The incomparable Mirella Freni

last month

Speaking of obituaries, I just read that Mirella Freni, the incomparable Mimi, has just died. I am in tears. She and Pavarotti were both from Modena (pronounced MOdena), Italy were both born in the same year, had the same wet nurse, and their mothers worked in the same factory. Here she is singing about her embroidered flowers and the rose unfurling its petals in a vase.

Comments (32)

  • Marlorena-z8 England-

    Her rendition of 'Vissi d'Arte' from Tosca was superb, one of the best versions on youtube...

    monarda_gw thanked Marlorena-z8 England-
  • monarda_gw

    Her Mme Butterfly was heartbreaking as well, though she apparently didn't feel she had the vocal power to attempt the role on stage -- it was a beautiful filmed version. Also on Youtube.
    And she was a magical Nanetta in Falstaff.

    People unfamiliar with opera sometimes don't realize that opera singers, like other classical musicians, are never miked. They have to be able to sing a high pianissimo note that can soar over the full orchestra and reach the back row of the top balcony without amplification, which requires an Olympic level of vocal athleticism. Freni was one of those performers who sort of disappears into her role -- and you forget everything, listening to her. She made it seem effortless.

  • Marlorena-z8 England-

    Yes, it shows doesn't it? when you compare with musical or pop singers.. well there's no comparison really... I find it difficult to sit through an opera but I do like some famous arias and duets...

    Here are a few of my favourites, in case you know of these..

    As already mentioned 'Vissi d'Arte' from Tosca by Puccini... Maria Callas and Monserrat Caballé are generally used to judge all others by, but they're not my favourites... and Joan Sutherland gets her diction wrong at times, and I sometimes think a native Italian like Freni is better suited,.. I also like Leontyne Pryce, both do better for me... Renee Fleming I love doing this, although not everyone likes her... Angela Ghiorgiu is perfection, and famous Hungarian dramatic soprano Eva Marton, was still able to belt this one out at age 70 - with no mike - although she did struggle a bit..

    'Lascia ch'io pianga'... Handel..

    I first heard this as background to a televised garden tour of a famous English garden called 'Stourhead'... it just seemed like the right music for the right setting.

    Originally for a soprano, it was made famous by the castrato Farinelli... my favourite now is Philippe Jaroussky, who at first you might think is a castrato but he's a countertenor and sings it so beautifully, it totally enraptures me...



    The Flower Duet [Duo des Fleurs] from Lakme by Delibes... in French and best sung by the French I think... a soprano and a mezzo soprano, which is difficult as the mezzo can be drowned out...

    This version I listen to every week... it's blown so many people away with its simplicity... both ladies are casually dressed because it's a studio recording for an album..

    Sabine Devieilhe and Marianne Crabasso... the mezzo in this is just absolutely superb, with neither lady dominating the other.


    I don't expect anyone to listen to those, but a few minutes of Heaven in my world.. you have any favourite arias Monarda that I can enjoy too?...

  • Plumeria Girl (Florida ,9b)

    Hmm. This is not my favorite topic bec usually i end up falling asleep. But, i do try to appreciate Opera .

    I remembered watching "Philadelphia". Great movie but there is a part of that movie that moved me but it also had Hank achieved Grammy Awards. La Mamma Morta by Maria Callas in 1993 movie "Philadelhia" with Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington.

    Hanks listen to and interprets.

    I know more about Luciano Pavarotti bec i have heard of him more than MF as Monarda explains above. I was thinking Pavorotti..i know that name...:))

    There is a singer that i am looking for but i dont know his name, dont know the story line, dont know much except his one "song" is absolutely beautiful. Heard it a few times.

  • Plumeria Girl (Florida ,9b)

    Marlorena, your first video. I love it very much but the second one is very hard for me to listen too. But i do appreciate you posting both. Thanks for videos :))

  • bellegallica9a

    I had already been listening to opera, and loving it, for a couple years when I took a music appreciation class as an undergrad. So it was a treat for me when we got to opera. It was actually Freni's Mimi we listened to, the one posted above. Most of the class was bored, doodling, fidgeting, sighing....until....we got to Mimi's longing for spring, when the whole orchestra comes in, and she sings,

    But when the thaw comes

    the first sunshine is mine,

    April's first kiss is mine!

