Soprano  Cecilia  Gasdia

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


In 1980 at the age of 20, Cecilia Gasdia won the first prize in the “New Voices for Opera” Competition dedicated to Maria Callas. She subsequently made her debut in Florence in I Capuleti e i Montecchi, but real fame was hers when, at the last minute, she was called to La Scala in Milan to replace Montserrat Caballé in the title role of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena. The sensational success of the evening brought Cecilia Gasdia to the attention of orchestra conductors and directors all over the world.

In the 80’s, at the Teatro Comunale in Florence, Gasdia made her debut as Violetta in a new production of La Traviata under the direction of Franco Zefirelli and conducted by Carlos Kleiber; Nannetta in a production of Falstaff conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini; Anne Truelove in The Rake’s Progress directed by Ken Russel and conducted by Riccardo Chailly, and she appeared in Paris in Rossini’s Moise, Verdi’s Jérusalem and La Traviata, this last opera conducted by Zubin Mehta. She subsequently made her debut in the United States in Rigoletto in Philadelphia and New York with Riccardo Muti, with whom she had sung Rossini’s Stabat Mater at the Edinburgh Festival.

Cecilia Gasdia is one of the most internationally appreciated singers of Rossini’s work, and her repertoire includes fourteen of his roles. The collaboration with the Rossini Festival in Pesaro, which began in 1983 with Mosè in Egitto, has continued over the years with Le Comte Ory, Il Viaggio a Reims conducted by Claudio Abbado of which a highly successful record was made by DG, Maometto II, Otello and Semiramide.

In June 1994, Gasdia took part in an extraordinary concert in the Sarajevo National Library conducted by Zubin Mehta, performing Mozart’s Requiem alongside José Carreras and Ruggero Raimondi. The concert, dedicated to the victims of the tragedy of ex-Yugoslavia, was broadcast by more than 30 television networks all round the world.

Among her most important engagements of the 1997-98 season were the productions of Orfeo by Monteverdi at the Athens Concert Hall, staged by Pier Luigi Pizzi and conducted by Claudio Scimone, Un giorno di regno by Verdi at the Teatro Regio in Parma, Orfeo in a production of the Teatro Comunale in Florence, Giulio Cesare by Handel at the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome, and L’Amico Fritz by Mascagni at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples.

During the season 1998-99 she was busy with productions of Il barbiere di Siviglia at the New National Theater Tokyo, L’Amico Fritz at the Teatro Bellini in Catania, a series of concerts with Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater in Genoa and other Ligurian theaters, a long series of concerts all over Italy with Claudio Scimone and I Solisti Veneti, a production of Orfeo by A. Sartorio at the Teatro in Fano/Italy conducted by Alberto Zedda, and The Merry Widow at the Arena of Verona.

Among her most important engagements of the 2000 season were the productions of Pagliacci by Leoncavallo at the Teatro Bellini in Catania conducted by Daniel Oren, Le Jongleur de Notre Dame by Massenet conducted by Gelmetti at the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome, and Mosè in Egitto by Rossini under the direction of Pier Luigi Pizzi and conducted by Claudio Scimone at the Teatro Filarmonico in Verona.

In January 2001 she had a personal success in L’Amico Fritz with Andrea Bocelli at the Teatro Filarmonico in Verona (shown in photo below). In March-April she joined Bocelli on US Spring Tour of eight concerts in USA and Canada, and in June she appeared in a Gala Concert with Bocelli in Pisa for the reopening of the Tower of Pisa.


August 2001 she sang in Otello at the Teatro Verdi in Trieste with José Cura, and had an enthusiastic success at the Edinburgh International Festival with Armida by Rossini.

In February and March 2002 Gasdia sang Pagliacci by Leoncavallo at the Teatro Filarmonico-Arena of Verona Foundation and in April 2002 she debuted as Tosca by Puccini at the Opera Theater in Cairo. 

During 2003 she sings for Fondazione Gulbekian in Lisbon, and she is the artistic witness in the world for the 25th Anniversary of the Pontificate of John Paul II singing in Rome, Strasbourg, Monaco di Baviera, Buenos Aires, Rabat.

