Mezzo - Soprano  Giulietta  Simionato

Responses to a few questions from Bruce Duffie


Giulietta Simionato was, quite simply, one of the great singers of the age.  No less a figure than Jon Vickers had this to say about her when I spoke with him in 1981...


Jon Vickers:
[After speaking about singers and styles of a previous era...] At a different period in history, the point of vocal training was to smooth out the voice so that it was one voice from top to bottom.

Bruce Duffie: To make it seamless?

Jon Vickers: Yes, seamless.  I have caught that period of history, but it is coming to an end.  The greatest example of it that I ever knew in all my operatic experience was Giulietta Simionato.  I think she had the most supreme seamless voice from the bottom to the top I have ever heard, and it was a joy always to sing with her.  I used to tell her, "Giulietta, I love to sing with you because all night I take vocal lessons."


Knowing Simionato by reputation and through recordings, in 1986 I endeavored to make contact with her for a conversation.  She replied that her plans did not include a return to Chicago, but she was willing to answer a few questions if I posed them in writing.  This was soon arranged, and the results appear on this webpage.

Though not unique, this interview is one of only three which I did via postal correspondence.  [The others are Soprano/Mezzo Soprano Martha Mödl, and the Hungarian composer György Ránki.  Throughout this page, names which are links refer to my Interviews elsewhere on this website.]  Yes, back in the stone age
before Instagram and Skype, or even e-mailthe choices for communication were either the telephone or the letter.  In this case, since we would have needed a translator on the line at a time convenient to both Italy and Chicago, we opted for the modern version of the Pony Express!

We wrote back-and-forth a couple of times, and she generously agreed to respond to my inquiries.  As she said, she
“Hoped she gave me complete and satisfactory answers, and within the limitations of this method, she certainly did!  I would have loved to have followed up on some of her thoughts, but what is here reflects the experience of her lifetime.


My sincere gratitude goes to Marina Vecci of Lyric Opera, who translated our letters and provided us with the means to communicate smoothly, accurately, and completely. 

Here is that very special encounter . . . . . . . . .

simionatoBruce Duffie:    First, what is the secret of singing the smooth bel canto line?

Giulietta Simionato:    It is hard to answer such a complex question with a few words.  In synthesis, I will say that the secret of singing with a soft bel canto line is to use
or at least to know how to usethe diaphragm in the right way; being able to think of the expressivity of what one is singing about while, obviously, being able to sustain it all with one's breath.

BD:    Do you feel that this line suits the characters particularly well?

GS:    The bel canto line is suited to any role.

BD:    Would it suit more modern ladies (or gentlemen) on the stage?

GS:    The bel canto line is not suited to modern operatic roles.  Given that there is no melodic line, there is no possibility to adopt the famous legato, i.e. the Verdi legato, the Bellini legato, the Donizetti legato.

BD:    What, if any, are the differences between singing bel canto and singing florid coloratura?

GS:    Singing coloratura can already be defined as bel canto, provided the coloratura singing is perfect.

BD:    Did you change your technique when you sang in different sized houses?

GS:    My technique did not change according to the size of the house, nor for an outdoor theater (such as the Arena in Verona).  To force or to push in order to get more sound is counterproductive.

BD:    Did you work at your diction more when singing in the language of the audience?

GS:    Diction should always be taken care of regardless of the language of the listening audience.

BD:    Do you feel opera works well in translation?

GS:    In opera, translations do not work.

BD:    Are supertitles a good compromise?

GS:    I think that surtitles and subtitles are useless.

BD:    When singing a role did you become the character, or did you portray her?

GS:    I tried to portray the psychology of every character I sang. 

BD:    Did your whole outlook change when you were cast as a male character?

GS:    When I was interpreting a male role, I simply forgot about being a woman.

simionatoBD:    Were the composers correct in placing the male characters in the mezzo-soprano range?

GS:    Undoubtedly the composers were right in giving the male roles the mezzo range.  In a male role, especially if he is young, the mezzo voice is very suited to imitate the voice of a young man when his voice changes.

BD:    Do you feel that the female characters in romantic operas speak to women of today?

GS:    The female characters of romantic operas do not speak to the women of today because now there is a strange lack of romanticism and sentimentality which are, in my opinion, basic for the interpretation of such characters.

BD:    Are the performers today better or worse than in years gone by?  (Specific names are not necessary!)

GS:    Today's artists are neither better nor worse than yesterday's artists.  They have a different psychology, different vocal capabilities, and different interpretations. 

BD:    What advice do you have for young singers?

GS:    To the young singers of today, my advice is to put into action three things when they are singing
brain, heart, and voice. 

BD:    Do you have any advice for young conductors?

GS:    To young conductors, my advice is to pay attention not only to the orchestra itself, but to live with the stage, and to sing, breathe, and live the characters in unison with the singers.