    I kid you not--the doodling stopped, fidgeting, the sighing, everyone woke up, sat up, was on the edge of their seat until the end. It was a magical think to watch.

    It's a shame Freni is gone. I know how you feel. One of my very favorites, Jessye Norman, died unexpectedly last September. All the hours I've spent listening to her....I'm in no way a believer, an atheist really, but this Amen of hers is one of my favorite things:

  • monarda_gw

    I love Jessie Norman, too, but it was Freni's Mimi that bowled me over when I first started listening to opera. I had a record of her with Di Stefano and I played it for my mother who looked down her nose at opera, and she had tears in her eyes. It helps if you know the words. Some of these operas have really beautiful librettos.

  • Stephanie, 9b inland SoCal

    What a beautiful voice! Thanks for sharing this.

    monarda_gw thanked Stephanie, 9b inland SoCal
  • Marlorena-z8 England-

    Jin… I've never seen 'Philadelphia' but I would not have known that was Tom Hanks in that movie...

  • Plumeria Girl (Florida ,9b)

    Great movie and emotional one too. You should watch it :)

  • monarda_gw

    I've never seen Philadelphia either, but Andrea Chenier is one of my favorites. The libretto is by Luigi Illica, who co-wrote the librettos for La Boheme, Tosca, and Madame Butterfly with Giuseppe Giacosa -- evidently a well-known playwright. (In our high school Italian Club our teacher -- dear Mrs. Tuttle -- had us read a play by Giacosa, that's how I know.)
    My husband and I always subscribe to the cheap seats at the Metropolitan. Once, I was supposed to meet him there. I had taken the libretto out of the LP to read on the subway and got so caught up in the story of Andrea Chenier that I missed my stop and had to sit in the 'Hall of Shame' for late-comers during the first act.
    I love the opera very much and it always struck me as a shame that the music isn't quite up to Puccini because the story - of a young poet who falls in love with the aristocratic daughter of a noble house at the time of the French Revolution and tries to save her from the guillotine -- is quite powerful.

  • bellegallica9a

    it was Freni's Mimi that bowled me over when I first started listening to opera

    I wonder if everyone who listens to opera has that recording or moment. For me it was Leontyne Price's 1962 Aida with Solti conducting. There were moments when she sounded inhumanly beautiful.

    monarda_gw thanked bellegallica9a
  • monarda_gw

    Oh my God, I love Leontyne Price! Her Four Last Songs is the version for me! Jessie Norman is good too -- perfection maybe. But Leontyne is the one that grabbed me. I'd like to think it was something objective -- like the phrasing, or the tempo - or the expressiveness -- or the incredible depth & richness of her voice -- and not just because it was my first hearing of this work, but I'm not expert enough to tell just what it is.

    Here she is at the very beginning of her career singing "La Mamma Morta", the song mentioned above in Philadelphia (the comments say it was one of the greatest voices ever to grace a stage).

  • bellegallica9a

    The Four Last Songs. Richard Strauss is probably my all time favorite opera composer: Salome, Elektra, Ariadne auf Naxos, Der Rosenkavalier--I love them all. Houston Grand is the closest place to me to hear live opera, and back in 2010 or so they did Ariadne auf Naxos and I knew I had to go. Christine Goerke was Ariadne, and Susan Graham was the Composer. I don't remember now who sang Zerbinetta, but she was amazing, too. I saw a couple days ago that they're doing Salome in late spring. I don't like traveling anymore, but I may have to make the effort for that.

    I've listened to so many versions of Strauss's Four Last Songs, but I still can't say I have a favorite. They're so beautiful, but so difficult, that I'll happily listen to anyone with the courage to take them on. Even a baritone with piano accompaniment! (He's really good!)

    Thanks for the Price link. That was wonderful! I read one critic described her singing as "uninhibited splendor." I read it along ago, but never forgot it because it was so right.