Since the beginning of the career she has worked with Claudio Scimone and I Solisti Veneti including an intense recording activity.

--  Biography (slightly edited) from her official website.  Photo from the Bocelli website.  
--  Names which are links in this box and below refer to my Interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  


Gasdia with Giuseppe di Stefano

In December of 1985, Cecilia Gasdia had just made her American stage debut at Lyric Opera of Chicago as Giulietta in I Capuleti e i Montecchi of Bellini [with Tatiana Troyanos as Romeo, Dennis O
’Neill as Tebaldo, and Dimitri Kavrakos as Lorenzo, conducted by Donato Renzetti and staged by Giulio Chazalettes.  She would return three years later to open the season in another Bellini work, as Amina in La Sonnambula with Frank Lopardo as Elvino and Kavrakos as Count Rodolfo, again conducted by Renzetti, and staged by Sandor Sequi.  Both operas had lighting by Duane Schuler and Ballet directed by Maria Tallchief.]

As expected, she was bright and enthusiastic about being here, and gladly talked with me for nearly an hour about her burgeoning career.  My thanks to Marina Vecci of Lyric Opera for translating for us during our conversation.

Here is what was said that afternoon . . . . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   Your press material says, ‘a beautiful young woman of twenty-five managed to get to the stage at Lyric Opera of Chicago’...

Cecilia Gasdia:   Ah!  I don’t know how, but my career began five years ago when I was twenty years old.  It’s natural after five years to arrive as a youth over here.

gasdia BD:   Were there contests, or just auditions?

CG:   Auditions for here, yes.  At the beginning, when I was nineteen years old, I won the ‘Callas’ competition in Italy [New Voices for Opera dedicated to Maria Callas].  It was a television competition with many singers from all the world.  The prize of this competition was that I sang Luisa Miller with Gianandrea Gavazzeni for a television broadcast from the Teatro Fraschini di Pavia, in Italy.  Then I began my real career almost two years after my victory in the competition.  I sang I Capuleti e I Montecchi in a new production in Florence with Agnes Baltsa, and after one month I was in La Scala to sing Anna Bolena.  I was only twenty-one years old.

BD:   Did you grow up with opera, or did you grow up with popular music?

CG:   Both because I like all kinds of music very much, both popular music and classical music.  I began to study piano when I was five years old, and for this reason I loved very much classical music.  Since I was a girl I loved to sing light music, and I love it very much, but my destiny was not for light music, but for opera.

BD:   How do we get opera to speak to twenty-five year olds in the audience?

CG:   I don’t know to explain it because I think that young people will sing the opera.

BD:   Do these characters and these old situations speak to you as a human being?

CG:   Sure.  Not all characters and situations in opera speak to me as a human being, but some do.  Some of them are very banal and ridiculous, but a story like Romeo and Juliet is always an inspiration.  But there are also many characters that are very far away from our modern sensitivity, and therefore they’re difficult to communicate to others.  So the only approach in this case is to immerse ourselves in a period and a style that is very different from the one we are in.  That’s the only way I have of approaching it.

BD:   When you’re on stage, are you portraying a character, or do you become a character? 

CG:   A little bit of both, because one puts it across, but one also is a little bit true when one is on the stage.

BD:   Does the different size house make a difference in your vocal production?

CG:   No, there is no difference because the voice is always the same and resounds the same way no matter what kind of theater.  In fact, if you think of the arena of Verona, which is an immense outdoor theater seating 20,000, even a person with a very small voice can be heard beautifully all over.

BD:   How do you decide which roles you will sing and which ones you will let go?

gasdia CG:   After trying for five years different roles and different composers, I think I have finally understood what my way is in opera, and what other things that I should do.  It’s very difficult to be able to know what to choose without trying it first, without singing it first.  I have come to the realization that it’s better for me to sing Bellini, the dramatic Rossini, Donizetti and some Verdi at this point.  Sometime I will do Bohème, probably for the reason that I am so young, but until I am thirty years old it is better that I sing bel canto repertoire.

BD:   Do always like winding up dead?

