Opera Scotland

Leyla Gencer Suggest updates

Leyla Ceyrekgil.

Born Istanbul, 10 October 1928.

Died Milan, 10 May 2008.

Turkish soprano.

Leyla Gencer had a remarkably successful career in Italy, particularly in Milan, where she revived a number of unknown operas of the bel canto school as well as having great success in the heavier works of Verdi. Her voice was noted particularly for superb breath control and beautifully floated high notes. However she was also able to use a dramatic chest voice when it was appropriate, and she was a good actress. She was particularly noted for roles as varied as Norma, Maria Stuarda, Aïda, and Lady Macbeth.

Born Leyla Ceyrekgil, in Istanbul, her father was a prosperous Turk and her mother was Polish. She married a banker, Ibrahim Gencer, in 1946. She studied initially in Ankara with the famous soprano Giannina Arangi-Lombardi, making her debut there in 1950 as Santuzza, followed by Tosca and Fiordiligi. After her teacher's death she continued to train with the baritone Apollo Granforte.  On moving to Italy, her first role was Santuzza in an open air performance in Naples. Her San Carlo debut soon followed, as Butterfly and Tatyana. Her first role at La Scala in 1957 was as the new Prioress in the first performances of Poulenc's Carmélites. She followed this with a role in Pizzetti's Murder in the Cathedral. Another twentieth century role she did was Renata in Prokofiev's Fiery Angel. In many years working at La Scala she performed a total of seventeen roles, and in her entire career she sang seventy-two parts.

From 1956 on, she sang with most of the major American companies, starting with San Francisco as Francesca da Rimini, returning as Violetta, Lucia, Liù, Elisabeth de Valois, Manon Lescaut, Gilda and, later on Gioconda. She also sang at Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans, but she never worked at the Met, her only performance in New York being a concert performance of Donizetti's Caterina Cornaro at Carnegie Hall..

Her British appearances began at Covent Garden in 1962, with Donna Anna in the new Zeffirelli production of Don Giovanni. She also appeared in Don Carlos at this time. She worked at Glyndebourne as Countess Almaviva (1964) and Anna Bolena (1965). Her two Edinburgh appearances were not altogether successful because her voice was no longer entirely reliable, with patches of raw tone, though she could still produce the wonderful soft high threads of sound seemingly at will.

Her final operatic performances were at Venice's La Fenice in 1985 in La prova d'un opera seria by Francesco Gnecco, a rare excursion into comic opera of the eighteenth century. She continued to sing recitals until 1992. Her later years were devoted to teaching, including a period as director of the vocal academy at La Scala.

It is still a matter for surprise that none of the commercial record companies used her, even for aria recitals. However, a substantial number of live recordings have survived, thanks to what used to be called "pirate" recordings. Many of her roles have been preserved in this way, including both the works she sang in Edinburgh (recorded earlier in Italy). The Royal Opera and Glyndebourne archives have issued her Mozart recordings, and many of her other roles have been preserved in this way, though the sound quality can vary.

Roles in Scotland

Maria Stuarda Mary Stuart
Maria Stuarda 1969
Elisabetta Elizabeth, Queen of England
Elisabetta, Regina d' Inghilterra 1972

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