A famous Decca operatic recital, long unavailable, celebrating the thrilling voice and short-lived career of a soprano who set operatic stages alight in the late 1950s.
Anita Cerquetti made only two commercial recordings, both for Decca under the baton of Gianandrea Gavazzeni. In 1957 she sang the title role in a complete La Gioconda with Mario del Monaco and Giulietta Simionato also reissued by Eloquence. From the year before we also have this operatic recital in early stereo sound. There should have been many more recordings, but Cerquetti was forced to retire both from the stage and from singing altogether in 1961, aged only 30, with vocal problems putting paid to an all-too-meteoric career. A projected recording of Norma was begun, but as the story goes, Cerquetti was indisposed and the recording was abandoned. An instantly recognisable fixture within Decca’s ‘Grandi Voci’ series during the 1990s, the recital then gained considerable second-hand value once deleted. Its reissue on Eloquence makes available once more the astonishing sound of Cerquetti in full flood. Recorded at the peak of her career, the recital mixes repertoire she would never sing on stage (Spontini’s Agnes von Hohenstaufen – a premiere on record – as well as Verdi’s Ernani and Vespri siciliani) with signature roles such as Tosca, Aida and Abigaille in Nabucco. Leonora’s last-act Prayer from La Forza del destino has the urgent immediacy befitting the heroine’s plight, and the performance catches the sorrowful quality in Cerquetti’s tone. In Opera on Record (Hutchinson, 1979), Lord Harewood commented: ‘The voice is splendid; this dramatic and emotionally persuasive performance makes one regret her very short career’. There is ‘Casta diva’, unavoidable and unforgettable, especially since the role of Norma propelled her to stardom in 1958 after she replaced an indisposed Callas at short notice in Rome while continuing to fulfil a contract to sing in Florence. The recital concludes with a pair of extracts from the complete Gioconda recording including the set-piece ‘Suicidio’ aria.
‘A naturally warm, lyrical voice of considerable power and infinite tonal variety. Her mezza voce at the beginning of “Casta diva” recalls Rosa Ponselle, and her clear diction and keen sense of dramatic characterisation put her in the front rank of Italian sopranos.’ EMG Monthly Letter, June 1957