one of the most significant tenors of that period.

After her succesful performances as Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana at ten thousand-seat Arena Flegrea of Naples on the 16th and 19th of July 1953; Gencer caught the attention of the famous conductor Tullio Serafin. She was invited to perform Madama Butterfly and Eugene Onegin the following year at Teatro San Carlo - Naples in February and May of 1954. On February 11, 1954, Gencer performed in the 50th year anniversary production of Madam Butterfly under the baton of Gabriele Santini and subsequently on March 17 1954, she sang Tatiana in Eugene Onegin under the baton of Tullio Serafin. The recordings of these two operas are available on CDs.
Until the year 1957 when she made her debut at Teatro alla Scala in Milan; Gencer sang Madam Butterfly (Torino, Napoli, Belgrad), Tosca (Munich, Lozan), La Traviata (Warsaw, Lodz, Poznan, Ankara, Reggio Emilia, Trieste, Palermo), Kerem ile Aslı (Ankara), Die Freischütz (Trieste) and The Consul (Ankara). In the same period she caught the public’s attention as Charlotte in the opera Werther which was broadcast in Rai television on April 23 1955. The recording is available on DVD.

A M E R I C A                                        

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.

Curtain Call
Francesca da Rimini San Francisco 1956
Photo © ROBERT LACKENBACH, San Francisco

Curtain Call
Francesca da Rimini San Francisco 1956
Photo © ROBERT LACKENBACH, San Francisco

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.

with Kurt Herbert Adler in 1957 during a rehearsal of La Traviata 
Photo © ROBERT LACKENBACH, San Francisco

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 applause.

Between the years 1956 – 1978 Gencer sang La Traviata, Lucia di Lammermoor, Turandot, Don Carlos, Manon, Rigoletto, Lucrezia Borgia, Attila and La Gioconda mainly in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Philadelphia, Pasadena, Sacramento, New Jersey, Dallas and Chicago. On April 15, 1973, she performed successfully 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 General Manager of San Francisco Opera Kurt Herbert Adler. At the gala concert she sang the aria Al dolce guidami .....Coppia iniqua. from the opera Anna Bolena.

Manon, San Francisco, 1958
Photo © BILL COGAN, San Francisco
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... Follie, follie!... Sempre libera was greeted with applause, her line Amami Alfredo in the first scene of the second act was greeted with 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.

M Y  H O M E  "L A  S C A L A"    

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.
50 Anni alla Scala (Aida 1963)
Photo © Teatro alla Scala / ERIO PICCAGLIANI, Milano 

First offer from Teatro alla Scala was Strauss' Elektra under the direction of Dimitri Mitropoulos on June 1954. But she had to refuse the offer as she had commitments in Ankara. 

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.

Per preservare e valorizzare il suo passato, il Teatro ha realizzato un sistema integrato di gestione del patrimonio: La Scala DAM (Digital Asset Management), che costituisce l’archivio digitale di tutto il materiale disponibile, dal secondo decennio del Novecento a oggi, in diversi archivi, magazzini e caveau.

Si tratta di almeno 24.000 bozzetti e figurini firmati da grandi artisti, tra cui Jean Cocteau, Mario Sironi, Marino Marini, Renato Guttuso, Alberto Burri, Salvatore Fiume, Dino Buzzati, Piero Fornasetti, David Hockney, scenografi e registi come Alessandro e Nicola Benois, Piero Zuffi, Lila de Nobili, Pierluigi Samaritani, Gregorio Sciltian, Luciano Damiani, Pier Luigi Pizzi, Ezio Frigerio, Robert Wilson, insieme a schizzi, disegni e modellini creati per la realizzazione di scene e costumi, ma opere d’arte in sé; di 45.000 costumi firmati da grandi figurinisti come Caramba, Emanuele Luzzati, Vera Marzot, Odette Nicoletti, Anna Anni, Franca Squarciapino, completati da 60.000 accessori tra gioielli, biancheria, calzoleria, parrucche e cappelli; di 80.000 attrezzi di scena.

