Leyla Gencer had a major career on the world's operatic stages, singing a wide variety of soprano roles from Donna Anna in Mozart's Don Giovanni to Renata in Prokofiev's very difficult The Fiery Angel. She was most closely associated, however, with the operas of Donizetti (Belisario, Maria Stuarda, Anna Bolena, and Lucrezia Borgia), as well as a number by Verdi and Bellini. Born to a Polish mother and wealthy Turkish father on October 10, 1928 (according to Gencer; some sources place the date earlier), Gencer received the finest education in her childhood and teens. She exhibited unusual vocal talent early on, and her mother enrolled her in the Istanbul Conservatory, but not just for vocal and music studies: she wanted to thwart 16-year-old Leyla's affections for a Polish architect over twice her age. Gencer married a wealthy banker in 1946 and soon withdrew from the Conservatory to study with Italian soprano Giannina Arangi-Lombardi in Istanbul. In the meantime she sang in the Turkish State Theater Chorus. Gencer's debut came in the role of Santuzza from Cavalleria Rusticana in 1950 in Ankara. After Arangi-Lombardi's death in 1951, Gencer began studies with Apollo Granforte and soon gave many noteworthy recitals in Turkey, including for important government functions, such as receptions for heads of state, including one for American President Dwight Eisenhower. She reprised the role Santuzza for her 1953 Italian debut, and for her American debut in 1956 at San Francisco she sang Francesca in Rachmaninov's Francesca da Rimini. At La Scala she appeared in two important world premieres in 1957, Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites and Pizzetti's L'assassino nella cattedrale. In her debut season at Covent Garden (1962) she sang Elisabetta di Valois from Verdi's Don Carlo and Donna Anna from Mozart's Don Giovanni. Gencer would return to La Scala for regular appearances until 1983 and was active in opera throughout Italy, other parts of Europe and in the United States until 1985, her last appearance being at Venice's La Fenice in Gnecco's La Prova di un 'opera seria. She continued giving recitals until 1992, and thereafter remained active at La Scala heading the theater's school for young artists. A competition was established in her honor in 1996, the Yapy Kredi International Leyla Gencer Voice Competition. Gencer made numerous recordings -- many still available -- and once boasted a 72-role repertory.
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Classical - Released March 10, 2009 | Opera d'Oro
Giovanni Pacini's opera Saffo is the only work of this contemporary of Rossini to make it into the operatic repertoire, and even this slim popularity only extends to Italy and a few of the Spanish-speaking countries. Nonetheless, Opera d'Oro's Pacini: Saffo is the third recording of the opera that has appeared, all three of them live, and so far this Naples Teatro San Carlo Opera performance from April 7, 1967, appears to be the earliest complete recording of Saffo. The title role is essayed by the "queen of the pirates," mezzo-soprano Leyla Gencer with bass-baritone Louis Quilico as a robust Aleandro and little-known tenor Tito del Bianco just okay in the role of Faone. Quilico is very dynamic here, particularly in the opening scenes where he has most of the music and appears to be driving the whole production with the forcefulness of his performance. However, it is Gencer who, despite a rough start, eventually winds up owning this performance -- she obviously loves the role, and delivers up Saffo in strongly dramatic overtones that suggest a carefully considered combination of singing and acting, with an increasing reliance for the latter as the show progresses. This is one of the best of Gencer's many live opera performances. Like most Opera d'Oro packages, this Pacini: Saffo has been around the block before, appearing on the Hunt Productions label in 1990 and on the Canadian Arkadia label a little later. This sounds like it was recorded with reasonably good fidelity originally, but with noticeable tape hiss, and then someone CEDARed it to death for reissue; it is somewhat boxy and constricted, yet still betrays a hint of high end. On a sound quality scale of 1 to 5, 5 being equivalent to a commercial studio recording and 1 being a Mapleson cylinder, Pacini: Saffo is about a 3.5, not bad for an Italian radio performance of the 1960s. The orchestra is a little scrappy and the chorus is none too distinguished, entering a little late for their cue on more than one occasion. Saffo is a very good opera -- it has splendid ensemble passages, and ordinary recitative is set with the object of being as interesting as the set pieces, of which there are only a few. Stylistically Saffo is reminiscent of Bellini to some extent, but mostly of early Verdi of whom, it is said, this opera influenced considerably. Ultimately one would hope for a studio recording of Saffo, and so few new opera recordings are being made in the post-9/11 world it is not advisable to hold one's breath for that. But in the meantime, the Opera d'Oro disc will do; while it is a no-frills set with no libretto (an English language summary of the plot is included), it is representative of both the star performers and the work itself, and it is priced right for those who are looking to experiment, rather than to invest. © TiVo