CG:   [Enthusiastically]  Yes, yes! It’s very important for me.  [Much laughter all around]

BD:   Why is it important to die?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at left, see my Interviews with Ramon Vargas, and Philip Gossett, who was responsible for the
Edizione Critica (Critical Edition), and who had very positive things to say about the Capuleti in Chicago with Gasdia.]

CG:   I’d rather die than survive in opera.  I don’t know why.  It seems to me death gets more to the heart of the audience than surviving.

BD:   Death is more simpatico?

CG:   Yes.  Perhaps one could do a totally comic opera, and that would be another thing I’d like to do.

BD:   Have you done any comic roles?

CG:   One semi-comic thing, Le Comte Ory.  That is a comic opera with a happy ending, but it’s not all a real comic thing.

BD:   Is the bel canto school of Bellini and Donizetti more difficult to sing than Verdi and Puccini?

CG:   The two things are very different, but to arrive to Verdi you need to try to sing Bellini.  It is necessary to sing Bellini before you sing Verdi, but it’s more difficult to sing Bellini above all because Bellini has a very pure line, and one has to be perfect in the voice.  It’s just like having a raw diamond because the singing line is so long.  Your vocal cords never rest in a Bellini opera.  You always have to keep them going, whereas in Verdi a line stops with high notes.  In Bellini you have just to keep on going on the same level.  For instance, the final aria, Ah! non credea, from La Sonnambula has a very small vocal range, but it’s very difficult for exactly those reasons.  It is always the same note, and you have to hold this note.  It’s always in the same area of the voice, which is the most difficult one to use right.  Whereas in any Verdi aria
not the ‘cabalettas’, but the ariasthere is no way that the voice is always pushed in the same area of the voice.  It goes up and down.  For instance, Ah! fors’ è lui goes up and down, up and down continuously, and it’s easier to do than for me to hold the voice in the same place, as in Bellini.

BD:   Bellini stays in the passaggio of the voice?

CG:   Yes, always there.

BD:   [With mock horror]  Did Bellini not know how to write for the voice???

CG:   [Laughs]  No, on the contrary.  A singer should really have that area of the voice
the passaggio areain perfect shape because it’s not difficult to go up and to go down.  The most important thing for a singer is to keep in control, and be in perfect shape with that area of your voice.  It is also the most beautiful area of the voice in terms of color.  Perhaps the technique in those days was towards voices that were a little bit deeper than what we have today.  Almost all the operas of Bellini were written for Giuditta Pasta.  She was a not a soprano with the high notes, but a soprano like Colbran, who was Rossini’s wife.  She was a soprano with low notes, and the type of voice very much of warm, almost mezzo-soprano kind of voice.  Pasta sang Amina (La Sonnambula), then Norma, Giulietta (Capuleti)all these roles.  In fact, Bellini didn’t write high notes for the roles of the soprano.


Giuditta Angiola Maria Costanza Pasta (née Negri; 26 October 1797 – 1 April 1865), has been compared to the 20th-century soprano Maria Callas. She caused a sensation in Paris in 1821–22, in the role of Desdemona in Rossini's opera Otello. In Milan she created three roles which were written for her voice. They were the title role of Donizetti's Anna Bolena given at the Teatro Carcano in 1830 (and which was that composer's greatest success to date), Amina in Bellini's La sonnambula and the title role of his Norma (both in 1831), which became three of her major successes. Stendhal had argued persuasively in 1824 for the necessity of a score composed expressly for Pasta. Stendhal said her voice, “Can achieve perfect resonance on a note as low as bottom A, and can rise as high as C#, or even to a slightly sharpened D; and she possesses the rare ability to be able to sing contralto as easily as she can sing soprano. I would suggest ... that the true designation of her voice is mezzo-soprano, and any composer who writes for her should use the mezzo-soprano range for the thematic material of his music, while still exploiting, as it were incidentally and from time to time, notes which lie within the more peripheral areas of this remarkably rich voice. Many notes of this last category are not only extremely fine in themselves, but have the ability to produce a kind of resonant and magnetic vibration, which, through some still unexplained combination of physical phenomena, exercises an instantaneous and hypnotic effect upon the soul of the spectator. This leads to the consideration of one of the most uncommon features of Madame Pasta's voice: it is not all moulded from the same metallo, as it is said in Italy (which is to say that it possesses more than one timbre); and this fundamental variety of tone produced by a single voice affords one of the richest veins of musical expression which the artistry of a great cantatrice is able to exploit.”



