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birthday of Mieczyslaw Weinberg on December 8, 2019.
Renate Eggbrecht has recorded all 3 violin Sonatas
Voice by György Kurtág
Mirella Freni (1935-2020)
Celebrated Italian soprano Mirella Freni has died in her home in Modena, where she was born in 1935, shortly before her 85th birthday after a long illness. She began her career as a lyric-soprano, gradually moving into the spinto Fach but carefully preserving her voice to ensure a long career by declining offers such as that by Karajan to sing roles she knew to be too heavy – indeed ruinous - for her instrument. Indeed, although Karajan greatly furthered her career, declaring her to be his ideal Desdemona and conducting her in a studio La bohème which remains the reference recording, her refusal to sing Leonora in Il trovatore and Turandot for him in 1980 resulted in a rupture of their professional relationship. She was frequently partnered on stage and in the studio by her Modenese exact contemporary Luciano Pavarotti; the fact that the mothers of two of the greatest 20C singers shared the same wet-nurse, their own milk being rendered unfit for purpose by their working in a tobacco factory, is a coincidence which has passed into legend.
A child prodigy, she first performed in public aged ten, and when she sang in a radio competition at twelve years old, Gigli, who was a judge, wisely advised her to postpone more intensive study until she was seventeen. Comely and a fine actress, Freni, on resuming her studies, made swift progress and made her professional debut in 1955 as Micaëla in Bizet’s Carmen; her international career then blossomed after she had sung at Glyndebourne, first singing lyric roles such as Mimì , Nanetta (Verdi’s Falstaff) and feisty Mozartian women such as Susanna (Le nozze di Figaro) and Zerlina (Don Giovanni), to which she brought exquisite femininity and charm but also ample voice. Her repertoire was large and ever-expanding, ranging from Mozart to Donizetti, Bellini, Rossini, Verdi, Boito, Puccini and finally verismo; her later accomplishments in Tchaikovsky’s operas were encouraged and facilitated by her second husband, the great Bulgarian bass Nicolai Ghiaurov, an expert in Slavic roles with whom she frequently performed. Perhaps the most demanding roles she was prepared both to undertake on stage and record were Aida and Elisabetta for Karajan at Salzburg; she also recorded heavier roles such as Tosca and Cio-Cio-San but eschewed singing them live. She last performed on the operatic stage in 2005 at seventy years old as the teenage Joan of Arc in Tchaikovsky’s The Maid of Orleans, thereby successfully encompassing a career of
fifty years - for which feat she earned the nickname “La Prudentissima”. Her voice was always pure and plangent and endured remarkably well, with only some slight loosening of its vibrato as the years passed. She could call upon surprising reserves of power but rarely pressed her voice too hard; I have vivid memories of hearing its size and richness when she sang roles such as Marguérite in Gounod’s Faust at Covent Garden in the 1970’s.
Those who never heard her sing live may gauge her pre-eminence by dipping into her legacy of many fine recordings. Among the best are the Puccini and Verdi roles she recorded for Decca and EMI under Karajan mentioned above, her L’amico Fritz for EMI and her Amelia/Maria in Simon Boccanegra under Abbado for DG; a fine example of her later recordings is her Tatiana in Eugene Onegin, made in her early fifties when her voice shows little sign of wear.
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