|Mirella Freni, born
Mirella Fregni on 27 February 1935, is an Italian opera soprano whose
repertoire includes Verdi, Puccini, Mozart and Tchaikovsky. Freni was
married for many years to the Bulgarian bass Nicolai Ghiaurov, with
whom she performed and recorded.
Freni was born into a working-class family in Modena; her mother and tenor Luciano Pavarotti's mother worked together and an aunt was the soprano Valentina Bartolomasi. [Freni and Pavarotti would later perform and record together many times.] She was a musically gifted child, and when 10 years old sang "Un bel dì vedremo" in a radio competition. Tenor Beniamino Gigli warned her, however, that she risked ruining her voice and advised her to give up singing until she was older. She resumed singing at the age of 17.
Freni made her professional debut as Micaëla in Carmen in 1955 in her hometown of Modena and, over the following several seasons, sang at most of the leading Italian opera houses. She made her La Scala debut in 1963 as Nanetta in Falstaff and the following year. She achieved immediate international stardom there when she was cast by Herbert von Karajan as Mimì in a new production of La Bohème staged by Franco Zefferelli. Within a short period of time, guest appearances took Ms. Freni to the world’s most important opera houses, including the Vienna State Opera, where the prestigious title “Kammersängerin” was conferred upon her by the Austrian Government. In North America, the soprano made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1965. On that occasion, as on the occasions of debuts in San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia and Miami, the role of Mimì served as her calling card.
In 1970, Ms. Freni began a judicious transition from the purely lyric repertory to that of certain spinto roles. She starred with Jon Vickers in a new production of Otello at the Salzburg Festival. The conductor was Maestro von Karajan who, perhaps more than anyone, had a profound influence on her career. Other conductors with whom the soprano has enjoyed extended collaborations include Claudio Abbado, Roberto Abbado, Carlo Maria Giulini, Carlos Kleiber, George Prêtre, James Levine, Riccardo Muti, Seiji Ozawa and Giuseppe Sinopoli.
During the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, Mirella Freni continued to expand her repertory by undertaking major Verdi, Puccini and Russian operas, e.g. Don Carlo, Aïda, Ernani, Manon Lescaut, Eugene Onegin and Pique Dame. In recent seasons, she has explored the verismo repertory, adding the title roles of Adriana Lecouvrer, Fedora, Madame Sans-Gêne, and The Maid of Orleans. Many of Ms. Freni’s distinguished video performances from the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, Paris Opera and the Vienna State Opera are currently released on DVD.
-- Names which are links refer to my Interviews elsewhere on my website. BD
|Nicolai Ghiaurov (or Nikolai
Gjaurov, Nikolay Gyaurov, Bulgarian: Николай Гяуров) (September 13,
1929 – June 2, 2004) was a Bulgarian opera singer and one of the most
famous basses of the postwar period. He was admired for his powerful,
sumptuous voice, and was particularly associated with roles of
Mussorgsky and Verdi. Ghiaurov married the Bulgarian pianist Zlatina
Mishakova in 1956 and Italian soprano Mirella Freni in 1978, and the
two singers frequently performed together. They lived in Modena until
Ghiaurov's death in 2004 of a heart attack.
Ghiaurov was born in the small mountain town of Velingrad in southern Bulgaria. As a child, he learned to play the violin, piano and clarinet. He began his musical studies at the Bulgarian State Conservatory in 1949 under Prof. Hristo Brambarov. From 1950 until 1955, he studied at the Moscow Conservatory.
Ghiaurov's career was launched in 1955, when he won the Grand Prix at the International Vocal Competition in Paris and the First Prize and a gold medal at the Fifth World Youth Festival in Prague. He made his operatic debut in 1955 as Don Basilio in Rossini's The Barber of Seville in Sofia. He made his Italian operatic debut in 1957 in Teatro Comunale Bologna, before starting an international career with his rendition of Varlaam in the opera Boris Godunov at La Scala in 1959. 1962 marked Ghiaurov's Covent Garden debut as Padre Guardiano in Verdi's La forza del destino as well as his first appearance in Salzburg in Verdi's Requiem, conducted by Herbert von Karajan.
Ghiaurov first shared a stage with Mirella Freni in 1961 in Genoa. She was Marguerite, he was Mefisto in Faust. Married in 1978, they lived in her hometown, Modena. They sang together frequently.
He made his US debut in Gounod's Faust in 1963 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and he went on to sing twelve roles with the company, including the title roles in Boris Godunov, Don Quichotte, and Mefistofele.
