Recordings & Reviews ............................. [Compilations]


Una Divina alla Fenice [Live]
Excerpts from Leyla Gencer’s recordings between 1957 – 1983 in La Fenice CD sales were donated to the construction of La Fenice Opera, which burned down in 1996.

I due Foscari – Giuseppe Verdi
Leyla Gencer (Lucrezia), Marisa Salimbeni (Pisana), Gian Giocomo Guelfi (Il Doge),
Tullio Serafin conductor
No… mi lasciate…
Tu, al cui sguando onnipossente
Che mi reschi? … favella
Ah, piu figli, infelice, non hai…
Piu non vive!….. l’innocente
Gerusalemme – Giuseppe Verdi
Leyla gencer (Elena) Mirella Fiorentini (Isaura), Giacomo Arragall (Gastone), Emilio Salvoldi (Conte di Tolosa), Gianandrea Gavazzeni, conductor
Il bronzo squilla
Elena mia! Gastone! Ti benedica il cielo!
Che mi cal della vita
Son vani i lamenti
E tu Io soffri, o ciel?
No… l’ira vostra, l’indegno insulto
Beatrice di Tenda – Vinecenzo Bellini
Leyla Gencer (Beatrice), Mario Zanasi (Filippo), Antigone Sgourda (Agnese), Juan Oncina (Orombello), Mario Guggia (Anichino), Vittorio Gui, cunductor
O mio fedeli
Ma la sola, ohime! Son io
Ah, la pena in lor piombo
Tu qui, Filippo?
Il mio dolore, e l’ira…
Deh! Se mi amasti un giorno
Ah! Tal onta io meritai / quando a me tal empio alzai
Chi giunge?
Ah! Se mi amasti un giorno
Macbeth – Giuseppe Verdi
Leyla Gencer (Lady Macbeth), Ledo Freschi (il Servo), Mirella Fiorentini (Dama), Alessandro Maddalena (il Medico), Gianandrea Gavazzeni, conductor
Nel di della vittoria io le incontrai
Vieni! t’afretta! Accendere
Duncano sara qui?
Or tutti sorgete, ministri infernali
Una macchia e qui tutt’ora
Medea – Luigi Cherrubini
Leyla gencer (Medea), Carlo Fracci, conductor
Dei tuoi figli la madre
Belisario – Gaetano Gonizetti
Leyla Gencer (Antonina), Giuseppe Taddei (Belisario), Nicola Zaccaria (Giustiniano), Mirna Pecile (Irene), Umberto Grilli (Alamiro), Gianandrea Gavazzeni, conductor
Da quel di che l’innocente
Di pianto, di gemiti
Egli e spento
Cielo irato
Messa di Requiem per Bellini – Gaetano Gonizetti
Leyla Gencer (soprano), Gianandrea Gavazzeni, conductor
La Gioconda – Amilcare Ponchilelli
Leyla Gencer (Gioconda), Mirna Pecile (La cieca), Mario Zanasi (Barnaba), Oliviero de Fabritiis, conductor
Tradita! Ahime! O cuor! Dono funesto!
Ebben? Perché son muta e affaranta!
Les Martyrs – Gaetano Gonizetti
Leyla Gencer (Pauline), Renato Bruson (Sévere), Gianluigi Gelmetti, conductor
En touchant a ce rivage….
Ah, souvenir cruel et tendre…
La Proca d’un Opera Seria – Francesca Gnecco
Leyla Gencer (Corilla), John Fischer, conductor
Nel cor piu non ni sento (La Milinara di Paisello)

Mondo Musica – 2 CDs


The Divine Turk at La Fenice

Between 1957 and 1983 Leyla Gencer sang in twelve operas performed at La Fenice and sang in various concerts. Artists have an intense relationship with an opera house where they return to sing, where an audience that has already applauded.

Between 1957 and 1983 Leyla Gencer sang in twelve operas performed at La Fenice and sang in various concerts. Artists have an intense relationship with an opera house where they return to sing, where an audience that has already applauded them awaits them in expectation. Or rather, they have a special relationship with many opera houses, each of which inspires a different type of love and a unique relationship with the acoustics and mythic history of the opera of the artists’ vibrant performance. However, with La Fenice, this passion is even more intense and striking owing to its miraculously light opera hall with its decorations in gold, mirrors and shades of pink. Not only because we know it is no longer there, but because this very heart of music is surrounded by the city of Venice with its subtle interplay of water and whispers, sudden banks of fog and images, its history intertwined with the East, its flourishing art, that all compete with the seduction of the places, the goodwill of the people, the customs of traditional celebrations such as the Regata Storica or Carnival, drawing one to its past.

Leyla Gencer and La Fenice. With each opera the artist leaves her mark and thus, with time, leaves a contour of her singing: her performances of Verdi mastered with bravura; Donizetti with premonition, or the echoes of the Renaissance that was coming to an end; Bellini, the love for classicism, the late Romantic opera that reflects Venice (La Gioconda), an opera that was light heartedly created as a parody of serious eighteenth century opera, almost a Carnival masquerade.

Each encounter is a season of life: at that time, meetings between artists and the theatre were exhaustive and an opera was the result of close collaboration between the theatre management, the conductor, the company and staff.

Leyla Gencer is Turkish, born on the Bosphorus (1928) but with her mother’s Polish roots of sensitivity and passion; she was educated in Europe amidst a climate of cultural opening following Atatürk’s reforms and Italian influence following her operatic vocation. Thus, for her Venice is the other shore of her sea, the western border of a unique Roman and Byzantine Empire, she recognises familiar paths and wants to interiorise them. Her hotels on the Canal Grande (Il Bauer, Il Gritti), or those close to the opera house (La Fenice and des Artistes), Venetian painting that she studies in churches and palaces under the guidance of her teachers, the Veneto Serafin, the nobleman Gui, the enlightened Gavazzeni; the houses of an elite who were sensitive to her extraordinary nature were open for intellectual evenings, from Conte Cini to Mario Labroca, from Marquise di Cadaval to Wally Toscanini.

These are live recordings; the applause she enjoys from her fist stage entrance to the last eighteenth century aria, an involuntary farewell, resounds in La Fenice with warmth and abated breath. There is a galvanising immediacy of the performance and sometimes also the dying away of the sound into the distance or as the action moves away, there is even some help from prompters Luciano Berengo or Cesare Polacco. 

Leyla Gencer first performed here on December 26, 1957 for the opening performance of the season with I Due Foscari (1844) by Verdi, conducted by Tullio Serafin, and produced by Franco Enriquez, set and costumes by Veniero Calasanti and John Moore. Dressed in white-pink colours brocade, she quickly descends a grand staircase in the allegro agitato that marks her appearance in the opera- she is the venetian noble lady, Lucrezia Contarin, the daughter of doges and daughter-in-law to the current doge. In the recitative, marked by the words and resoluteness of the notes in harmony of her bearing and proud appearance, she hastens to ask Doge Foscari for “justice” for her unjustly accused husband. But the choir of maids-in-waiting holds her back and thus, the relationship of reciprocal involvement between the prima donna Leyla Gencer and the choir is clear, defined by her actor-friend Romolo Valli as “The Queen of Her People”. She accepts the invitation to pray, in elegical measures to the surge of endless high notes in the vocal writing. The prayer (andante maestoso) rises in breadth and purity, each phrase of the flowing music is a moment of emotional participation, of fervour entrusted to the soft tracery of pure triplets and sextuplets, to the sustained “la” that hovers above the choir before the repeat of the cadenza. A fortissimo by the orchestra heralds the announcement of his sentence to exile. Her reactions inflame the fibres of voices and works. The recitative arches con tutta forza and the words fall with an implacable beat of the kettledrum in the orchestra. The tirade allegro mosso takes up with a rush that lends wings to the singing and blazing energy to the rhythm: a capacity of unexpected violence, participated in all its physicality, the dramatic intuition of the singer-actress who knows how to choose and make the most important words vibrate and makes them flash like arrows. The order of the recitative, cavatina and cabaletta rediscovers the naturalness of theatre surroundings and the logical immediateness of extremely intense reactions. It is an important evening for the Verdi-Renaissance: one of Verdi’s early operas that had been removed from the repertoire, originally created for Venice and based on the history of the city, is revived by the authoritative and wise Serafin. The singers chosen by the conductor (Gian Giacomo Guelfi, Mirto Picchi) include the young artist who displays the vocal style of the dramatic soprano characteristic of Verdi’s agility with great naturalness. She has come from afar to bring infinite elegy to flowing singing, dazzling outbursts to song, characterised by sudden changes from ethereal softness to florid singing. She possesses the very spark Verdi required of his performers and Serafin knows how to stimulate her and watch over her while rigorously respecting the score and composure of the flow of the vocal writing. Her performance throughout the opera is marked by energy that opposes destiny in vain, up to the last aria allegro assai moderato "Pin non vive! l'innocente”, stricken with grief celestial in the ethereal vocal style, then taken up again with renewed energy “Sorga in Foscari possente”, tense with her emphasis on vengeance.

And here is the following season (February 25, 1959), the lyric and visionary Lucia di Lammermoor (1835), the first of many of her performances of Donizetti’s operas, which had already been performed in America (San Francisco, 27/9/1957) and Trieste (13/12/1957). Gencer reveals herself at her best, with the soaring and virtuoso original ease of her vocal style that is distinguished by lightness. She portrays a timorous Lucia, a visionary of a tragic destiny, in a modern version that traces psychological change and is to mark the revival of Donizetti’s works with Leyla Gencer. Madness is the extreme moment of the psychological oscillation expressed through the coloratura of the singing. It is a part of memorable virtuoso bel canto: the colour that fades away but is not affected, the flowing simplicity of her gestures, her ecstatic disposition, the unconscious logic from which the fluctuating visions arise, the pure openings of a single voice that move to a full-bodied sound, the immersion in the distance with simple and resounding higher notes until they are lost in space. We remember this as an important moment in the artist’s performances in Venice but are unable to let you listen to the recording because the one belonging to La Fenice has been lost. It is, however, possible to listen to the recording made at Teatro di Trieste during the previous season (13/12/1957).

Maestros and opera houses vie for the singer who is able to reawaken the heroine in Verdi’s first work. La Battaglia di Legnano (1849) has just been revived at the opening of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino as part of the official 100-year celebration of the glorious year, 1859, with Gencer and Vittorio Gui, conductor and inspired producer. A months later the same opera opens Venetian season (December 26, 1959) the same staging by Franco Enriquez (producer) and Attilio Colonnello (set and costumes), the same singers and by Franco Capuana. Gencer’s vocal style is velvet, sensitive to the patriotic chords that begin to vibrate with Lida 's very first recitative Voi lo diceste, amiche.

We should have like to have listened at least to the opening cavatina that is constructed like an introductory portrait: Lida’s melancholy Andante “Quante volte come un dono”, entrusted to an aristocratic song and linked to long, articulated bowing on the thoughts and secrets of the soul, the tempo di mezzo (Allegro agitato mosso) with its atmosphere of passion, the cabaletta (allegro brilliante) with the lightness of its punctuated rhythm, strung together with soft figurations. However, recording of La Fenice has also been lost. All that remains is the recording made at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino on 10/5/1959.

