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News reports are carrying word of the death of Leyla Gencer, Turkish soprano, La Diva Turca.

She was a noted opera singer in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, known as Queen of the Pirates because although she didn't have a record contract, her live performances were circulated on private tapes and LPs. Even today many of her performances are available on the smaller CDs labels and several of her videos are out on DVD.

She had an huge repertory and sang the first revivals of many bel canto operas during the rediscovery of that body of work during the middle of the last century.

I saw her twice, as Odabella in Verdi's Atilla and the title character in Donizetti's Caterina Cornaro although by this time, the early 70s, she was a bit

past her best.

She was truly a colorful figure.


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Thank you for posting this sad news, richard53dog. I have Gencer in Anna Bolena and Rigoletto around somewhere. (Her timing was off, in a way - the competition was very intense in her repertory, what with Callas, Caballe, Sutherland, et al in the running.) RIP.

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She was one of my great favorites, with a dramatic and musical intensity surpassed only by Callas. I sometimes feel Caballe and Sutherland got no little of the credit she deserved for reviving the bel canto roles and making them not just musically valid but theatically compelling. I had most of her recordings at one time, until technology caught up with them - I'm still replacing them with cds. I think her Trovatore Leonora (on the RAI dvd) is a touchstone. She is also a delight on Stefan Zucker's documentary Stefan and the Divas (if you don't find him terminally irritating, of course).

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The NYT obituary.

Though Ms. Gencer appeared on many of the world’s major stages, among them Covent Garden in London, she never sang at the Metropolitan Opera. She did not make her New York debut until 1973, when she sang the title role in Donizetti’s little-known opera “Caterina Cornaro” in a semi-staged production at Carnegie Hall by the Opera Theater of New Jersey.

By this time, Ms. Gencer was 50, give or take. Reviewing her performance in The New York Times, Harold C. Schonbergwrote: “Her voice shows signs of the abuse that comes from overwork and an insufficient technique. She clearly was an experienced singer of the old arm-waving school, and the middle range of her voice had moments of appealing beauty. But the top is virtually gone, and fortissimo high notes emerged in ear-splitting yells.”

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