Amelita Galli-Curci: 1963 radio interview
Amelita Galli-Curci (1882 – 1963) was one of the most eminent and popular coloratura sopranos of the first half of the twentieth century. Encouraged to begin her career as a singer by Pietro Mascagni, she was largely self taught and made her operatic debut in 1906 as Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto. She toured in Europe, Russia and South America and spent the last fifteen years of her career in the United States, under contract with the Chicago Opera and the Victor Talking Machine Company from 1916 and from 1921 with the Metropolitan Opera of New York, being one of the few singers who were contracted to both opera companies simultaneously. In the spring of 1963 she gave her last radio interview to KFC.
Interviewer: Madame Galli-Curci, after starting your musical studies in piano, harmony and composition, what prompted you to turn to singing?
Galli-Curci: Well, I had the advise of the great composer Mascagni, who was a friend of our family. He used to come around and hear me play my piano, he followed my piano career, and one night we passed the old masters: Bellini, Donizetti…, because he was always very interested in that old school, and it happened that the page of Puritani was opened up. I just read it, being a good musician by that time, if I say so myself, excuse me… [laughs] and I sang the part that you know best because you have heard it from direct. So, there he looked at me very astounded and said “why don’t you make a career in singing?? You have such an unusual timbre and the way to phrase is quite personal, so start in that and try and I’m sure you’ll succeed.”
I.: Madame Galli-Curci, in your first New York performance in Dinorah, the audience “went wild with excitement at the conclusion of the Shadow Song in Act two”. How long did it take to quiet them in order to finish the opera?
G-C.: Oh, dear me, I thought that never would go… I remember that they, in the excitement of coming in in the theatre and going out, I don’t know, they broke all the glass in the entrance door, in the revolving doors, there was a great commotion in everything but finally they got up because I was tired and I went.
I.: I recall reading that in the final opera of that same season, and I believe it was La traviata, the applause of the final curtain lasted 28 minutes, with the audience demanding to hear Home sweet home, would you care to tell us about that?
G-C.: That’s right and I thought to give them a gentle hint and sing Home sweet home, so there was piano there in the wings, they rolled it in on the stage, I sang Home sweet home and yet they wanted something after Home sweet home, but I just put down my little foot there.
I.: You recorded on both acoustical and electrical recordings, was this transition difficult for you? Or did you find one easier than the other? How do you compare the two from a performance point of view?
G-C.: Oh, from a performance point of view it was much easier on the microphone, very much easier. The first… on the big trumpet it was terrible, we had to go back for high notes, nearby for pianissimos and… oh, it was terrible.
I.: It had to be considerably complicated.
G-C.: Yes, very uncomfortable!
I.: How about your reaction on hearing the playback of the electrical recordings after being used to the acoustical ones?
G-C.: There were things that I liked better in the first one…
I.: Oh, really?
G-C.: Yes! In the other recording I must admit it gave more the volume of my voice. But I liked them both, you know?
I.: Of the three classifications of the soprano range: coloratura, lyric and dramatic, which do you feel is most demanding?
G-C.: They are all demanding! All three. Because the technique is important for everyone of those keys. And when you have technique you have the power to express, provided you don’t take technique as an end but as a means to an end.
I.: What do you think, and we know that this has happened several times, of dramatic sopranos singing coloratura roles?
G-C.: Yes, it has happened and it happens right now. Sutherland is magnificent in both… I like her very much. Besides that, she is a very fine woman, I like her as a woman too.
I.: I understand you two have met…
I.: And that there is a mutual admiration…
G-C.: That’s it! She thinks big too.
I.: Among your other accomplishments, Madame Galli-Curci, you’ve become quite proficient with the brush and palette. When did you discovered this talent?
G-C.: You know, when I couldn’t sing anymore, for that operation I had, I thought, well, I am still an artist, my soul is still the soul of an artist. I can change the tools and try myself in another field and have some fun there.
I.: And you’ve actually proven yourself in this other field, I’ve seen your pictures here in your home and they are absolutely beautiful!
G-C.: Well, I enjoy it, that what I know.
I.: I would like to ask one final question if I may. Your experience in the world of opera has been so great and so successful, would you have any advice for the young singers of today?
G-C.: First of all I would advise them to take up an instrument, the study of some instrument so that they have some musicianship and some way in which they can phrase, that could help their phrasing… because that is very important in the opera, is not only the romanza, the great piece. It is the recitative where you show your art and where you can get under the wishbone of the people. That’s it.
I.: Well, thank you very much, Madame Galli-Curci, for this opportunity to acquire some of your personal views of the art to which you contributed so much and to which you’ve devoted your life. Your recordings will live forever in the annals of musical history and have insured for you the highest place among the exponents of operatic repertoire.
G-C.: Well, that’s very charming of you to say all that… I have enjoyed it.
I.: It was a privilege for us, I assure you.
Listen to the radio broadcast: