Claudia Muzio was born into an operatic family: her father was a stage manager who worked at the Royal Opera House, London and the Metropolitan Opera, New York (at the time of her debut there) while her mother was a chorus singer, also at the Met. When she was still only two, the family moved to London and it was here that Muzio was educated, becoming fluent in English.
She returned to Italy when she was sixteen to study harp in Turin, followed by vocal studies with Annetta Casaloni, who had created the role of Maddalena in the world premiere of Rigoletto. More studies followed, in Milan with Elettra Callery-Viviani, before Muzio made her operatic stage debut in Arezzo in 1910 singing the title role in Massenet’s Manon; and during 1911 she made her first recordings, for The Gramophone Company, of extracts from La Bohème and La traviata.
At the Teatro dal Verme in Milan in 1912 Muzio achieved sensational success as Puccini’s Manon Lescaut. The following year she made her debut at La Scala, Milan as Desdemona / Otello, an appearance so successful that she was immediately offered an engagement in the same role at the Paris Opera. Here she was heard by a representative of the Royal Opera House, London and was invited to appear there in 1914, making her debut as Manon Lescaut. In the space of only ten weeks she went on to sing Desdemona, Mimì / La Bohème, Margherita / Mefistofele, Mistress Ford / Falstaff and the title role in Tosca, opposite Caruso. Later roles at La Scala included Fiora / L’amore dei tre re and Mariela in the premiere of Smareglia’s L’abisso.
After enjoying success in Havana during 1915, Muzio first appeared at the Metropolitan Opera, New York in 1916 as Tosca, remaining with this company until 1921. Here her roles included Manon Lescaut, Nedda / Pagliacci and Leonora / Il trovatore (all 1916); Aida and Mimì (both 1917); Berthe / Le Prophète, Fiora and Giorgetta in the world premiere of Il tabarro (all 1918); Santuzza / Cavalleria rusticana, Tatyana / Eugene Onegin (in Italian, both 1920), Maddalena / Andrea Chénier (1921) and the title role in Catalani’s Loreley (1922).
Following a disagreement with the management of the Met, Muzio moved the base for her North American appearances to Chicago, where after making her debut as Aida she sang continuously from 1922 to 1932 in a combination of contemporary opera (such as the title role in Février’s Monna Vanna and Ginevra in Giordano’s La cena delle beffe) and in nineteenth-century works. While in the USA she made recordings for two companies: Pathé (1917–1918) and Edison (1920–1925).
Muzio’s debut at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires was in 1919 as Loreley. Here she became an especial favourite, with the soubriquets ‘La divina Claudia’ and ‘La unica’ and sang in more performances than at the Met, including in 1926 the title role in Turandot and in the premiere of the Argentinian opera Ollontay by Gaita.
In the mid-1920s Muzio returned to La Scala where she sang Leonora (Il trovatore), Tosca, Maddalena and above all Violetta / La traviata, often with Toscanini conducting. She then moved on to Rome, where she appeared regularly between 1928-1930 and 1932–1935, singing Tosca, Violetta and Santuzza, as well as Leonore / La forza del destino and the title roles in Norma and in Licinio Refice’s ecclesiastical opera Cecilia, the world premiere of which took place in 1934. In San Francisco Muzio opened the Memorial Opera House in 1932 as Tosca: part of this performance was recorded. During 1935–1936 she undertook a tour of South America, but became ill and returned to Rome where she died, possibly of a heart condition.
Muzio was a beautiful woman, an excellent actress and a singer with a slightly veiled vocal tone that was ideal for tragic heroines. Her vocal acting was based on subtle colouration and gradations of tone, yet she was able to generate great emotional power: she was known as ‘the Duse of song’, after Eleonora Duse, the actress famed for her intensity. The tenor Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, who helped to finance her final recordings of 1934 and 1935 for the British Columbia label, described her voice as ‘made of tears and sighs and restrained interior fire’.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).
Role: Classical Artist