I had a friend who once told me that Giulietta Simionato was an Italian institution. He was only exaggerating slightly.

Giulietta Simionato (May 12, 1910 – May 5, 2010) was one of the greatest Italian opera singers of her generation. She was a vivid actress. Like her great friend Maria Callas, with whom she sang often, Simionato had the ability to invest whatever she was singing with an individual quality. Her voice was not as powerful as that of some of the other famous Italian contraltos and mezzos, but it was immediately recognisable. She was able to deliver each word and phrase with a rich palette of colors, and to use the characteristic rapid vibrato to sing a wide range of parts. Her career spanned more than thirty years.

Una voce poco fa

Una voce poco fa
qui nel cor mi risuonò;
il mio cor ferito è già,
e Lindor fu che il piagò.

Sì, Lindoro mio sarà;
lo giurai, la vincerò. (bis)

Il tutor ricuserà,
io l’ingegno aguzzerò.
Alla fin s’accheterà
e contenta io resterò.

Sì, Lindoro mio sarà;
lo giurai, la vincerò.
Sì, Lindoro mio sarà;
lo giurai, sì.

Io sono docile, son rispettosa,
sono obbediente, dolce, amorosa;
mi lascio reggere, mi lascio reggere,
mi fo guidar, mi fo guidar.

Ma,
ma se mi toccano
dov’è il mio debole
sarò una vipera, sarò
e cento trappole
prima di cedere
farò giocar, giocar.

E cento trappole
prima di cedere
farò giocar, farò giocar. (bis)

(Si ripete da: Io sono docile…)

A voice a little while ago

A voice a little while ago
echoes here in my heart;
already my heart has been pierced
and Lindoro inflicted the wound.

Yes, Lindoro shall be mine;
I swear it, I will win. (bis)

My guardian will refuse me;
I shall sharpen all my wits.
In the end he will be calmed
and I shall rest content…

Yes, Lindoro shall be mine;
I swear it, I will win.
Yes, Lindoro shall be mine;
I swear it, yes.

I am docile, I’m respectful,
I’m obedient, gentle, loving;
I let myself be ruled, I let myself be ruled,
I let myself be guided, I let myself be guided.

But,
but if they touch me
on my weak spot,
I’ll be a viper
and a hundred tricks
I’ll play before I yield.

And a hundred tricks
I’ll play before I yield.

(it repeats from: I am docile…)

Compare with Diana Damrau, and see if you can hear the differences.

With Franco Corelli, tenor.

Manrico
L’usato messo Ruiz invia
Forse

Azucena
Mi vendica!

Manrico
Il noltra il piè. (a un messaggero che è entrato)
Guerre scoevento, dimmi, seguia?

Messaggero
Rispondi il foglio che reco a te.

Manrico
“In nostra possa è Castellor, (leggendo una lettera del messaggero)
nei dêi tu, per cenno del prence,
vigliar le difese,
Ove ti è dato, affretati a venir.
Giunta la sera, tratta in ingano no di tua morte al grido,
nel vicin chiostro della Croce
il velo cingerà Leonora”.
Oh giusto cielo!

Azucena
Che fia?

Manrico
Veloce, scendi la balza, (al messaggero)
ed un cavallo me provedi.

Azucena
Manrico

Manrico
Il tempo in calza!
Vola m’aspetta del colle ai piedi.

Azucena
E speri? E vuoi? (il messaggero parte)

Manrico
(Perderla! Oh, ambascia! Perder quell’angel!)

Azucena
(È fuor di se!)

Manrico
Addio!

Azucena
No, ferma, odi

Manrico
Mi lascia!

Azucena
Ferma! Son io che parla a te!
Perigliarti ancor languente per camin
selvaggio ed ermo!
Le ferite vuoi,
demente!
Riaprir del petto infermo!
No, soffrirlo non poss’io,
Il tuo sangue è sangue mio!
Ogni stilla che ne versi
Tu la spremi dal mio cor!
Tu la spremi dal mio cor!
Tu la spremi dal mio cor!
Ah! Ah! Tu la spremi, spremi dal cor!

Manrico
Un momento può involarmi
Il mio ben, la mia speranza!
No, che basti ad arrestarmi,
Terra e ciel non ha possanza!

Azucena
Demente

Manrico
Ah! mi sgombra, o madre i passi,
Guai per te,
s’io qui restassi!
Tu vedresti a’piedi tuoi
Spento il figlio di dolor!

