Leyla Gencer, born on Oct 10, 1928, was one of the greatest bel canto sopranos to ever grace the opera stage. She dominated a plethora of often over-looked Donizetti operas and sang everything she could by Bellini.
And most importantly, she dominated some of the lesser known works of Giuseppe Verdi, a composer she may share a birthday with (his birthday may be Oct. 9 or 10). She did sing some of his famous works, including “Aida,” “Macbeth,” “La Forza del Destino,” Il Trovatore,” and “Ernani,” but her ability to bring some of his “lesser” operas to the forefront is more than other great artists of the time did.
Here is a look at the rare Verdi gems that Gencer made sure to showcase throughout her legendary career.
I Due Foscari
The opera’s popularity has grown in recent years, particularly to its interest for baritones and other sopranos, but Gencer was singing it and recording it when it was just another Verdi opera that few cared for. Her recording from 1957, under the baton of Tullio Serafin, is one of the finest around.
La Battaglia di Legnano
This opera, which comes right before “Luisa Miller,” is still a major unknown even among the biggest Verdi lovers. But that didn’t stop the Turkish diva from making the most out of the work, recording it in 1959, her second Verdi recording ever.
The updated version of “I Lombardi” still remains less popular to this day, but Gencer never actually recorded the earlier opera, opting instead for its more musically mature version in 1963 alongside tenor Giacomo Aragall and Gian Giacomo. There is also a 1965 version with Aragall, Renata Bruson, and Ruggiero Raimondi from Munich.
Another early Verdi opera that has seen its fame rise due to the lead role and its significance for great basses. But Gencer was making the most of her work as the ferocious Odabella back in a time when the opera was still relatively unknown and recorded it 1972.