It seems that every day or two I hear of the death of someone I grew up listening to or seeing in the musical or theatrical world. Earlier this week Mirella Freni the great lyric soprano died in her hometown of Modena.
I first saw her name in a Glydndebourne programme book back in 1960 where she appeared as Zerlina in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. I was to see her in that role nine years later at Salzburg conducted by Herbert Von Karajan. It was Von Karajan who convinced her to move from soubrette roles to the more lyric when he conducted her as Mimi La Boheme at La Scala in 1963. I received her 1964 recording of my favourite Puccini work from my brother and sister-in-law that Christmas. A version that I treasure to this day. Then a film of the Scala production – a major achievement of a young and inspired Franco Zeffirelli – appeared for one night only at the old Imperial Theatre and I was downtown for that one in a flash. Here, from that film, is Freni at her most lyrical telling us of the simple story of Lucia who is called Mimi. And for me she was to be forever Mimi.
Two years after the Don Giovanni I was to see her, again at Salzburg, in Verdi’s Otello. Karajan was taking her into heavier territory – but very much on her own terms – and gone was the flirtatious peasant girl. She was a proud daughter of La Serenissima facing up to the power house that was the Otello of Jon Vickers. For all the beauty of their love duet and drama of their riveting Act III confrontation it was her prayer to the Virgin as Desdemona prepares for bed, and subconsciously her death, that stays in the mind.
Requiem in pace cara Mirella; oggi canti con gli angeli!
The word for February 12 is:
Obligurate /unavailable/: [obscure verb]
Probably means to spend time in feasting
Etymology: irregular from Latin obligūrīre, from ob- + ligūrīre to be dainty, lick, lick up.
1623 – The English Dictionarie, or an Interpreter of hard English Words, Henry Cockeram: Obligurate, to spend in belly-cheere.