La Leggenda di Magda Olivero
Verdi, Puccini, Boito, Cilea, Mascagni, Massenet, Charpentier, Franck, Alfano
Studio Recordings (1938-1953)
Istituto Discografico Italiano, 2005
Magda Olivero was a wonderful Italian soprano who had an unusual career. She studied in Turin and made her début at the Teatro Regio in 1933 as Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi and performed in many Italian theatres for the next eight years, singing many Verismo roles alongside with Elsa and Violetta, but she retired after her marriage in 1941, until Francesco Cilea asked her to sing as Adriana Lecouvreur at Brescia. It was 1951 when Olivero started her “major” career and became internationally acclaimed especially in Fedora, Tosca, La fanciulla del West and Iris (but actually her repertoire includes almost eighty roles). When she died in 2014 at the venerable age of a hundred and four years-old, her voice was surprisingly well preserved thanks to her perfect technique.
La Leggenda di Magda Olivero (“The Legend of Magda Olivero”) focuses on her “minor” career and offers some recordings of her major roles from 1938 to 1953. It is thus a little compendium of Olivero’s remarkable qualities and repertoire. Her temperament and her impressive breath control, for example, are incredible even in the earliest recordings. It is true that her voice is thin and a little tremulous and that sometimes her expression of emotion is exaggerated (listen to Poveri fiori or L’altra notte in fondo al mare), and that her agility in Sempre libera are not the best you can wish (they are a little hysterical) but this is absolutely a mere trifle when you consider her pianissimi and diminuendi, her precision, her total abandonment to music – this last is maybe the most remarkable feature in Olivero’s singing.
I would like to linger a little on Turandot, for two reasons: the first is that it features two important singers alongside Magda Olivero, the legendary Gina Cigna in the title role and Francesco Merli as Calaf, and the second is – of course – Olivero’s performance. This recording was made in 1938 and it is interesting because it shows the soprano in one of her first Liù. Here she seems so little, submissive and her voice is still immature, but she has nonetheless an outstanding personality, which does not make a poor impression alongside an undisputed primadonna as Cigna.
In the end, this is a precious document and tribute to an incredible singer and woman.