Isabella Angela Colbran (2 February 1785 – 7 October 1845) was a Spanish opera singer known in her native country as Isabel Colbrandt. Many sources note her as a dramatic coloratura soprano, but some believe that she was a mezzo-soprano with a high extension, a soprano sfogato.
She collaborated with opera composer Gioachino Rossini, whom she married in 1822, in the creation of a number of roles that remain in the repertory to this day. She was also the composer of four collections of songs. Descriptions of Colbran’s voice characterize the timbre as ‘sweet, mellow, with a rich middle register’. Rossini's music for her suggests perfect mastery of trills, half-trills, staccato, legato, ascending and descending scales, and octave leaps. Her vocal range extended from F-sharp below the staff to E above, with a high F sometimes available. All his life Rossini credited Colbran as being the greatest interpreter of his music.


[Though not mentioned by Gasdia in the interview, two other singers should be included in this discussion. One is Giulia Grisi (1811-1860), whose second husband was the tenor known as Mario.  She created Adalgisa in Norma and Elvira in I Puritani, and Donizetti wrote the roles of Norina and Ernesto in Don Pasquale for them.  The other is Maria Malibran (1808-1836), whose father was Manuel Garcia. She created the title role in Maria Stuarda.  Her immense vocal range was from D below middle C to F above high C.]

BD:   Do you add those high notes?

gasdia CG:   Almost all of them.   There are fewer written than what is normally sung.  In fact, it’s not exactly right that very light sopranos sing Bellini’s roles, as is done today, because most of Bellini’s arias require a heavier and very warm voice because they don’t go so high.

BD:   Is this the kind of voice you have?

CG:   I am nearer to this kind of voice, more than to a light soprano voice.  But I certainly don’t feel I am the kind of soprano that has very, very high notes, and not a strong middle.

BD:   Do you enjoy the roles you sing?

CG:   Yes, I like and enjoy them.  I really like to sing!

BD:   Are there some roles that you know you would not enjoy, so you stay away from them?

CG:   Yes, there are roles that I would rather not sing anymore, especially if they’re not very suitable for my voice.

BD:   So there are already roles that you’ve retired?

CG:   Yes, but not very important ones.

BD:   Do you see your career as progressing for many years with different and larger roles, or staying with the same repertoire?

CG:   I would like to remain for all my career in this Bellini repertory, but sometime, perhaps when I am forty, I would like to try Ballo in Maschera one time in my life.  However, I will try to keep voice as it is now all the way.

BD:   I hope that works.

CG:   Yes, I hope so, too!  [Much laughter]

BD:   Your career is still very young, but has it thrown you any surprises yet
perhaps the traveling, or the people, or the productions?

CG:   I’m not surprised.

BD:   Is it exactly what you expected?

CG:   I had no expectation for anything.  Everything is new and involved in my career.  I started too young, so I had no way of expecting anything.  I haven’t started from the bottom and gone up.  I started right at the top!  Very few things interest me other than singing and the music, so I don’t care about a whole lot else.

gasdia BD:   This production is your American debut?

CG:   On stage, because I sang Rigoletto in New York and Philadelphia with Riccardo Muti in concert.

BD:   How is the American public different from Italian public?

CG:   It
s the same.  However, I had the very pleasant surprise of seeing how the American audience that was not very well aware of this opera, really appreciated it and liked it.  In fact, my personal success was a good one, a very gratifying one.  I’m very happy that they liked the opera.  This is a very difficult opera even for an Italian public, so I didn’t know what to expect.

BD:   Why is it difficult for an Italian public?

CG:   It’s unknown.  Having two women in the major roles is not easy thing to accept.  Also it’s rather difficult to find two very good interpreters of these two roles.  This opera has become very well liked only recently in Italy, but here people didn’t understand the words most of the time. [This interview was held at the time when the use of supertitles was about to be introduced in Chicago.]  At least in Italy they understand what goes on in terms of the words that are sung.

BD:   Does it surprise you that an American audience likes Italian opera?