The re-discovery of Gerusalemme (1847) in Venice in September 1963 (24/09/63) was a historic event, the first performance in twentieth century of the opera Verdi written for Paris, taken from I Lombardi alla prima crociata, entrusted to artists with historic awareness and of rousing proportions: Gianandrea Gavazzeni, conductor, Jean Vilar, producer, Léon Ghischa, set and costumes. In the creative fervour of the rehearsals, Gencer’s artistic maturity explodes. Gavazzeni’s ideal understanding of the discovery of a different Verdi makes the line of musical tension incandescent, the emotional force behind the voice; the scanty essentiality that came from Theatre National Populaire from Vilar reminds the world of the crusades with their brightly coloured costumes and sparse scenic elements silhouetted against the light on the black background, bringing out the surge of the struggle between Verdi’s characters, and the gesture of the heroine Elena expands with the melody, the pace gushes forth with rhythmic outburst.

Let us listen to three moments. La Preghiera (The Prayer) in act one, a passage full of inspiration in which Elena implores Heaven to protect her beloved Gastone, hoping she will become his wife. Gencer’s voice has the colour of the sun that is about to rise, it fades away, simply, luminous in the lyric wave, to gain warmth in a phrase that transforms the clear words into vibrant emotions and stretches out to become a soft alato. The second moment is the final duet of the second act between Elena, who is a prisoner in the Arab camp and her beloved Gastone when they unexpectedly meet. The situation is intensely dramatic: passionate declarations in leaps and bounds, the depths of a love that will go to any lengths, and the fear of escaping, all expressed in an overwhelmingly agitated rhythm. Gencer’s Fuggiamo, fuggiarno rises like a gust of wind to cross the desert. At her side, the luminous voice of Giacomo Aragall, at the beginning of his career - a perfect team.

It is almost an autobiographical page that tells of Verdi’s love for Giuseppina Strepponi. Indeed, research by Ursula Günther and studies by Philip Gosset found, amongst the Parisian papers for the first performance at the Opéra in 1847, a version for four hands of the text of this duet where Verdi writes the gentle words of Hélene and Giuseppina and Gastone’s bitter words - almost a true declaration of love through the two lovers’ duet.

In the third moment, Elena is still being held prisoner in the Arab camp, the sentence of death hanging over her should the Christian Crusaders be victorious. In a recitative of extreme pride and desolation Che mi cal della vita she expresses her anguish for the premonition she has had of losing her beloved, not anguish for her own life. She prays in a grand aria Son vani i lamenti, expressing intense pain in the smooth anal lied singing, lyric and virtuoso, and asks for death to put an end to her infinite unhappiness. However, already at the beginning of the scene, the density of the suffering and the poignant passion in her voice hint at a dramatic twist. The Crusaders arrive victorious and sentence Gastone, who is innocent, to death and degradation. Elena’s reaction inflames the Rondo No ….. 1'ira vostra, l’indegno insulto, the singer transforms the words into scathing accusations and in defence of love and justice she attacks with a furious, dramatic force, hurling threatening prophesies with fulminating agility and becoming an uncontrollable force with her fluttering cloak and white costume.

Its rousing success met with incisive and wide spread approval since Gavazzeni’s discovery and his contagious mental alacrity created great expectations in the intellectual world, thus resulting in famous names appearing at La Fenice such as Pier Antonio Quarantotti Gambini, Ezra Pound, Vanni Scheiviller, Maria Bellonci, Alberto Cavallari, Vittore Branca, Sandro Meccoli as well as a flurry of critics. The opera remained part of the programme at La Fenice for another two seasons and was then revived in June 1964 and performed on tour in Munich, Bavaria and Wiesbaden in May 1965.

In January 1964 Beatrice di Tenda (1833) gave Venice the opportunity to rediscover the energetic vitality of an opera that had been created at La Fenice, had met with a lukewarm reception and had been underestimated. For Gencer it was the opportunity' to overcome the pride of a sovereign and the historic dimension as the romantic heroine in the elegy. Vittorio Gui spurned her on with this score that had already been performed at Teatro Massimo in Palermo during the 1959 season with an adaptation of the final scene based on the composer’s notes found by the musicologist Francesco Pastura in Catania. Consequently, Bellini had agreed to make the necessary changes after I Puritani.

In the nineteenth century staging by Piero Tosi with a set of painted trees on tulle and of austere monumentality' that had been created for Palermo, Leyla Gencer discovers the novelty of Bellini 's character and portrays not only feelings of the heart, but also the destiny of her own subjects, expressing melancholy and a grief-stricken and possessive sense of the royalty in history.

She brings the linearity of her clear song to Bellini’s melodies, with long drawn breaths, soft figurations, elegiac in colour and with words that are pregnant with exacerbated reactions that purify the flow of the melody. The intensity of her words reflects a sensitive and aristocratic soul and energy of thought - the key characteristic of this Beatrice.

Surrounded by the Choir of Maids-in-waiting, she makes her entrance with an important recitative: with the energy of her darkened diction, the vocal projection of the word ingrate, repeated with intimate suffering, each word and image expresses her weariness with the romantic character and the cruelty she has suffered at the hands of the Duke, her husband. The Cavatina starts with an elegiac note, (Largo sostenuto) Ma la sola, oihmé! son io and the melody gains breadth, flowing with a cavatina by the cello, bringing out words of immense suffering. The singer fantasises of feudal dominions and her song becomes electric without disturbing the linearity: the passionate diction of the sovereign O mie genti, the elegance of the nostalgic figurations O suol natio, the awareness (and the rapacious highlighting) of having sacrificed them “overcome” by an ambitious tyrant, and the singer yearns for political passion, regretting her historical error more than the emotional consequences for her.

Filippo! outraged and insistent regarding the Duke’s accusations, the sovereign dignity of the Largo Questi d’amanti popoIi when the of the baritone passes to the soprano; the energy of that unexpected modulation A barbaro, meco saresti in trono?. Hence an intuition of the quickening of what is to follow Ah! Non voler fra questi / Quei fogli, Filippo, / quei fogli mi rendi in a beseeching and tormenting tension; until the confession (libera colore e pateticoIo sono innocente, before the irresistible self-possession of the Allegro (giustoIl mondo che irnploro, / ch 'io chiamo a difesa.

A further moment of the purest singing is the Scena e Preghiera (Scene and Prayer) at the beginning of the first finale. Before the statue of Facino Cane, the deceased noble general who was her first husband, Beatrice confesses her own fragility as a woman because she believed in the flattery of Filippo Visconti, her present husband, and confesses her feelings of solitude (allegro moderato) now that size has learned of his true ambitions and desires. This regal innocence becomes the key point for the impressive phrasing of the Concertato Finale primo: Largo Ah! tal onta io rr1eritai, an example of how Gencer’s pathos is able to guide the sonoral wave of a Concertato with her emotional emphasis of the words, the sweeping rhythm, the alternating of phrases that are piano and tutta voce.

The final scene and aria lead to detached sublicenses and the loss of a character that the opera revealed as rich in contrasts. The atmosphere of imminent death (Lugubre e maestoso) introduces a spiritual rehearsal; the singer’s voice enters renewed, already directed to the supernatural in the Preghiera (assai sostenutoAh! se una uma e a me concessa and nevertheless soft with emotions, overcome but not forgotten, of what creates the female charm. Dramatic rediscovery by Gencer of this bel canto results in this perfectly complete portrait. During these years, the new philology applied to the revival of bel canto has led to the renewed use of calabettas and to the exploitation of their potential with virtuoso variations and fioritura: in 1961, Joan Sutherland, proud and spectacular with her performance of Beatrice di Tenda, first in London, then at La Scala. However, Gui 's philological hypotheses based on the newly discovered notes by Bellini prefers a more poetic atmosphere: after Beatrice’s aria he eliminates the calabetta and takes up the motif of forgiveness from the preceding trio, now a pianissirno whispering of the crowd on their knees in prayer while Beatrice is led to her death. He wanted to prolong the extra-terrestrial atmosphere of Beatrice's farewell, and when the audience began to applaud after the soprano's last drawn out note, he was scandalised and named on them with a peremptory hiss, which can still be seen on the live recording of the RAI, the Italian state television.

In the spring of 1968 Macbeth (1865) brings the character of a true lady to Venice, a role that fits Gencer like a glove, becoming her visiting card owing to its popularity although it was actually an opera that was performed rarely at that time (April 9, 1968, conductor G. Gavazzeni, producer Adolf Rott, staging L.Damiani, with Giangiacomo Guelfi). She had her debut with Gui in Palermo (1960), full of daring and lightness: obsessive and demonic in the performances at La Scala with the conductor Scherchen and the producer Vilar (1964). With Gavazzeni her performance matures with her knowledge of Shakespeare’s drama, Verdi's exhortations to his singers, the imperious determination of the stressed word. This robust and dark voice expresses an element of fire that Verdi himself wanted, it touches the dark and the review by the Venetian critic Mario Messinis exalts it with the headline “Gencer’s fiery voice” (Il Gazzettino”, April 10, 1968).

Lady Macbeth’s entrance in the first act is magnificent: the tragic recitative, the volitive and implacable force of the Cavatina andantino “Viene! t’affretta”, the impressive aggressiveness of the Cabaletta allegro maestoso "Or tutti sorgete”. Gencer is unique with her final entrance in the scene and aria of the sleepwalker. Gavazzeni creates an aria of madness, of arcane sonority and with a voice that is reborn by a flash of consciousness that is being sought, pushed on by repetitive fixedness. Gencer, who has created a character full of vehemence and brilliance, exasperated ambition up until the crime and of sinister awareness throughout the whole opera, now reverts to the regression of innocence. With an increasingly pure mezza-voce, she relives the different levels of hallucination in a desperate attempt to wipe out that bloody nightmare. The visionary capacity is expressed by means of an irresistible variety of shades, jumps, and dynamic contrasts with purified emotional immediateness of her song, following the thread of a liberating tension.

Several months later she measures her skills against the classicism and furious pathos of Cherubini’s Medea (1797): December 6, 1968 with the conductor Carlo Franci, producer Alberto Fassini, staging and costumes by Pier Luigi Pizzi. She becomes an incandescent tragic force, dressed in a black poncho, against white Hellenism, dazzled against the setting of steep steps and tall columns. Her voice is possessed with a communicative intensity that responds to Cherubini’s nervous writing: irregular, repeated intervals, flashes of a myth, magic and terrestrial passion of this sorceress-woman-goddess. The aria in which she turns to Giasone in the first act larghetto Dei tnoi figli la madre” is a moment of elegy, the attempt to conquer her husband back before it is too late, sung on her knees, clutching Giasone, imploring. The broad phrasing softens in nostalgia, becoming lighter in the higher notes, weaving a pattern of colours, seduction, with painful flashes, and when she finishes at the height of its intensity, we can perceive the Sorceress’ anxiety that her wishes are not going to be fulfilled.

