There will not be 24, but now 25 voices in La Scala's gala to open its 2020-2021 season A riveder le stelle (Seeing the Stars Again). On 7 December, the video introducing the evening will feature the voice of Mirella Freni singing “Io son l'umile ancella” from Adriana Lecouvreur. The gala will be shown live on various television and radio channels worldwide.
Freni, who died in February 2020, sang regularly at the theatre from 1962 to 1996, appearing in the opera to open the season an incredible seven times.
In 1962 Antonino Votto conducted her debut as Nannetta in Falstaff. In 1963 it was Herbert von Karajan who wanted her as Mimì in Franco Zeffirelli's popular production of La Bohème, which was due to be revived before the second lockdown forced the theatre to cancel the performances. Freni went on to sing in this production under the baton of Nino Sanzogno, Georges Prêtre, Carlos Kleiber and Gianandrea Gavazzeni. It was Gavazzeni who also conducted her in L'amico Fritz, Adriana Lecouvreur, and Fedora, and Kleiber was on the podium for 7 December 1967 for Otello with Plácido Domingo. She sang many times with Claudio Abbado, who conducted her in Giorgio Strehler's famous production of Simon Boccanegra, as well as Le nozze di Figaro, Don Carlo and the Verdi Requiem. Opening seasons included a Falstaff conducted by Lorin Maazel and Ernani with Riccardo Muti, and Seiji Ozawa conducted her in the memorable Eugene Onegin.
Freni forged many important partnerships with her colleagues, the most notable being with Luciano Pavarotti and Nicolai Ghiaurov, but she shared the stage many times with Plácido Domingo, Gianni Raimondi, Rolando Panerai, Piero Cappuccilli, Elena Obraztsova and many others. Her last appearance in an opera at La Scala was on 14 June 1996 in Fedora with Plácido Domingo.
In 2015, the theatre celebrated her 80th birthday with her on stage for an evening of interviews, anecdotes and video and audio clips. Once again, the auditorium was filled with an audience full of joy and gratitude.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.