She shares her name with a delicious Sienese almond
cookie, and it has been said that, as a child, Katia Ricciarelli would sit
in a tree and sing to the birds. But this most glamorous of opera singers
is no mere nightingale, despite being blessed with a voice of liquid
Famed for her exquisite pianissini, her wonderful legato, and the
sincerity of her interpretations, she has enchanted a generation of opera
goers and has performed with the greatest singers and conductors of her
time. She is also a much loved TV celebrity in Italy and her down to earth
manner, quick intelligence and infectious sense of humour have undoubtedly
contributed to her huge popularity, as did her on-and-off stage
partnership with José Carreras, whose vocal gifts (and good looks) were
the perfect match for her.
She was born in Rovigo, Italy, in
1946, and after the death of her father and her siblings, she experienced
a frugal upbringing with her mother.
Impoverishment taught her the need for hard work and dedication if she was
going to follow her dream and study music, which she eventually did, in
Essentially a lyric soprano, she
made her operatic debut in Parma as Mimi in La Boheme. Then, in
1971, she won the Voci Verdiane competition and indeed established
herself as a superb Verdi singer, while being hailed as the “new Tebaldi”.
Important international debuts quickly followed - Covent Garden, Vienna,
Paris, New York at the Met and Rome.
Her debut at La Scala was - as is often the case - more
but soon she was accepted even there.
An advocate of bel canto methods, she has
always had a special affinity for Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti, and sang
for many years at the Pesaro-Rossini festival, singing coloratura with
purpose and discretion in music so often distorted by inappropriate
decoration. But she has refused to be labelled a specialist in any
particular area and has enjoyed an unusually broad repertoire, ranging
from the earliest Italian Arie Antiche, through the great Romantic Verdi
heroines, to the title role in Puccini’s Turandot. She was, in
fact, severely criticised for exploring more adventurous and dramatic
repertoire, and while it is true that her voice has changed and darkened,
Ricciarelli has never been content to rest on her laurels and even now, in
her sixties, she has taken on new challenges, including acting in the
La seconda notte di nozze.
Despite making studio recordings of many of
her principal roles, she is a theatrical singer and often her greatest
performances were given on the stage. Celestial Audio have uncovered and
remastered live recordings of both well known and less familiar repertoire
associated with this singer, including her triumphant Anna Bolena
(“one of her truly great nights“ said Opera Magazine), her
surprisingly dark and dramatic Elisabetta in Roberto Devereux, her
vivid Bianca opposite Marilyn Horne’s Falliero, and her haunting Lucia
di Lammermoor (in the original and authentic version) alongside her
dignified and frightened Tosca, under Karajan.
Backstage, she was always surprisingly warm
and approachable, her natural grace offset by her ready wit. In her prime
she was a singer with a voice of gold - and occasionally steel - who
brought real star quality and a sense of occasion to all her performances.