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Watch and Listen: Remembering The Beloved Italian Soprano Mirella Freni

Erich Auerbach/Getty Images
Italian soprano Mirella Freni in rehearsal with producer Franco Zeffirelli for 'Don Giovanni' at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. January 30, 1962.

Mirella Freni, one of the most adored sopranos of all time, passed away on February 9th in her hometown of Modena, Italy at the age of 84.  Her storied career extended for 50 years, beginning with her debut in 1955 in Modena singing Micaëla in Bizet's Carmen to singing Ioanna in The Maid of Orleans with the Washington National Opera in 2005.

WRTI's Gregg Whiteside shares these memories of Ms. Freni:

I remember being enchanted by the directness, sincerity, and sweetness of her voice on recordings when I was a very young man. Her "O Soave Fanciulla" with Pavarotti from the 1970s, and her Butterfly to Pavarotti's Pinkerton still bring me to tears.

I was finally was able to hear her live at the Met in 1983 as Elisabetta in Verdi's Don Carlo. She was nearly 50 years of age at the time, and still very beautiful, and with a voice as youthful as it had sounded when she was 25.

What struck me was the power of her voice; without forcing, and with perfect support and technique, that poignant beam of gold reaching to the upper balconies of the house. It was a magical moment to hear her live. There were waves of beauty and tenderness in Mirella Freni's voice, a voice that pulled this young listener into the world of opera.

The Metropolitan Opera remembers "her extraordinarily beautiful voice and intense, Italianate interpretations that captivated Met audiences from her Met Opera debut in 1965 to a gala celebrating her 40th year with the company in 2005. Her most frequent of the 13 roles she sang at the Met were Mimì in La Bohème (her debut role), and Juliette in Roméo et Juliette. Freni’s artistry was impeccable, particularly notable for her technical mastery and vocal beauty.  She was admired and beloved by her fellow artists and company members for her warmth and down to earth persona."