L’attività del teatro è documentata in 17.000 locandine, e conseguenti cronologie dettagliate, e in più di un milione di fotografie di scena, prove e back-stage. Riguardano i “passaggi” di grandi cantanti, da Maria Callas a Joan Sutherland, da Renata Tebaldi a Giulietta Simionato, da Leyla Gencer a Mirella Freni, da Franco Corelli a Luciano Pavarotti, da Giuseppe Di Stefano a Mario Del Monaco, da Carlo Bergonzi a Plácido Domingo, da Tito Gobbi a Piero Cappuccilli, da Ettore Bastianini a Renato Bruson. Di grandi direttori, da Toscanini a Guido Cantelli, da Victor De Sabata a Antonino Votto, da Herbert von Karajan a Carlos Kleiber, da Gianandrea Gavazzeni a Dimitri Mitropolus, da Carlo Maria Giulini a Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Muti, Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez. Di grandi registi, dai Benois a Pizzi, da Svoboda a Ronconi, da Strehler a Chéreau, da Ljubimov a Carsen. Di grandi danzatori e coreografi, da Ugo Dall’Ara a Mario Pistoni, da Rudolf Nureyev a Paolo Bortoluzzi, da Carla Fracci a Liliana Cosi, Luciana Savignano, Alessandra Ferri, fino a Massimo Murru e Roberto Bolle.
Il lavoro di conversione digitale ha inizio nel 1996 con il Progetto di Salvataggio dell’Archivio Fonico, che fu poi in grado di recuperare circa 5000 nastri di registrazioni scaligere d’opera, balletto e di concerti sinfonici a partire dal 1950. Il trattamento dei nastri, la raccolta delle informazioni e il riversamento su supporti digitali conservati nell’archivio musicale del Teatro sono stati realizzati in collaborazione con il LIM, Laboratorio di Informatica Musicale dell’Università Statale di Milano, e ha consentito il recupero e la conservazione di un patrimonio pari a circa 10 mila ore di musica.
Dal 1998, il progetto di digitalizzazione si è esteso con processo modulare e ha dotato gli archivi del Teatro - in particolare il magazzino costumi e accessori, l’archivio bozzetti e figurini, il magazzino degli attrezzi di scena, l’archivio fotografico e delle locandine, - di un’applicazione informatica “personalizzata” e di tutti gli strumenti necessari per la conservazione dei differenti materiali.

Nel 2006 La Scala DAM è stato collegato con una rete intranet alle postazioni-chiave del Teatro, mettendo a disposizione delle strutture interne la documentazione multimediale del materiale relativo alla creazione, alla produzione e alla documentazione di ogni spettacolo: appunto bozzetti e figurini, costumi, calzature, gioielli, acconciature, attrezzi di scena, manifesti e locandine, fotografie e registrazioni audio. Il tutto finalizzato all’attività quotidiana di ogni settore.

La gestione di questo progetto è stata curata da un gruppo giovane, composto da un responsabile di progetto, un referente tecnico e 5 operatori. Questo grazie a un “prototipo di coproduzione” in cui, per la prima volta, accanto alle direzioni competenti del Teatro alla Scala hanno portato il loro contributo la Fondazione Milano per la Scala, il Gruppo Bosch, la Ricerca Universitaria del LIM dell’Università Statale di Milano, un gruppo di partner ad altissimo know-how tecnologico quali Accenture, Fastweb, Oracle, HP.
Con ArchivioLaScala, vetrina web dell’Archivio Digitale DAM, al momento limitata e semplificata rispetto alla enorme quantità di elementi contenuti nell’archivio esteso, il pubblico di studiosi o appassionati ha ora la possibilità di accedere a una parte importante del patrimonio artistico della Scala attraverso il sito internet www.archiviolascala.org


with Ibrahim Gençer - 7 December 1990, Teatro alla Scala, "Idomeneo"
Photo © Teatro alla Scala / LELLI E MASOTTI, Milano

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." 

with Wally Toscanini, her daughter Emanuela Castelberco and Filippo Acquarone, 1969
Photo © Teatro alla Scala / ERIO PICCAGLIANI, Milano 

D O N I Z E T T I  R E N A I S S A N C E   

Leyla Gencer as Anna Bolena, Elisabeth I in Roberto Devereux anda as Maria Stuarda