Ghiaurov made his Metropolitan Opera debut on 8 November 1965 as Mephistofele. He sang a total of 81 performances in ten roles there, last appearing there on October 26, 1996, as Sparafucile in Rigoletto. During the course of his career, he also performed at Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre, the Vienna State Opera, Covent Garden, and Paris Opéra.
He recorded frequently, and his discography includes complete recordings of many of his great stage roles.
Mirella Freni and Nicolai Ghiaurov
at Lyric Opera of Chicago
1963 - [American Debut] Faust (Ghiaurov as Mefistofélès)
with Guiot, Chauvet, Massard; Dervaux, Gilles
1964 - Don Carlo (Ghiaurov as Philip II)
with Gencer, Tucker, Gobbi, Bumbry/Cossotto, Marangoni; Bartoletti
Don Giovanni (Ghiaurov as Giovanni)
with Stich-Randall, Curtin, Kunz, Kraus, Panni, Uppman; Krips Zeffirelli (prod)
1965 - [Opening Night] Mefistofele (Ghiaurov as Mefistofele)
with Tebaldi, Kraus, Suliotis; Sanzogno
Bohème (Freni as Mimì) with Corelli, Bruscantini, Martelli, Cesari; Cillario
1966 - [Opening Night] Boris Godunov (Ghiaurov as Boris)
with Baldani, Cossutta, Wildermann, Paunov, Haywood; Bartoletti, Benois (prod)
Pearl Fishers (Ghiaurov as Nourabad) with Eda-Pierre, Kraus, Bruscantini; Fournet
1969 - [Opening Night] Khovanshchina (Ghiaurov as Khovansky)
with Baldani, Shtokolov, Mittelmann, Andreolli, Bodurov; Bartoletti, Benois
1971 - Don Carlo (Ghiaurov as Philip II)
with Lorengar, Cossutta, Milnes, Cossotto, Sotin, Estes; Bartoletti, Mansouri
1974 - Don Quichotte (Ghiaurov as Quichotte)
with Cortez, Foldi, Paige; Fournet, Tajo, Samaritani
1976 - Khovanshchina (Ghiaurov as Khovansky)
with Shade, Lagger, Trussel, Cortez, Mittelmann, Andreolli; Bartoletti, Benois
1979 - Faust (Freni as Marguerite & Ghiaurov as Mefistofélès)
with Kraus, Stilwell, Decker; Prêtre, Tallchief (Ballet)
1980 - [Opening Night] Boris Godunov (Ghiaurov as Boris)
with Baldani, Ochman, Sotin, Trussel, Tyl, Gordon, Cook, Raftery;
Bartoletti, Everding, Lee (prod)
Attila (Ghiaurov as Attila) with Cruz-Romo, Luchetti, Carroli; Bartoletti
1981 - Don Quichotte (Ghiaurov as Quichotte)
with Valentini-Terrani, Gramm, Gordon; Fournet, Samaritani (director & designer)
Romeo and Juliette (Freni as Juliette)
with Kraus, Raftery, Kavrakos, Bruscantini, Negrini, Graham; Fournet
1984 - [Opening Night] Eugene Onegin (Freni as Tatiana & Ghiaurov as Gremin)
with Brendel, Dvorsky, Walker, Doss; Bartoletti, Samaritani
Ernani (Ghiaurov as Silva) with Bumbry, Bartolini, Cappuccilli; Renzetti
1994-95 - Fedora (Freni as Fedora) with Domingo/Cura, Summers, Lawrence; Bartoletti
Barber of Seville (Ghiaurov as Basilio)
with Von Stade, Allen, Blake, Desderi; Rizzi, Copley, Conklin
1997-98 - Bohème (Freni as Mimì & Ghiaurov as Colline)
with La Scola, Josephson, Rambaldi; Bartoletti, Pizzi (Prod)
© 1981 & 1994 Bruce Duffie
These conversations were recorded in Chicago on December 10, 1981, and November 14, 1994. The first interview was edited and published in Nit&Wit Magazine in September of 1994. Portions of each artist alone were broadcast on WNIB in 1990, 1995, 1997, 1999, and 2000. Brief selections from each singer were given to Lyric Opera of Chicago for use on their website as part of their group of Jubilarians, celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the company in 2004 by honoring several artists who were important during the early days of the company. This transcription was made in 2017, and posted on this website at that time. My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM.You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago. You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.