Magda Olivero
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Magda Olivero
Magda Olivero
Magda Olivero.jpg
Maria Maddalena Olivero

(1910-03-25)25 March 1910
Died8 September 2014(2014-09-08) (aged 104)
Milan, Italy
OccupationOpera singer (soprano)
Years active1932-1981

Magda Olivero (née Maria Maddalena Olivero) (25 March 1910 - 8 September 2014), was an Italian operatic soprano. Her career started in 1932 when she was 22, and spanned five decades establishing her "as an important link between the era of the verismo composers and the modern opera stage".[1] She has been regarded as "one of the greatest singers of the twentieth century".[2]

Life and career

Born as Maria Maddalena Olivero in Saluzzo, Italy, she made her singing debut in 1932 on radio in Turin performing Nino Cattozzo's (1886-1961) oratorio, I Misteri Dolorosi.[3]

Olivero performed widely and increasingly successfully until 1941, when she married and retired from the stage, only taking part thereafter in sporadic charity events. Not having had children as she would have liked to, however, she resumed her career ten years later, at the request of Francesco Cilea, who asked her to sing again the title role in his opera Adriana Lecouvreur.[4][5] She performed this role at the Teatro Grande in Brescia on 3 February 1951, but Cilea did not see his wish come true as he had died less than three months earlier.[6]

From 1951 until her final retirement, Olivero appeared in opera houses throughout Italy and, mainly in the 1960s and 1970s, all around the world (Europe, Egypt, U.S., Latin America),[3] but never in such premier venues as the Royal Opera House or the Paris Opera. Olivero performed just once at the Vienna State Opera, and exceedingly rarely at La Scala.[7] Among her most renowned interpretations were those of the leading roles in Adriana Lecouvreur, Iris, Fedora, Tosca, La Bohème, La Fanciulla del West, La Traviata, La Wally, Madama Butterfly, Manon Lescaut, Mefistofele, Turandot (as Liù) and La Voix Humaine, the Italian version of which she premiered in Trieste in 1968.

She debuted successfully in the United States in 1967 as Medea in the Italian version of Cherubini's Médée, at the Dallas Opera,[8] where she subsequently appeared in 1969 as Fedora, in 1970 as Giorgetta in Il Tabarro and in a gala concert featuring Poulenc's La Voix Humaine, sung for the first time in French; and finally as Tosca in 1974. The role of Medea, belonging to an eighteenth-century repertoire that was quite alien to her ordinary interests, was again taken at the Music Hall Theater in Kansas City in 1968, as well as, three years later, at Amsterdam's Concertgebouw, in concert,[3] and eventually at Mantua's Teatro Sociale.[9]

In 1975, at the age of 65, Olivero made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in Tosca, "as a late replacement for [Birgit] Nilsson."[10] Her only three performances[11] caused a furore, being met with wild applause from audiences,[12] and were later referred to as "legendary".[13] Her farewell to the Met's public is narrated in these words in a recent history of the New York theatre:

On April 18, her third and last Met performance (she sang Tosca on tour in 1979), Olivero acknowledged the insistent cheers of the throng pressing forward on the orchestra floor by edging along the narrow lip at the base of the proscenium to touch the outstretched hands of her admirers. A misstep would have plunged her into the pit. With this gesture, Olivero showed what made her unique: she sang and acted as if her life depended on it.

-- Charles and Mirella Jona Affron (2014), Grand Opera: The Story of the Met, p. 266.[10]

Her last performances on stage were in March 1981, in the one-woman opera, La Voix Humaine, in Verona;[14] her stage career ending at age 71, after spanning nearly 50 years. She continued to sing sacred music locally and made occasional singing appearances well into her nineties.[13]

Olivero died at the Istituto Auxologico di Milano[15] aged 104.[16][17]

Recordings and appraisal

Despite having a large cult following everywhere, Magda Olivero was never at the centre of the operatic star system, being largely restricted to Italian provincial theatres, and she was almost completely ignored by the official record industry.[3] There exist only two studio recordings of complete operas featuring Olivero: Turandot (as Liù, with Gina Cigna, for Cetra Records, 1938) and Fedora (with Mario Del Monaco and Tito Gobbi, conducted by Lamberto Gardelli, for Decca, 1969). There exists a film, too, drawn from a 1960 RAI-television broadcast of Tosca.[3]

Studio recordings of individual pieces are also rare. Between 1939 and 1953 Olivero was called upon by Cetra to record arias by Puccini, Cilea, Boito, Verdi and others,[18] including the finale of Act 1 of La Traviata, which Rodolfo Celletti described as "the most fascinating performance of this scene and aria ever committed to the phonograph."[19] Apart from these pieces, there are only two other official records: a sacred music recital entitled Quando il Canto Diventa Preghiera, performed at the Angelicum Theatre in Milan (Ariston Records, no longer available at present), and the highlights from Francesca da Rimini (with Del Monaco, conducted by Nicola Rescigno, for Decca, 1969).[3]

In 1993, when her stage career had been over for many years, Olivero recorded, with piano accompaniment, Adriana Lecouvreur (with Marta Moretto as the Princesse de Bouillon): excerpts from this recording were published on the Bongiovanni label. At age 86, she performed Adriana's monologue in Jan Schmidt-Garre's film Opera Fanatic.[20]

