Artist Profile: Mirella Freni, A Great Italian Diva

By David Salazar

Mirella Freni, born on Feb. 27, 1935, would go on to become one of the renowned Italian sopranos of her generation. 

Freni’s musical talent was recognized from an early age as she performed “Un bel dì vedremo” on a radio competition. 

She made her opera debut in her hometown on March 3, 1955 in “Carmen,” taking on the role of Michaëla. In 1958, she took on the role of Mimì in “La Bohème” at the Teatro Regio in Turin and a year later she was at the Netherlands Opera, followed by her international breakthrough in a series of performances at Glyndebourne. 

In 1961, she debuted at the Royal Opera House and two years later she made her La Scala debut. Her Met debut came in 1965 and a year later she made her first appearances at the Philadelphia Lyric Opera Company. 

Throughout subsequent decades, Freni took on heavier repertory, with a lot of verismo roles added in the 1990s. She would perform all over the world and ended her career in 2005 with a performance of “The Maid of Orleans.” One of her frequent collaborators was her husband Nicolai Ghiaurov.

She was awarded with Italian Cavaliere di Gran Croce and the French Légion d’Honneur.

Signature Roles

Freni was a major interpreters of the operas of Verdi and Puccini. The role of Mimì was a major calling card for the soprano as she made her Met Opera and Philadelphia Lyric Opera Company debuts with the famed Puccini work. 

She sang a wide range of Verdi operas, moving toward more dramatic roles throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Among the roles she championed were those of Desdemona in “Otello,” Amelia in “Simon Boccanegra,” and even Elisabetta in “Don Carlo.”

Read More on Freni

Four Rare Operas the Soprano Performed

Watch and Listen

Here is an early recording by the famed soprano.

And here is a recording of “La Bohème.”


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