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"La Diva Turca" Leyla Gencer dies

Turkish soprano opera singer Leyla Gencer died Saturday in her house in Milan at the age of 80. Gencer, known as La Diva Turca, has had a repertoire encompassing more than seventy roles.

The Istanbul Foundation for Culture & Arts said she died from respiratory and cardiac failure. A statement by the foundation said that a funeral would be held for Gencer at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan on Monday.

After the ceremony, Gencer's body will be cremated and her ashes will be brought to Istanbul, Turkey to be scattered at the Bosporus. A "Leyla Gencer Museum" will also be built in Istanbul, the statement added.

Gencer, who was born on October 10th, 1928 in Istanbul, was one of the greatest bel canto sopranos of her time. Her career spanned from the early 1950s through the mid-1980s.

Gencer grew up in Cubuklu, on the Anatolian side of the Bosporus. She began studying singing at the Istanbul Conservatory, but dropped out to study privately in Ankara with her teacher, the Italian soprano Giannina Arangi-Lombardi.

Gencer sang in the chorus of the Turkish State Theater until she made her operatic debut in Ankara in 1950 as Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana. During the next few years, she became well-known in Turkey and sang frequently at functions for the Turkish government.
In 1953, Gencer made her Italian debut at the San Carlo in Naples as Santuzza. She returned to Naples the following year for performances of Madama Butterfly and Eugene Onegin.

In 1957, she made her debut at La Scala in Milan as Mme. Lidoine in the world premiere of Poulenc's Les Dialogues des Carmelites. She went on to appear regularly at La Scala, performing nineteen roles between 1957 and 1983, including Leonora in La Forza del Destino, Elisabetta in Don Carlos, Aida, Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, Norma, Ottavia in L'incoronazione di Poppea, and Alceste.

At La Scala, she also appeared as the First Woman of Canterbury in the world premiere of Pizzetti's L'assassinio nella cattedrale in 1958.
In 1962, Gencer made her debut at Royal Opera House, Covent Garden as Elisabetta di Valois and as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni. She made her US debut at the San Francisco Opera in 1956 as Francesca in Francesca da Rimini. She sang at other American opera houses as well, but never sang at the Metropolitan Opera, though there had been discussions for her to sing Tosca there in 1956.

In 1985, Gencer retired from the operatic stage with a performance of Gnecco's La Prova di un'opera seria at La Fenice. She continued to appear in concerts until 1992. She is still active and was recently appointed by La Scala's music director Riccardo Muti to run its school for young artists.

Throughout her career, Gencer was known primarily as a Donizetti interpreter. Among her best-known Donizetti performances are Belisario, Poliuto, Anna Bolena, Lucrezia Borgia, Maria Stuarda, and Caterina Cornaro. Her most acclaimed and best-known performance, though, was Roberto Devereux, which she sang in Naples in 1964.
The Turkish President named Gencer a "State Artist" in 1988. Since 1996, the Yapi Kredi International Leyla Gencer Voice Competition takes place in Istanbul.
In 2002, she received the prestigious Puccini Honor Award from the Licia Albanese Puccini Foundation at Lincoln Center in New York City.

In 2004, the Turkish Mint issued a commemorative coin in silver, bearing her figure and worth 10 U.S. dollars.




Turkish soprano Gencer, who performed at La Scala, dies
Suzan Fraser, Associated Press Writer
Leyla Gencer in “Aida”1966
Photo: La Scala Archive © ERIO PICCAGLIANI, Milano
Ankara, Turkey (AP)—Soprano Leyla Gencer, who made her career at Italy's famed La Scala opera house, has died in Milan, officials said Saturday. She was 80.

The singer known as La Diva Turca—the Turkish Diva—died Friday of respiratory problems and heart failure at home in Milan, La Scala and the Turkish State Opera and Ballet said.
La Scala expressed "immense sorrow" over Gencer's death and said the singer had "one of the most emotional voices of any time."
It said in a statement that her performances at La Scala had provided "years of unrepeatable splendor."
Gencer was born in Istanbul in 1928 to a Polish mother and a Turkish father.
She studied privately in Ankara, the Turkish capital, with Italian opera singer Giannina Arangi Lombardi and made her operatic debut there in 1950, cast as Santuzza in Pietro Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana" ("Rustic Chivalry")—a role she would later reprise on world stages.
Gencer, a contemporary of opera legends Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi, made her La Scala debut in 1957, playing Madame Lidoine in the world premiere of Francis Poulenc's "Dialogues des Carmelites." She moved to the Milanese opera house after successful performances in Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" and Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin" in Naples.
Her repertoire during a career spanning some 30 years included more than 70 roles. At La Scala, she was cast as the first woman of Canterbury in the world premiere of Pizzeti's "L'Assasinio nella Cattedralle" ("Murder in the Cathedral"). A debut at the Royal Opera House, in London, came in 1962 when she performed Elisabetta in Verdi's "Don Carlo."
"Leyla Gencer, a world artist, had become our honor in the international scene and has inscribed her name on the history of opera," Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay said.
"The Turkish opera, the international art world, have lost a great personality. She was one of the most important opera singers of the 20th century," said Rengim Gokmen, director of the Turkish State Opera and Ballet.
After retiring from opera in 1985, the singer devoted herself to discovering and training young talent. An annual Turkish-sponsored voice competition is named after her.
"Even if in her finals years she was not able to go on stage, she became a leader for Turkish opera stars and trained them," Gokmen said. "We owe her a lot."
La Scala said a funeral will be held Monday in San Babila Church in Milan.
The private Dogan news agency reported that her ashes will be taken to Istanbul to be scattered over the Bosporus, in line with her wishes. The strait forms the boundary between the European and Asian parts of Turkey.