Photos (from left)
1965 Anna Bolena, Glyndebourne © GUY GRAVETT, Sussex
1966 Roberto Devereux, Roma © TIEGHI, Roma
1969 Maria Stuarda, Edinburgh © D.G. KIRGSTON, Edinburgh

Primarily the “trend” of reviving neglected operas started in 1957 when Maria Callas had a sensational success at La Scala in Anna Bolena. In one of her interviews Gencer said that “It was a trend and I followed it”. However it was actually Gencer who succesfully carried on this trend. Callas “revived” Anna Bolena and Gencer introduced the opera to bigger audiences. In 1958 right after Callas, Gencer sang on the Rai’s radio broadcast of the opera. In 1965 she performed the opera 12 nights at Glyndebourne Opera Festival. Gencer’s last performance of Anna Bolena was in Rome in 1977. In the era “Donizetti Renaissance” that began with Anna Bolena, Gencer also sang Donizetti’s other neglected operas such Maria Stuarda, Poliuto, Les Martyrs, Lucrezia Borgia, Belisario, Roberto Devereux, Caterina Cornaro and she proved to be the invincible queen of belcanto. Nevertheless the recordings of these operas were made by recording artists such as Montserrat Caballé, Beverly Sills and Joan Sutherland. 

as Lucrezia Borgia, La Scala 1970 
Photo © Teatro alla Scala / ERIO PICCAGLIANI, Milano

Gencer’s career reached its climax in the 60’s. In this period she began to perform vocally challenging roles in operas such as
Norma, Macbeth, I Puritani, Gerusalemme, Roberto Devereux, Lucrezia Borgia, Alceste, Maria Stuarda, Un ballo in maschera, Le nozze di Figaro, Beatrice di Tenda, Medea, Belisario, La Vestale, La Gioconda and I vespri Sicilianni

with Gianandrea Gavazzeni 1965 Anna Bolena (Glyndebourne) 
Photo © GUY GRAVETT, Sussex

Talking about her major performances in Gencer’s career, one must say a few words about Macbeth. Being undoubtedly the most impressive Lady Macbeth after Callas, Gencer performed the opera succesfully in Palermo for the first time in 1960. She later sang the opera at La Scala, Venice, Florance, Rome, Cagliari, Treviso, Montova, Como, Livorno and Maggio Musicale di Fiorentino Festival under the baton of Riccardo Muti where she had an outstanding success. In fifty years time no such soprano has yet out outshone Gencer’s interpretation of Lady Macbeth. Unfortunately Gencer sang the opera only in Italy, European and American audiences didn’t have the chance to see her live performances of Lady Macbeth. 

One of the other most important operas of this period is Bellini’s masterpiece Norma. In 1962 Gencer sang the role for the first time in Barcelona and two years after she sang the opera in Buenos Aires. In the 1964-1965 seasons La Scala took a major risk and put both La Traviata and Norma in the program, the operas which were identified with Maria Callas. Karajan was scheduled to conduct La Traviata and Gavazzeni was scheduled to conduct Norma. Franco Zefirelli’s new production of La Traviata with soprano Mirella Freni premiered on December 17, 1964. It was a big failure and the artists were harshly booed. Consequently Callas fans reached their goal; Mirella Freni left the role after two performances and Anna Moffo who had taken over the role could sing only one night. After three performances, the production was removed from the opera calendar. Gencer’s mission in Norma was even harder to accomplish. She would appear in the Margherita Wallmann’s production in which Callas had sung in 1955. Besides, Giulietta Simionato would sing Adalgisa as she had sung ten years ago. Even the costumes would be the same. Briefly, every detail that would remind of Callas would be featured in the production. On the premiere date January 9, 1965; the only difference from the previous production would be Gencer. Callas fans were present in the lodges waiting for the performance to start. Gencer’s interpretation of the famous aria Casta Diva didn’t receive much applause but except for a few grumbling, it wasn’t even booed either. The premiere was being carried on succesfully. Even La Scala’s Management was surprised. Because of La Traviata’s big failure, a major protest was expected that night. When the opera ended, the audience gave a huge round of applause. Gencer succesfully passed the test and sang Norma in January and Fabruary; 9 nights as planned and she became one of the very few sopranos who sang Norma at La Scala.

In the 60’s Gencer continued exploring the unknown. This time she sang Verdi’s neglected opera Gerusalemme in Italy and Germany. Not only it was Gencer’s, it was also Donizetti’s golden era. Some of his operas were performed for the first time and revived by Gencer.  On May 2, 1964; Donizetti’s neglected opera Roberto Devereux was performed in Naples after a long period of time. Gencer sang the role of Elizabeth and won the heart of the tough Neapolitan audience with her usual enchanting interpretation, especially with the final aria Quel sangue versato. The audience gave her a standing ovation for several minutes.

1974 Lucrezia Borgia, Dallas
Photo © BILL COGAN, Dallas

Probably Lucrezia Borgia was Gencer’s most favored and successful Donizetti performance. Gencer sang the opera for the first time in 1966 in Naples. Later she sang the opera in Rome (1967), Milan-La Scala (1970), Bergamo (1971), Dallas (1974) and Florence (1979). Once again she introduced another neglected opera to the opera audience. The recordings of this opera were also made by Monserrat Caballé and Beverly Sills.

After her success as Lucrezia; Gencer achieved a sensational success on May 2, 1967; in the opening night of Maggio Musicale di Fiorentino Festival with her performance in Maria Stuarda. The famous line Figlia impura di Bolena had a shocking impact on the audience and yet the audience gave her a standing ovation in the final of the second act. After the succesful performances of Maria Stuarda, another unknown opera was once again in Gencer’s agenda; Donizetti’s Belisario. It was a rarely performed opera which takes place in Byzantium. Gencer sang the role of Antonina and achieved another major succes. Her interpretation of the aria Egli è spento in Venice is considered to be one of her best performances.

with her fans after a Belisario performance, Bergamo 1970 
Photo: © FOTO FLASH, Bergamo

Q U E E N  O F  P I R A T E S  -  I 

Leyla Gencer was asked only twice to record for major recording companies. Both offers came directly from the famous conductor Tullio Serafin. He was planning to make two opera recordings (La Traviata and Simon Boccanegra) for two major recording companies. At first Serafin was planning to work with Maria Callas in La Traviata but since she had recorded the same opera in 1953 for Cetra label, according to her contract she didn’t have the right to record it for another label. Knowing Gencer’s success as Violetta, Serafin wanted to collaborate with Gencer but according to her, both offers were prevented by Callas. In the end Serafin recorded La Traviata with Anonietta Stella for the label Emi in 1956.

