“I never had a voice. What I had was expression, a face, a body, the truth. If one prefers the opposite, that is their right.”
Another week, another supercentenarian opera diva departs...
Following so closely after the death of Licia Albinese, we hear the sad news that the great dramatic (some described her as "melodramatic") soprano Magda Olivero has gone to the great La Scala in the sky, aged 104.
Like Miss Albanese, she was widely respected (if somewhat overshadowed by the 20th century's more famous divas such as Tebaldi and Callas); some might say her fans were fanatical about her art. In 1979, the New York Times called them her “Magdamaniacs”! Unlike Miss Albanese, Magda continued to sing extracts from her complicated repertoire well into her 90s, giving many a younger pretender a run for her money even at that age.
From Tom Huizenga's excellent tribute on NPR Classical's Deceptive Cadence blog:
Renée Fleming, one of today's reigning divas, [was] so crazy about Olivero that she made a pilgrimage to Milan to see her when the older soprano was a spry 94.Praise indeed.
"She [was] such an inspiration," Fleming said, "beautiful, funny, a great raconteur. She gave me a breathing lesson. She had me feeling how she breathes, how she supports, and let me tell you, her abdominal wall is stronger than mine. Rude awakening."
That hard as a rock diaphragm, Fleming says, allowed Olivero to do things like floating dreamy, gossamer-thin tones up to the rafters.
"She [did] an unbelievable messa di voce on an aria from [Catalani's] Loreley on a high C that I could never hope to do," Fleming says. "It's just perfection."
Here is sample of that beautiful voice (with a teeny clip of the lady in her old age) - her most beautiful rendition of E strano...Sempre libera (Violetta's Aria) from La Traviata:
Free and aimless I frolic
From joy to joy,
Flowing along the surface
of life's path as I please.
As the day is born,
Or as the day dies,
Happily I turn to the new delights
That make my spirit soar.
Love is a heartbeat throughout the universe,
the torment and delight of my heart.
Oh! Oh! Love!
Facts about Magda Olivero:
- She was 14 years old when Puccini died, and worked with Mascagni.
- Her professional stage career spanned a remarkable six decades, from 1932 to 1981; however she kept on singing at many public events and on TV almost to the very end.
- Singing the title role in Puccini’s Manon Lescaut in Verona, Italy in 1970, opposite a young tenor named Plácido Domingo, Miss Olivero required police protection from the hundreds of audience members who tried to swarm the stage.
- None other than the respected mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne, after having heard her sing Tosca in Dallas, helped to get Magda on to the stage at New York Metropolitan Opera, and her world-wide fame was secured.
- Her definitive version of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur was recorded in 1993, when she was in her seventies.