Italy on Monday mourned the death of soprano Mirella Freni, hailed as one of the last great operatic singers of her generation.
Freni died late Sunday, less than three weeks before her 85th birthday. The singer, known for matching the intensity and richness of the voice of frequent tenor partner Luciano Pavarotti, retired from professional singing in 2005, but her place in opera’s history is secure.
Having worked with famed directors including Franco Zeffirelli and Luciano Visconti and performed in almost all of the world’s greatest opera houses, Freni was hailed as one of the last connections to a golden age of opera when Italian sopranos could bring an audience to its feet just by walking on stage.
Freni was best known for her role as Mimi in Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme,” which she first played in 1965 when she was 30 years old.
Over the years, she played other important roles such as Micaela in Georges Bizet’s “Carmen” and the role of Joan of Arc in Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “The Maid of Orleans,” but the role of Mimi, which she played many times, was the one most associated with her.
The playwright Albert Innaurato once dubbed her career after her retirement “the last great prima donna.”
After her death, the Italian daily Il Tempo said that “the light of one of the great Italian voices flickered out,” while Corriere della Sera, Italy’s largest newspaper, said the news of her death left a sadness that was “tangible and deep.”
Riccrado Muti, who conducted for Freni many times at La Scala in Milan, said Freni’s demise was part of a downward trend for opera at its highest levels.