Remembering the Lyricism and Drama of Soprano Mirella Freni

Obituaries   Remembering the Lyricism and Drama of Soprano Mirella Freni
 
The Italian opera singer died February 9 at 84.
Mirella Freni in <i data-rte2-sanitize="italic">Roméo et Juliette</i>
Mirella Freni in Roméo et Juliette Louis Melancon/Met Opera

Mirella Freni, an Italian opera singer who shined in both lyrical and dramatic soprano roles throughout her five-decade career, died February 9 at the age of 84. Her death was confirmed to The New York Times by her longtime manager J.F. Mastroianni.

Follow Ms. Freni’s journey through the lighter roles that catapulted her to stardom to the darker tones she explored—while maintaining her lyrical timbre—in the videos below.

Micaëla in Bizet’s Carmen
“Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante”
Carmen marked Ms. Freni’s professional debut in 1955 in her hometown venue, Teatro Municpale in Modena. The role became a standard of her repertoire; she also named her daughter Micaela. Here, she sings Micaëla’s aria at the 1967 Salzburg Festival.

Mimì in Puccini’s La Bohème
“Sì, mi chiamano Mimì”
Puccini’s famed ingenue quickly became a signature part for Ms. Freni after making her debuts at both La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera with the role (in 1963 and ’65, respectively). The clip below is from the late Franco Zeffirelli’s 1965 film.

Juliette in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette
“Je veux vivre”
The star-crossed lover’s exultation, heard here in a 1968 Met performance, exemplifies Ms. Freni’s adeptness at balancing the fireworks on display in these lighter roles with a sense of dramatic truth.

Elisabetta in Verdi’s Don Carlo
“Tu che le vanità”
The 1970s ushered in a transition to darker material, particularly many of Verdi’s leading ladies. Amid Otello’s Desdemona, Simon Boccanegra’s Amelia, and La Forza del Destino’s Leonora is Elisabetta of Don Carlo. She sang the role into the 1980s, including a Met bow in 1983 after a 14-year hiatus, seen here.

Tatyana in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin
The Letter Scene
Here, a role and performance that symbolize Ms. Freni’s repertoire transition. This 1998 New Year’s concert from Berliner Philharmoniker showcased love arias by Mozart and Verdi (such as Le Nozze di Figaro’s “Deh vieni non tardar” and Rigoletto’s “Caro nome,” but ended with Ms. Freni singing the Letter Scene from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. The work itself shows Tatyana at her most emotionally vulnerable as she pours her feelings on the page, but soon time and circumstance bring her into a world of nobility and austerity.

Cio-Cio-San in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly
“Un bel dì”
Despite an eventual exploration of more dramatic work, Ms. Freni was known to discern which roles were right for her. Thus, she limited her appearances in Madama Butterfly, singing Cio-Cio-San in a 1975 film adaptation by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle but never in a fully staged production.

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