In spite of the scanty interest shown by the official record industry, live recordings exist of many of her performances that are fully able to document her great artistic skills.[3] The extent of Olivero's ability was identified by her great admirer Marilyn Horne, who, in 1975, firmly insisted that the Met should at last engage Olivero: "she practically gave acting and singing lessons while onstage; honestly, you could learn more from watching an Olivero performance than from reading most books on those very subjects."[21]

On the occasion of her death, sympathetic obituaries appeared in the press around the world. In his TheaterJones article musician and critic Gregory Sullivan Isaacs reported the following opinion expressed by Emmanuel Villaume, the Dallas Opera's music director, as "one of the best summaries" of Olivero's artistry:

Magda Olivero was a unique artist. People generally praise her mostly for her dramatic stage presence. What always impressed me in her interpretations was the ability, beyond her stagecraft, to use her God given natural voice and unsurpassed technique, as well as superior and cultured musicianship, to put all these components at the service of a controlled and unified performance.
Drama, magic and music just fed each other perfectly.[22]


  1. ^ Siff, Ira, "Magda Olivero, 104, the Last Great Verismo Soprano, Has Died", Opera News, 8 September 2014.
  2. ^ (in French) "La cantatrice italienne Magda Olivero est morte à l'âge de 104 ans", France Musique, 9 September 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g (in Italian) Landini, Giancarlo Olivero, Maria Maddalena, detta Magda, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (2017).
  4. ^ Rosenthal, H. and Warrack, J., "Olivero, Magda", The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera, 2nd edition, Oxford University Press, 1979, pp. 358-359; ISBN 0-19-311318-X
  5. ^ Hastings, Stephen, "Magnificent Obsession: Why Magda Olivero is Adriana Lecouvreur", Opera News, Vol. 58, No. 13, March 1994.
  6. ^ Quattrocchi, Vincenzo, Magda Olivero: Una voce per tre generazioni, Turin, Italgrafica, 1984, p. 61. She had already made her second debut on 20 January as Mimì, at the same Teatro Grande.
  7. ^ Cf Royal Opera House Collections Online, Les Archives du Spectacle (in French), Wiener Staatsoper Archives (in German), and Archivio La Scala. Throughout the second part of her career she appeared at La Scala only 20 times overall, in just three productions.
  8. ^ Davis, Ronald L., La Scala West: The Dallas Opera Under Kelly and Rescigno, University Park, Southern Methodist University Press, 2000, p. 99, ISBN 0870744542; Riggs, Geoffrey S., The Assoluta Voice in Opera, McFarland, 2003, pp. 28-29; ISBN 0-7864-1401-4
  9. ^ Quattrocchi, Vincenzo, Magda Olivero: Una voce per tre generazioni, Turin, Italgrafica, 1984, p. 113.
  10. ^ a b Affron, Charles & Affron, Mirella Jona, Grand Opera: The Story of the Met, Oakland, University of California Press, 2014, p. 266, ISBN 978-0-520-95897-5.
  11. ^ Cf Metropolitan Opera Archives.
  12. ^ Schonberg, Harold C., "Opera: Magda Olivero Sings Tosca in Met Debut", The New York Times, 5 April 1975. An unofficial recording of Olivero's rendition of "Vissi d'Arte" from the Met is available on YouTube: in Ira Siff's memory it had been 'the most touching, spectacularly sung "Vissi d'Arte" of his experience' as a listener (article cited above).
  13. ^ a b Filler, Martin (24 September 2014). "The Unstoppable Soprano". New York Review of Books. Retrieved 2018.
  14. ^ (in Spanish) Masó, Gonzalo Badenes, "Magda Olivero", Voces: Ritmo, 1987-2000, Universitat de València, 2005, pp. 90-91. ISBN 84-370-6255-1
  15. ^ Carlo Bergonzi had died at the Istituto Auxologico di Milano 1 1/2 months earlier.
  16. ^ (in Italian) "È morta a 104 anni Magda Olivero, grande soprano milanese", La Repubblica, 8 September 2014 (in Italian)
  17. ^ "OPERA NEWS - Magda Olivero, 104, the Last Great Verismo Soprano, Has Died". Retrieved 2018.
  18. ^ ArkivMusic.
  19. ^ Moritz, Charles (editor-in-chief), Current Biography Yearbook 1980, Volume 41, New York, H. W. Wilson Company, 1981, p. 295. In 1964 Celletti had written Olivero's version was "almost certainly the most heart-felt and quivering rendition of this aria ever given on record" (Le grandi voci, Rome, Istituto per la Collaborazione Culturale, 1964, p. 589).
  20. ^ Opera Fanatic on IMDb
  21. ^ Horne, Marilyn and Scovell, Jane, Marilyn Horne: The Song Continues, Fort Worth, Baskerville, 2004, p. 184. ISBN 978-1880909713
  22. ^ Magda Olivero, 1910-2014, "TheaterJones", 15 September 2014.

Further sources

  • Hastings, Stephen, "Verismo Muse", Opera News, Vol. 70, No. 7, January 2006. (accessed via subscription 28 March 2010)
  • Stinchelli, Enrico, "L'art n'a pas d'âge: Magda Olivero", Les stars de l'opéra: Grands artistes lyriques de l'histoire de l'opéra, Gremese Editore, 2002, pp. 80-81. ISBN 88-7301-499-2
  • Konrad Dryden. From Another World: The Art of Magda Olivero, The Opera Quarterly, vol. 20 number 3, Summer 2004
  • Konrad Dryden. Franco Alfano, Transcending Turandot (Scarecrow Press Inc., 2009) Foreword by Magda Olivero.

External links

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