Gencer may not be considered one of the recording artists but today her numerous (over 150) opera, concert and recital recordings are available in the music markets on LPs, CDs and DVDs even single vinyls. Such high number of recordings gave her the title of “Queen of Pirates”.
Here’s a list of her recordings: Macbeth (12 recordings), Lucrezia Borgia (10 recordings), Norma (8 recordings), La Gioconda, Aida, La Forzadel destino (6 recordings), Anna Bolena, Belisario, Simon Boccanegra (5 recordings), Maria Stuarda, Le Martyrs, Alceste, Don Carlo, Don Giovanni, La Battaglia di Legnano, Ernani (4 recordings), Un ballo in maschera, Rigoletto, Gerusalemme, Il trovatore, I vespri Siciliani, Agnese di Hohenstaufen, Elizabetta Regina d’Inghilterra, Medea in Corinto, Caterina Cornaro, Medea, I Puritani (3 recordings), I due Foscari, Attila, Tosca, Les dialogue des Carmelites, Idomeneo, L’Incoronazione di Poppea, Werther, Cavalleria Rusticana, La prova di un’Opera seria, Roberto Devereux, Lucia di Lammermoor, Francesca da Rimini, La Vestal (2 recordings) and single recordings of La Traviata, Pikovaya Dama, Yevgeny Onyegin, La Falena, Guillaume Tell, Monte Ivnor, Turandot, Suor Angelica, madama Butterfly, Il Tabarro, L’ange de feu, Lo Straniero, Lassasinio nella Catedrale, Saffo, Adriana Lecouvreur, Albert Herring, Beatrice di Tenda.
Gencer’s recordings of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem, Rossini’s Stabat Mater and Donizetti’s Requiem per Bellini and the recordings of her recitals and concerts, famous for their highly distinguished programs; (1956, 1974 and 1976 in Torino, in 1975 and 1979-Venice, 1975-Spoleto, 1976- Trieste, 1958 and 1978-Milan, 1979-Treviso, 1980, 1981 and 1985-Paris, 1981-Palermo and 1984-Naples) are available on CDs. Her Masterclass Scuola della Regine about Donizetti Queens (Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda ve Roberto Devereux) which she gave for Rai television in 1982 is also available on DVD.
Only a very few of these recordings were made at studios. The majority of them so called “pirate recordings” were made under bad circumstances at opera houses where the artists didn’t receive any copyright fees. Rumour has it that, there are many recordings of Gencer such as Manon (1958 San Francisco), Rigoletto (1958 San Francisco/Los Angeles), Lucia di Lammermoor (1957 San Francisco/Los Angeles), Aida (1963, 1966 La Scala Milan), Les Contes d’Hoffmann (1957 Palermo), Mefistofele (1958 La Scala Milan), Tosca (1961 Vienna), La Traviata (1957 Vienna/San Francisco/Los Angeles/San Diego/Sacramento, 1958 Philadelphia), Francesca da Rimini (1956 San Francisco/Los Angeles), Otello (1962 Genova) and La Sonnambula (1959 Naples) which are still hidden in archives. The role of Elsa in Tannhauser is also in Gencer’s repertoire but due to a strike at the opera house, the performances were postponed to further dates on which Gencer had other opera engagements. Consequently she couldn’t sing the role. BBC Television also broadcast her Glyndebourne Figaro on 29 August 1963.
Depite her decleration of “British and American ciritics never liked me”, England’s biggest opera festival Glyndebourne released the recording of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro of 1963 through its own record label. Gencer’s brilliant Contessa performance is worth listening. Again through its own recording label, Covent Garden Opera of London released the recording of the mythical Don Giovanni production conducted by Georg Solti and directed by Franco Zeffirelli in which Gencer sang Donna Anna. Speaking of Mozart, one must mention Idomeneo premiered at La Scala in 1968. Gencer’s performance under the baton of Wolfgang Sawallisch was undoubtedly one of Gencer’s most powerful Mozart interpretations. Gencer’s interpretation of the role Elettra in the Italian style received the best reviews from Italian opera critics. This performance can be found in La Scala’s 1968 recording.
Among Gencer’s recordings there are also DVDs in black and white. Verdi’s Il Trovatore in which she sang with legendary tenor Mario del Monaco is a masterpiece. And two DVDs of Verdi’s Aida recorded in 1963 and 1966 at Arena di Verona are some of Gencer’s best performances. Her interpretation of Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni DVD which was recorded for Rai TV in 1960 is absolutely remarkable. Despite her great success as Charlotte, Werther was unfortunately performed in Italian as it was very common at that time, but this recording didn’t become popular because of today’s opera standards.

Q U E E N  O F  P I R A T E S  -  II

Renato Caccamo: A judge, a music lover, a collector or a pirate?
Caccamo, Gencer and Pizzi

