Bianca Scacciati: "A real Italian voice"


During the "golden" Toscanini era, one of the most celebrated periods for Italian opera in the 20th century, there were three primadonnas who "reigned" at Italy's greatest opera house - La Scala, dividing between each other various roles from the authentic dramatic soprano repertory. They were Giuseppina Cobelli (1898-1948), Giannina Arangi Lombardi (1891-1951) and Bianca Scacciati (1894-1948).

Giuseppina Cobelli, unfortunately, left only two commercial recordings of her voice and can hardly be adequately judged today, while the two other sopranos - Arangi Lombardi and Scacciati - left wide phonographic legacies and are "open" to contemporary listeners. The latter one, Bianca Scacciati, has unfortunately been widely ignored and deserves a great deal more attention from opera lovers, because her voice was undoubtedly one of the most extraordinary vocal instruments of the century.

Born in 1894 in Florence to a family of railworkers devoted to operatic music, Bianca straight from the early childhood showed her gifts for singing and very soon started taking vocal lessons. Her teacher was Ernesta Bruschini, the sister of the Italian soprano Matilde Bruschini and the author of the book "The technique of belcanto". Bianca's progress in singing was obviously rapid, and already in 1917 she made her professional debut at the Teatro della Pergola in Florence in the lyrical part of Marguerite in Charles Gounod's "Faust". "Una voce limpida, estesa, unita, una vera voce italiana (A limpid, extensive and well-managed voice, a real Italian voice)" - wrote the contemporary critics about her in the newspaper "La Nazione".

Having enjoyed the success in Florence, Bianca appeared, again as Marguerite, at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, a prestigious Italian opera house, to the Faust of the artist of the calibre of Alessandro Bonci. Her career evolved rapidly and successfullly, she signed contracts with the best opera houses of Naples, Parma and Verona as well as some provincial venues. In Verona she notably appeared at the Arena as Margherita in Arrigo Boito's "Mefistofele" in the starry company of Aureliano Pertile as Faust and Nazzareno de Angelis as Mefistofele. The other parts she sang in this period included the lyrical Mimì in Puccini's "La Bohème" and Desdemona in Verdi's "Otello" as well as some dramatic parts like Manon Lescaut in Puccini’s opera of the same title, Maddalena de Coigny in Giordano’s “Andrea Chénier” and the title role in Mascagni’s “Isabeau”.

In 1922 and 1923 she went on her first foreign tournées, appeared at the Champs Elisées Theatre in Paris and in Brazil, singing Elsa in "Lohengrin" (again with Pertile) and Wally in Catalani's opera of the same title. In 1924 Bianca Scacciati made her debut at the prestigious Teatro Costanzi in Rome, singing one of her best roles, Tosca, and soon after appeared in Cairo as Amelia in Verdi's "Un ballo in maschera", which signed her complete abandonment of lyrical parts like Mimì and Marguerite and the complete turn to the "tough" dramatic repertory.

In 1925 she added the dramatic Aida and Valentine in Meyerbeer's "Les Huguenots" to her repertory, and a year after made her debut in her most important role - Turandot, in Rome, with Francesco Merli as Calaf and Rosina Torri as Liù. The success was tremendous, the critics wrote about Scacciati's interpretiation of the ice princess: "Nessun dimenticherà la bellezza e lo squillo della sua voce in questa parte (Nobody with forget the beauty and squillo of her voice in this part)".

Since then she became Italy's most respected Turandot before the arrival of Gina Cigna. It was exactly then when Duce, Benito Mussolini, present at the premiere and absolutely enchanted by Scacciati's voice, invited her to Palazzo Venezia to receive from his hands a photograph with a dedication. Bianca, in response, politely turned down such an honourable offer, thereby showing her protest against the fascist regime. Another interesting episode which happened with her in Rome in 1926 was her meeting the great maestro Arturo Toscanini, who, having heard a lot about Scacciati's triumphs, invited her to give him an audition at La Scala. Bianca did not agree to go to Milan and offered the maestro to listen to her singing Elisabetta de Valois in Verdi's "Don Carlos" at the Costanzi. As far as we know, Toscanini was captivated by her voice and immediately gave her a contract with La Scala, where she made her debut in the November of the same year as Elisabetta opposite Giuseppina Cobelli, Carlo Galeffi and Antonin Trantoul.

Scacciati's career at La Scala was probably one of the most luminous even among her highly famous and respected colleagues. Maria Caniglia, a celebrated verismo diva of the successive generation, in her interview given to Lanfranco Rasponi spoke of Scacciati with great respect and admiration and referred to her as "one of La Scala's reigning sovereigns, worshipped by an adoring public". From 1926 until 1931 Scacciati appeared almost unstoppably at this legendary opera house, dividing the repertory, as it has already been stated, with Giuseppina Cobelli and Giannina Arangi Lombardi and singing the whole important classical belcantistic, romantic and veristic repertory: "Don Carlo", "Turandot", "Cavalleria rusticana" (directed by Mascagni), "Tosca", Boito's "Nerone", "Otello", Giordano's "Siberia", "La forza del destino", "Un ballo in maschera", "Aida", "Norma", "Il Trovatore", as well as some obscure works like Verdi's "I Lombardi" and Spontini's "La Vestale", always in totally first-class casts and often directed by Toscanini himself.

At the same time she managed her career on Italy's other best operatic stages and, notably, in 1928 toured the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires (as Aida, Leonora in "Il Trovatore", Manon Lescaut and Amelia in "Un ballo in maschera”) and in 1926 guested at the Royal Opera House in London (in "Turandot", "Les Huguenots" and "Mefistofele" singing both Margherita and Elena). At the latter theatre, however, she was not successful, as the English critics criticised her for the Italian-school vibrato in her voice and the emphatic manner of singing. Nevertheless, in her moth