Mirella Freni

Mirella Freni was born in Modena on 27 February 1935. After a short but significant career as an operatic infant prodigy and five years of hard study under the guidance of Luigi Bertazzoni and Ettore Campogalliani, at the age of nineteen Mirella Freni made her debut as Micaela in Carmen by George Bizet at the Teatro Comunale in Modena on 3 February 1955.

Mirella Freni’s career therefore began its upward curve with sentimental or pathetic-playful lyric soprano roles in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni, in L’Elisir d’amore and La Fille du Régiment by Donizetti and in L’Amico Fritz by Mascagni, through to Nannetta in Verdi’s Falstaff. These roles were followed by the female characters of Puccini, Gounod and Massenet, with Freni making an ideal Manon, Juliette and Marguerite, in the French repertoire and Mimì, Liù, Suzel and Madama Butterfly in the operas of the Giovane Scuola Italiana, and Puccini in particular. The list was headed by La bohème; in a staging conducted by Karajan and directed by Zeffirelli at La Scala, Freni was crowned as the world’s leading interpreter of Mimì in the second half of the Twentieth Century. A gallery of characters completed, in the first twelve years of her career with I Puritani by Bellini (she was later to sing in the title role of Beatrice di Tenda by the same composer) and by the brief interlude of La Traviata, at La Scala, in Modena and nearby theatres, in London and (on film) in Berlin.

Scuola di Canto Mirella Freni
Omaggio a Mirella Freni

She made her La Scala debut at twenty-six years of age as Nannetta in Falstaff. It was the start of a close association with the famous Milan theatre, in which she sang on the opening nights of no fewer than eight seasons and in the title roles of a series of amazingly important works, from 1962 to the eve of the new Milennium: Falstaff, Serse, Carmen, Elisir d’Amore, La bohème, Faust, Turandot, Don Giovanni, Le nozze di Figaro, L’amico Fritz, La Traviata, Manon (by Massenet), La Fille du régiment, Otello, Simon Boccanegra, Don Carlos, Ernani, Eugene Onegin, Adriana Lecouvreur, The Queen of Spades and Fedora. The early years of Mirella Freni’s career were followed by a second phase which began at the Salzburg Festival with Desdemona in Verdi’s Otello (1970), conducted by Herbert von Karajan. It marked the transition from the roles of her first manner (some of which she kept in her repertoire) to characters on a larger scale in terms of vocal scope, range of expression and dramatic power. The operas of these years were Simon Boccanegra, Don Carlos, Ernani, Aida, Puccini’s Manon and Adriana Lecouvreur, precursor of the third phase, that of the Russian operas. The Tchaikovsky trilogy: Eugene Onegin (1984), The Queen of Spaces (1990) and the Maid of Orleans (2002). With it came two operas by Umberto Giordano: Fedora (Teatro alla Scala and Teatro Comunale in Modena 1994) and Madame Sans-Gêne (Catania 1997).

It was the artistic career of an illustrious singer who shunned diva status and the extremes of the fan system, although she shared honours and achievements with leading personalities from the opera houses and concert halls of the whole world: Karajan and Giulini, Visconti and Jean Louis Barrault, Kleiber and Abbado, Strehler and Ronconi, Prêtre and Gavazzeni, Jean Vilar and Zeffirelli; Levine, Solti, Sinopoli, Bartoletti, Muti and Ozawa. It is impossible to list them all, and the same applies to the theatres where she appeared: from La Scala to the Metropolitan, she performed at the leading central European and Austrian-German Houses, and in London and Paris, Madrid and Buenos Aires, Moscow and Tokyo.

Other projects

She also sang in many opera recordings, including roles which she never performed in the theatre: Gounod’s Mireille, Don Pasquale, Guglielmo Tell, Händel’s Alcina, Pagliacci, La forza del destino, Tosca’s Puccini and Tryptic, and Madama Butterfly in an opera film.

Omaggio a Mirella Freni
Famous roles

She was famous for roles in the operas of Puccini, Gounod and Massenet. In particular, she sang Manon, Juliette and Marguerite, in the French repertoire and Mimì, Liù, Suzel and Madama Butterfly in the operas of the Giovane Scuola Italiana. She was unforgettable in La bohème; in a staging conducted by Karajan and directed by Zeffirelli at La Scala, she was crowned as the world’s leading interpreter of Mimì in the second half of the Twentieth Century. She made her La Scala debut at just twenty-six years of age as Nannetta in Falstaff. Other important roles: Falstaff, Serse, Carmen, Elisir d’Amore, La bohème, Faust, Turandot, Don Giovanni, Le nozze di Figaro, L’amico Fritz, La Traviata, Manon (by Massenet), La Fille du régiment, Otello, Simon Boccanegra, Don Carlos, Ernani, Eugene Onegin, Adriana Lecouvreur, The Queen of Spades, Fedora, Simon Boccanegra, Ernani, Aida, Puccini’s Manon, Adriana Lecouvreur, Otello, Eugene Onegin, The Queen of Spades and the Maid of Orleans.