Belisario, the rediscovery of one of Donizetti’s operas that had been written for La Fenice (1836), proved a surprising success (May 9, 1969, conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni, produced by Alberto Fassini, staging and costumes by Pier Luigi Pizzi, with Giuseppe Taddei, Umberto Grilli, Mirna Pecile). Gavazzeni recognises the distinctiveness of this score, which was a mixture of Roman history, Greek tragedy and the romantic violence of emotions. Pizzi's staging adopts a polished and experimental geometry of space and volume, whites and greys, but with extravagant costumes that bring out the Byzantine element, in particular those of the main character that was created by Fortuny in materials of gold and green, or with traces of violet, and hairstyles in the shape of a crown. Gencer wears them with sacredness and convincingly portrays an authentic but romantic Byzantine character. The tenebrous connotation of the vindictive heroine ennobles herself with maternal pain because Belisario is to sacrifice their young child (who is actually saved). The violent accuser is overcome with remorse in a desperate attempt at atonement. Here is the aria of remorse after the distraught Antonina confessed to Emperor Giustiniano the false accusation of betrayal that had been laid at the feet of the general and her husband, Belisario. The cantabile larghetto Da quell di che l’innocente” the proud character fades away, the emphasis at the end of the phrase discovers the relevant words, the colour becomes lighter, the writing softer with gentle slurs, the high notes mellow piano, to die away.

Then, the Grand Finale in which Gavazzeni and Gencer embody Donizetti’s tragic action. The mourning that accompanies the funereal portent is almost a Requiem, then the entrance of the dying hero maestoso “Di pianto, di gemiti / il gerniti / il cielo rimbomba!”. Antonina starts singing, her voice is mournful and magnificent, and the solemn words are stressed like the sounding of bells, taken up in quintets. The main character is overcome by the atmosphere of death, she breathes with the orchestra, she modulates the phrases to coincide with the entrance of the dying Belisario “Funesto spettacolo!” or she holds them out like a cord of pain Ricopriti, o cielo, d’un lugubre vel, opening, with one phrase, an endless space. Moving from this unanimity the singer steps forward, placing herself in the foreground for her final scene of desperation and death, because she has not been forgiven. An unforgettable performance: the tragic manner of the allegrocon terrore, "EgIi e spento”, the violence of a tragic character who moves towards a penetrating introspection with the change, piano, on forse, the visionary imagination of the singer who hastens forward, clutching the indications of the writing until the singing is relieved by the modulated emotional invocation in descending triplets and duplets: Ah! toglietemi la vita, /che la morte e un ben per me. Donizetti’s character removes her official solemnity and gives herself to the audience: the invocation that is repeated pianissimo, the la held on the choir’s rhythmic curse, the repeat da capo with the definiteness of a maestro, held a fil di voce Cielo irato, hai sciolto il corso”. Leyla comes forward, her arms outstretched to the audience with imploring eyes, and repeats this obsessive, desperate toglieterni la vita until she dies.

With the perfect couple Gavazzeni - Gencer, one of Donizetti’s sacred works, the Messa di Requiem for Bellini (1835) is transformed into an event of pure poetry during one of the spring concerts (June 20, 1970). As an exception Gavazzeni decides the soprano should sing the Ingemisco, written for a tenor. Vaporous in its grey-blue coloured organza, Gencer performs this celestial page in an ethereal area of mezza-voce and pianissimo, the elegance of her clear vocal line ripples with passion, the notes float as if there were air beneath the voice, with great daring in the final filatura.

La Venezia alla Hayes by Colasanti and Moore invades La Fenice for Ponchielli’s La Gioconda (1876) (January 7, 1971, conducted by Oliviero De Fabritiis, production, staging and costumes V. Colasanti and I. Moore, with Umberto Grilli,

Mario Zanazi, Maria Luisa Nave). Leyla Gencer portrays an absorbed, aristocratic Gioconda, ready to tackle nineteenth century theatrics, with its decadent taste of the end of the century. All it needs is a phrase of symphonic modulation, following in Tchaikovsky’s footsteps, and she is able to isolate the pain of a betrayed lover, it becomes the emblem of her very character: from the pure attack, to the emotional intensification, making it flow along an endless melodic arc. The great aria andante molto sostenuto "Suicidio” is a moment of tragic interior composure, without emphasis: her rounded voice with its dark weight, calibrated even in the sonority of the deep notes, her sensitivity of the dynamics, the use of the piano as the poetry of memories or dreams, the richness of those flashes of light that the elegiac vocation is ready to awaken in the voice. The final duet with Barnaba brings with it Gencer’s intuition: it begins as a game of symmetrical replies, becoming almost a delirium for the singer who theatrically takes her leave from life. As soon as the rhythm becomes more danceable, she transforms it from a dance of death into a fanciful round dance. She abandons the song with agile lightness in a game of rallentando and rubato, with bursts, elegance and brilliantly pointed rhythm. She is irresistible with her theatrical fascination, elusive while she circles around in her gold-coloured cloak and goes into raptures for the last time.

Les Martyrs (1840), rediscovered in 1975 in Bergamo and performed as a concert during the Convegno Internazionale Donizettiano with Leyla Gencer and Renato Bruson, was an important step towards understanding the French Donizetti. Not only congenial and a key figure in the Donizetti Renaissance, Gencer adds the discovery of the prosodic key of the Alexandrine for mastering the sinuous syntactic rhythm of the French word in song. It was a huge success, revealing. Three years later the opera was performed in Venice on stage, set in a romanticised, desert-coloured Armenia (June 18, 1978, conducted by Gianluigi Gelmetti, produced by A. Passini, staging and costumes by Pier Luigi Pizzi and Renato Bruson).

It is a majestic opera with classic structures including Roman-style opera, grand-opéra and even moments of close intimacy One of these is the duet between a couple who used to be lovers and unexpectedly meet again but under different circumstances: He is Proconsul and wishes to love her; she, on the other hand, has married another man and decides to resist him at all costs, not to listen to his heart-felt regrets. It is an enchanted moment, full of memories and perhaps Gencer was helped by her familiarity with French poetry, with Proust’s novels, and is thus able to recognise the anguish of this Donizetti, the subtlety of nostalgia, the transition of emotions. The poetry of the cantar piano, the colours of the soul or of tears, becomes one with the skill of “what is separate”, the worries confided in oneself the seductions barely whispered. The understanding with an ideal partner such as Bruson makes this a page that should be remembered.

For the 1983 Venetian carnival season a short, light-hearted, bel canto opera was chosen, open to the game of parody: La prova d'un opera seria (The Rehearsal of a serious opera) by Francesco Gnecco who, in 1803, was imitating the serious operas of the time (Gli Orazi and I Curazi by Cimarosa) in Venice, following the fashion of the satire of opera and virtuosos (February 12, 1983, conducted by John Fisher, production and staging by Pier Luigi Pizzi, costumes by Carlo Diappi). The tragic heroine harbours an unexpected desire for comedy: the structure that is devised for a mock rehearsal makes fun of itself the prima donna’s tics, with virtuoso arias that show her versatility of both the tragic and comic as did the singers Méric-Lalande, Pasta, Malibran in the nineteenth century when they mastered this successful little opera. With Pizzi’s help, producer and scenographer, a copy of both Gencer’s own idiosyncratic ways and imperiousness, worries, distractions, nervous habits and gifts, are part of Gnecco’s playful opera. The prima donna rushes in from the stalls, late as usual; she is dressed in an early nineteenth century costume in black and red, a mink cloak, in the style of Karenina with muffs and fur cap. She is greeted with thundering applause, full of affection, endless, in the opera house in which she was the prima donna in I Due Foscari in 1957. She crosses a walkway across the orchestra pit that is covered with grey sheets and comes on stage, right where Pizzi has grouped together the comedians and orchestra, in front of a slide mounted for Parsival (that is performed on alternate days to this short opera), camouflaged by an airy background of a view of Venice. The mock rehearsal takes place in this dismantled theatre: as foreseen by Gnecco, Gencer adds her own capriciousness and manias, passages of virtuosity, all part of this open game. She imitates herself with irony, looking at herself with the eyes of the audience and adds her own virtuoso eighteenth century arias: Sposa, son disprezzata by Vivaldi from Bajazet, the tragic recitative of Fedra from Hyppolite et Aricie and Nei cor piu non mi sento / brillar la gioventi from Paisiello’s La Molinara that Malibran loved to perform in this opera.

She offers it to the audience with the refined addition of the variations by Cinti Damoureau and a flash of self-irony. The shadow of a voice, the grace of her vocalized song, seductive amidst the coming and going and noises on the stage where, in Pizzi’s production, the comedians are preparing the stage for the performance.

The greatest scene of desperation was not part of the programme. It is the overwhelming pain, without tears, that Leyla experienced after the fire on January 29, 1996. She pored over the news, hoping, wanting to know, to see the anguishing images of devastated beauty of an opera house that was dying once again. “An immense feeling of pain - as if in mourning for a loved one. Even more so, because together with our beautiful opera house we too, have been burnt, along with our work as artists, our operas.”

However, the operas are still here, safe in our recordings, engraved in the memory of those who were present and in these CD’s, we can still hear the successful energy of the singer and the applause of those who trembled with her.

Great Voices [Live]

Excerpts from Leyla Gencer’s recordings between 1958 – 1968

Cherubini E che? Io sono Medea Medea
Bellini Sediziose voci.... Casta Diva Norma
Bellini Deh! Non volerli vittime Norma
Donizetti Egli e spento Belisario
Donizetti Figlia impura di Bolena Maria Stuarda
Donizetti Di un cor che more, Ah! Se un giorno Maria Stuarda
Donizetti Come innocente giovane Anna Bolena
Donizetti Piangete voi?Al dolce guidami Anna Bolena
Verdi Nel di della vittoria, Ambizioso spirto Macbeth
Verdi La luce langue Macbeth
Verdi Una macchia e qui tuttora Macbeth
Verdi Tacea la notte placida Il Trovatore
Verdi Vanne, lasciami.... D'amor sull'ali rosee Il Trovatore
Verdi Ecco l'orrido campo Un ballo in maschera
Verdi Son guinta La forza del destino
Verdi Pace, pace, mio dio La forza del destino
Verdi Non piangere mia compagna Don Carlo
Verdi Tu che le vanita Don Carlo

Memories – 2 CDs 


LEYLA GENCER. OPERATIC RECITAL • Leyla Gencer, soprano; various conductors. • NUOVA ERA 2266/67 [ADD]; two discs: 62:57; 68:02. (Distributed by Qualiton.) CHERUBINI Medea: E che? lo sono Medea. BELLINI Norma: Casta Diva; Deh! Non volerli vittime. DONIZETTI Belisario: Egli è spento. Maria Stuarda: Figlia impura; Di un cor che more… Ah! Se un giorno. Anna Bolena: Come innocente giovane; Al dolci guidami. VERDI Macbeth: Nel di della vittoria… Ambizioso spirto; La luce langue; Sleepwalking Scene. Il trovatore: Tacea la notte placida; D'amor sull'ali rosee. Un ballo in maschera: Ma dall'arido stelo divulsa. La forza del destino: Son giunta; Pace, pace, mio Dio. Don Carlo: Non piangere mia compagna; Tue che le vanità. 

I and others have written in these pages of Leyla Gencer, a Turkish soprano who had a career of considerable importance in the late 1950s and the 1960s. Born in 1928 (according to most sources) in Turkey, Gencer wedded a strong dramatic persona to an affinity for the Verdian and bel canto style. Influenced by Callas, she had a more classically beautiful voice but not the Greek singer's remarkable range of color. She also lacked the uniqueness of the Callas approach to phrasing, and she could not duplicate Callas's uncommonly well-bound legato. Gencer also displayed tonal thinness in her lower register. 

On the other hand, Gencer could float a beautiful pianissimo with a steadiness never at Callas's disposal, and she was a highly individual singer deserving of attention on her own merits. For reasons I have never been able to figure out Gencer had virtually no commercial recording career, and our knowledge of her is from live performance recordings. Every scene on this recital is taken from a complete performance that is available on some label or other (many on LP only). As an introduction, though, to the art of this remarkable singer, this set is highly recommended. 

