Luisa Mandelli, Maria Callas’ Annina at La Scala, died last night, just short of her 96th birthday. Daniel Barenboim called her the ‘eternal Annina’ having sung alongside Callas in Luchino Visconti’s production of La traviata at La Scala under the baton of Carlo Maria Giulini.
Mandelli was a constant presence in the theatre travelling on the metro from her home in Verdi’s retirement home for musicians to La Scala to attend all the season’s operas, many several times over. She was doing so until a few months ago. She last appeared onstage at the Milanese theatre on 14 September 2017 for an evening to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Callas’ passing.
She was also always present for the funerals of singers, musicians and opera going friends, singing an Ave Maria at the services until she was over 90, and at Magda Oliver’s funeral in 2014 she read the lesson in her strong, forthright voice.
The soprano Luisa Mandelli was born in Saronno, north of Milan, on 16 October 1922. She auditioned for La Scala in 1953 and made her debut as a page in a Rigoletto conducted by Nino Sanzogno.
In the following seasons she appeared in Gluck’s Alceste with Maria Callas and Carlo Maria Giulini, Cirano di Bergerac and I quatro rusteghi with Votto, Giannetta in Zeffirelli’s production of L’elisir d’amore with Eugenia Ratti and Nicola Monti, again with Giulini, and the world premiere of Milhaud’s David di Milhaud with Votto, and which she recorded with Giuseppe Di Stefano, Respighi’s La fiamma with Gavazzeni, Menotti’s The Saint of Bleecker Street with Schippers.
It was 28 May 1955 that Mandelli appeared as Annina with Maria Callas and Giuseppe di Stefano, a role they sang together for 22 performances.
Other roles were in Pizzetti’s La figlia di Jorio with Gavazzeni, Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel with Sanzogno (in a production by Giorgio Strehler), Rossini’s Il Signor Bruschino with Gavazzeni, Charpentier’s Luisa with Cluyrens and Strehler, Madama Butterfly with Frazzoni and Gavazzeni, The Cunning Little Vixen by Janáček with Sanzogno and in 1958, Rota’s Il cappello di paglia di Firenze with Sanzogno and Strehler.