    I forgot to say thanks, too, to Malorena for the Flower Duet link. In have an old high school friend with a beautiful singing voice. (I was so jealous since I can't sing a note.) She sang in the church choir and school choir. I tried to get her interested in opera, but only a few things attracted her. The Flower Duet was one of them. I think she'll love this version, too.

    monarda_gw thanked bellegallica9a
  • monarda_gw

    I listened to the baritone, bella gallica, and it was very nice indeed, and the piano surprisingly nice, too. . It is curious how hearing a familiar piece in with different instrumentation or voices can make it sound fresh and new. Still, for me, Leontyne rules. 

    I wanted to end with Freni singing Nannetta's aria in the last act of Flastaff, when she appears in Windsor Forest disguised as the Queen of the Fairies, surrounded by her attendants, the local children. It was Verdi's last opera, written when he was 80.

  • Marlorena-z8 England-

    monarda... I couldn't get your links to work there but I've just seen that elsewhere on youtube.. fantastic from Mirella there... the English translation is sometimes a little different and I have to admit to preferring the first line as ''On the breath of an etesian breeze''... I mean that's just English at its best...

    ...I also love the Shakespeare play it's taken from .. 'The Merry Wives of Windsor'' and admit to watching it from time to time.. so full of good humour and impressive language..

    bellegallica mentioned Susan Graham.... I love her rapport she has with her friend Renee Fleming, who I mentioned earlier is a favourite of mine.. Renee's Vissi d'Arte when she reaches the high notes just blows me away, she is able to hold on to it like few other coloraturas can do I think...

    Their Flower Duet from Lakme by Delibes is a little too fast - not their fault - but I still watch it, and I love their impromptu performance in an LA restaurant I think it was, where they sing ''Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better'... they both have humility and humour, without taking themselves too seriously... and Renee in interviews comes across as a well rounded and interesting person... she was in London last summer doing a musical with an operatic twist called ''The Light in the Piazza''... I should have loved to have seen it...

    I'm no expert in Opera but I think it's good to have favourites and to sample them even if only in small measure, as I do... we haven't got to sit through an entire performance.. I would struggle with that...

    I've just noticed a rose probably named for her... 'Mirella'.. [Barni, Italy 1986]..


  • monarda_gw

    "Fil", short for "Filo", is a literally a "thread", "string", or "line". "Etesian" was a word I didn't know about (I thought at first it was 'esteso' - extensive or stretched out). Looking it up, it means "the north wind that blows periodically over the Mediterranean during summer time". Which is odd because Merry Wives of Windsor is set in Windsor, England, not southern Europe. "Soffio" is breath. So the literal meaning is "On the thread of an Etesian breath". But I guess, "on the breath of an Etesian breeze"? is ok.

    Boito uses a purposely complicated and archaic diction because he is trying to imitate Shakespeare. A lot of translators use paraphrase, understandably. The action has to be kept moving, especially with supertitles. But it seems a shame to lose the feel of Boito's libretto. I suppose translations are rarely, if ever, truly satisfactory. That's why I like facing translations and also multiple ones.

    Do you remember the British Airways commercial that used the flower duet? I gather they still use it for boarding music. Apparently it was so popular that it revived performances of the opera, which until then had languished in obscurity. I always assumed it was Sutherland singing, but perhaps I am wrong. Her version is probably the touchstone, though the sound on the Youtube recording isn't the greatest, esp. the orchestra. I'm sorry the links aren't working. Sigh. The lyrics mention roses, so it is appropriate for this thread, too.
    "Under a dome of white jasmine
    With the roses entwined together
    On a river bank covered with flowers laughing in the morning."

    Susan Graham is also really, really good, IMO. There are so many good ones, now.

  • Marlorena-z8 England-

    Yes I remember the advert, that was the first time most of us had heard of this aria.. the story behind it is interesting too in that it's set during the British Empire days in India, and the forbidden love between an Indian princess and a British Army Captain... I think it's one I could sit through if I had the time..

    I find Joan Sutherland's voice too loud and powerful for this.. she drowns out Tourangeau somewhat... so I prefer others... I'm not sure which version BA used..

