The last of the divas makes her comeback at 74

The last of the divas makes her comeback at 74


norman lebrecht

March 03, 2020

The Italian soprano Katia Ricciarelli has been telling anyone who cares to listen that she was the last of the real divas.

On the death of Mirella Freni: Mirella was a great singer, but not a diva. I am. I think I can say that. A diva is someone who even in slippers and curlers radiates an aura and makes heads turn. When I die, you can write, “She was the last diva.”

In case you have missed her, Katia will come out of retirement this summer to sing in Cavalleria Rusticana at the Arena di Verona.

I suddenly felt the need to sing an opera, but not one I’d already sung, so I could say: I can still do it. I’d always dreamed of singing Cavalleria, though instead of Santuzza I will be Lucia, Turiddu’s mother, who knows that her son will end up badly. It takes art to perform a cameo. You know a great chef by how he makes scrambled eggs.

More here.

Thanks to the meticulous Graham Spicer for the translation.


  • Paul Dawson says:

    I wish her luck, because I was a great admirer in her day. However, I think her self-praise is a little unbecoming and I rather doubt the wisdom of her comeback. Whoever is singing Santuzza is probably in for a rough ride.

    • A.L. says:

      She has been a self-perpetrated embarrassment for decades. No one can take her seriously except the Verona mafia.

  • A.L. says:

    And Cheryl Studer has recorded Mamma Lucia. The set was just released.

  • Dee Miner says:

    Maybe better not to pass comment until she has broken the eggs then – though no doubt the press will scramble for seats at the event. Even if the tone of what she says is slightly superior, you can’t fault her ambition. I heard Martha Modl on stage past 80y/o and she sounded good, Grace Bumbry less so in a misguided Wigmore Hall sellout idolisation exercise – an entire evening with about 3 decent notes!

    • Nik says:

      Martha Mödl in Pique Dame was phenomenal, a force of nature. Her voice had morphed into a booming alto. I have goosebumps just thinking about it.
      That was not a mere cameo. It was a definitive interpretation of the role.

    • Paul Carlile says:

      Not wanting to over-egg this but, after the press “scrambling for seats,” will enthusiasm Boil over or will her performance be White washed as a bad Yoke? Not that i’d Shell out much to hear her now. Imagine the Benediction of her as Awful-ier in Ham let (or should that be Omelet- Prinz of Denmark?). I think there will be no standing Ovulations.
      Sorry for Poaching most of these from other sources; i know when i’m Beaten and now Eier have had en Oeuf.

      It’s okay, i know my way out.

    • tristan says:

      a fantastic Mamma Lucia was Astrid Varnay when Rysanek did in in Munich with Domingo long time ago….
      I didn’t like Katia’s remarks here but honestly I wished to have someone like Ricciarelli (what wonderful Desdemona she was with Kleiber or her Amelia in Simon Boccanegra with Abbado in Vienna or even her live TOSCA with Karajan from Berlin!!!) around instead of all those slavic timbres or heavy Americans….but forgive me Katia, the last great Diva is still around and alive and I hope for many years to come: Renata Scotto!!!

  • Charles says:

    I was always very fond of Ricciarelli. She was no Freni, but at her best, especially when she was working with Kleiber, she was great.

    In terms of divas, isn’t Raina Kabaivanska still alive and a diva, in the best sense?

    • We privatize your value says:

      Yes, and Gundula Janowitz, the most beautiful soprano voice of them all… still alive (born 1937) and what a career behind her!

    • John Rook says:

      Absolutely. Did Dame de Pique with her a few years back and she was magnificent. No voice left, but what a lady and what a performance.

  • V.Lind says:

    Mirella Freni was a diva in the opera sense of the word. This one sounds like a diva in the Mariah Carey/J-Lo sense.

    • Bruce says:

      Off-topic, but I was reminded of a concert review of J-Lo that I read in the NY Times of all places: “She has a voice like a diamond: small, bright, and sharp.”

  • Green Eggs and Ham says:

    Perhaps she should just stay home and make scrambled eggs in her slippers and curlers. The elderly cannot blame the young for behaving foolishly when they themselves speak so unwisely of those they envied and admired. Freni was a diva who didn’t need to act like one. She could sing.

  • Steve says:

    How does a soprano change a light bulb?
    ‘she just stands there and the whole world revolves around her…’ ;//

  • The late, great artist’s manager Bruce Zemsky, used to love to tell the story about how he appeared in his underwear in Ricciarelli and her former amor Carerras’ hotel suite….in the early days of my dear friend’s career.

  • Charles says:

    What about Fiorenza Cossotto, who is definitely a diva.

  • Stuart says:

    I hope that her Freni/diva comments were made tongue-in-cheek though I suspect not. Someone is feeling a bit neglected – oh why say such rubbish. I loved her singing in the day but that day is long past. Let her have fun and no harm will be done. Cavalleria is not much of an opera anyway.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    A diva who refuses to be casta side.