Neither the Medea nor Norma excerpts that begin the first disc make the best case for Gencer, because these roles are too strongly identified in our ears with Callas's blazing performances. But in most of the remaining items, Gencer stakes out her own territory and makes a strong and convincing case for herself. If you don't know her work, I urge you to obtain this set and hear some singing of rare beauty and intensity. Nuovo Era includes a moderately informative essay about the singer, no notes on the music, and no texts. The performances are from a variety of broadcast sources, but the sound is consistently listenable and pleasant. One track for each scene. 



Leyla Gencer Vol.I [Live]
Excerpts from Leyla Gencer's recordings between 1954 – 1957

Puccini Perche Con Tante Cure, Un Bel Di Madama Butterfly
Tchaikovsky Ah!
Povero Mio Core! Yevgeni Onyegin
Puccini Vissi D’Arte Tosca
Verdi O Cieli Azzurri Aida
Verdi Addio del passato La Traviata
Catalani Ebben, ne andro lontano La Wally
Verdi Timor Di Me?, D'amor Sull' Ali Rosee Il Trovatore
Verdi Pace, pace mio dio La forza del destino
Mozart Tutte le torture Il Ratto del Serraglio
Puccini Senza Mamma Suor Angelica
Donizetti Il Dolce Suon, Ardon Gli Incensi Lucia Di Lammermoor
Poulenc Figliole, Con Tutto Il Cuore Dialoghi Delle Carmelitane
Rocca Non So, Non So Monte Ivnor

Myto – 1 CD  


LEYLA GENCER: Volume 1. • Leyla Gencer, soprano; various conductors and orchestras. • MYTO 1 MCD 951.122 [ADD]; 78:00. (Distributed by Qualiton.)PUCCINI Madama ButterflyPerché con tante cure (with Fernanda Cadoni, mezzo-soprano); Un bel di. Tosca: Vissi d'arte. Suor Angelica: Senza Mamma. TCHAIKOVSKY Eugene Onegin: Ah! Povero mio core (with Gino Bechi, baritone). VERDI Aida: O ciel azzurri. La traviata: Addio del passato. Il trovatore: Timor di me? D'amor sull'ali rosee. La forza del destino: Pace, pace mio Dio. CATALANI La Wally: Ebben, ne andrò lontano. MOZART Il ratto dal serraglio: Tutte le torture. DONIZETTI Lucia di Lämmer moor: Il dolce suono; Ardon gli incensi. POULENC Dialoghi delle Carmelitane: Figliole, con tutto il cuore. ROCCA Monte Ivnor: Non so, non so. 

In the years following the Second World War the world of opera experienced the beginnings of a counterrevolution. In his book, The Agony of Modern Music (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1955), Henry Pleasants correctly defined the reasons for the necessity of the Bel Canto revival, which was then just beginning when he wrote: “Thus it is for fifty years composers have given us recitative and parlando operas that disdain the agreeable sensuous communication of song, vocal or instrumental which, uncommunicative musically, are dependent for communication upon the text. The singer is restricted to declamation in order that the text may be understood. And he is drowned out by a clamorous orchestra in order that the composer may still claim to have written an opera” The effort to restore the importance of the singer to at least a position equal to that of the conductor was spearheaded by Maria Callas with the consequence that long-forgotten bel canto works of Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, and examples of “early” Verdi gradually came back into the operatic repertoire. 

Along with Callas and Joan Sutherland the Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer was an exponent of the new breed of singers who combined dramatic qualities with techniques of old-fashioned vocal virtuosity. Gencer was neglected by the commercial recording industry, and as far as I know she made only three commercial recitals for Cetra during the LP era, but the circulation of her recordings of complete operas on “pirate” labels earned her a cult following and the title of “Queen of the Undergrounds” The situation has not changed in regard to CDs. There are at least nineteen examples of her art on various complete opera or opera highlights CDs available, but as far as I can determine this release is only the third recital disc, and the two previous recitals contain mostly different material. 

The recordings featured on this disc were made at the onset of her career, before the counterrevolution gained momentum, thus are representative of the standard prewar repertoire. It was only later that she gained recognition as a specialist as an interpreter of Donizetti heroines. 

Comparisons with Callas are inevitable, but there are enough striking differences to establish the fact that she was no Callas clone. Unlike Callas she did sing Mozart, and also as this recording attests sang modern opera. Although vocally she, like Callas, ranged from the dramatic soprano Aida to the coloratura soprano Lucia, Gencer was essentially a lyrico-spinto. Her tonal quality is bright. Unlike Callas, she had neither the hooded quality in the middle voice, nor a secure low range. She was a mistress of the floating, almost disembodied pianissimo high note, rivaling both Caballé and Milanov in that feature. 

The selections from Madama Butterfly and Eugene Onegin were recorded in-house, and, according to the notes, on a wire recorder in 1954. Accordingly, the sound on these excepts is primitive, but the evidence of her ability to float her voice comes across. The “Vissi d'arte” from a live performance made in the following year, is in better sound. Gencer understood that the aria is essentially a prayer, and her command of legato enables her to relax the tempo and float an enchanting diminuendo at the close of the aria. All of the Verdi arias and the Catalani excerpt are commercial recordings previously released on a Cetra LP and made in 1955. The superior sound points up the brightness of her tonal quality and evidences a definite, but not intrusive, vibrato which was a feature of her voice. The ' 'O ciel azzuri” is just her meat, featuring the pianissimo high notes for which she was acclaimed. Her account of “Addio del passato” however, is pedestrian and she omits the spoken reading of the letter. The final piano high note is exquisite. The Catalani aria is well sung; however, the Trovatore “D'amor sull'ali rosee” well illustrates the positive and negative aspects of her singing that have made her a controversial artist. Along with the usual floating soft highs, her performance of the aria points out that the voice was never fully equalized, the break between her guttural chest voice and her head voice is obvious, and her attempts at a trill produce only a sketchy approximation. “Pace, Pace mio Dio” finds her back in her element, although one could wish for a more prolonged initial “Pace” 

The following three excerpts emanate from an RAI concert in 1957. She sails through the virtuoistic fioritura of the Entführung arias with aplomb, only her gravelly low notes and approximate trills detract. The lyric quality of her voice is well suited to the Suor Angelica excerpt. Her attempt at Lucia's mad scene is obviously tentative. The tempo is distressingly slow, and she seems to carefully prepare each note, robbing the music of its natural flow and dramatic quality. A comparison with Callas here is instructive, revealing Gencer's lack of an intuitive rhythmic sense as to how the music should go. I cannot place the blame on the conductor, Alfredo Simionato, for the plodding tempo which times out at 12:29, for Gencer also recorded the scene in the same year with Olivero de Fabritiis at an even slightly slower pace (12:33). Callas, in her early Lucia with Tulio Serafin, allows the music to flow naturally and rhythmically in 11:18. The scene as presented on this disc is not completely: the final “Spargi d'amaro pianto” is lacking. 

The Poulenc excerpt is actually a creator's recording, for Gencer sang the role of Madame Lidone in the world premiere of the opera at La Scala which took place on January 26, 1957. The excerpt here presented is from a subsequent performance on February 2, which was released complete on LP on the Legendary label. Oddly, the world premiere of a French opera was presented in an Italian translation. The brief Rocca excerpt is from an RAI concert. 

In summation, an interesting recital which demonstrates the versatility of an intriguing artist whose virtues triumph over her vices. The booklet contains notes only in fractured English, no texts. The timing is approximate, and there are no timings given for individual bands. The sound, with the exception of the first three bands, is acceptable. Gencer cultists will not hesitate, and I recommend this disc for its virtues and for its documentation of a historically significant vocal artist.



1995. Leyla Gencer begins today, with the new year, her first commission as president of the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts of Istanbul: her country commits to her experience as singer and interpreter (as well as to her culture as musician, artistic director and teacher of interpretation courses) the imprint of a festival uniting the living fire of western music with the East’s passion for beauty and philosophy. For concert and opera lovers, Leyla Gencer, forty years after the beginning of her career, is one of today’s main figures of reference.

Prima donna of a captivating tragic tone and voluptuous power of seduction, lady of the stage, vibrant interpreter with a capacity to bring words, both dramatic and poetic, to life in a direct and moving communication, with a noble and natural speech. She represents the end result of a respectful updating process which has brought down the fourth wall also in the Opera Theatre, with the care she puts into both the breathing and the words, as well as to the imperceptible undertone of anguish leading up to tragedy; with her staring into space at the hallucinary visions of her heroines; her crossing the limelight, arms outstretched, to come closer to the audience, to render to each one the Estremo, estremo pianto of Alceste, or Antonina, desperately pleading Toglietemi la vita. She has reflected in opera, almost unknowingly, the sum of critical and intellectual awareness, as well as philological accuracy, required by today’s operatic reading, and we find this, with thrilled recognition, in her interpretations. She is, in fact, an involuntary intellectual, as far as taste, manners and high philosophical requirements have always and in all places united an elite of strong and refined artists, even outside field of music, from Riccardo Bacchelli to Denis McSmith, from Luchino Visconti to Fedele d’Amico, from the compagnia dei Giovani of De Lullo, Valli and Pizzi to Strehler.

This fascinating wealth of characters, personalities, affections, psychological introspections, fulminating intuitions, personalised knowledge of vocal styles has it been gained progressively through contact with people and environments, or was it an atavic richness, a dormant artistic gilt, awakened with encounters and events?

1954. Leyla Gencer, young Turkish singer, makes her debut in an Italian theatre of mythical tradition, the San Carlo of Naples. Shyly, we go back in time - to be charmed by the theatres of the early 50s, to breath in the dark the expectation, and the surprise, of a debut. We can turn the knob of the old radiophonic instruments, when the vocal concerts and the Martini and Rossi Concerts offered the invention of programmes, the fragrance of the Rai Symphonic Orchestras, the presence of opera stars and undiscovered talent. The technics and the conservation of documents, like the Rai tapes, allows us to confront the question 40 years back, and to answer with this disc.

So here we are at San Carlo of Naples, on February 11th, 1954, for the debut of Leyla Gencer, protagonist of Madama Butterfly. The Theatre Archives return to us the live recording on wire, with its characteristic soundwave recording, the orchestra in one dense block, the voices far from the single fixed microphone and moving around the stage. But this subtle Gencer, with eruptive gestures and a young, expressive face now lit up, now quivering with tears, is something marvellous. She wins the favour of the ‘Tebaldian’ audience of San Carlo, who immediately call for, and receive, the encore of Un bel di vedremo. Romano in the prompter’s box is weeping; Pasquale di Costanzo, the Supervisor who spotted her at her first audition, is rejoicing. She gives out an extraordinary freshness of voice and softness of singing, a natural and logical phrasing, all the colours of emotion, the continual fluctuation of thoughts and images, as well as the flowing continuity which links anguish and certainly, pride and devotion to love, ‘pianissimo’ nuances and violent outbursts. From the wise Maestro Gabriele Santini this prehensile beginner may have learned confidence of style and continuity, but the absolute conception of the character, the emotional tangle which causes the audience to weep, and the elegant and noble measure by which it is sealed in the music are her own riches.