CG:   No, it’s not a surprise in the sense that I had heard that in America opera is very well liked.  But I thought that American audiences were used to more usual repertory of very famous things.  It was different with I Capuleti et I Montecchi, so it was a very big success for an unknown opera.

BD:   You’re talking about the use of two women.  Is Romeo in this opera the missing link between Cherubino and Octavian?

CG:   I don’t know Rosenkavalier that well.

BD:   Have you sung Juliet of Gounod?

CG:   No, but I am studying it because I love very much this role.  It’s very beautiful, but it’s a different character than Giulietta.  The Gounod Juliet is closer to the Shakespearean character, whereas this one is different.  It really is the story of two families and their conflicts, and how Giulietta was conditioned by her family to respond the way she responded.

BD:   So then it really is Capuleti and Montecchi, rather than Romeo and Juliet? 

CG:   Yes, absolutely.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Have you sung any non-Italian roles?  

gasdia CG:   I sang Anne Truelove in The Rake’s Progress.

BD:   In English?  
[Vis-à-vis the recording of Faust shown at right, see my Interviews with Jerry Hadley, Alexandru Agache, and Brigitte Fassbaender.]

CG:   Yes.  I also sang Jerusalem in French.  It is Verdi, but it’s the French version, and Moïse of Rossini in the French version.

BD:   Did you find singing Stravinsky very difficult?

CG:   No.  It’s very Mozartian in style.  The only thing is this is slightly dissonant and atonal as opposed to Mozart.  There is often a kind of unusual vocal production to suit those who do not do modern repertory, but I had no trouble.

BD:   Is English hard to sing?

CG:   Yes, for the pronunciation, it’s very hard.

BD:   Where was that production?

CG:   In the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.  The stage director was Ken Russell, and the conductor was Riccardo Chailly.

BD:   Why didn’t you do it in Italian?

CG:   Because now in Italy they do everything in the original language.   

BD:   Would you ever do any opera in translation?

CG:   Maybe.  I prefer to sing in the original language, but I don’t know.  For instance, now Lulu has been done in Italian in Florence, and I think it was a good thing because you need to understand the words a lot in that opera.

BD:   Did you see that production?

CG:   I went to some of the rehearsals.  

BD:   Do you like that opera?

CG:   Yes, very much.

BD:   What about it grabs you?

CG:   Everything!  Everything is beautiful, it has incredible music, and Lulu is a stupendous role
though certainly not for me!

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  Why not???  You’d make a charming Lulu!

CG:   No, she’s too old!  [Laughs]

gasdia BD:   Do you do any modern operas apart from the Stravinsky?

CG:   No, because everything I’ve done has been a very conscious and precise choice, and I want to stay to this repertory.  It’s very dangerous to keep changing things.  If one sings modern opera, one should stick to modern opera.  If one sings modern opera, then one cannot go back and sing Bellini with the same kind of freshness or fresh approach.  I have a special calling for singing Bellini.

BD:   This is one of the things I’m getting at.  Do you think that the modern composers understand the voice?

CG:   I don’t know.  I have really never either sung nor read modern operas, so it’s hard for me to say one way or the other.  But I believe that if we intended to write in the same sense as Bellini and Verdi, they probably don’t write for the voice in the same way.  If a singer sings for two years some music that has been written after 1950, and another singer sings Bellini for two years, the person who sings Bellini can still sing the modern operas, but the person who’s been singing the modern operas will have a very hard time in singing anything at all
Bellini or anything else!  [Much laughter]  Modern music always tends to request very unnatural things for the voice.

BD:   Let us go the other direction.  Do you sing old operas, baroque operas of Monteverdi, or Cavalli, or Handel?

CG:   Yes, I sing them.  I really like that repertory of Monteverdi and Cavalli.  I have sung a lot of Handel Cantatas, even a very unknown one for orchestra.  I have also done a lot of chamber music repertory.

BD:   Do you find closer communication with the audience when it’s a chamber concert?

CG:   It’s all the same.  I feel the same reaction from the audience whether I’m singing Traviata or a Handel Cantata.  I always have the feeling and the conviction that the audience understands everything that you want to tell them, provided that the person singing is willing to communicate to the audience.

