Luisa Tetrazzini

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Photo from 1909 book Heart Songs LuisaTetrazzini.jpg
Photo from 1909 book Heart Songs
Tetrazzini in 1911 Luisa Tetrazzini 1911.jpg
Tetrazzini in 1911
Tetrazzini in 1920 Luisa Tetrazzini in 1920.jpg
Tetrazzini in 1920
Sketches by Marguerite Martyn, 1910 Sketches of Luisa Tetrazzini by Marguerite Martyn, 1910.jpg
Sketches by Marguerite Martyn, 1910

Luisa Tetrazzini (29 June 1871 28 April 1940) was an Italian coloratura soprano of great international fame. Tetrazzini's voice was remarkable for its phenomenal flexibility, thrust, steadiness and thrilling tone. She enjoyed a highly successful operatic and concert career in Europe and America from the 1890s through to the 1920s, but her final years were marred by poverty and ill health.


The word coloratura is originally from Italian, literally meaning "coloring", and derives from the Latin word colorare. When used in English, the term specifically refers to elaborate melody, particularly in vocal music and especially in operatic singing of the 18th and 19th centuries, with runs, trills, wide leaps, or similar virtuoso-like material. Its instrumental equivalent is ornamentation. It is also now widely used to refer to passages of such music, operatic roles in which such music plays a prominent part, and singers of these roles.

A soprano[soˈpraːno] is a type of classical female singing voice and has the highest vocal range of all voice types. The soprano's vocal range (using scientific pitch notation) is from approximately middle C (C4) = 261 Hz to "high A" (A5) = 880 Hz in choral music, or to "soprano C" (C6, two octaves above middle C) = 1046 Hz or higher in operatic music. In four-part chorale style harmony, the soprano takes the highest part, which often encompasses the melody. The soprano voice type is generally divided into the coloratura, soubrette, lyric, spinto, and dramatic soprano.



Tetrazzini was born in Florence, the daughter of a military tailor. Reportedly, she began singing at the age of three. Her first voice teacher was her elder sister, Eva Tetrazzini (1862–1938)(it), who also was a successful singer. Tetrazzini later studied at the Instituto Musicale in Florence. According to The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera (second edition, 1980), she made her operatic debut in Florence in 1890. The role was Inez in Meyerbeer's L'Africaine , taken when the scheduled soprano canceled on short notice. The first part of her career was spent mainly in the Italian provincial theaters and touring in Russia (she performed to considerable acclaim in Saint Petersburg), Spain and South America. Her 1890s' repertory consisted primarily of lyric-coloratura parts such as Violetta, Philine, Oscar, Gilda and Lucia. Tetrazzini made her American debut in San Francisco in 1905. The Metropolitan Opera's general manager, Heinrich Conried, took an option on her services at that time but unaccountably failed to engage her. After great success, she went on to New York where she was a sensation, eventually working under contract to Oscar Hammerstein. [1]

Florence Capital and most populous city of the Italian region of Tuscany

Florence is a city in central Italy and the capital city of the Tuscany region. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with 383,084 inhabitants in 2013, and over 1,520,000 in its metropolitan area.

Giacomo Meyerbeer German-born opera composer

Giacomo Meyerbeer was a German opera composer of Jewish birth who has been described as perhaps the most successful stage composer of the nineteenth century. With his 1831 opera Robert le diable and its successors, he gave the genre of grand opera 'decisive character'. Meyerbeer's grand opera style was achieved by his merging of German orchestra style with Italian vocal tradition. These were employed in the context of sensational and melodramatic libretti created by Eugène Scribe and were enhanced by the up-to-date theatre technology of the Paris Opéra. They set a standard which helped to maintain Paris as the opera capital of the nineteenth century.

<i>LAfricaine</i> opera by Giacomo Meyerbeer

L'Africaine is a grand opera in five acts, the last work of the composer Giacomo Meyerbeer. The French libretto by Eugène Scribe deals with fictitious events in the life of the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama. Meyerbeer began working on the libretto using the title L'Africaine, although his working title for the opera was Vasco de Gama at the time of his death in 1864, before he had prepared a final version. The opera had its first performance in a version made by François-Joseph Fétis at the Paris Opéra on 28 April 1865. This version has been generally used, but some recent productions have used versions which reconstitute elements from Meyerbeer's manuscript score and libretto.

