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FEDORA BARBIERI

As a young girl Barbieri helped out in her parents’ shop in Trieste. Delighted by her casual singing, a customer suggested that she study formally. This she did with Luigi Toffolo in Trieste and with Giulia Tess at the school of the Teatro Communale in Florence. She made her operatic stage début in Florence during 1940 as Fidalma/Il matrimonio segreto; the next day she was called upon to rehearse Azucena/Il trovatore, followed by a performance of Fidalma the night after. The combination of Barbieri’s fine natural voice, innate musicality, and professional temperament quickly opened many doors for her. At the Florence Maggio Musicale (May Festival) of 1941 she sang in Gluck’s Armida and created the part of Dariola in Don Juan de Mañara by Alfano. During the following year, 1942, she participated in the Maggio Musicale’s production of Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, edited by Dallapiccola; sang Giustina in Pergolesi’s Il Flaminio at Siena; and made her successful début at La Scala, Milan, as Mistress Page/Falstaff, as well as singing in Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 under Victor de Sabata. Barbieri toured Germany, Belgium and Holland in 1943 and caused a sensation singing another rôle in Falstaff, Mistress Quickly, opposite Mariano Stabile. In the same year she retired for the first time, having married the manager of the Maggio Musicale, Luigi Bartoletti.

Barbieri returned to the opera stage in 1945, singing at La Scala, where she was seen as the successor to Ebe Stignani. She appeared there in the title rôle of La Cenerentola in 1946 and as Gluck’s Orfeo at Florence in 1949, a rôle which she sang with Furtwängler at the Salzburg Festival of 1951. With the company of La Scala, Barbieri travelled to London in 1950, where she sang Mistress Quickly and in Verdi’s Requiem; and in the same year took the part of Eboli in Verdi’s Don Carlo, the opening production of Rudolf Bing’s tenure as general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, New York.

During the 1950s Barbieri sang predominantly at La Scala, where her Dalila/Samson et Dalila of 1952 under de Sabata won high praise, and at the Metropolitan. She frequently partnered Maria Callas, for instance as Neris in Cherubini’s Medea at La Scala in 1953 with Leonard Bernstein conducting, and also recorded extensively with Callas, most notably in Aida, Il trovatore and Un ballo in maschera, all for EMI. Between 1950 and 1957 Barbieri sang at Chicago; and at San Francisco in 1952. She took part in the Italian première of Prokofiev’s War and Peace under Rodzinski at the Maggio Musicale in 1953, and sang at the Verona Arena between 1955 and 1958, her Carmen winning especial praise. She returned to Covent Garden for the 1957–1958 season, repeating Eboli in the historic Visconti/Giulini production of Don Carlo, as well as singing Azucena and Amneris/Aida.

Barbieri moved gradually during the 1960s into comprimario rôles such as Zita/Gianni Schicchi, the Principessa/Suor Angelica, and La Cieca/La Gioconda. She maintained a presence at the Metropolitan Opera until 1977 and made her Viennese début as late as 1981. In 1987 she took part in the Torre del Lago Puccini Festival, singing Zita, and appeared as Mamma Lucia/Cavalleria rusticana in Florence in 1991.

A true Italian heavyweight mezzo-soprano, Barbieri was not only ideally suited to the Verdi operas, but also proficient in a wider repertoire that encompassed Monteverdi and Gluck. Her skills as an actress are fully evident in her vivid portrayal of smaller rôles preserved on DVD, for instance her Madelon in Andrea Chénier from Vienna. She recorded commercially throughout the 1950s and many of her stage performances have appeared on unofficial live recordings.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers).


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