We would have liked to hear all of the young Gencer, but much is missing, like the Cavalleria Rusticana at the Arena Flegrea (July 1953) with which Di Costanzo wanted to try out the young singer, and which led to her future contracts at the San Carlo. We do have, however, Eugen Oneghin, also at the San Carlo of Naples (March 17th, 1954), and also a live recording on wire. It marks the important meeting with Tullio Serafin, a maestro both patient and communicative in motivating the logic of music, able to activate the potential qualities, and to bind securely in interpretative lines the young singer’s intensity and responsiveness, as well as warn her against and protect her from routine models and temptations. In a cast of illustrious opera stars, with Gino Bechi (Oneghin), ltalo Tajo, and the even younger Giuseppe Campora, Gencer’s young Tatiana sings a song soft yet passionate, with the decisive tragic stature of one who knows how to dismiss passion with the superiority of pride and resignation, in the duet of the last act with Oneghin.

During the performances, Serafin works on the project of a La Traviata with the Violetta of a thousand souls, to be launched in Palermo. Together with Madama Butterfly and ToscaLa Traviata was to become the young Gencer’s battle horse: from Palermo (February 1955) to Trieste, Reggio Emilia (1956), Ankara and Warsaw (1956), as far as Vienna (1957, directed by Karajan) and San Francisco (1957). There is, however, no live recording of it: there remains only a dazzling page in the concert of arias recorded for Cetra with the Rai Symphonic Orchestra of Torino directed by Arturo Basile (1955-1956). But the rich San Carlo of Naples archives offer a Tosca which is enchantingly witch-like, anxious, jealous: faith in her Vissi d’arte (January 21st, 1955, directed by Vincenzo Bellezza) is what is to give passionate truth and tension to the whole of Leyla`s artistic life. She had already sung Tosca in Turkey, for her debut (Ankara, 1952), with Bergamask director Adolfo Camozzo, so that Leyla Gencer arrived well-prepared from the sophisticated Turkey of the 1950s, with strong French, German and above all Italian directives with maestros Giannina Arangi-Lombardi and Apollo Granforte, a European technique of discipline and tradition, and the power of her mysterious energy.

ln 40 years of career the opera titles and characters accumulated by Leyla Gencer number almost 80. Her debuts, moreover, were already indicative of a prodigious versatility, as we observe from the programmes, and the full results, of the first notable Rai concerts. We do not have the first radiophonic appearance (Rome, July ‘53) with melodies by Fauré and Duparc accompanied by pianist Giorgio Favaretto, one of his already much-loved “worlds". But the first concert with an orchestra directed by Arturo Basile at the Rai of Torino (in 1955, not conserved) produced the studio recordings for a record issued by Cetra: five arias recorded in two sessions, with the Rai Symphonic Orchestra of Torino, directed by Arturo Basile. From the first session (April 1955) we have Verdi’s Aida: the aria O cieli azzurri, with a high C filato pianissimo which aroused the enthusiasm of Victor de Sabata during the audition in his dressing room at La Scala in July, ‘56, and the delightfully wild and regal responsiveness, as well as the sacredness of death, of an Aida to be sung by Leyla Gencer many more times at La Scala, at the Arena of Verona, and throughout the world. We listen to Violetta, the Addio del passato which caused Riccardo Muti, trying out different singers for his Scaliger La Traviata, to give a start of surprise. We listen to the farewell of Catalani’s La Wally (Ebben, ne andro lontana) with the sorrowful naturality of decadents and the impressionistic capacity to paint on with the voice space, light, image, distance.

In the second recording session (June, 1956) we listen to a Leonora (recitative and aria D‘amor sull’ali rosee from Verdi’s ll Trovatore), where Leyla Gencer has already formed the romantic, epic and tragic recitative, and commits the heroic idealist of the romantic heroine and the human substance, anxious in word and expression, to the lyrical liberating of the voice, airy and luxurious. She commits herself, and love, to ethereal figurations, and to propelled lyrical phrases, seemingly endless and carried on extremely long breaths. This is the Leonora defined by Gianandrea Gavazzeni as “lunar”, and which Rai was to engage for the famous edition with Del Monaco and Bastianini (May, ‘57). Another Leonora by Verdi on this Cetra record (from La Forza del Destino, aria Pace, pace, mio Dio), stretches to the full, like a boat sail in a stormy sea, the phrasing of her entreaty, and the song trembles with the storms of soul and destiny. This is the opera which soon, in July 1957, Gencer was to sing triumphantly in the La Scala tour at Cologne.

The two Martini and Rossi Concerts of those years (January 14th, 1957; February 10th, 1958), both directed by Alfredo Simonetto, with the Rai Symphonic Orchestra of Torino, also served to fan the young Turkish singer’s talent for tragedy and virtuosic availability towards a receptiveness in the world of opera. Leyla can be radiantly Mozartian and contemptuously superior (from ll Ratto dal Serraglio, aria Tutte le torture). She dissolves Puccinian prose in song, and out of a pain like death gives birth to the miraculous transparency that Puccini wished for Suor Angelica (Senza mamma). The madness of Lucia di Lammermoor (ll dolce suon …  Ardon gli lncensi) shows her as already Donizettian and predestined for discovery, with her frenzied raging, crystal-clear precision and accentuation of a deep melancholy. These are all paths which the theatre provides to enable us to enjoy the young Gencer, demonstrating the extent of her availability. Finally, from the authors to the contemporary repertoire. The debut at La Scala takes place with the world premiere of Dialoghi delle Carmelitene by Francis Poulenc (January 26th, 1957). Leyla Gencer is Madame Lidoine, the new prioress, and we hear her in the aria in which she dismisses, and comforts, the sisters destined for the gallows: the first, flute-like, pianissimo, on one interminably long breath, and the first applause for Leyla Gencer from the audience of La Scala. Just prior to this (December 8th, 1956) at the San Carlo of Naples, she had interpreted Monte lvnor by Federico Rocca (opera from 1936). From the third act we listen to the page Non- so, non-so by Edali, an Armenian girl persecuted by the Turkish oppressors: the proverbial reactions of protest by Leyla Gencer to many initial contacts led to that superiority in the cathartic scrutiny of human suffering and of the uncertainty of life, which is what makes her unique. The two authors, Poulenc and Rocca, wrote her messages of gratitude, almost as if they themselves had received a truth even more penetrating.

Leyla Gencer Vol.II [Live]

Excerpts from Leyla Gencer's recordings between 1957 - 1958

Verdi Che Piu T'Arresti, Tacea La Notte, Di Tale Amor Il Trovatore
Verdi Son Giunta! La Forza Del Destino
Donizetti Ancor Non Giunse!, Regnava Nel Silenzio, Quando rapito in estasi Lucia Di Lammermoor
Verdi No ... Mi Lasciate ... Tu all Cui Sguard, Che Mi Rechi?  I Due Foscari
Pizzetti Anche Oggi A Natale Assassinio Nella Cattedrale
Puccini Eben altro il mio sogno... O Luigi! O Luigi!... Dimmi Persche Il Tabarro
Puccini Senza Mamma.... Sorella, O Buona Sorella, Suor Angelica Ha Sempre Suor Angelica
Donizetti Piangete Voi?...Al Dolce Guidami Anna Bolena

Myto – 1 CD


This disc spans little more than a year, but the performances on it are absolute interpretations. ln the 1957 and 1958 seasons, Leyla Gencer had definitely become an ongoing miracle in her encounter with composers, ready to gush forth an unbounded wealth of characters, accumulated via mysterious blends of distant cultures. Her debuts in major masterpieces are no mere first encounters, but the bestowal of a long awaited, sacred investiture. Il Trovatore in Milan for the Italian Broadcasting Corporation, May 1957, was one of her debuts. She heads a troupe of great Verdi voices (Del Monaco, Bastianini, and Barbieri), and she is ready to brave them as she allows herself free rein, incorruptible in her own modernity. She does not worry about how Leonora should be sung; on the contrary, she knows everything about the heroine through some sort of historical memory. She makes Leonora her own with the gift of her visionary word; singing is an ideal for her.

Leonora’s romantic absoluteness is coloured by fate and an ethereal surge, beginning in this very first scene. A recitative is all La Gencer needs to portray Leonora and her past: one word evokes the romantic epic, her attraction for the unknown warrior, war as a tragic presentiment, “the golden dream” which arouses song and thoughts. And the aria is immediately offered as an image of beauty, drawn out like a tale from a scene of romance par excellence: the singing becomes as moonlike as night, as melancholy as the troubadour’s song, tremulous as she listens to hear her own name invoked, and celestial when she recognizes her loved one. The cabaletta reveals a vital heartbeat prepared for anything, even death. Another Leonora and another Verdi debut are: La forza del destino in Cologne and the tour with the La Scala in July 1957. This heroine is pursued by destiny and seeks refuge at the convent door and peace in prayer. Each word in the recitative stirs up horror and bewildered desperation. Praying is the destiny of the character and the aria (Madre, pietosa vergine) is coloured with elegy and strengthened by her legato singing; the phrasing extends outwards to the immense and closes down in breaths of necessity.

No recording has been found of Leyla Gencer’s Vienna Traviata, directed by Karajan, in June 1957. This is an opera which la Gencer interpreted frequently and successfully in the years to follow, after debuting under Serafin in Palermo in February 1955, but there is no extant recording of her young Violetta. Instead, there is a milestone in the Verdi Renaissance: the rediscovery of I due Foscari directed by Serafin for the inauguration of Venice’s Teatro La Fenice on December 26, 1957. This is her first step towards her destiny as a rediscover of Verdi, Donizetti and others; La Gencer felt this calling and responded. The gloomy story of the father and son is natural for her as she shares in the Venetian story. She discovers the warlike recklessness of the noble Lucrezia Contarini from her first appearance and turns it into a grand portrait in motion. She stirs up agitation in the anxious recitative about the fate menacing her husband; she raises the prayer in contrast, lyrically and with crystalline timbre on a very pure line, then at the announcement of his condemnation, she strikes the spark of the invective-cabaletta, lashing out words, aflame with scorn in revolt, singing at breakneck tempo, - and yet - everything perfectly respects the musical scansion. She unleashes a potential of overwhelming physicality and pathos. She had just performed her first Donizetti opera: Lucia di Lammermoor which she had studied and made debut in San Francisco, La Callas suddenly cancelled, and Leyla sang La Traviata in September 1957.

She picked up Lucia again in Trieste in December. We hear Lucia’s entrance in the first act of the Trieste performance. The similarity between the situation and structure with Leonora’s analogous scene and entrance in ll Trovatore lets one appreciate the different placing of her voice and the style which La Gencer had chosen. She makes her voice more transparent and lighter for this early Donizetti romanticism, so that it is even more malleable for the aerial cries of Bel Canto composition. She is assisted by sparkling, nimble technique, but nevertheless her bel canto comes from her identification with an innocent, predestined character. She unveils that psychological wavering typical of Donizetti, and she gives glimpses of it in an interplay of dramatic vibrations and transparencies between colour and mood. The following year, she is Anne Boleyn. Leyla Gencer’s first Donizetti queen comes to life on the tracks of Maria Callas who had unveiled this opera in the historic performance by Gavazzeni and Visconti at the Scala in 1957. She studied it as a cover role that would be available for another performance in her 1958 season, when she was scheduled for two operas at the Scala: Murder in the Cathedral and Mephistopheles. Conductor Gavazzeni chose her as the lead role for the radio edition of Anna Bolena in Milan in July 1958.

