The renowned soprano Mirella Freni has died at the age of 84. She had a long and illustrious career spanning around 50 years.
In her early career her chosen roles were Mimi, Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro, Nanetta, Micaëla, Margeurite in Faust and Juliette, for which her charming stage presence were well suited. However the turning point in her career was perhaps her assumption of the role of Desdemona for Karajan in Salzburg in 1970. This led to her taking on other dramatic Verdi roles, like Amelia in Simon Boccanegra, Elisabetta in Don Carlo, Aida and Leonora in La Forza del Destino. She also added Puccini’s Manon Lescaut to her repertoire, though both Tosca and Butterfly were only confined to disc. She once said in an interview in Opera News in 1987
I am generous in many ways, but not when I think it will destroy my voice. Some singers think they are gods who can do everything. But I have always been honest with myself and my possibilities.
No doubt this pragmatic attitude was the reason her career lasted so long. She resisted Karajan’s request for her to sing Leonora in Il Trovatore, and though she recorded Butterfly for him, and appeared in his film of the opera, she resisted all requests to sing the role on stage.
I only once saw her on stage, as Fedora at Covent Garden rather late in her career, but I did see the films of her as a sparkily sexy Susanna and a charmingly diffident Mimi. I also have recordings of her singing Amelia in Simon Boccanegra, Elisabetta in Don Carlo and Aida. Some say the voice lost quality when she took on these heavier roles, but I don’t really agree and she never sounds to me as if she is forcing her naturally lovely sound. The only thing that I miss is that last degree of individuality. Though beautifully sung her performances are not always particularly memorable.
None the less, she was a major artist of the latter half of the twentieth century and she will be missed.
Let us now see Freni as Susanna singing Deh vieni in Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s production of Le nozze di Figaro under Karl Böhm. Just click on the following link Freni as Susanna
3 thoughts on “R.I.P. Mirella Freni”
Thank you Philip for your wonderful insight and tribute, and for reintroducing us to a memorable voice https://youtu.be/rgZbBw18Gb0
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A lovely tribute to a greatly cherished singer. Freni’s claim to a place in the history of opera performing rests mainly on the pure, crystalline beauty of her voice which in the right roles – such as Mimi, Susanna, and Suzel in L’amico Fritz, exudes a particularly beguiling feminine charm and loveliness that are ideal for these roles. She is not one who would leave an indelible memory with a particular word or phrase, but through her vocal beauty, allied with her innate musicality and always crystal-clear enunciation of text and words, she managed to leave to posterity a number of memorable portrayals. Her Susanna for instance makes it easy to understand why Figaro fell in love with her and through just her vocal personality and temperament alone her Mimi is quite believable as a character. May she rest in peace.
Here’s Freni at her very best as Susanna in the 1962 Glyndebourne production of Le Nozze di Figaro, conducted by Silvio Varviso:
…and as Mimi in her earlier recording of La boheme (1961, EMI) conducted by Thomas Schippers:
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