After some legal difficulties in New York that blocked her from performing, she held a press conference and declared, "I will sing in San Francisco if I have to sing there in the streets, for I know the streets of San Francisco are free." This line became famous. She won her legal case, and her agent announced she would sing in the streets of San Francisco. On a crystal clear Christmas Eve in 1910, at the corner of Market and Kearney near Lotta's Fountain, Tetrazzini climbed a stage platform in a sparkling white gown, surrounded by a throng of an estimated two to three-hundred thousand San Franciscans, and serenaded the city she loved. [2]

Christmas Eve Evening or entire day before Christmas Day

Christmas Eve is the evening or entire day before Christmas Day, the festival commemorating the birth of Jesus. Christmas Day is observed around the world, and Christmas Eve is widely observed as a full or partial holiday in anticipation of Christmas Day. Together, both days are considered one of the most culturally significant celebrations in Christendom and Western society.

Lottas Fountain historical fountain in San Francisco

Lotta's fountain is a fountain at the intersection of Market Street, where Geary and Kearny Streets connect in downtown San Francisco, California. It was commissioned by actress Lotta Crabtree in 1875 as a gift to the city of San Francisco, and would serve as a significant meeting point in the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.

In 1907 Tetrazzini made a sensational debut as Violetta in La traviata at Covent Garden in London, where she was completely unknown, and from that point on she was an international operatic superstar, commanding the highest fees and selling out opera houses and concert halls wherever she performed. In 1908, Tetrazzini finally appeared in New York City, not at the Metropolitan, but at Oscar Hammerstein's Manhattan Opera Company, again as Violetta and again with great success. She remained loyal to Hammerstein and appeared at the Met for only one season, in 1911-12 (giving just eight performances, in the roles of Lucia, Violetta, and Gilda). From 1911 to 1914 she sang with the Boston Opera Company and Chicago Grand Opera Company. [3] At Boston, the Australian soprano Evelyn Scotney deputised for her in Lucia di Lammermoor , and the critics considered her "even better than Tetrazzini", an indication of the esteem in which Tetrazzini's name was held. [4]

<i>La traviata</i> 1853 opera by Giuseppe Verdi

La traviata is an opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi set to an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave. It is based on La Dame aux camélias (1852), a play adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas fils. The opera was originally titled Violetta, after the main character. It was first performed on 6 March 1853 at the La Fenice opera house in Venice.

Royal Opera House opera house and major performing arts venue in Covent Garden, central London

The Royal Opera House (ROH) is an opera house and major performing arts venue in Covent Garden, central London. The large building is often referred to as simply "Covent Garden", after a previous use of the site of the opera house's original construction in 1732. It is the home of The Royal Opera, The Royal Ballet, and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. Originally called the Theatre Royal, it served primarily as a playhouse for the first hundred years of its history. In 1734, the first ballet was presented. A year later, Handel's first season of operas began. Many of his operas and oratorios were specifically written for Covent Garden and had their premieres there.

London Capital of the United Kingdom

London is the capital of and largest city in England and the United Kingdom, with the largest municipal population in the European Union. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

Tetrazzini possessed an extraordinary vocal technique that enabled her to surmount any vocal challenge with almost insolent ease. She had complete mastery of runs, trills, staccati and vocal ornaments of all kinds. She also had a brilliant upper register, extending to F above high C. Unlike many other coloratura sopranos, such as Amelita Galli-Curci, Tetrazzini's high notes were not thin and delicate, but full, powerful and ringing. On the debit side of the ledger, her vocal registers were not as well-integrated as those belonging to her direct soprano rival, Nellie Melba. Also, although her lower register was strong, her middle voice was comparatively thin or 'white' in tone, with a quality which some American and English critics described as "infantile" and "child-like". The Irish tenor John McCormack even compared it, using hyperbole, to "the wailing of a cross infant". With age, however, Tetrazzini's middle register filled out to some extent; and the way that her mid-voice sounded, even when she was younger, does not seem to have troubled the ears of Mediterranean critics, going by their written record.