BD:   Do you work harder at your diction when you’re singing in Italian in Italy?

CG:   I always pay a lot of attention to diction no matter where I am.  I actually pay more attention to diction when I sing in America, hoping to communicate well.  I always take special care in the diction because I really think that it is very, very important for a singer in the way I present the text.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Let’s talk about some of your other roles.  Tell me about Traviata (shown in photo at right).  What kind of a woman is Violetta?

CG:   She’s stupendous.  A wonderful woman.  There’s hardly anything new to say that has not been said before, but as far as roles go, it’s a perfect role to sing.  It has everything in it, anything that the soprano might wish to do in one evening of performance.  In addition, there is all that an actress would want to do in an evening of performance.  The theatrical is truly a masterpiece.

gasdia BD:   Is that also true with the other characters in that opera? 

CG:   Also the others, even though Violetta is Violetta, and the story is hers.  However, even the other characters come out very well, and they’re all from the same kind of theatrical corps from which Traviata came.  It is very important that the other protagonists of the opera are very good actors and singers because everything centers on Violetta, so she must be surrounded with very good supporting roles.  The others have to fight to gain their own attention of the audience.

BD:   Is your performance better when your colleagues are better?

CG:   Yes, always.  I prefer to have near me better singers than I.  I have always been fortunate to sing with people greater and much better than I, and also more courageous than I am.  I’ve always had around me singers that were older and better than I was, and with a lot more experience than I had.

BD:   Do you learn from watching other performances, as well as rehearsals of your own performance?

CG:   No.  I try not to go and see rehearsals of shows other than my own, but I do learn from the rehearsals of the operas that I am in.  I always go to all the rehearsals of the operas in which I am singing because it is very important that I see what’s happening before I go on, before I enter the particular show, to know what the audience has seen and received before.  It helps to gauge the audience
s expectations, and how they feel until the point where I go on.  I want to make sure to know what’s going on, even when I’m not there.  This is a different thing than trying to enter into the character.  This is what happens around a character while the others are on the stage.  It is a total performance outside my own part because naturally when I go, I lose all feeling of what the audience is thinking, of what has happened before.  Then I get into my own character and stay with it.  It’s very useful to me to see all the other rehearsals; to see and store in my mind what’s going on before, what the audience might expect, and all of those things that have been worked out before I arrive.

BD:   Have you been involved in any of these wild updatings of stagings?

CG:   Yes!  [Laughs]  I was in the famous Bohème that Ken Russell directed.  The four acts were all set in four different periods of time.

BD:   Did that work?

CG:   It was stupendous, as there was a thread and a motif between all the acts.  The first act was in 1834, the second act was in 1914, and third in 1944, and the last thing 1984.

BD:   Did the characters get grayer and older as it went along?

CG:   No.  [Much laughter]  I guess the idea was that the feelings and the motivation of the character remained the same throughout the opera, even though the time changed.  It’s one that you had to be there to really know.

BD:   Would Puccini have approved of that?

CG:   It’s not for me to say.  Some people said yes, some people said no.  I liked it very much, but Puccini was a man of the theater, and probably would have understood.  Also there was nothing that was going against the music.  This Bohème was born from the great love that Ken Russell has for Puccini’s music, and the purpose was not to destroy Bohème but to enhance it, and to bring out the poetry.

BD:   So it’s more than just a gimmick?

CG:   It was truly beautiful, and the acting was beautifully worked on.  One could really see the very strong presence of a stage director there.  

BD:   Do you have a favorite role?

CG:   Perhaps La Traviata, but I have not sung it much.  When I sing a role, that is the favorite one.

BD:   Have you sung one role more than another?

CG:   This role of Giulietta I have sung a lot of times, but Traviata not much.  It’s hard for me to say.  In five years I have sung twenty-two operas, so I haven’t repeated a lot.  Perhaps in ten years I’ll be able to tell you.

BD:   In this production there is no prompter.  Do you ever rely on prompters?

CG:   No, I don’t.  I don’t care if they are there or not.  I have almost never had prompters, so it’s not important for me.  

*     *     *     *     *

gasdia BD:   Have you made any records?