    Anyone like The Pearl Fishers duet?... I do, but don't have a favourite pairing.. I'll just watch anybody..

    monarda_gw thanked Marlorena-z8 England-
  • monarda_gw

    I love all duets in opera -- I think. We saw a production of the Pearl Fishers a few years ago -- in modern dress, meh. I think that recording of Sutherland is miked all wrong. I believe the people who say you had to be there. She was a phenomenon who gives the impression not only of hitting the notes with incredible precision, but also of having a lot in reserve in case she needs it, including reserves of sheer volume and of even higher notes than are in the score if necessary -- but the notes! Of course, her diction is not very good.

    As far as the Pearl Fishers the consensus appears to be that Jussi Björling and Robert Merrill take the prize, not least because of Björling's wonderful French diction. It is guaranteed to bring tears to one's eyes. Sometimes I think he is the greatest singer who ever lived. See what you think. That said, Pavarotti and Ghiaurov (Freni's husband) are close behind.

    I am so glad we have had this thread. It makes all the awful things -- the sorrows of the outraged world -- and of one's personal life -- recede considerably in importance. I am so glad I have lived to experience these singers, some of them live on the stage.

    When our kids were young we used to go in shifts to sit in the cheap seats, with one of us staying home with the children and the other braving the long subway ride home at 2 am. It was pretty hairy at times. NY is a lot safer now.

  • Marlorena-z8 England-

    I bet it was, yes, I've heard NY is safer these days,, but having lived in London for 20 years I'm not sure I could cope with it now..
    Bjorling and Merrill are out of this world... but as I'm not a purist I can take a different view and find I prefer something perhaps more superficial.. I like a good setting and nice appearance.. so Roberto Alagna/Bryn Terfel do it for me... also the rather dishy Jonas Kaufmann/ and the late Dmitri Hvorostovsky… either/or...

    I've just watched 'The Merry Widow' duet with Korean soprano Sumi Jo and Dmitri Hvorostovky… I love Sumi Jo's expressive character, she also has a great Flower Duet with another Korean mezzo..Ay-Kyung Lee..

    monarda_gw thanked Marlorena-z8 England-
  • Rosefolly

    A lovely voice!

    Tom and I had season tickets to the San Jose Opera for several years, and we enjoyed it. SJ is a training opera company which means we get artists early in their careers. One young woman - whose name I forget - disappeared very quickly. Her voice was far and away the best I had ever heard, and she was snatched up by some European opera company. I wonder how her career worked out. Well, I hope.

    However, I don't really know opera the way I know roses, or books, or costume history, things I pay close attention to. I did not know this performer, for example, and want to thank Monarda for sharing this with us.

  • monarda_gw

    I have an anecdote about Sumi Jo. In the era when my husband and I were going to the opera in shifts and sitting up in the cheap seats. Once when it was my turn I sat next to an elderly man -- -- Sumi Jo was singing, and during intermission, the man told me he was a Sumi Jo fan and that once when he had gone backstage to congratulate her, she invited him to her house on Long Island, where he was now a regular guest. He had been going to hear her night after night, taking in every performance whenever and whatever she was performing. Imagine that! What I gathered from this is that she is an extra nice person who really appreciated this devotion.

    I don't feel know a lot about opera. My husband is a fanatic and I probably wouldn't have learned as much if it were not for him. When we lived in North Carolina there was nothing much to do on weekends except listen to the Met on the radio, libretto on one's knees. One Saturday, he happened to play in.a chess tournament, and someone asked, "Do you mind if I turn on the radio?" And my husband told me he had to stop himself from exclaiming, "Who's singing?" It was the Carolina Tar Heels basketball game.

    On the other hand, I did learn a lot about music from listening in on my daughter's violin lessons and practice. She would practice bowing, going from soft to loud to soft again (crescendo & diminuendo), on one long note. She would ask me over and over, "Am I doing it? Am I doing it?" It's not that easy.
    Apparently, in singing, this swelling and subsiding on one sustained note is called "messa di voce" (vocal placement) and is an integral part of what they call bel canto style. It requires a lot of muscle control of the breath.

