Rosanna Carteri (1930-2020) was an Italian soprano who achieved great renown at a very young age. Born in Verona, she was raised in Padua. She began vocal studies before she was a teenager. By 14 she was learning complete roles under the tutelage of Ferruccio Cusinati who was the chorus master of the Verona Arena and who also taught Maria Callas. In 1948 she won a contest sponsored by RAI (Radiotelevisione Italiana) She made her operatic debut the following year as Elsa in Wagner’s Lohengrin at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. Her career as a prima donna was established before her 20th birthday.
At 20 she was at La Scala. Between 1951 to 1963 Carteri appeared in 19 productions at the Milan theater. Performances at most of the world’s leading houses followed in swift order. The only omission was the Met. For one of the few times in opera the soprano was as young, or even younger than the characters she was playing.
Carteri had a solid lyric soprano that was ideal for the anguished young heroines of Puccini and Verdi. Especially noted for the leading roles in La Bohème and La Traviata, she also appeared in many premieres and in works by Handel, Mozart, Rossini, and Prokoviev.
Then after more than a decade and a half when she had reached the very top of the opera world she retired. Only 36, with what should have been her best years in front of her she was gone. At the peak of her art, she decided to devote her life to her family.
First, two videos that show her attractive persona as well as the beauty of her singing. The solo that concludes Act 1 of La Traviata was filmed by RAI Milan in 1954. The conductor was Nino Sanzogno.
The same year she appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, This program was enormously popular in the US during the 50s. Its variety format presented everything from trained seals to divas – a smorgasbord that seems impossible today.
L’altra notte in fondo al mare from Boito’s Mefistofele is an aria well suited to Carteri’s talent. It is Act 3. Margherita has been imprisoned because she’s blamed for the death of her mother and the drowning of her infant child. She is horrified by the deaths and by her condition.
Besides Traviata, Carteri portrayed another Verdi heroine – Desdemona in Otello. This is a role that can be done well by either a lyric or spinto soprano. First, the Willow Song followed by the Ave Maria. They’re from the opera’s 4th and final act. Carteri’s singing is lovely and sensitive.
Though primarily an Italian specialist, she did sing French lyric parts. Here’s a sparkling rendition of the post-wedding duet from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. The tenor is Nicolai Gedda who was the prefect Roméo. The duet was recorded relatively late in the soprano’s career – she was all of 34.
Senza mamma starts the emotional wallop that ends Puccini’s Suor Angelica. If you know the opera only from recordings or have never seen it done by a great singing actress you will not understand how powerful the work is.
Another opera that requires a lot of interpretive effort to be fully realized is Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur. Io son l’umile ancella is from a 1956 performance. Carteri’s looks, acting chops, and vocal luminosity must have made her a radiant Adriana.
Mozart was in her repertory as was Tchaikovsky. Come scoglio is from the last of the Mozart/Da Ponte operas – Così fan tutte. This recording was taken from a 1957 performance. The demanding aria shows her ability with both florid and forceful music. The Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin is a different kind of soprano test. This recording was made in 1953. It’s sung in Italian. That such a young singer can marshal the vocal and theatrical demands of this great scene is more than remarkable.
The soprano died last October 25 in Monaco more than a half century after she left the stage. She had moved there with her family to escape the kidnapping rampage that plagued Italy during the 60s. She was survived by two children and four grandchildren. This fine artist made an unusual career decision that, as far as I can tell, brought her great satisfaction.