Amelita Galli-Curci singer

Amelita Galli-Curci was an Italian coloratura soprano. She was one of the most popular operatic singers of the 20th century, with her recordings selling in large numbers.

Nellie Melba Australian opera singer

Dame Nellie Melba GBE was an Australian operatic soprano. She became one of the most famous singers of the late Victorian era and the early 20th century, and was the first Australian to achieve international recognition as a classical musician. She took the pseudonym "Melba" from Melbourne, her home town.

John McCormack (tenor) Irish tenor

John Francis McCormack, KSG, KSS, KHS was an Irish tenor, celebrated for his performances of the operatic and popular song repertoires, and renowned for his diction and breath control. He was also a Papal Count. He became a naturalised American citizen before returning to live in Ireland.

Tetrazzini was short and grew quite stout as she aged; but she could act effectively on stage, especially in lively or comic roles. She was a good musician, too, and she possessed an amiable, zestful and vivacious personality. These extra-vocal qualities come through on the many records which she made. She recorded extensively for the Victor Talking Machine Company and HMV. Her best recordings include a spectacular rendition of "Io son Titania" from Ambroise Thomas' Mignon and "Saper vorreste" from Verdi's Un ballo in maschera , in which Tetrazzini's personality virtually jumps out of the grooves at the listener. On a different note, her recording of "Addio del passato" from La traviata is very moving and also demonstrates her fine legato, as is her "Ah non credea mirarti" from La sonnambula . Her "Una voce poco fa," and "Ah non giunge," made for Victor, remain, after all these years, unequalled for their sheer joy, easy virtuosity and spectacular ornamentation.

Victor Talking Machine Company American record company and phonograph manufacturer headquartered in Camden, New Jersey

The Victor Talking Machine Company was an American record company and phonograph manufacturer headquartered in Camden, New Jersey.

HMV is a UK based music and film retailer. The first HMV-branded store was opened by the Gramophone Company on Oxford Street in 1921, and the HMV name was also used for television and radio sets manufactured from the 1930s onwards. The retail side of the business began to expand in the 1960s, and in 1998 was divested from EMI, the successor to the Gramophone Company, to form what would become HMV Group.

Ambroise Thomas French composer

Charles Louis Ambroise Thomas was a French composer and teacher, best known for his operas Mignon (1866) and Hamlet (1868).

Tetrazzini had a bitter feud with Nellie Melba while at Covent Garden but was generally well liked by other colleagues, especially Enrico Caruso with whom she was close friends, and Frieda Hempel. Adelina Patti, the premiere soprano of an earlier generation, and not known for generosity towards other singers, was an admirer of Tetrazzini's singing, and made it a point to attend and loudly applaud the younger soprano's performances.

After World War I, Tetrazzini largely abandoned the opera stage for the concert platform. She was less fortunate in her three marriages than in her career, and her third husband rapidly dissipated the considerable fortune she had amassed, forcing her to continue to give concerts long after her voice had deteriorated. Her last years were spent in financial difficulty and declining health. However, the soprano remained cheerful and lovable, despite her reduced circumstances. She would often say, "I am old, I am fat, but I am still Tetrazzini." In 1932, when she was retiring, she was filmed listening to a recording of Caruso's rendition of "M'appari, Tutt'Amor," and began to sing along with the record showing that her voice still had plenty of power (this video can be seen from the link below under the External Links section). Tetrazzini died in Milan on 28 April 1940. [5] The state paid for her funeral.

She was the aunt and mentor of the actress Marisa Vernati. [6]

The pasta dish tetrazzini is named after her.



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  1. Tetrazzini, Luisa at Archived 2012-04-01 at the Wayback Machine
  2. Carl Nolte, Chronicle Staff Writer (24 December 2010). "Luisa Tetrazzini's gift ends S.F. era on high note". SFGate.
  3. "Tetrazzini, Luisa".
  4. "UNB Libraries : ACTS Theatre Playbills".
  5. "Year by Year 1941" -- History Channel International
  6. Enrico Lancia, Roberto Poppi. Dizionario del cinema italiano, Volume 2: Gli attori dal 1930 ai giorni nostri. Gremese Editore, 2003. ISBN   888440214X.





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