CG:   Yes, I have done La Rondine in Italy, two records of Vivaldi
one opera, Catone in Utica, and one record of motets, and Il Viaggio a Reims for Deutsche Grammophon.  It’s a very unusual opera because there are eighteen singers and ten stars.  There was Katia Ricciarelli, Lucia Valentini Terrani, Lella Cuberli, Samuel Ramey, Ruggero Raimondi, Leo Nucci, Francisco Araiza, Edoardo Gimenez, and Enzo Dara.  Claudio Abbado conducted.

BD:   Which character are you?

CG:   I am Corinna.  It’s not the protagonist because it’s not an opera in which there is one protagonist, but it’s the one that begins the list of characters.  When Rossini wrote the opera, in order to have Giuditta Pasta, he gave her two arias.  Nobody else in the opera sings two arias, and these two are both with harp accompaniment only.

BD:   Have you sung this role on the stage or just on record?

CG:   Oh, many times on the stage.  There were seven performances at La Scala, and before that four performances for the Rossini Festival in Pesaro.

BD:   Is there anything special about the character you sing, or is it just two arias and that’s all?

CG:   Corinna is the direct character of a famous singer of the time, sort of poet, singer, improviser.  She was very famous in the Italian literature, and, of course, is very eccentric.  But this opera doesn’t have a real story, or a real plot.  It’s more like a celebration, having been written for the crowning of King Charles X.

BD:   Do you enjoy the business of making records?

CG:   Yes, but I prefer to do them from live performance.  When they’re made in the studios you’re sitting there, and it’s terrible, very hard to make.  It’s impossible to concentrate on what you’re doing for three minutes at a time when you’re always doing the same thing over and over again.  You record maybe fifteen minutes every day, but you’ve been singing that section for three hours.  So it’s very hard to concentrate with all the stopping and starting in those recordings sessions.

BD:   Is it wrong for the public to be so enamored of records?

CG:   I’m not quite sure the public is so enamored of records.

BD:   They buy them by the millions.

CG:   Perhaps that is true more in the States than anywhere else.  I don’t know.  I was also a record buyer some time ago, but I would have rather been able to go to the theater if I could, if I had the choice.  Of course it’s right to want to listen to something at home, so you buy the record and listen to it at home.

BD:   You spoke of your Rossini recording.  Was there also a disc of Vivaldi?

CG:   Yes, one opera of Vivaldi and some of his Motets.  The opera is Catone in Utica, which is a very unknown opera.  I sing the role of Julius Caesar in this, and he has three arias which are wonderful, really.

gasdia BD:   Do you like playing a man?

CG:   I’ve never done it on stage, only in concert.  I would like to sing Romeo! 

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  Perhaps we should arrange a recording where you sing both Romeo and Juliet.

CG:   [Smiles]  I’d like to do that!

BD:   Why is this Vivaldi opera not known?

CG:   He wrote so many, and some of them are so boring.  But this one’s beautiful, and not just because I’m singing it.  It’s got a lot of set pieces
recitative-aria, recitative-aria, recitative-aria.  There are no ensemble pieces, just one duet.  It’s a two and a half hour opera, but with many beautiful arias.  Concert versions of these operas are often a great success in Italy, but it is very difficult to find the singers who wish to put all this work into them for a concert version.

BD:   Is Vivaldi harder to sing than Bellini?

CG:   No, it’s a lot easier than Bellini, but it has some ‘agilities’ [fast runs] that are very, very difficult.  In those cases I love to put in all the ornamentations, and I try the most difficult ones because they are necessary for Vivaldi in the da capo.  The ornamentations are obligatory, so I write them in.  

BD:   Have you studied the Vivaldi style, or is it something that just comes naturally and easily to you?