Azucena
No, soffrirlo non poss’io!

Manrico
Guai per te, s’io qui restassi!

Azucena
No, soffrirlo non poss’io,
Il tuo sangue è sangue mio!
Ogni stilla che ne versi
Tu la spremi dal mio cor.

Manrico
Tu vedresti a’piedi tuoi
Il spento il figlio di dolore!
Tu vedresti a’piedi tuoi
Spento il figlio di dolor!

Azucena
Ferma, deh! Ferma!

Manrico
Mi lascia, mi lascia

Azucena
M’odi, deh! m’odi!

Manrico
Perder quell’angelo! Mi lascia
Mi lascia! Addio! Mi lascia,
Mi lascia, mi lascia, mi lascia!

Azucena
Ah ferma! m’odi, son io, che parla a te,
Parla a te! Ferma, ferma, ferma, ferma,
Ferma, ah ferma, ferma, ferma, deh!; ferma
Ferma, Ah ferma, ferma, ferma!

Manrico
Deh! lascia, addio, mi lascia, addio, addio!

Manrico
The awaited signal, could it be Ruiz,
Perhaps. Answer.

Azucena
Avenge me!

Manrico
You may approach (to the messenger)
What brought you here? Tidings of war?

Messenger
I bear a letter. It will tell you all.

Manrico
“Our men have taken Castellor. (reading a letter from the messenger)
The prince’s order is that you come immediately,
to defend it,
Unless your unhealed wounds have laid you low.
I shall expect you. Know that, deceived by tidings
of your death, the fair Leonora will this day
become the bride elect of Heaven.”
Oh cruel Fortune.

Azucena
What does he say?

Manrico
Go, quickly, bring me a horse (to the messenger)
Go down the hill and await me there.

Azucena
Manrico

Manbrico
Don’t lose a moment, fly then, await me,
The moments are pressing.

Azucena
Manrico, what do you want? (The messenger leaves)

Manrico
(If I am too late, oh cruel torment)

Azucena
He’s in despair.

Manrico
Goodbye.

Azucena
No, give me an answer.

Manrico
Let me go!

Azucena
Listen, it is your mother speaking!
Will you leave me here in sadness
For a path of toil and in anger?
You are feeble, and yet it is madness!
Your life will be certainly in danger.
No, you must not leave weeping,
You have my life in your keeping.
If a danger now comes to you,
It will break your mother’s heart,
It will break your mother’s heart,
It will break your mother’s heart.
Ah! Ah! Can you leave me?
You will break my heart!

Manrico
Let me go, do not detain me any longer,
I will perish if I lose her!
Heaven and earth cannot restrain me,
I must fly to tell that I live.

Azucena
It is madness!

Manrico
It is in vain to resist, O mother,
You must do away with your foreboding
I would rather die than part from the maid
Whom I love.

Azucena
No, you must not leave me weeping

Manrico
You must do away with your forebodings.

Azucena
You cannot leave me weeping. You have my life in your hands.
If a danger comes to you, it will break your mother’s heart.

Manrico
It is in vain to resist, O mother,
You must do away with your forebodings
I would rather die than part from the maid
Whom I love.

Azucena
Stay then, o stay

Manrico
Let me go, let me go.

Azucena
Hear me, hear me.

Manrico
Heaven and earth shall not restrain me. Let me go,
Let me go! Farewell! Let me go,
Let me go, let me go, let me go.

Azucena
Stay, hear me, it is I who speak to you.
Speak to you, stay, stay, stay, stay,
Stay, ah stay, stay, stay, deh! stay
Stay, ah stay, stay, stay.

Manrico
Deh! Let me go, let me go, farewell, farewell!

This aria is from Saint-Saëns Samson et Dalila. Simionato sings it in Italian. I do not have a translation from the French into the Italian, so I have given you the original French and an English translation.

Mon coeur ouvre à ta voix

Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix,
comme s’ouvrent les fleurs
aux baisers de l’aurore !
Mais, ô mon bien aimé,
pour mieux sécher mes pleurs,
que ta voix parle encore !
Dis-moi qu’à Dalila
tu reviens pour jamais.
Redis à ma tendresse
les serments d’autrefois,
ces serments que j’aimais !
Ah! réponds à ma tendresse !
Verse-moi, verse-moi l’ivresse !