Gavazzeni set out a different interpretation of the opera, based on the reactions and characteristics of the new leading lady. This is a new Anne Boleyn, less legendary and exalted, more instinctively restless and tragic, with purposefully lighter volume in her voice. We have an example in the final scene, where the recitative becomes emotive fluctuation, and the aria is born from an invented mezza-voce; the images are summoned up with colour and space from memory, softly loosened, and rubato on the breath: an exemplary measure of stylistic rigor and mutability

At the Scala in March 1958, she debuted in another world premiere; Murder in the Cathedral by Pizzetti: the first Coritea among the women of Canterbury wearing something like a nun’s habit; she is given an airy opening, with prophetic and spiritual force.

ln Naples in April 1958, La Gencer’s versatility is applied to Puccini instead. Directed by Serafin, she sang two leading ladies of the Il Trittico in one evening. She is intense and ready to recognize the modernity and beautiful composing of Puccini. Today it is surprising to think of La Gencer, a grand, regal romantic, reduced to a creature from the Parisian suburbs: her Giorgetta has voluptuous force, rhythmic flexibility, and a nostalgic vein that imbues this masterpiece of impressionistic realism with lightness. Then in contrast she sings an extraordinary Angelica with another voice and another singing technique that fades towards introspection. Her aria Senza Mamma leaves the audience at San Carlo suspended in tears. Here there is true chic of refined poise, legato narrative, and deeply felt singing where emotion rises from word to word, purified of any dross of bombastic affectation. The crescendo Ora che sei un angelo opens onto the infinite in a visionary mystic, and blends into the echelons of the miraculous. The filatura, the final spin on the line, tapers out into an illusion of the endless. This sounds like it is going to be the zenith, but the performer pushes herself even further at the end of the opera. She exalts the music to a strange mixture of excitement and innocence: anxiety over a longed-for death, then the magic poem of poisoned flowers (where the poisoned flowers aria which Puccini cut, would work wonderfully), followed by the anguish of dying in sin, the mystical supplication, and finally her envelopment in the ecstasy of the miracle.


Leyla Gencer Vol.III [Live]
Excerpts from Leyla Gencer’s recordings between 1958 - 1959

Weinberger Chi Parla Qui?....Schwanda!... Aspro Quel Cammino Schwanda
Weinberger Iniquo Al Rito, Infedele Sei.....In Questo Paese Schwanda
Verdi Come In Quest'ora Bruna... Vieni A Mirar La Cerula Simon Boccanegra
Verdi Orfanella Il Tetto Umile ..... Figlia!...A Tal Nome Io Palpito Simon Boccanegra
Verdi Nell'ora Soave... Plebe! Patrizi! Popolo Simon Boccanegra
Verdi Tu Qui?...Amelia!..... Parla, in Tuo Cor Virgineo Simon Boccanegra
Massenet Va...Non E Mal Se Piango Werther
Massenet Ah! Che Il Coraggio Mi Abbandona! Werther
Verdi Voi Io Diceste La Battaglia Di Legnano
Verdi Quante Volte Come Un Dono La Battaglia di Legnano
Verdi Che, Signor! Tu Qui?.... A Frenarti La Battaglia di Legnano
Verdi O Cor, Nel Petto La Battaglia di Legnano
Verdi Deus Meus, Pone Illos La Battaglia di Legnano
Prokofiev Lasciami, Lasciami L'Angelo di Fuoco

Myto – 1 CD



The third chapter in me series chronologically tracing Leyla Gencer’s career and the evolution of her repertoire, brings up a string of contemporary operas, they include Menotti’s The Consul in Turkish at the Ankara Opera Theatre in 1954, the debuts of Poulenc’s Les Dialogues des Carmélites at the Scala in Milan in 1957, and Pizzetti’s Murder in the Cathedral at the Scala in 1958, Rocca’s Monte lvnor at the San Carlo Opera House in Naples in 1956, and Britten’s Albert Herring in Milan, at the Piccola Scala in 1979.

This is not a calling of the artist for the avantgarde; rather it is the opera of the time that is responding to recent issues and events, renewing itself without traumatic breaks with tradition. These are the cultural choices of the leading figures in the musical world such as Mario Labreca, then in the central administration of Italian Radio and Television programs, who proposes she sing Schwanda, the Bagpiper on August 10, 1958. This two-act opera by the Czech Jaremir Weinberger, was performed in Prague for the first time in 1927. A folk opera in terms of subject, it is taken from the Slavic and German wealth of fables, and its themes are inspired by folk heritage. There is the bagpiper Schwanda and the gentleman thief Babinski who steals him from his wife and takes him to the realm of the Sad Queen. When she hears Schwanda’s playing she melts with love and wants to marry him. But his wife Dorotea aided by the Wizard, arrives and accuses Schwanda of betrayal; Babinski saves Schwanda from the Queens revenge. When Schwanda is then scolded by Dorotea, he swears by the Devil that he has not betrayed her, and a chasm sucks him down into Hell. Here Schwanda sells his soul to the Devil to go back to Dorotea, but Babinski saves him by beating the devil in a card game, and takes him back to his wife. Leyla is Dorotea, with sprightly talk, stupor, tests to overcome, accusations, and warm affection.

The following summer, the Spoleto Festival opened on June 26, 1959 with Sergei Prokoiiev’s The Fiery Angel, an opera that has just been posthumously presented in its world premiere at the International Venice Festival in 1955. Its modern, and radical composition has a hard, deeply felt impact on this singer of 19th century music, with its fragmented composition and continuous jumps of interval guided by hallucinatory tremors between abandon and the fire of phonic violence. But she wins, she finds a weary and burning consistency in the gothic tale of Renata, with its contrast between holiness and perdition, between defenceless surges and vindictive, possessive furore that pursue her and the characters who come close to her. She finds verve and impulsive flexibility in her energic voice, the colours of stupefaction, the opacity of crime. So, the singsong of the possessed girl starts to move her, weary and still under the charm of an obsessive cycle that shakes her from time to time. You are overwhelmed by the force of his piece of contemporary theatre, the precursor of a great deal of cinematographic taste (from Dreyer to “The Exorcist”) and the story of the apparition of Madiel, “an angel made of fire with vestments as white as snow” which illuminated her life as a child, but for whom she feels carnal passion. It was a resounding success, repeated in Trieste in December. The artist perceived the effort of such singing that deviated from her vocal training and restrained the demands she made on her voice.

Verdi’s congeniality attracted her to widen her Verdi repertoire. ln December 1958, she sang her first Simon Boccanegra in Naples, directed by Mario Rossi, with Tito Gobbi, a historical Doge, and Mirto Picchi as the ardent Gabriele Adomo. Her voice is sumptuous, the character is haughty, the melodic line in the singing is noble starting in her opening cantabile. Every word creates colour as well as movement in a Ligurian landscape which is a living presence in this opera as it enters into a different relationship with the individual characters and episodes. There is ecstatic luminosity in her duet with the tenor, where the singing has gentle, subtle modulations, and discloses dramatic emphasis. A sea of remote infancy fills the tale (Andante) which unveils Amelia’s mysterious story. It works off reasons of the heart with dynamic in pianissimo and leads to the passionate duet of recognition between Amelia and the Doge who is her father. The first finale awakens all the dramatic force of the character starting with her passionate entry for the tale of her kidnapping, the phrases of accusation vehemently enunciated at the centre of the Council scene and follows through until the concertato, open to the Doge’s heartfelt speech. Sculpted by Gobbi. Unfolding majestically and with high drama. It is pierced by airy phrases from Amelia who asks for forgiveness. The duet with the unaware tenor is also highly dramatic when he surprises her in the Doge’s palace, and then it is suddenly lit up with her suave and boundless passion.

There is another kind pathos that is more dripping with tears and internal clashes in Massenet’s Werther which was a debut in 1955 for the beginning of Opera TV, and Leyla Gencer sang it again in Trieste in 1959. We hear the aria of the third act where Carlotta breaks out into tears. This is a miracle of emotional involvement and poised form: the legato singing pursues the curves of its poetic French libretto, and it follows the language of the heart, so typically French. Then it slowly falls back into unspeakable sadness, with the dark colour of weeping, right after the scene where the weight of pain becomes unbearable and the heroine’s courage emerges in prayer.

The 1959 Florentine Musical May officially celebrated the centenary of the Second War for independence and the foundling unity of ltaly, with La Battaglia di Legnano written by Verdi in 1849. Conducted by Vittorio Gui, it was directed by Enriquez with sets by Colonello. The solemn occasion excites Leyla Gencer’s historical calling, an approach which the cultured conductor Gui further refines. It has the fullness of the character and lyrical-heroic singing without emphasis though accentuated and the expressive force of the historical truth rediscovered. This is the path of the Verdi Renaissance which began with I Due Foscari in 1957 Lida begins with a recitative of tragic gloom and then suddenly there is the cavatina of the proto-romantic heroine. La Gencer offers it up palpitating, softly mosso on the expressive figures of sweet melancholy, and infallible rhythmic precision. Then, suddenly motivated by music in an agitato tempo, the typical cabaletta of early Verdi heroines unleashes singing that mixes strength and brilliant coloratura, with virtuoso passages of lengthy trills and triplets sent flying: La Gencer is extraordinary. Perhaps the highest point of this character, wavering between the ideal and passion, is the prayer that opens the fourth act. A prayer of psalm singing, Lida’s passionate plea reconciles her affection for the two heroes she loves, with the patriotic prayer of the people. The strands of the plot converge in a choral, sacred impetus, where the soprano’s voice rises purified by limpid ease and soars in the purity of the vocalise traced like a symbol that is beyond human language.

A Portrait of an Artist [Live]

Excerpts from Leyla Gencer’s live recordings between 1958 – 1968

Arias from Aida, Ernani, I Puritani, Anna Bolena, La Gioconda, Don Giovanni, I due Foscari, Lucrezia Borgia, I Vespri Siciliani, Lucia di Lammermoor, Un ballo in maschera, La forza del destino.

Hre – 2 LPs

Leyla Gencer Sings Mozart [Live]
Excerpts from Leyla Gencer’s Mozart recordings between 1958 – 1968

Tutte le torture....Il Ratto dal Serraglio 
Estino é Idomeneo... Tutte nel cor vi sento Idomeneo 
Chi mai del mio provo piacer .... Idol mio ... Idomeneo 
Ahimé, tutto perdei!.... D’Oreste e d’Aiace Idomeneo 
Porgi Amor... Le Nozze di Figaro
E Susanna non vien!.. Dove sono i bei momenti.... Le Nozze di Figaro
Canzonetta sull’aria... Le Nozze di Figaro
Ah, chi mi dice mai....Ah, fuggi il traditor... Don Giovanni 
Bisogna aver coraggio... Ah, taci ingiusto core... Don Giovanni 
In quali eccessi... Mi tradi..... Don Giovanni 
Don Ottavio son morta.... Or sai...Bisogna aver corragio Don Giovanni 
Crudele!... Non mi dir bell’idol mio ..... Don Giovanni 

Arkadia – 1 CD


It is not by chance that in her role as a musical performer, Leyla Gencer chose a Don Giovanni of young Italian voices (season As.Li.Co. 1985) among her first titles. Mozart had always been one of her authors. The first merit of this CD is that it helps discover the range of her Mozart repertoire. At the beginning performing at the State Theatre of Ankara in 1955 she was a frothing Fiordiligi in a Turkish version of Cosi fan tutte, with a severe German maestro, Georg Reinwald she re-creates Konstanze (The abduction from the Serraglio) and Pamina (Thee Magic Flute) with agility and in one of her first concerts in Italy (Martini & Rossi, 16th February 1958) she produced the colouring of Tutte le torture, with admirable lightness and deliberation, when the Italian Rai TV had already presented her as Leonora in the television version of the Trovatore. The first person to have faith in Leyla Gencer's Mozartian singing was Vittono Gui who wanted her for the part of Donna Elvira in his Don Giovanni (Rome, Teatro dell'Opera, February 1960) and immediately afterwards Leyla Gencer's Elvira was chosen for the television version of Don Giovanni by the Rai TV (1960, conductor Francesco Molinari Pradelli). The interpreter was immediately attracted by the more dramatic nature of Donna Anna and debuted in the role in Turin (November 1961), immediately afterwards she was Anna in the grandiose production at Covent Garden (February 1962) directed by the new musical director Georg Solti with Franco Zeffirelli as producer and scenographer and a very prestigious cast: Cesare Siepi, Leyla Gencer, Sena jurinac, Mirella Freni, Richard Lewis, Geraint Evans.