BD:    Do you have any thoughts for aspiring composers?

GS:    To established composers and aspiring composers, I would say to take their inspiration from the composers of the 19th Century
without fear of imitating them, but rather by entering into their spirit.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Would you speak a bit about your performances here in Chicago?

GS:    My Chicago performances are among the happier memories of my career.  It was a well-organized theater with a wonderful audience
intelligent and cultivated.  Chicago is a fascinating city, just as I always found all of America fascinating.

Giulietta Simionato at Lyric Opera of Chicago

1954 - [Opening Night]  Norma (Adalgisa) with Callas, Picchi, Rossi-Lemeni; Rescigno, Wymetal
            Barber of Seville (Rosina) with Gobbi, Simoneau, Badioli, Rossi-Lemeni; Rescigno, Wymetal
            Carmen (Carmen) with Picchi, Guelfi, Jordan, Foldi; Perlea, Wymetal

1956 - La Forza del Destino (Preziosilla) with Tebaldi, Tucker, Bastianini, Rossi-Lemeni, Badioli, Krainik (Curra); Solti, Vassallo
            Gala Concert with Tebaldi, Tucker, Bastianini, Changalovich; Buckley, Solti


1957 - Mignon (Mignon) with Misciano, Moffo, Nadell, Wildermann, Foldi; Gavazzeni, Baldridge
            Cavalleria Rusticana (Santuzza) with Sullivan, MacNeil, Nadell, Kramarich/Fraher; Kopp, Rosing
            La Gioconda (Laura) with Farrell, Tucker/Di Stefano, Protti, Wildermann, Kramarich, Tallchief (solo dancer);  Serafin, Vassalo
            Marriage of Figaro (Cherubino) with Steber, Moffo, Berry, Gobbi, Badioli, Nadell; Solti, Hartleb
            Adriana Lecouvreur (Princess) with Tebaldi, Di Stefano, Gobbi, Krainik (Mlle. Dangeville); Serafin, Vassallo

1958 - [Opening Night]  Falstaff (Quickly) with Gobbi, Tebaldi, MacNeil, Canali, Moffo, Misciano; Serafin, Piccinato
            Il Trovatore (Azucena) with Ross, Bjoerling, Bastianini, Wildermann; Schaenen, Piccinato
            Barber of Seville (Rosina) with Gobbi, Misciano, Corena, Montarsolo, Canali; Schaenen, Piccinato
            Aïda (Amneris) with Rysanek, Bjoerling, Gobbi, Wildermann; Sebastian, Piccinato

1960 - [Opening Night]  Don Carlo (Eboli) with Roberti, Tucker, Gobbi, Christoff, Mazzoli; Votto, West
            Aïda (Amneris) with Roberti/Price, Bergonzi/Ottolini, Merrill, Mazzoli; Votto, Maestrini

1961 - Barber of Seville (Rosina) with Bruscantini, Alva, Corena, Christoff, Magrini; Cillario, Frigerio

BD:    Are the audiences different from country to country as well as from city to city?

simionatoGS:    The audience varies from country to country and from city to city, but for me the audience all over the world has represented the great love of a career which has lasted 39 years.  It is a love which I have locked away in my heart just as one locks a precious gem in a jewel casket.

BD:    Was there a role that you sang more than others, and did it become a favorite?

GS:    I sang 117 roles, but could not keep track of them all given the frenetic rhythm of my performances.  I loved all my roles in the same way.  I particularly loved Mignon because it is a character which I felt was particularly suited to my vocal, physical, and psychological capabilities.

BD:    How did you decide which roles you would accept and which you would turn down?

GS:    I rejected the "bad" roles
for instance Ortrud in Lohengrin and Lady Macbeth — because I felt psychologically unsuited to such characters.

BD:    Was there a role you wished you'd have had the opportunity to sing?

GS:    I wish I could sing Violetta in Traviata.

BD:    Did you enjoy making records, and are you pleased with them?

GS:    I did not like making records because I felt that record making was a mechanical performance.  I had the need for the emotional release which recording does not allow.  I'm not happy with the records I have done, but on the other hand I had but little time for these kinds of performances.

BD:    Thank you so very much for responding to my inquiries.

I hope I have given you complete answers, and have answered your questions satisfactorily.  Cordially, Giulietta Simionato






Giulietta Simionato obituary

One of the greatest Italian opera singers, noted for her versatile and distinctive voice

By Patrick O'Connor

Published in The Guardian on Friday 7 May 2010 11.19 EDT

Giulietta Simionato, who has died aged 99, was one of the greatest Italian opera singers of her generation. She was a beautiful woman and a vivid actor. Like her great friend Maria Callas, with whom she sang often, Simionato had the ability to invest whatever she was singing with an individual quality. Her voice was not as powerful as that of some of the other famous Italian contraltos and mezzos, but it was immediately recognisable. She was able to deliver each word and phrase with a rich palette of colours, and to use the characteristic rapid vibrato to sing a wide range of parts.

