16 November 2023

P.R. Jenkins

Karajan artists: Giulietta Simionato – the Italian mezzo

In his years at the Scala, Karajan worked intensely with one of the finest mezzos for the Italian repertoire – Giulietta Simionato.

In fact, their first collaboration was in the French repertoire. In 1954, they performed “Carmen” in concert at the Musikverein and in the following year as a stage production at the Scala. It was a spectacular interpretation. For the audience “it was like stepping out of a shuttered room into the sun’s noonday stare (Richard Osborne)”. Simionato was about the same age as Karajan and she was already 44 when they met. (In the years after the war, she worked with Toscanini on Arrigo Boito’s “Nerone” and reportedly moved him to tears.)

The next projects with Karajan were “Falstaff” with Simionato as Mrs Quickly in Salzburg and Vienna in 1957 and “Don Carlo” with Eugenio Fernandi, Sena Jurinac, Cesare Siepi and Simionato as Princess Eboli in 1958. In the same year, Simionato appeared as Amneris in “Aida” at the Vienna State Opera. Her colleagues in the main parts were Birgit Nilsson and Giuseppe di Stefano.

“Giulietta Simionato was often called the Amneris of her generation.”
Warwick Thompson in the booklet of Karajan’s DECCA recording

“Aida” was the only opera that Karajan and Simionato recorded in the studio with Renata Tebaldi and Carlo Bergonzi in the following year. Gramophone’s praise was effulgent:

“This Aida recording will come to be regarded as a landmark in the art of capturing grand opera on disc.”

The 1959 Salzburg Festival brought a re-run of Karajan’s 1948 “Orfeo ed Euridice” and “Simionato sang Orpheus, gloriously, imposingly (Osborne).” The Gluck production was transferred to Vienna the same year.

At the State Opera, Simionato also appeared as Cherubino in “The Marriage of Figaro” under Karajan’s baton. Their last opera production was Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” in 1962 – once more in Salzburg. Simionato performed Azucena, one of her favourite roles. In four concerts she sang the mezzo part in Verdi’s Requiem, as in their last joint performance in 1965. Simionato was 55. She died in 2010, one week before her 100th birthday.

We’ve prepared playlists with Karajan and Giulietta Simionato. Listen to them here.

Richard Osborne: “Karajan. A Life in Music” Chatto & Windus, London. 1998

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