The see-saw between the two characters would continue: Elvira in Oslo (1962), Anna in Montecarlo (1963). In the same year, 1962, Vittorio Gui introduced her to the Glyndebourne Festival of which he was the artistic director. For two successive seasons she was La Contessa in Le Nozze di Figaro, a refined production by the famous producer Carl Ebert and Oliver Messel created in 1955 and progressively up-dated for new interpreters: Mirella Freni, Edith Mathis, Leyla Gencer, Gabriel Bacquier, Heinz Blankenburg, Carlo Cava, Hugues Cuenod, conductor Silvio Varviso. In 1963, the Glyndebourne production (with some borrowed interpreters) was performed even in London at the Royal Albert Hall for the BBC. In the meantime

Leyla Gencer's career proceeded towards its peak drawn in all different directions: Nineteenth Century belcanto and tragic dramatics, revival and grand repertoire, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi but also Baroque and Eighteenth-Century opera, Monteverdi and Gluck. She returned to Mozart in 1968 with Idomeneo (Elettra) at La Scala conductor Wolfang Sawallisch, and in 1978 with Don Giovanni in Turin, again as Donna Elvira, in the all-white performance which marks the debut of Pier Luigi Pizzi as a producer. The second merit of this disc is that it allows one to become acquainted with the extraordinary modernity of Leyla Gencer as a Mozart singer, a scmpulosly precise and faithful interpreter who tries to discover Mozart by means of an idea of dramatic interpretation: of the characters their moments and words. Her Elvira is nobile and tormented, passionate and a searcher in her eternal quest; the accent and ride of the song, of the entrances and biting "incipit" on the word and rhythm are accompanied by a feminine vulnerability of tones and "softness", to the penetrating recitative loaded with agitation that interrogates the "many sighs" and "much anguish". On the edge of the half voice and the colour she discovers an adventure of emotion and thought. Her Donna Anna is tragic and sorrowful, painfully undefeated and a punisher. Memory, narration, passion all acquire a vindictive vehemence and funereal colour.

In the Nozze di Figaro the song of the Contessa has the continuous, inspired and voluptuous melancholy of a violoncello and yet the fantastic lightness of phrasing and noble, aristocratic superiority. Her Elettra (Idomeneo) enters directly to the heart of the Mozartian classicism, which today has been revalued. She depicts the character with intelligence and pugnacious instinct; regal, trembling with classical passion, embittered by jealousy and tempered by an Eighteen Century sentimental chiaroscuro. She awakens the classical potentiality of the lexicon and in the invocation to the Furies, beats out the names and images of mythical forces with her rhythm; stimulating an overwhelming, bright energy. She has a tragic stature and a modern charm, of fleeting beauty and bursting passion that perishes. Today the musically psychological breath of this Mozart with it's subtle, more sensitive and Mediterranean sensibility is quite natural. But in the 1950s and 1960s one was more

inclined towards a more exemplary, stereotyped Mozart. The composer from Salzburg was practically considered the exclusive property of German interpreters with the exception of Siepi and the "Sciuttina" (as Karajan called Graziella Sciutti) and a few others: from one season to the other, from one opera to another we see the names of Rita Streicht, Hilde Guden, Elisabeth Grummer, Wilma Lipp, Irmgard Seefried, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Christa Ludwig .... In the passing from Furtwangler to Böhm to Karajan the taste becomes more open and elastic, the same interpreters move less towards infallibility and move towards an expressive search on the Italian words. But protectionism strategies, not flexible parameters for judgement did exist and at Salzburg Leyla Gencer, considered to come from the Italian vocal School was invited to sing Verdi. Free and modem in her choices and taste as an interpreter, from the Verdi Renaissance to the belcanto of Donizetti and Bellini, Leyla Gencer appears extremely modern even in her Mozart where she was already prepared for the Italian Mozart of the '90s which is now being constructed.

50 Years in La Scala [Live]

Leyla Gencer’s La Scala recordings between 1957 – 1979 Two CDs and a video recording  dedicated her performances and her 50th Anniversary Celebrations in La Scala.

Poulenc Figliole, con tutto il cuore I dialoghi delle carmelitane
Verdi Son giunta! Grazie, o Dio! La forza del destino
Verdi Madre, pietosa Vergine La forza del destino
Verdi Pace, pace mio Dio! La forza del destino
Pizzetti Anche oggi a Natale Assasinio nella cattedrale
Tchaikovsky È mezzanotte, presto! Pikovaya Dama
Bellini Casta diva Norma
Bellini Dormono entrambi Norma
Bellini Teneri figli Norma
Bellini Me chiami, o Norma Norma
Bellini Deh ! con te, con te li prendi Norma
Bellini Mira, o Norma Norma
Bellini Si, fino all’ore estreme Norma
Bellini Qual cor tradisti Norma
Bellini Norma ! ... deh ! Normai scolpati ! Norma
Bellini Deh! Non voleri vittime Norma
Monteverdi Addio Roma, addio patria L’ıncoranazione di Poppea
Mozart Estinto Idomeneo? Idomeneo
Mozart Tutte ne cor vi sento Idomeneo
Donizetti Com’è bello! Lucrezia Borgia
Donizetti Era desso il figlio mio Lucrezia Borgia
Verdi Tu che le vanità Don Carlo
Verdi Arrigo! Ah! Parli a un core I vespri siciliani
Gluck Al pianto vostro Alceste
Verdi Qui Radamès verrà Aida
Verdi O cieli azzuri Aida
Verdi Una macchia è qui tuttora Macbeth
Verdi Ecco l’orrido campo Un ballo in maschera
Verdi Ma dall’arido stelo Un ballo in maschera
Handel Tornami a vagheggiar Alcina
Chopin Il bellisimo ragazzo
Donizetti La corrispondenza amorosa
Bizet Le matin
Rossini La partenza

La Scala Edition – 2 CDs & 1 DVD

LA REPUBBLICA                                                                   

Leyla Gencer alla Scala 50 anni sulla carta e in CD

Considerata una delle ultime grandi dive del Novecento, dotata di una tecnica vocale superba e di notevoli qualità interpretative, Leyla Gencer, turca, classe 1924, si è imposta grazie a un repertorio ampio e impegnativo. Grande interprete donizettiana, si è distinta anche in alcuni grandi personaggi verdiani e pucciniani e ha lavorato molto alla Scala. Ora il teatro le dedica il libro Leyla Gencer, 50 anni alla Scala (32 euro), dove viene ricostruita la sua carriera tramite saggi e fotografie. Ad arricchire il volume sono allegati due cd, che spaziano dal debutto scaligero del 1957 con Dialogues des Carmelites di Poulenc al recital rossiniano alla Piccola Scala del 1979, e un dvd che contiene foto, spezzoni video, interviste. La presentazione è oggi pomeriggio nel Ridotto dei palchi, presenti Lorenzo Arruga, Franca Cella e Stéphane Lissner. Teatro alla Scala, Ridotto dei palchi, ore 17, ingresso libero. 

Divine [Studio]

Verdi E strano, e strano, follie, follie ..... Sempre libera La Traviata (Callas)
Verdi Piangea cantando .... Ave Maria Otello (Tebaldi)
Verdi Mercé dilette amiche I vespri Siciliani (Sutherland)
Donizetti Torna all'ospite tetto...Vieni o tu, che ognor io chiamo Caterina Cornaro (Gencer)
Verdi Riposa. Tutte, in suo dolor vegilante Alzira (Caballé)
Donizetti In questi orribili momenti...quel sangue versato Roberto Devereux (Kabaivaska)
Bellini Qui la voce … Vien diletto I Puritani (Callas)
Verdi Ritorna vincitor Aida (Tebaldi)
Donizetti Il dolce suonı mi colpi dua voce .. Ardon gli incensi Lucia di Lammermoor (Sutherland)
Donizetti Com’é bello Lucrezia Borgia (Gencer)
Rossini Tanti affetti in tal momento La donna el Lago (Caballé)
Verdi Tu che le vanita Don Carlos (Kabaivaska)

RCA – 2 CDs


DIVINE. Operatic arias. • Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi, Joan Sutherland, Leyla Gencer, Montserrat Caballé, Raina Kabaivanska, sopranos. • RCA ITALIANA (two discs), VLS 32640 (2), $19.96 [distributed by IBR].

VERDI La traviata: È strano! . . . Sempre libera (Callas). Otello: Willow Song and Ave Maria (Tebaldi). / vespri Siciliani: Bolero (Sutherland). Alzira: Riposa . . . Da Gusman, su fragil barca (Caballé). Don Carlo: Tu che le vanità (Kabaivanska). Aida: Ritorna vincitor (Tebaldi). DONIZETTI Caterina Cornaro: Torna all'ospite . . . Vieni o tu (Gencer). Roberto Devereux: Vivi ingrato . . . Quel sangue versato (Kabaivanska). Lucrezia Borgia: Com'è bello (Gencer) BELLINI I puritani: Qui la voce (Callas). ROSSINI La donna del lago: Tanti affetti (Caballé). 

This curious release features six famous divas—four of them genuine international superstars, and two (Gencer and Kabaivanska) of lesser fame. Interestingly, it is for the performances by the latter two that I find this set interesting. The Callas, Tebaldi, Sutherland, and Caballé performances have been so widely available that their value here is questionable unless you are a beginning collector. If you are, those performances sound decent enough (the Callas is fake stereo, however—though not offensively so) in this incarnation. The performances by the Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer are lovely. Gencer had a strong and loyal following, but never established an international career; I gather she could be erratic on stage and difficult to work with. But many of her performances preserved on private labels are of stunning dramatic impact. While the voice has breaks between the registers, she uses that to dramatic advantage. She could float high soft notes with the best of them, and the two arias on this set catch her at the top of her form. Kabaivanska offers lovely singing, if without the personality of a Gencer or a Callas. Her rendition of “Tu che le vanità” lacks the ultimate impact that can be found in the most insightful readings, but it is beautiful and worthy singing. 

