The best singing actress I ever saw was Diana Soviero (b 1946) and my list includes Maria Callas and Teresa Stratas. Born in Jersey City she received the second Richard Tucker Award in 1979. She had a distinguished career at the Met appearing 102 times with the company between 1980 and 1997. She also sang at many of the world’s major houses. She was especially known for her verismo roles. But it has always seemed to me that she never received the full recognition that her extraordinary skill deserved.
Soviero inhabited her roles. If you were lucky enough to see her as Madama Butterfly or Suor Angelica (just two of the roles that she excelled at) you were in the presence of genius. One of the great moments in my 60 years of opera going was her 1989 performance of the title role of Puccini’s Suor Angelica at the Met. She was a last minute replacement for Teresa Stratas. It was a Saturday matinee, so a recording of the broadcast is doubtless floating around someplace, but I don’t have a copy of it.
She also did not record very much. This disc is the only studio recording that I can find by Ms Soviero. As fine an artist as she was and despite much recognition by connoisseurs of opera, her career is an all too common example of how recognition and reputation are often dispensed with a tenuous connection to merit. Why this happens is difficult to dissect. The professional life of a performer is brief. If, for whatever reason(s), the public isn’t instructed whom it should prefer it oftentimes fails to realize the worth of some performers while overestimating the capacity of others. Or, life is just unfair.
This is Soviero’s rendition of the first act aria Io son l’umile ancella from Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur. Her voice is not the most beautiful ever recorded, but it is wonderful at expressing the meaning of whatever she sang. Combined with her extraordinary acting ability she was in performance one of the wonders of her time.
Senza mamma is Suor Angelica’s lament to her dead child. Though he has been dead for two year Angelica has just learned his fate. She then takes poison, but repents and asks the Madonna for forgiveness and a miracle occurs. The libretto says: Sister Angelica sees the miracle taking place. The little church suddenly blazes with mystic light. The door opens and the Queen of comfort appears, solemn, with a sweet expression on her face and, in front of her, a blond child, all in white, is seen.
Below is a rather gauzy video of the finale to Suor Angelica. Because YouTube videos often disappear I’ve added the sound track below the picture. This production follows the depiction presented above. Modern directors often seem embarrassed by Puccini’s miracle which also is a miracle of musical and theatrical construction and often leave out as much of the stage directions as they can. This opera is the least performed of the three that comprise Il Trittico. But it has been getting better year after year. When a great soprano assumes the title role the genius of Puccini’s simple tale is stunning.