Ainsi qu’on voit des blés
les épis onduler
sous la brise légère,
ainsi frémit mon cœur,
prêt à se consoler,
à ta voix qui m’est chère !
La flèche est moins rapide
à porter le trépas,
que ne l’est ton amante
à voler dans tes bras !
Ah! réponds à ma tendresse !
Verse-moi, verse-moi l’ivresse !

My heart opens up to your voice

My heart opens up to your voice,
Like flowers open
To the kisses of the dawn!
But, oh my beloved,
To better dry my tears,
Let your voice speak again!
Tell me that you’ll return
To Delilah forever.
Repeat to me your tenderness,
Your promises from before,
Those vows that I loved!
Ah! Respond to my tenderness!
Pour into me, pour euphoria into me!

Just as you see the wheat,
The grains wave
Under the light breeze,
So my heart trembles,
Ready to console itself,
At your voice that is so precious to me!
The arrow does not bring death
As quickly,
As your lover
would fly into your arms!
Ah! Respond to my tenderness!
Pour into me, pour euphoria into me!

Compare with Elena Garanča. Listen to the placement of the voice compared with Simionato. Which is better?

Giulietta Simionato

Although Simionato’s career was long, and her repertory stretched from Monteverdi, Cimarosa and Handel to Bartók, Honegger and Strauss, she is remembered for her performances in the operas of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi. She also sang verismo roles (Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana), the title role in Carmen, and the classic Verdi mezzo roles: Eboli in Don Carlos, Azucena in Il Trovatore, Amneris in Aida (her Covent Garden debut, under Sir John Barbirolli, with Callas as Aida and Joan Sutherland as the Priestess, in 1953), as well as the comic Mistress Quickly in Falstaff and the swaggering Preziosilla in La Forza del Destino.

She was born in Forlì, in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. She spent her early childhood in Sardinia and, at the age of eight, moved with her family to Rovigo, near Venice, where her musical and vocal skills were noticed immediately. She studied with Ettore Locatello and Guido Palumbo.

While still a student, she made her professional debut in the role of Maddalena in Rigoletto, and in 1933 she was one of the winners of a singing competition in Florence. Among the judges were the conductor Tullio Serafin and the veteran soprano Rosina Storchio (the first Madama Butterfly), who told her: “Always sing like this, dear one.”

Although Simionato’s talents were quickly noticed, her career was almost entirely in small roles throughout the remainder of the 1930s. She joined La Scala in Milan in 1936 and would make appearances there for the next 30 years.

Her career took off only after the Second World War. She was 35 when she sang Dorabella in Così Fan Tutte in Geneva in October 1945. Her success was tremendous. She repeated the role in Paris the following year and was Cherubino in Figaro with the Glyndebourne company at the first Edinburgh festival in 1947.

Simionato sang the title role in Ambroise Thomas’s Mignon, in October 1947, opposite the young Giuseppe di Stefano as Wilhelm Meister. The role of Mignon became especially associated with Simionato, who identified with the put-upon street-singer. It was the part in which she made her debut at La Fenice in Venice in 1948, and the following year in Mexico, where she became a great favorite.

During the 1948-49 seasons, she began to sing the Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti roles in which she became a specialist as the bel canto revival got under way. Leonora in Donizetti’s La Favorita, the title roles in Rossini’s La Cenerentola and L’Italiana in Algeri, Romeo in Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi and Adalgisa in Bellini’s Norma all became Simionato parts. She first sang Adalgisa to Callas’s Norma in Mexico City in 1950.

During the later part of Simionato’s stage career, she enjoyed a special triumph in the first performance at La Scala of Berlioz’s Les Troyens in 1960. In the summer of 1962 she sang Neris to Callas’s Medea for the last time, when Callas made her final La Scala appearances.

She created the role of Pirene in the world premiere of Falla’s Atlántida (“too static and untheatrical,” Simionato called it) the same year. One of her last appearances was at Covent Garden in 1964 as Azucena in Visconti’s production of Il Trovatore. She made a round of quiet farewells, singing Adalgisa to Callas’s Norma in Paris in 1965, and then took on the relatively small part of Servilia in Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito at La Piccola Scala in January 1966. Simionato retired that year.

Simionato was in later years an occasional judge of singing competitions. She sang Cherubino’s aria, Voi che sapete, from The Marriage of Figaro, at a tribute to Karl Böhm at the Salzburg festival in 1979. In 1995, she celebrated her 85th birthday at La Scala.