Although Simionato's career was long, and her repertory stretched from Monteverdi, Cimarosa and Handel to Bartók, Honegger and Strauss, it will be for her performances in the operas of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi that she will be remembered. As well as her bel canto specialities, she sang Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana, the title role in Carmen, and the classic Verdi mezzo roles: Eboli in Don Carlos, Azucena in Il Trovatore, Amneris in Aïda (her Covent Garden debut, under Sir John Barbirolli, with Callas as Aïda and Joan Sutherland as the Priestess, in 1953), as well as the comic Mistress Quickly in Falstaff and the swaggering Preziosilla in La Forza del Destino.

She was born in Forlì, in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. She spent her early childhood in Sardinia and, at the age of eight, moved with her family to Rovigo, near Venice, where her musical and vocal skills were noticed immediately. She studied with Ettore Locatello and Guido Palumbo. "I would kill my daughter with my own hands rather than see her become a singer," said her mother, who ruled the family with cruel punishments and rages. In 1925, her mother died and Simionato resumed singing, making her stage debut in 1927 in Rossato's Nina, Non far la Stupida.

While still a student, she made her professional debut in the role of Maddalena in Rigoletto, and in 1933 she was one of the winners of a singing competition in Florence. Among the judges were the conductor Tullio Serafin and the veteran soprano Rosina Storchio (the first Madama Butterfly), who told her: "Always sing like this, dear one."

Although Simionato's talents were quickly noticed, her career was almost entirely in small roles throughout the remainder of the 1930s. She joined La Scala in Milan in 1936 and would make appearances there for the next 30 years.

Simionato married the violinist Renato Carenzio in 1940, and it was not until after the second world war that her career took off. She was 35 when she sang Dorabella in Così Fan Tutte in Geneva in October 1945. Her success was tremendous. She repeated the role in Paris the following year and was Cherubino in Figaro with the Glyndebourne company at the first Edinburgh festival in 1947.

Simionato sang the title role in Ambroise Thomas's Mignon, in October 1947, opposite the young Giuseppe di Stefano as Wilhelm Meister. The role of Mignon became especially associated with Simionato, who identified with the put-upon street-singer. It was the part in which she made her debut at La Fenice in Venice in 1948, and the following year in Mexico, where she became a great favourite.

During the 1948-49 seasons, she began to sing the Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti roles in which she became a specialist as the bel canto revival got under way. Leonora in Donizetti's La Favorita, the title roles in Rossini's La Cenerentola and L'Italiana in Algeri, Romeo in Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi and Adalgisa in Bellini's Norma all became Simionato parts. She first sang Adalgisa to Callas's Norma in Mexico in 1950.

During the 1950s, she established a strong link with the Salzburg festival, where she often sang with Herbert von Karajan and the Vienna State Opera. Perhaps the most memorable of their collaborations was Karajan's production of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice, designed by Caspar Neher, in 1959. The nobility and restraint of Simionato's performance is preserved on a recording.

After the failure of her marriage in the late 1940s, and a liaison with a much younger singer, in the 1950s she fell in love with the distinguished physician Cesare Frugoni, who was nearly 30 years older than her. Both were married, and under Italian law unable to obtain divorces, so their relationship remained discreet.

During the later part of Simionato's stage career, she enjoyed a special triumph in the first performance at La Scala of Berlioz's Les Troyens in 1960. In the summer of 1962 she sang Neris to Callas's Medea for the last time, when Callas made her final La Scala appearances.

She created the role of Pirene in the world premiere of Falla's Atlántida ("too static and untheatrical," Simionato called it) the same year. One of her last appearances was at Covent Garden in 1964 as Azucena in Visconti's production of Il Trovatore. She made a round of quiet farewells, singing Adalgisa to Callas's Norma in Paris in 1965, and then took on the relatively small part of Servilia in Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito at La Piccola Scala in January 1966. Simionato retired that year. She married Frugoni after the death of his first wife, and they enjoyed 12 years of marriage until he died in 1978.

An elegant, social figure, Simionato was in later years an occasional judge of singing competitions. She sang Cherubino's aria, Voi che sapete, from The Marriage of Figaro, at a tribute to Karl Böhm at the Salzburg festival in 1979. In 1995, she celebrated her 85th birthday at La Scala.

Her third husband, the industrialist Florio De Angeli, died in 1996.

• Giulietta Simionato, opera singer, born 12 May 1910; died 5 May 2010

© 1987 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was accomplished via letters in the postal mail in 1987.  Quotations were used during a broadcast on WNIB in 1990.  The material was edited and posted on this website in 2016.  My thanks to Marina Vecci of Lyric Opera of Chicago for providing the translations for us during the correspondence. 

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.