Just in: Mirella Freni is dead

The marvellous Italian soprano died today at her home in Modena. She was 84.

A close ally of Luciano Pavarotti, they were raised by the same nurse as their mothers worked at the tobacco factory in Modena. Fregni (she soon dropped the ‘g’) made her debut at 19 in Modena, as Micaela in Carmen. She married her voice teacher, the conductor Leone Magiera, and made her international breakthrough in 1960 at Glyndebourne, where she sang Adina in Franco Zeffirelli’s staging of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. Within a couple of years, she was Herbert von Karajan’s favourite Italian soprano and Pavarotti’s frequent partner. After her divorce from Magiera, she married the bass Nicolai Ghiaurov in 1978.

She sang for 40 years at the Met, one of its all-time favourites. The director Jean-Pierre Ponnelle said of Freni that she was ‘a real, concrete woman with great poesia. Everything she does is absolutely real.’

Interview with Bruce Duffie here.

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  • So sad to hear. Loved her “Amico Fritz” and “La bohème” recordings with Luciano Pavarotti. They were my favorite opera pair.

  • Absolutely adored her voice, especially in the Italian repertoire. In terms of pure sound, only second to the great Renata Tebaldi in her prime. Requiescat in pace, Mirella Freni…

  • Alla morte di Luciano Pavarotti fu la commentatrice dei funerali del grande tenore per conto della TV italiana. Non riusciva quasi a parlare tanto piangeva per l’emozione. Uns vera signora e dai modi semplici e naturali.

    • I also saw/heard them together in Boheme at the Met in 1988. Both toward the end of their careers but vocally superb. It didn’t hurt that Carlos Kleiber was in the pit……………

    • “Protege?” Seriously? By the time Pavarotti was taking his first international steps in 1963, Freni had already sung principal parts (beginning in 1958) in Turin, Amsterdam, Glyndebourne, La Scala, London, Vienna, etc.

      How exactly did Pavarotti help her make those debuts?

  • Unbelievable! Was blessed to have seen her six times. Faust, Manon Lescaut twice, Don Carlos and twice in concert. Undoubtedly the greatest soprano I’ve ever heard live!! How sad!

  • Pavarotti and Freni, both from Modena, always brought out the best in each other’s singing.
    And the best from those two was THE best.
    Arrivederci, cara Mirella….

  • What a loss. I have lived with Madama Freni’s recordings for many years now, not least those of Verdi and Puccini with Karajan. Such beauty and musicianship, rarely if ever rivalled.
    RIP

  • I met her at the dress rehersal of Barber of Seville in Chicago. Her husband was singing Don Basilio. She was singing Fedora. I was an usher at the time. I said hello and told her I was a fan. She was so nice.

  • An impeccable Susanna, Mimí, Desdemona, Juliette, Zerlina, Micaëla, and so many more. I think she doesn’t always get the credit due to her because she did mostly lyric roles that are neither hugely dramatic nor do they have the coloratura or high notes, but where she excelled she was the best.

  • My twin toddlers are being raised on a steady diet of classical music (I’m a pianist and studied conducting) but it just randomly happened that — I think — they were having their first experience listening to Freni and Pavarotti in the classic Karajan Boheme, dancing Martha-Graham style around the darkened room with glow sticks, when I saw the news for the first time here on Norman’s blog. We think we’ve got some performers on our hands, with whatever spirits may help them soak it all in. RIP to one of the great ones.

  • One of the great singers of the 20th century (and still sang well into the early 21st). We were lucky to have her, and lucky to still have her many glorious recordings. RIP.

  • Not only a superb artist, a lovely person. Back in 1977 when the Edinburgh Festival mounted its now legendary Carmen – a production claimed by the writer and critic Bernard Levin as arguably the finest since the work’s premiere – I was involved backstage. Teresa Berganza was making her debut in the role along with a stellar company that included Domingo, Abbado and the LSO.

    Mirella Freni flew over to sing Micaela at the first performance to support her friend Berganza. Before going on stage in Act 2, Teresa asked me to look after her vocal score. Out of interest, I followed every note. At the end of the Act Ms. Freni came up to me, kissed me on both cheeks and said, “Thank you. That was very kind.” To this day I have no idea why, other than she thought I was a member of the music staff.

    May she Rest In Peace.

    • I didn’t know she was involved with that production. I know that Ileana Cotrubas sang on the studio recording that followed, and I believe Leona Mitchell was Micaëla in the later performances?

  • A goddess of our art form has left us all, and left us all bathed in a voice so glorious it ought not to be subjected to blithe comparrisons. Such artists stand alone, and change our world for ever, and for the immeasurably better.

  • A warm, down-to-earth, un-diva like person to boot. Always loved her quip about growing up with Pavarotti at the same nursery: “now you know who got the milk.”

  • Very sad to hear. I was privileged to have caught her in her vocal prime (early 1990s) as Mimì and Lisa (Pique Dame). She was phenomenal in both.

  • Freni’s magical Tatyana at Covent Garden in 1988 remains strong in the memory as does her wonderful singing of Fedora in 1994. The latter sharing the stage with Domingo and Carreras. She was one of the Greats

  • Wonderful, highly intelligent artist who knew her voice and what it could do and never allowed ambition to endanger it. She sounded great into her sixties, an example to singers who think they can sing everything. I was privileged to hear her live in Don Carlo, La Boheme and several concerts.
    Truly, an end of an era. RIP.

  • The only time I ever heard her live was also the first time I ever heard the Verdi Requiem, at Tanglewood in 1981 (with Ozawa conducting and Shirley Verrett, Ermanno Mauro, and Nicolai Ghiaurov). Unbelievable.

  • Such a great loss, I am so sad! She was always one of my favorite opera singers, since the first days I began to be interested in opera. So it was truly a dream come true when in 1998 I finally could listen and see her live, in her belated, long awaited and finally really unforgettable debut at the Colón Theatre in Buenos Aires, singing “Fedora” with Plácido Domingo and Sherril Milnes. To hear that wonderful voice live at last, sounding still so beautiful at her 63 years, will be forever one of the most beautiful memories I can treasure as an opera fan! I say hello to her after the performance, and she was so nice, humble and down to earth… how not to love her?

    Years after that, in 2010, I contacted and met her for an interview in the little city of Mirandola, not so far away from her beloved Modena; only 45 minutes to talk with her, before a concert of her students… but how unforgettable were those 45 minutes!!! Rest in peace, dear Signora Freni, and thanks for all you gave us, as a singer and also as a human being!!!

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