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Giulietta Simionato, born May 12, 1910

Giulietta Simionato died earlier today in Rome-aged 99. May 5,  2010

The Italian mezzo-soprano Giulietta Simionato celebrates her 100th

Giulietta Simionato

Giulietta Simionato

birthday next week. A few months ago she was peppy and energetic on an Italian TV program-she even sang.  Sadly, my buddy Alessandro phoned yesterday to report that she took a bad turn last week and is in failing health as her centenary approaches.

Let’s celebrate her.  Simionato was a tiny woman with a huge, evenly produced  wine- colored voice. There were none of the nasty register breaks and she “had” every note she attempted.  Simionato toiled in opera’s vineyard from 1935,  living on small roles unsuited to her dramatic, stellar voice.  In fact, her first recording was as Mama Lucia in Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana, conducted by the composer in 1940.  Ironic, since she was the youngest member of the cast (her “son”, the great Beniamino Gigli, was twenty years older) and within a few years the prima donna role, Santuzza,  was hers.  Here she is an a telecast from Japan in 1960:

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Simionato was noted for the big dramatic roles by Verdi:  Azucena, Eboli, Amneris and Ulrica. She was Saint-Saens’ Dalila,  and she was a famous Carmen (usually in Italian).  Simionato sang the florid comic and serious roles by Rossini in the generation before Marilyn Horne-and for such a dramatic singer she had all the agility necessary to sparkle along,  with a flair for comedy:

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We are lucky that Simionato recorded most of her greatest roles, usually with Karajan , Tebaldi, Corelli, Bastianini, del Monaco and Merrill. Contractual differences kept her from recording with Maria Callas, but theirs was a famous partnership on stage, particularly in Bellini’s Norma, in Milan and in Paris.  Most famous of all was their collaboration in Donizetti’s Anna Bolena.  Here are Callas and Simionato as Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour respectively, in the Tower of London as Anna forgives her rival before being executed:

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Simionato retired at the top her game in 1966 to marry Italy’s foremost scientist,  Dr. Emilio Frugoni.  She remarried after his death in 1976 and has been widowed since the 1990s. In the years since her retirement she’s been a glamorous and adored teacher, mentor and public figure in Europe. Her repertoire ranged from Monteverdi’s Il ballo dell’ingrate to music of Bartok and Menotti.  Simionato was a great favorite with the Chicago Opera and sang with the Metropolitan between 1959 and 1965.  She made her Met debut as Azucena in Il trovatore on Ocotber 26, 1959, opening night of the season

“Giulietta Simionato… sang the role of Azucena with a degree of power, authority and musical taste that I have not heard approached since the days of the great Bruna Castagna…her vocal contribution was so flawless, so easy in production, and so mature in its skill as to make her role the center around which the evening revolved, creating frequently that element of electric excitement that is found only in the presence of the most formidable artists.”

–Winthrop Sargeant, The New Yorker, November 7,  1959

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And she certainly kept her glamor and authority into extreme old age

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Admire Giulietta Simionato was a formidable talent who could sing anything -alla fantastica. I hope she’ll be able to celebrate her birthday next week. Find her many recordings and videos and check out once and for all how it is done. Brava.

Christopher Purdy

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