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The Bulgarian-born but naturalised Italian mezzosoprano Elena Nicolai (1905-1993), christened Nikolova, was born in the village of Tzerovo in the Pazardzhin region in 1905. She studied at the Milan Conservatorio under Pintorno and made her ‘real’ début at the Teatro San Carlo in 1938 in Naples as Annina in Der Rosenkavalier. Soon she was appearing throughout Italy in a variety of rôles that included Amneris, Laura (La Gioconda), Carmen, Ortrud and Eudosia in Respighi’s La Fiamma.

She first sang at La Scala, Milan, in January 1942 as La Principessa di Bouillon in Adriana Lecouvreur and would continue in that house for the next decade. She made her English début as Mistress Quickly in Verdi’s Falstaff at the Cambridge Theatre in 1949, followed by engagements in France, Switzerland, Spain and South America (Rio de Janeiro). From her Scala debut for the next generation, she was established throughout Italy and its operatic dependencies in Spain and South America, as Amneris, Azucena, Adalgisa, Santuzza, and in translation, as Eboli, Carmen, Dalila, Ortrud in Lohengrin, once even venturing Brunilde in Valchiria (Die Walküre). By the 1950s and 1960s there were a number of other mezzosopranos active in Italy, including Ebe Stignani (1903- 1974), Giulietta Simionato (b.1910), Fedora Barbieri (1918-2003) and Fiorenza Cossotto (b.1936), and by then her voice was past its best. She appeared with Callas on stage in Gioconda, Tristano e Isotta, Aida and Norma

Nicolai achieved a particular success in the part of Starita in a production of Spontini’s Olympia at the 1950 Florence May Festival. She returned to her native Bulgaria on four occasions. She also sang the soprano rôle of Brünnhilde in Die Walküre in addition to taking part in the première of Pizzetti’s La Figlia di Jorio in 1954 at La Scala. She also had a short film career of six movies between 1963 and 1968. She died in Milan in October 1993.

Role: Classical Artist 
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