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Maria Caniglia was born into a family from the Abruzzi and studied at the Naples Conservatory with the distinguished teacher Agostino Roche. He also taught Ebe Stignani with whom Caniglia was to sing frequently. Roche believed that Caniglia was destined to sing more than purely lyric rôles and trained her in the spinto repertoire. When, however, she auditioned for La Scala in 1929 before three distinguished conductors, Ettore Panizza, Carlo del Campo, and Gino Marinuzzi, they advised her to concentrate initially upon the lyric repertoire. Nonetheless she was soon to focus very much on spinto rôles, making her début during the following year at Turin as Chrysothemis/Elektra.

This was soon followed by Magda in Respighi’s La campana sommersa at Genoa, Elsa/Lohengrin at Rome, and Maria in Pizzetti’s Lo straniero at La Scala. Caniglia was rapidly assigned further parts at La Scala, including leading rôles in Montemezzi’s La notte di Zoraima and Mascagni’s Le maschere; followed by Wagnerian parts, including Senta/Der fliegende Holländer and Sieglinde/Die Walküre. She was to reign as the leading soprano at La Scala until1951, enjoying notable success in the title rôles of Respighi’s Lucrezia and Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride in 1937.

Caniglia made her début at the Salzburg Festival in 1935 as Alice Ford/Falstaff under Toscanini, created the rôle of Roxane in Alfano’s Cyrano de Bergerac in Rome in 1936, and sang Aida at the first performances to be given at the open-air opera festival at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome in 1937, the year in which she also first appeared at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires, and at Covent Garden in London. By now she was an established international star, singing at Vienna and Prague, at the festivals of Verona and the Maggio Musicale in Florence, and at the major Italian opera houses.

In November 1938 Caniglia made her début at the Metropolitan Opera in New York as Desdemona/Otello, opposite Giovanni Martinelli, and swiftly followed this up with performances as Aida, Alice Ford, Tosca and Amelia/Simon Boccanegra, all during the same season. She was never to return, the Italian government’s confiscation of artists’ passports during World War II denying her to audiences in both the USA and Britain. In 1939 Caniglia married the composer and conductor Pino Donati, who also managed the opera companies of the Verona Festival, Bologna, and Chicago at different times. After the cessation of hostilities she appeared at Buenos Aires as Norma and Adriana Lecouvreur during the 1947–1948 season and led the company of La Scala in guest performances in London in 1950.

In 1951 Caniglia left La Scala, believing that the discipline that had made it a great company in the 1930s and 1940s had gone. She had sung a vast range of rôles there, including the principal soprano rôles in La traviata, Andrea Chénier, Lohengrin and Il trovatore (1939–1943); Poliuto, Un ballo in maschera, La traviata, Manon Lescaut and Aida (1940–1941); Adriana Lecouvreur, Tannhäuser and Otello (1941–1942); La forza del destino and La Wally. She now became the leading spinto soprano at Rome while still singing regularly elsewhere. As her later recordings, such as those made for Cetra, clearly attest, she was remarkably effective right up until her retirement in 1959 after appearing as Tosca in Cairo.

Caniglia had an exceptionally natural voice, possessing both sweetness and power when required, as well as great expressiveness. During the period 1930 to 1950 she was one of Italy’s most acclaimed singers and, with Arangi-Lombardi and Stignani, one of the last great Neapolitan voices. She sang with most leading Italian conductors of the day, such as de Sabata, Ghione, Guarnieri, Gui, Marinuzzi, Panizza, Santini and Serafin, and was particularly noted for her long-standing partnership with the tenor Beniamino Gigli. Her complete recordings for HMV (all with Gigli) and the Cetra label include many of her leading rôles, and all give a clear idea of her great vocal and dramatic powers.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).

Role: Classical Artist 
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