CG:   I studied a lot of piano and all these different styles during my early years, but I’m not a musicologist.  I go according to my own instinct of what is right and what is wrong.  Mine is an educated instinct because I studied a lot of Bach and other composers.  And also, one is not alone.  There are the conductors that are there for the purpose of teaching you the style that you want to sing, or to help you along.  But the music is so beautiful and that there’s nothing much that one can say to either take life out or put life in.  The instruments can add to it or take away, but all the music has beautiful inventions on its own.  If one considers all the music that’s come after Vivaldi, it is a little harder to appreciate him as much.  But the music of Vivaldi is ahead of its time in many ways.  For instance, there are arias that I sing as Caesar in Catone in Utica, and they are gorgeous.  They seem almost written by Verdi at some point.  Another reason there is not a whole lot of Vivaldi done now is because there are scores that haven’t been unearthed yet.  So one couldn’t give a definitive judgment of Vivaldi since they haven’t been found yet.  One thinks of what has happened to Rossini for such a long time.  He’s been denigrated and abandoned, and the real Rossini has just been discovered now.  Of his thirty-nine or however many operas, only a few have been done as a matter of course.  Therefore Rossini is an unknown.  The operas that he really loved and he really wanted to be known are practically unknown and are just now being discovered.  So even with Rossini you have to start all over again, and nothing final has been said about him yet.

BD:   Are you looking forward to rediscovering some more Rossini?  

CG:   Oh, certainly!  I have already sung in three unknown operas of Rossini, and they’re fantastic.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   [Knowing that Gasdia would return to Chicago a few years later for La Sonnambula, I asked about that work.]  

CG:   It is one of my favorite roles.

BD:   How nuts is Amina?  [For the next few moments, the conversation goes back and forth between serious discussion and hilarious speculation.]

CG:   [She and the translator have a bit of trouble with the slang word ‘nuts’.]  I don’t know about crazy, but there is something weird about her if she walks across that little bridge (seen in a Galpas photo below).  [Much laughter]


BD:   [With Twentieth-Century perception]  Perhaps it can be ascribed to a chemical imbalance.  [Huge laughter all around]  Is that a grateful role to sing?

CG:   Very much so because there are a lot of vocal and theatrical opportunities.  It is a sweet but dramatic role, and it has a happy ending.

gasdia BD:   That’s right, you end up alive!

CG:   In this case it’s a good one if you can survive.  The music of the ending is so overwhelming that one can bear with the idea of surviving, and not to die on the stage.

BD:   I suppose if the director wanted to, you could fall off the bridge...

CG:   [Laughs]  He couldn’t because it would go against everything.  It would make a great mistake.  The singer must fall at the right moment, like for instance in Tosca.  I must fall at the end at the right time and in the right place.  There was the famous Tosca when Caballé walked off the stage, but in that case you can’t do much else.

BD:   [Speculating in jest again]  Have her disappear in a cloud of smoke.

CG:   [Continuing the fantasy]  Yes, or thunder and lightning!

BD:   [Moving away from the ridiculous]  Are the acoustics good in this house here in Chicago?

CG:   Yes, but it’s very different when the audience is there from when the audience is not there.  It’s a good house for singing.  I don’t know how it is for the public.

BD:   It’s generally wonderful for us in the theater.  Different singers have different ideas about how it sounds to them on the stage.

CG:   Yes, there’s a sharp line between those theaters where the acoustic is good everywhere, and those where you immediately realize there’s one place that is the best acoustic.  This theater is good.  There’s a lot of reverberation.  You can hear the voice hitting the walls and coming back.  
Even though it’s a little bit different when you perform the first time, you go in and you start singing and you’re used to a certain thing.  Then you hear your voice coming back, and it’s slightly different.  At first I thought it was worse than when the theater was empty, then I realized that it was even better.  Of course it’s right, the theater is for the people, as opposed to being empty!  [Much laughter]  The most perfect acoustics in the world are in the Teatro Colón (in Buenos Aires, Argentina, referring to what is actually the second of three theaters of that name, and was in use from 1907-2006), and the Teatro Massimo Vincenzo Bellini in Catania.  They’re incredible in terms of acoustic.

BD:   In this Capuleti you had a huge wall in the back of the set to focus the sound.

CG:   Yes, it’s very important that the sets are done in such a way that it helps the voice.

BD:   Thank you so much for coming to Chicago, and for this conversation.  We look forward to your return.  Mille grazie.

CG:   PregoGrazie molte.


© 1985 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on December 2, 1985.  My thanks to Marina Vecci of Lyric Opera for providing the translations for us.  Quotations were used on WNIB the following year, and again in 1995 and 2000.  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, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

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.