27 February 2016

Mirella Freni – opera singer

Good advice from Gigli helped soprano have long career

Mirella Freni starred at the world's major opera houses
Mirella Freni, pictured in 1970
Singer Mirella Freni was born Mirella Fregni on this day in 1935 in Modena in Emilia-Romagna .

Freni’s grandmother, Valentina Bartolomasi, had been a leading soprano in Italy from 1910 until 1927, specialising in Wagner roles. By coincidence, her mother worked alongside the mother of tenor Luciano Pavarotti in a tobacco factory in Modena.

Freni was obviously musically gifted and sang an opera aria in a radio competition when she was just ten years old.

One of the judges was the tenor Beniamino Gigli, who advised her to give up singing until she was older to protect her voice.

Freni took his advice and resumed singing when she was 17, making her operatic debut at the Teatro Municipale in Modena at the age of 20 in Bizet’s Carmen.

Her international debut came at Glyndebourne in Franco Zeffirelli’s staging of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore.

In the 1960 season at Glyndebourne she sang comic roles from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni.

Listen to Mirella Freni performing "Un bel di vedremo" from Madame Butterfly

Freni made her Covent Garden debut in 1961, her La Scala debut in 1963 and her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1965.

She started singing the heavier Verdi roles in the 1970s but she always refused roles for which she thought she was unsuited, or that might overtax her voice, which contributed to her longevity as a singer.

The soprano starred in a 1975 film of Madame Butterfly opposite Placido Domingo.

In 1978 she married Nicolai Ghiaurov, a leading operatic bass. Together they established the Centro Universale del Bel Canto in Vignola, near Modena in 2002, where they began giving master classes. Freni continued this work after his death in 2004.

She celebrated her 50th anniversary on the operatic stage in 2005 at the age of 70 at the Met in New York before retiring.

Modena's 11th century Duomo is a Unesco world heritage site
Modena's 11th century Duomo
Travel tip:

Modena is an historic city in Emilia Romagna with a magnificent main square, Piazza Grande, which has an 11th century Duomo dedicated to San Geminiano, and is now a Unesco world heritage site. The city’s opera house was renamed Teatro Communale Luciano Pavarotti in 2007 after the great tenor. Modena is also famous for its balsamic vinegar, Aceto Balsamico di Modena.

Hotels in Modena from Booking.com

Travel Tip:

South of Modena is the city of Vignola, where Freni and Ghiaurov established their Centro Universale del Bel Canto. Famous for its cherry trees and the abundant fruit they produce, Vignola has one of the best preserved castles in the region, the Rocca di Vignola, founded in the eighth century but rebuilt and turned into a residence for a wealthy family in the 13th century. The city was also the birthplace of the brilliant architect Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola in 1507.

(Picture credit: Modena Cathedral by Icco80 via Wikimedia Commons)

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