  • Jonathan Sutherland says:

    I recently encountered La Ricciarelli at the Teatro Verdi in Trieste last November where she was designated regista of the new production of ‘Turandot’. Many cast members assured me that her yappy pocket-pooch made a more meaningful contribution to the regia with its bothersome barking than the soi-disant diva in director mode. As for ‘slippers and curlers’, she appeared at the reception after the Prima dressed in a drab dowdy smock which made her look more like a paunchy putzfrau than prima donna emeritus. Yes, heads did turn but it was if a disheveled bag lady had crashed a party of the bel mondo of Trieste. Her self-professed ‘radiating aura’ was that of a surly senior citizen getting over a semi-permanent hangover. By all means let us never forget Ricciarelli’s magnificent career but this absurd and futile attempt at self-reinvention can only end in tears. ‘Non piangere, Liù’ indeed. Finally, the tessitura of Mama Lucia lies about an octave below Ricciarelli’s comfortable range – or what there is left of it.

  • Zvi says:



    Renata Scotto, anyone?

  • Bruce says:

    More of a diva than Freni, perhaps… but not as good a singer.

    • tristan says:

      different but on the same level! They got on well and even recorded a wonderful Duet album. I wished we had one singer nowadays who could sing like Freni, Scotto or Ricciarelli though they all had different strengths – yes also Raina Kabaiwanska. I miss you all!

      • Bruce says:

        I disagree, although I recognize that I’m a partisan and we’re having a “Milan vs Madrid Real” conversation here, not arguing about a good singer vs a bad one. I have Ricciarelli’s Boheme and Trovatore recordings, both with Colin Davis (of all people) and Carreras et al. They are both wonderful. Also a live “Don Carlo” from Venice, 1973, conducted by Pretre, where she is ravishing.

  • Elizabeth Lloyd-Davies says:

    I remember seeing Katia Ricerelli as Desdemona in Domingo’s younger days….she was
    ravishing….adn also in AndreaChenier at Versailles in 1989 when the Gala Celebration was in a poughed field and celebraties, including Jackie Kennedy struggled in very high
    heels on the uneven ground when we all expected to be in the gardens of the Palace ,
    she was unique ….how brave of her to face the music again and enjoy the experience of performing again.

    • Jonathan Sutherland says:

      Ricciarelli may ‘enjoy the experience’ but I doubt if any self-respecting opera lover will. I would suggest that it is not bravery but delusional ego. Plus a need to earn a few euros which due to her various post-career addictions, she very much needs.

  • Vaquero357 says:

    A lot of people loved Freni precisely because she did NOT behave like a diva

    • Bruce says:

      She had PLENTY of stage presence though. If she hadn’t, she would have been tossed in the “pretty lady, lovely voice, but boring” category and forgotten immediately.

  • Rudy says:

    Leontyne Price, diva de tutte le dive!!

  • Judex says:

    Katia Ricciarelli sings Schubert’s Ave Maria:

    Warning: you’re not going to like this and you will feel little respect for Miss Ricciarelli.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Why not? Pietro Mascagni picked up Lina Bruna-Rasa at the asylum to perform and record “Cavalleria”, but he brought her back to the asylum afterward. Of course, Bruna-Rasa could sing.

    I also thought of Martha Moedl, whom I saw as Brunnhilde at Bayreuth in 1954, just after she recorded “Fidelio” with Furtwaengler. Unbelievable. They say she never retired from the Vienna Opera.

    I heard Scotto as Tosca in 1985 at Lyric Opera, a little too late, but she was a diva all right. Italo Tajo as Sagristano stole the show. I don’t even remember the Cavaradossi, if there was one. My last previous Tosca had been Ljuba Welitsch,, the Met on tour in Dallas. It was a long time between Toscas, but there were recordings … among them Scotto’s of Fr. Licinio Refice’s “Cecilia”, enterprising, but not a patch on Claudia Muzio, whose parlando outdid anyone’s singing including hers, as in “Traviata”.

    Her “L’altra notte al fondo delmare from “Mefistofele” seemed spoken rather than sung. No0one else could throw away theend of a line like that.

  • Aiden says:

    I don’t see any harm in Katia’s come-back.She still has a bit of a voice and a bit of moxie.
    My singing idol was ,and is, di Stefano.As an oldster he still had it.To see him, Carreras[another di Stefano worshipper] and Ricciarelli did my heart good.She was not Callas, but who was or will be?
    good on ya, Katia!

  • Gordon Oldroyd says:

    Leontyne price was a gracious lady, and a voice that i will never forget, placido domingo said to sing beside her was an inspiration the power of her voice and the sensousness, was something else and she was a gracious lady, who did not mix with the gossip click.Yes a true diva.I hope katia ricakellia regets her outburst about mirelli freni another true diva.