    I do think the Pearl Fisher duet sounds very good no matter who is singing. Also, I miss the New York City Opera because they had younger prettier singers at the beginning of their careers, and also a more adventurous repertoire.
    I'm sorry to bore people with this rather off topic rambling ... though to me, music and gardening are connected in some way.

  • Marlorena-z8 England-

    monarda, those are lovely recollections altogether but especially about Sumi Jo... and I'm not entirely surprised by it..

  • bellegallica9a

    " listen to the Met on the radio, libretto on one's knees"

    I did that a lot throughout my 20s when I first got interested in opera. Nowadays a quick google will give you anything you want, but back then it was harder. Luckily, the public library had a large collection of those old Met librettos with the light brownish covers, so I was usually able to find the one I needed for the Saturday broadcast.

    My listening in recent years has been sporadic, so it's been fun following this thread and listening to old favorites and finding new ones.

    I'd never heard the Pearl Fishers duet before. I'm not nearly as familiar with the French repertoire as I am with the Italian and German. (I've had Gounod's Faust checked out from the library for a couple of weeks now, meaning to get to it "soon.")

    Speaking of duets and roses and Susan Graham. I remembered that she sings the trouser role of Octavian, the young knight, in Rosenkavalier. The scene of the Presentation of the Rose is one of my favorites. Octavian brings a silver rose to Sophie on behalf of the Baron who hopes to marry her. Even though it's made of silver, she smells it and is surprised to find it smells of real roses. Octavian says, "yes, there's a drop of Persian rose oil in it." And Sophie goes off into the stratosphere about how heavenly it smells, and Octavian falls in love.

    There's a great clip of Susan Graham as Octavian, but the Sophie is a little too loud to me. I prefer Diana Damrau:

    That's the only opera I can think of that features a rose so prominently. Are there any others?

  • Marlorena-z8 England-

    How could we forget Joyce DiDonato... I love the way she hands Damrau the rose... and the climax at about 6:40 is magnificent from the two...

    I would also like to mention one of my favourite not-really-an-Opera-singers.. Andrea Bocelli.. but he sounds operatic enough to me, and I bought an album of his in the past..

    So talking of The Pearl Fishers, if it was a sound only I would probably go with the 1950 recording from Bjorling/Merrill, but it is a long time ago, and I prefer something visual today.... so I'm reminded that Bocelli also did this with Bryn Terfel and if you like a male duet I'm not sure anyone could fault this.. but people do of course.. because Bocelli is ''not-really-an-Opera-singer''...

    ... a few minutes of testosterone bliss..


    ..I think they're both wearing those ear mic's too...

  • monarda_gw

    Damrau has instances of beautiful and very noticeable messa di voce in the rose presentation linked above.

    I saw Damrau in La Sonnambula a few years ago and in the finale she did two cartwheels on the stage! I dimly recall the program notes mentioning that she comes from a circus family & her childhood training included acrobatics. Her Sonnambula performance included a "high e-flat sung while suspended in mid-air"! I hadn't realized that La Sonnambula ("The Sleepwalker") is a comic opera.
    "During the final 'Ah! Non giunge uman pensiero,' Damrau literally pulled out all the stops physically. She danced about and sang a high e-flat suspended in midair; she followed that with a terrific chromatic descent as she was placed on the floor. The coloratura was at its most breathtaking in this climactic cabaletta and Damrau even did two cartwheels during the aria’s coda to a tremendous audience ovation. Her final high note was one of valediction as she held through the orchestra’s final bars." -- David Salazar, review, March 15, 2014 (quoted on Met website).

    Talk about showmanship!

    As far as roses in opera, to my knowledge Rosenkavalier takes the prize. And then Mimi's aria in La bohème when she describes a cut rose unfurling in the vase and laments that the roses she embroiders for a living, "Alas, have no perfume".

    I did see a production of Massenet's Werther where a dreamlike ballroom scene was inserted into the quiet two-minute orchestral (no singing) interlude, usually termed "Memories of a ball" or "Claire-de-lune", at the end of the first act, some of the loveliest music ever written.