If you’re not interested in the Italian politics, you haven’t probably heard of Renato Caccamo. Apart from being a serious prosecutor, he’s also a great music lover, a collector who possesses thousands of records, but he’s also a person that made pirate recordings. But he never sold any of those recordings; he just gave them to his friends and companions as gifts.
I first heard of Renato Caccamo from Leyla Gencer during one of our conversations in the 90’s when I met her. Actually, she hadn’t said his name, she’d just mentioned that the “Milan Prosecutor” was a fan of hers.  And after many years, I found out about the importance of the Prosecuter Renato Caccamo on Leyla Gencer’s career.
DVD recording of Paris Concert
As far as I remember, I first met Renato Caccamo in Istanbul, when we were at Leyla Gencer’s apartment (I guess it was in 2006) and when he found out that I was a fan of hers as well, he took a DVD out of his pocket and gave it to me hastily. It was the video recording of Gencer’s Paris recital in 1985 and I was extremely happy about acquiring that record which was absolutely rare.
Gencer had mentioned Caccamo only a few times as “The Milan Prosecutor” but she’d never talked about their friendship or shared information about him. As I later found out from Gencer’s friends, Caccamo had a major importance on Leyla Gencer’s career.  
Caccamo recorded all of Gencer’s performances. By the way, Renato Caccamo didn’t record only Gencer’s concerts; his hobby was to record almost all the concerts that he attended, make collections and then give those recordings to his friends as gifts. Thereby, most of Leyla Gencer’s concerts that weren’t broadcasted in radio or television were somehow passed on and consequently, those recordings were released by the labels, later giving Leyla Gencer the nickname: “The Queen of the Pirates”.
Certainly, the mentioned pirate recordings have poor sound quality, but they are critically important since they’re the evidences of Gencer’s long and succesful career.
Recently, I saw this recording in Youtube whilst doing a research on Gencer, which I’m also sharing in the below.  
It’s an extremely interesting recording and it also contains information about Leyla Gencer.  Especially, it’s thrilling to know that Domingo, Gencer, Caccamo, Pollini and Dino Ciani interpreted the whole La Traviata all together after a concert, until morning. There’s also a short audio recording available. Of course, I suggest you to listen to it considering that it was recorded after midnight.
Apart from his relationship with Leyla Gencer, I find Renato Caccamo’s life and personality quite interesting and I suggest you to watch the related Youtube link that I’m sharing with you. 

Presented by Jeffrey Swann
ARSC New York / Chapter Januaary Meeting
West 140th Street & Convent Avenue, New York Or enter at 138th Street off Convent Avenue Shepard Hall (the Gothic building) – Recital Hall (Room 95, ground floor). An elevator is in the centre of the building.

The New York Chapter of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections presents its January 2018 program:

Renato Caccamo was born 26 August 1934 in Siderno, Calabria in Italy's deep South. His love of music began early and was centred on the piano. In Rome, he studied Law and also studied piano at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia. He was he was in his mid-20's when he moved to Milan in the late 50s. He became both a criminal judge and a devotee of that city’s concert life, his interest focused on the Teatro alla Scala. Because of unique opportunities stemming from his important social position, his persistence and an indefatigable energy, he became La Scala's de facto archivist in the early 60s. For the next 20 years he recorded (or had recorded for him on first class sound equipment) not only everything at La Scala — operas and concerts — but also virtually everything of substance in all of Italy's major venues: RAI, Rome, Florence, Venice, Naples, various festivals, etc. He recorded almost everything, but his chief interests were opera (originally Wagner) and piano, his own instrument. He became close friends with many major musical celebrities during this period, e.g. Abbado, Pollini, Muti, Weissenberg, Leyla Gencer, Nikita Magaloff, Dino Ciani, and many others, due, at least in part, because he was so useful to them in making copies of performances from his ever-growing collection. I myself became his friend in 1975 when I won the first Dino Ciani piano competition at La Scala. Ciani had tragically died in an auto accident the year before at the age of 32, and for the next 36 years Renato's apartment in Piazza Borromeo was my chief European residence. During the first part of this period, hardly a day passed without a call from someone such as Abbado or Muti or Pollini or Accardo to request a copy of some specific performance. And every day recordings from Europe and America and, occasionally, Japan would arrive in exchange for recordings that he had made. So, the collection became gigantic (and rather out of control). In the meantime, Renato had become an increasingly powerful and important judge. His position at retirement was President of the Court of Appeals, Fourth District (Milan). Due to the temporary liberalization of piracy laws in the late 80s, many of Renato's tapes were becoming commercial records. With the loss of exclusivity, Renato’s zeal to record substantially diminished. By the mid 90's his passion for collecting was mostly in the realm of books, of which he possessed 80-90,000 volumes. At his death, on 6 September 2011, Renato's collection of recordings was in a sadly confused state. The catalogues were long out of date, and not all of the older recordings had been migrated to more durable formats. The entire collection is now housed at La Scala, but inaccessible because the lack of resolution of privacy and copyright issues. The collection also includes something like 10,000 hours of video recordings (many informal) made between 1995 and his death. There are extraordinary treasures buried there, some of which I will describe.

