The beloved Italian soprano Mirella Freni, possessed of a gorgeous lyric instrument and sympathetic stage presence, has died at her home in Modena, Italy, at 84. Announced by her long-time manager Jack Mastroianni, her death was attributed to “a long degenerative illness and a series of strokes.” A childhood friend of Pavarotti’s, Freni was seen by many as the last of a line of legendary Italian sopranos that included Renata Tebaldi, Licia Albanese, Magda Olivero and Luisa Tetrazzini.
Born on February 27, 1935, Freni made her operatic debut at Modena’s Teatro Municipale in 1955 as Micaëla in Carmen. Her early international success began with the 1960 festival season at Glyndebourne, where she sang Zerlina, and continued with her 1961 Covent Garden debut as Nannetta in Falstaff. Freni would return to Glyndebourne the following year for Susanna and Adina in L’Elisir d’Amore.
International stardom came when she appeared as Mimì in a rapturously received La Scala house debut in La Bohème. The consumptive seamstress became a signature part, as did lighter lyric roles like Micaëla, Susanna and Zerlina, and was the occasion for her anticipated 1965 debut at the Metropolitan Opera. Zinka Milanov,...