The originals all come from different sources—and not RCA for the most part. Kabaivanska's arias were first issued by Balkanton, the Gencer and Callas on Cetra, and the Tebaldi on London (both of her arias come from the Karajan-conducted complete sets). Thus the sound varies considerably—but is never less than adequate. No notes or texts at all accompany these records, nor does RCA Italiana bother with years of originals, despite the interest one would have in knowing. If the mixed salad listed in the headnote appeals, and if you lack much of this material, you will probably enjoy this issue. 




The Versatile Prima Donna [STUDIO]

Rigoletto Caro nome † Cherubini
Macbeth La luce langue Verdi
Medea E che? lo, son Medea † Verdi
Hamlet Mad scene Thomas
Manon Lescaut Sola, perduta, abbandonata Puccini
Turandot In questa reggia Puccini
Norma Ah, bello a me ritorna Bellini
Die Zauberflöte O zittre nicht Mozart
Die Zauberflöte Der Hölle Rache Mozart
Le nozze di Figaro Porgi amor † Mozart

Maria Callas, Cristina Deutekom, Leyla Gencer†, Adelaide Negri and unnamed artists

Ornamenti – 1 CD


SOPRANO ASSOLUTO: THE VERSATILE PRIMA DONNA. • Maria Callas 1, Cristina Deutekom 2, Leyla Gencer 3, Adelaide Negri 4, sopranos; unnamed artists. • ORNAMENTI FE-106 [no SPARS code]; 75:59. (Distributed by Qualiton.) VERDI Rigoletto: Caro nome'3 Macbeth: La luce langue4. CHERUBINI Medea: E che? lo, son Medea1 34. THOMAS Hamlet: Mad scene4. PUCCINI Manon Lescaut: Sola, perduta, abbandonata4. Turandot: In questa reggia24. BELLINI Norma: Ah, bello a me ritorna1 2. MOZART Die Zauberflöte: O zittre nicht4; Der Hölle Rache4. Le nozze di Figaro: Porgi amor3.

This will not do! In more than half a century of listening to records, I have never encountered a more amateurish production!

Let us begin with the source: The “label” conveys nothing beyond the title as given above, the disc's number, and the fact that it was copyrighted in 1993 to Opera Live Productions. The accompanying brochures offer nothing more than the title on their covers, though inside we find that they were copyrighted by Bravo Music of America. A tiny logo on the reverse of the jewel box contains the word “Ornamenti” which is repeated on the spine. One might guess that the perpetrators want to make it tough for the buyer to complain.

Then there is the concept behind the program—if any. The larger of the two accompanying booklets contains an essay credited to Ivan von Günther, translated by Lilian Dones, purporting to tell us what a soprano assoluto really is. It is wretchedly expressed. Sample: “It is agreed, in principle, that an Absolute Soprano is capable of issuing E natural from a wide low register.” It is equally wretchedly printed—there are, for example, superfluous hyphens, as in “Me-dea,” “Trovatore,” and “E Natu-ral,” and such gaffes as “she shared the stage with Placido Domingo” (no doubt in “Il barbiere di Siviglia”). Lest we are confused by the definition, a list of assoluti is appended, which includes along with such obvious candidates as Maria Malibran and Lilli Lehmann, Giuseppina Strepponi (Verdi's wife), Maria Németh—and Adelaide Negri. The other booklet, labeled “index,” lists (1 through 15) opera, selection, singer, recording date, and playing time.

Far be it from me to quarrel with the selection of artists, though I am surprised to find such late representations (1985-93) of Deutekom and Negri. The latter seems particularly to fill the requirement that the assoluto must include Turandot and the Queen of the Night in her repertoire. In fact, for thirty-seven minutes of the total seventy-six are given over to Negri, I can't help thinking that she is the whole point of the matter. (1 caught by chance the broadcast of the 1982 Met Norma in which, subbing for Scotto, she “shaved the stage with Placido Domingo,” and turned it off in acute boredom after an hour.)

On to the recording itself: It is generally execrable, most of it apparently done from the audience with smuggled equipment, muffled, tubby, noisy, and often cursed by the presumed handclaps of the recorder, explosively preserved for posterity. Several selections are abruptly cut off in midstream.

The Callas “Caro nome” (if the 1952 date is right, probably the Mexico City performance) is frankly magnificent, but very dim and punctuated by a prompter and, toward the end, by a lot of chatter. Gencer and Deutekom, brought in for comparison, are not Callas's equals, however admirable on their own terms. (Gencer should leave Mozart alone. Deutekom's Turandot is much better than I would have supposed.)

Which brings us to Negri, who apparently reigned supreme at the Teatro Colon in her native Argentina. Born in 1943, she made her debut at the age of twenty-nine and, according to the accompanying blurb, “has gone on to sing in the mot [sic!] important theaters in the world,” though the bio in Kutsch and Riemens does not mention this aspect of her career. She gave nine performances (Lucia, Norma, Trovatore, Ernani, Macbeth) at the Met between 1982 and 1984.

As heard here (in a muffled, bass-heavy acoustic) she appears to have a huge voice and an unlimited range;'perhaps, if properly recorded, she would prove quite exciting. The Medea scene is well sung, but is utterly without drama, especially by contrast with Callas and Gencer. But the nearly fifteen minutes of the Hamlet mad scene, with its whooping and wobbling (1992) is well-nigh unbearable—though it is the audience that goes mad (with relief?) at the end. And the rest, to my ears, is not much more tolerable. Perhaps one ought to have been there.

In my opinion this disc does a grave disservice to the artists and composers and should be quarantined. A reviewer should not have to suffer like this! 

Opera Fanatic

A Film by Jan Schmidt-Garre on Singing
Leyla Gencer – Magda Olivero – Fedora Barbieri – Giulietta Simionato – Anita Cerquetti – Gina Cigna – Marcella Pobbe

Bencanto Society – 1 DVD



Per Leyla Gencer [Live]

Bergamo Musica Festival
Ommagio video – fotografico del Teatro Donizetti dedicato a Leyla Gencer

Fondazione Donizetti – 1 DVD 

Stella della Lirica Vol.I [Live]

Operatic arias from Norma, Anna Bolena, Il Trovatore, Un ballo in maschera, Don Carlo.

Document Live Recordings – 1 CD 

Aida – Verdi

Arias from Verdi’s Aida. Interpreted by Antonietta Stella, Renata Tebaldi, Caterina Mancini, Gabriella Tucci, Anita Cerquetti, Leyla Gencer, Zinka Milanov.

Cetra – 2 LPs (ERI Edizioni Rai) 

Leyla Gencer Classical Collection

Operatic Arias

Fonit Cetra – 1 LP

La Traviata / Il Trovatore – Verdi

Orchestra e coro sinfonica di Milano della RAI
Carlo Maria Giulini conductor
Fernando Previtali conductor
Arias and scenes sung by Renata Tebaldi, Mario del Monaco, Leyla Gencer, Ettore Bastianini.

1 LP

Leonore – Verdi [Live]

Arias from Verdi’s Aida. Interpreted Renata Tebaldi, Leyla Gencer, Maria Caniglia

Cetra – 2 LPs (ERI Edizioni Rai)

Leyla Gencer in Scena [Live] 

Mozart Tutte le torture Die entführung aus dem serail
Mozart In guali eccessi … Mi tradi quell’alma ingrata Don Giovanni
Bellini Ah, rendetimi la speme… Qui la voce sua soevo… Vien, diletto I Puritani
Donizetti Coppia iniqua Anna Bolena
Donizetti Il dölce suono … Ardon gli incensi … Spargi d’amor Lucia di Lammermoor
Massenet Oh, Werther! Mio Werther… Gridar sento i bambini Werther
Verdi Voi lo diceste … Quante volte come un dono La Battaglia di Legnano
Verdi Pace, pace mio Dio La forza del destino
Verdi Nel di della vittoria … Vieni, t’affretta Macbeth
Verdi Gultier Malde… Caro nome Rigoletto
Verdi Come in questt’ora bruna Simon Boccanegra
Verdi No… mi lasciate ... Tu mi cui sguardo …. Si condanna e s’insulta I due Foscari
Verdi Tacea la notte placida Il Trovatore
Verdi Timor di me … D’amore sull’ali rosee Il Trovatore

Foyer – 2 LPs


Leyla Gencer Opera Arias [Live]

Mozart Tutte le torture Die entführung aus dem serail
Mozart In guali eccessi … Mi tradi quell’alma ingrata Don Giovanni
Bellini Ah, rendetimi la speme… Qui la voce sua soevo… Vien, diletto I Puritani
Donizetti Coppia iniqua Anna Bolena
Donizetti Il dölce suono … Ardon gli incensi … Spargi d’amor Lucia di Lammermoor
Massenet Oh, Werther! Mio Werther… Gridar sento i bambini Werther
Verdi Voi lo diceste … Quante volte come un dono La Battaglia di Legnano
Verdi Pace, pace mio Dio La forza del destino
Verdi Nel di della vittoria … Vieni, t’affretta Macbeth
Verdi Gultier Malde… Caro nome Rigoletto
Verdi Come in questt’ora bruna Simon Boccanegra
Verdi No… mi lasciate ... Tu mi cui sguardo …. Si condanna e s’insulta I due Foscari
Verdi Tacea la notte placida Il Trovatore
Verdi Timor di me … D’amore sull’ali rosee Il Trovatore

Foyer – 2 CDs 


Leyla Gencer. Opera Arias. • Leyla Gencer, soprano. • FOYER FO 1015 (two discs), produced by Salvatore Caruselli, $19.96 [distributed by German News]. MOZART Abduction from the Seraglio: Tutte le torture. Don Giovanni: Mi tradì quell'alma ingrata. BELLINI I puritani: Qui la voce. DONIZETTI Anna Bolena: Al dolce guidami; Coppia iniqua. Lucia di Lammermoor: Il dolce suono . . . Ardon gli incenzi. MASSENET Werther: Mio Werther. . . Gridar sento. VERDI La battaglia di Legnano: Voi lo diceste . . . Quanto volte. La forza del destino: Pace, pace, mio Dio. Macbeth: Nel de della vittoria. Rigoletto: Caro nome. Simon Boccanegra: Come in quest'ora bruna. Il due foscari: No ... mi lasciata ... Tu al cui. Il trovatore: Tacea la notte placida . . . D'amor sull'ali rosee. 

The voice—in its lower and middle registers—has substance and vibrancy. Like Maria Calks—with whom she has often been compared—Gencer is not always comfortable in the upper register; but in general, she is more successful than Callas in the stratosphere, never firing off any of those armor-piercing missiles that are so distressing in many of Callas' discs. Nor does Gencer exhibit any of the Callas wobble. She's had a dedicated, cult-like following for many years; her great appeal to her fans, it seems to me, comes from her intensely dramatic projection. Again, like Callas, she is said to have been exciting to watch. The performances here are live ones, originally done between 1957 and 1961, taped in Milan, Buenos Aires, Trieste, Florence, Palermo, Salzburg, and Venice. Among the conductors involved are Serafin, Previtali, Fabritiis, Gavazzenni, Quadri, and Gui. Almost everything is touching in its commitment and its emotional involvement. Gencer convinces the listener she is Elvira, Lucia, Leonora, Amelia, and Charlotte. Warmth, intensity, passion, and earthiness abound all through these performances, giving us a glimpse of an unquestionably impressive performer. 

The reproduction is generally adequate although occasionally afflicted with post-echo. As noted in the headings, the arias from The Abduction and Werther are sung in Italian.