Jeffrey Swann 
(Winner of 1° Premio Dino Ciani 1975 )
Photo © Teatro alla Scala / 
Jeffrey Swann is currently Artistic Director of the Dino Ciani Festival & Academy in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy; Professor of Piano at New York University; and the President’s Distinguished Artist-in-Residence at Northern Arizona University. Himself a native of Northern Arizona, he studied with Alexander Uninsky at Southern Methodist University, and with Beveridge Webster and Adele Marcus at The Juilliard School, where he received the B.M., M.M. and D.M.A. Degrees. He won first prize in the Dino Ciani Competition sponsored by Milan’s La Scala; a gold medal at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels; and top honours at the Warsaw Chopin, Van Cliburn, Vianna da Motta and Montreal Competitions, as well as the Young Concert Artists auditions in New York City. His large and varied repertoire embraces more than 60 concertos and solo works ranging from Bach to Boulez. His performing career has taken him throughout the United States, Europe, Latin America and Asia, appearing with major orchestras and conductors. He lectures regularly at the Bayreuth Festival, and at Wagner Societies in the United States and Italy, and is a frequent judge at competitions. He has recorded for DG, RCA Italiana, Fonit-Cetra, Replica, Agorà, and Music and Arts.


L’uomo che ha condannato Bettino Craxi a un decennio di reclusione nei processi Eni-Sai e per le mazzette della metropolitana milanese si è spento a Milano la mattina di martedì 6 settembre, al termine di una lunga malattia. Renato Caccamo, presidente della quarta sezione della Corte d’Appello di Milano negli anni di Tangentopoli, si era costruito, condanna dopo condanna, una fama di inflessibilità, sempre rivendicata con orgoglio contro il “generale lassismo”. Pochissimo incline a dichiarazioni, Caccamo aveva comunque raccontato alla stampa di aver fatto parte dei giovani socialisti e di aver sempre votato Psi prima di trasformarsi nell’incubo della classe dirigente del partito.

Di lui si diceva che si vantasse di non aver mai assolto nessuno: leggenda smentita dalla discussa sentenza del 2006 sulla strage di Linate a favore dei direttori degli aeroporti milanesi e anche, anni prima, dall’assoluzione di Berlusconi per la compravendita dei terreni di Macherio. Alle costanti, inevitabili critiche di chi gli contestava di ragionare come un pubblico ministero più che come un giudice o lo liquidava come “talebano” opponeva le numerose conferme ottenute in Cassazione e la certezza che nessuno avrebbe mai contestato la limpidezza delle sue motivazioni.

La vita di Caccamo, però, era un’altra. Trascinato da una passione musicale insaziabile, ha frequentato per decenni tutti i concerti e tutte le serate d’opera non solo milanesi stringendo amicizie profonde con gli artisti che spesso, finiti gli applausi, si intrattenevano a cena a casa sua. E lui, un po’ ossessivamente, registrava, riprendeva tutto: la musica, ma anche la calca in camerino, le discussioni. Le sue registrazioni, autorizzate o no (alla Scala era stato Paolo Grassi a fornirgli un lasciapassare), nell’ultimo periodo erano spesso solo un doppione di quelle realizzate dai teatri. Ma in anni non troppo remoti costituivano l’unica documentazione esistente di esecuzioni anche eccelse. Basta ricordare Leyla Gencer, il grande soprano che nessuna major discografica aveva messo sotto contratto.

Anche nella passione e nella sacrosanta partigianeria musicale Caccamo conservava un giudizio indipendente e aggiornato sera per sera: apprezzava una buona esecuzione anche se veniva da un artista di cui aveva poca stima e riservava stroncature sprezzanti alle “serate no” dei suoi prediletti. Vita pubblica e passione musicale si sono intrecciate nel 2004, quando Caccamo ha vigorosamente preso le parti del Sovrintendente scaligero Carlo Fontana nel conflitto con il Direttore musicale Riccardo Muti raccogliendo un dossier sull’operato di Mauro Meli, fortemente voluto dal Maestro alla Sovrintendenza, nelle precedenti esperienze di gestione. Negli ultimi anni la lotta contro la malattia è stata soprattutto una lotta per continuare ad essere ai concerti: nel 2007 a Philadelphia Riccardo Chailly dovette spiegare personalmente alla security della Verizon Hall che “sì, questo signore può registrare”. Solo pochi mesi fa l’ultima trasferta, al Festival Mahler di Lipsia.