    The setting was a cream-colored rococo ballroom with a border of red roses at the top of the walls. As couples walzed, the roses behind them appeared to revolve in space. I don't know how they did it -- well I do, with projectors. In any case, It was very effective. The scene ends as they leave with Charlotte regretfully singing, "We must separate. It is the hour for sleep" To which Werther answers that the sun and moon and stars mean nothing to him now that he has seen her eyes, and that he doesn't even know that it is day or night. I hope it is preserved on video somewhere, along with Damrau's cartwheels.

  • cathz6

    Great thanks to all of you who have contributed to this thread and its links. It has reawakened pleasures I have been away from too long.


  • Marlorena-z8 England- too.. thanks monarda as well, and for the last link, which I enjoyed very much...

    Opera and roses go well together.... don't they?...

    ...nice to see you back again Cath...

  • cathz6

    Thank you Marlorena, It is kind of you to say so.


  • vesfl (zone 5b/6a, Western NY)

    OMG, I was reluctantly taking a hiatus from the forum because my work commitments piled up and only now saw this wonderful thread about my two obsessions, roses and opera (the third would be reading). I mourned the loss of Mirella Freni and treasure her Mimi, Amelia, Micaela, Tatiana, Marguerite in my record collection. My special fondness is for her early L'AMICO FRITZ with Pavarotti, indeed her childhood friend. It was my introduction to this rarely performed Mascagni opera and I instantly fell in love with it as I did with their gorgeous voices.

    Monarda, I had no idea you frequently go to the Met Opera. Every or every other year I make my extended weekend pilgrimage to the Met. Last fall I overdosed on 3 operas in two days (PORGY & BESS, MACBETH, and Massenet's MANON). It was a glorious weekend. Hope we'll have a chance to meet next time, and chat with you and your husband about both roses and opera.

    Bellegallica, I love Strauss too (though my two absolute favorites are Verdi and Mozart) and have one little area in my garden that I call the "Strauss corner." I planted the flowers mentioned in the last song he ever composed which Maria Jeritza refused to release during her lifetime (it was dedicated to her) and it was only recently discovered... I adore him.

    Marlorena, I enjoyed reading your thoughts about different arias and their interpretations. All the same, Maria (we know which one :-)) remains my favorite Tosca :-) And her "La mama morta" in the movie Philadelphia that Jin mentions is for the ages (though the old recording of Claudia Muzio is also quite powerful).

  • Marlorena-z8 England-

    vesfl… nice to see you back again too, we have missed you... even though you are a little late to the party here, it's great that you have joined us.... I think with Maria Callas she was just a way before my time and I prefer more contemporary artistes... I really only started listening to operatic voices with Kiri Te Kanawa the New Zealand soprano in the 1980's...

    Renee Fleming is very much my soprano of the modern age... Andrea Bocelli amongst the tenors, I just preferred him to Pavarotti...

    I also liked British tenor Russell Watson ...

    ..perhaps in rose terms it's like preferring an Austin to an OGR... I don't know...

    ...and on a different note, if you like classical music, my absolute favourite is 'The Swan' by Saint-Saens... and I don't care if Yehudi Menuhin or Joshua Bell is playing it, that's my piece... I'm playing it not them !... I would listen to anybody, anywhere playing that, violin or cello..

  • vesfl (zone 5b/6a, Western NY)

    Marlorena, thank you. I keep mentioning many of you on different occasions. The other day my friend asked me if I know more about 'Generous Gardener' and I think you grew it so I said that if Marlorena grows it, it must be a great choice.

    I love your analogy with DA and OGR. Incidentally, I think that the rose known as an 'All-American Beauty' was originally named 'Maria Callas'. I wish DA named some of his roses after singers. He didn't forget some composers with 'The Lark Ascending' (by Sir Vaughan Williams), 'Benjamin Britten' and 'Sir Edward Elgar' which I have been trying to find for many years without much success. There is a lovely clematis 'Kiri Te Kanawa' and it is as exquisite as is her divinely creamy voice.

    monarda_gw thanked vesfl (zone 5b/6a, Western NY)

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