A sample of the intense artistry of soprano Madga Olivero, who has died at 104

September 08, 2014|By Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun

For many opera fans, Maria Callas was the last word on lyrical passion. But there was another extraordinary soprano before, during and after La Divina's relatively brief reign -- Magda Olivero, who developed something of a cult following for her visceral singing and acting.

Olivero died Sept. 8 at the age of 104. The tributes will be many. (Tom Huizenga has posted a fine one for NPR.)

I regret that I didn't pay enough attention to Olivero, never sought out her recordings as energetically as I did those of Callas. I regret even more that I never saw either of these great artists in person. But I do hold Olivero in very high regard. Like the best opera stars, she was the Italian soprano was in a class by herself.

There are several great souvenirs of Olivero's long, fascinating career, none more moving (to me) than this clip, said to be from her long-overdue Metropolitan Opera debut in 1975, at an age when most sopranos would have put the title role in Puccini's "Tosca" behind them.

This may not be a flawless account of the famed aria "Vissi d'arte" (singer and conductor part company more than once, for one thing), and the vocal styling will not be to every taste, but, for me, it sure hits the spot.

If you ever need a quick refresher on what it means to be a diva in the best sense of the word, this performance will do it. It's audio-only, but you can't help but see and feel every note, every gesture. Talk about living for art -- no one did so more deeply. 

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