Sunday, October 18, 2009

Leyla Gencer--First posted Mar. 9, 2009

Ladies and gentlemen, today I give you Leyla Gencer, seen here in a 1963 production of Aida at Verona's outdoor theater, from Italian TV:

And another from 1966:

Leyla Gencer, or Ayşe Leyla Çeyrekgil (b. October 10, 1928 in Istanbul, Turkey – d. May 10, 2008 in Milan, Italy) was a world-renowned Turkish soprano opera singer.

Known as "La Diva Turca" (The Turkish Diva) and "La Regina" (The Queen) in the opera world, Gencer was a notable bel canto soprano who spent most of her career in Italy, from the early 1950s through the mid-1980s, and had a repertoire encompassing more than seventy roles. She made very few commercial recordings; however, numerous bootleg recordings of her performances exist. In particular, Gencer was associated with the heroines of Donizetti.

Leyla Gencer was born in Istanbul as the daughter of a Turkish father and Polish mother. Gencer lost her father at a very young age. She grew up in the Çubuklu district of Istanbul, on the Anatolian side of the Bosporus, and began to study singing at the Istanbul Conservatory; but dropped out to study privately in Ankara with her teacher, the Italian soprano Giannina Arangi-Lombardi. She sang in the chorus of the Turkish State Theater until she made her operatic debut in Ankara in 1950 as Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana. During the next few years, she became well-known in Turkey and sang frequently at functions for the Turkish government.

In 1953, Gencer made her Italian debut at the San Carlo in Naples as Santuzza. She returned to Naples the following year for performances of Madama Butterfly and Eugene Onegin. In 1957, she made her debut at La Scala in Milan as Mme. Lidoine in the world premiere of Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites. She went on to appear regularly at La Scala, performing nineteen roles between 1957 and 1983, including Leonora in La Forza del Destino, Elisabetta in Don Carlos, Aïda, Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, Norma, Ottavia in L'incoronazione di Poppea, and Alceste. At La Scala, she also appeared as the First Woman of Canterbury in the world premiere of Pizzetti's L'assassinio nella cattedrale in 1958.

In 1962, Gencer made her debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden as Elisabetta di Valois and as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni. She made her U.S. debut at the San Francisco Opera in 1956 as Francesca in Francesca da Rimini. She sang at other American opera houses as well, but never sang at the Metropolitan Opera, though there had been discussions for her to sing Tosca there in 1956.

Throughout her career, Gencer was known primarily as a Donizetti interpreter. Among her best-known Donizetti performances are Belisario, Poliuto, Anna Bolena, Lucrezia Borgia, Maria Stuarda, and Caterina Cornaro. Her most acclaimed and best-known performance, though, was Roberto Devereux, which she sang in Naples in 1964.

In addition to the bel canto roles for which she is best known, Gencer's repertory also included works by such composers as Prokofiev, Mozart, and Puccini. She appeared in many rarely performed operas, including Smareglia's La Falena, Rossini's Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra, Spontini's Agnese di Hohenstaufen, Pacini's Saffo, and Gluck's Alceste.

Gencer achieved an international career in a short time and performed with renowned Italian maestros such as; Gui, Serafin, Gavazzeni and Muti. She contributed to the improvement of the 'Donizetti Renaissance' with her great performances of Donizetti's forgotten operas. Gencer's repertoire consists of 72 roles including works from composers such as; Monteverdi, Gluck, Mozart to neo-classical period; from Cherubini, Spontini, Johann Simon Mayr and the romantic period to Puccini, Prokofiev, Britten, Poulenc, Menotti and Rocca; from a lyric soprano varying to dramatic coloratura.

In 1982, Gencer dedicated herself for education of young opera artists. She worked as a didactic art director of As.Li.Co. of Milan between 1983-88 and was appointed by Maestro Riccardo Muti to run La Scala's School for Young Artists between 1997-1998. Gencer was the artistic director of the academy for opera artists formed in Teatro alla Scala where she taught opera interpretation.

Gencer performed leading roles in many famous operas and she is known as the 'last diva of the 20th century'. She achieved her strong presence in the opera world, not only by the variety of her repertoire, but also with the dramatic nuances that she attributed to the roles she performed. Being a good researcher and a teacher, she reintroduced many forgotten works of the romantic period to the opera stages. In 1996 she had a spectacular appearance in Jan Schmidt-Garre's film Opera Fanatic.
Gencer died on May 10, 2008 in Milan, Italy. Following the funeral service in San Babila Church and subsequently cremation in Milan, her ashes were brought to Istanbul and consigned to the waters of the Bosphorus on May 16, 2008 according to her wish.

(Above bio from Wikipedia.)

From the NY Times obituary (5/13/08):

Pre-empted by better-known contemporaries like Callas and Renata Tebaldi, Ms. Gencer did not have a contract with a major commercial record label. But her voice traveled the globe many times over in bootleg recordings, earning her the nickname the Pirate Queen.

If she “never made a lira” from these recordings, as Ms. Gencer told Opera News in 2003, they had other compensations.

“All the young people know me,” she said at the time. “They write me long letters. They tell me: ‘It’s as if we were in the theater. We see you. We hear you through your discs as if we were there.’ This is a great miracle!”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the beautiful post and the amazing music!