Born: October 15, 1905; Bari, Italy
Died: July 10, 1983; Pinamar, Argentina
Although the Metropolitan Opera didn't have Ebe Stignani, it had Bruna Castagna, another mezzo soprano of voluminous voice and uncommon agility who similarly succeeded as Bizet's Carmen despite a less than exemplary figure. Toscanini engaged Castagna both in her native Italy and again for performances in America. Air checks of live performances from the Metropolitan reveal a chocolate-colored instrument being guided by a musicianly singerRead more possessing both passionate commitment and considerable discretion. Born in Bari, located in the South of Italy, Castagna began her study of music at age seven, training first as a pianist. By her early teens, she was recognized in her region as a player of real potential, but she elected at that point to forgo the piano in favor of pursuing a career as a singer. After voice studies in Milan, she made her stage debut rather hastily as Marina in Boris Godunov in 1925. She was only 20, but her success at Mantua's Teatro Sociale prompted conductor Tullio Serafin to offer a contract for performances at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. Castagna subsequently sang in the Argentine capital for three seasons. Meanwhile, La Scala offered the mezzo opportunities not usually made available to artists so young and she remained with that theater for the ensuing three years from 1925 to 1928. Arturo Toscanini, who had previously become familiar with her work, bid Castagna return to Milan, believing that he had found in her an artist able to do justice to the mezzo works of Rossini and the other bel canto composers. L'italiana in Algeri, unlike the composer's Il barbičri di Siviglia, could not be sung by a soprano. A true mezzo was required and, upon the staging of a new production in 1933, Castagna was hailed by the critics as one who could bring such important works back into the repertory. At Barcelona's Liceo, she undertook Carmen for the first time; it would soon become one of her signature roles. After triumphant stage performances in France, Germany, Romania, Egypt, and Australia, Castagna received invitations from Chicago and San Francisco and enjoyed a major success in a concert appearance at New York's Hippodrome in 1934. Finally given a contract by Metropolitan Opera general manager Edward Johnson, she made her New York stage debut on March 2, 1936, singing a strong Amneris and winning the approval of the city's music critics. Two other roles, following in quick succession, added to her reputation. Her Azucena in Il Trovatore was found a searing dramatic presence with voice to match and her Carmen, though Italianate in flavor, was a persuasive departure from the hands-on-hips excesses of previous interpreters. Critic Lawrence Gilman found in her an artist with "both temperament and artistic tact." A summer audience of 15,000 heard Castagna's Carmen that same year at Lewisohn Stadium. Assessing her approach to the role, Pitts Sanborn enthusiastically commented "always she is the accomplished musician. The mantle of the great Carmens has fallen upon her, and royally she wears it." Castagna continued to perform the role during the remainder of her career. Upon retirement, she returned to Italy to teach voice and interpretation.
Despite leaving too few commercial recordings, live performances preserved on disc attest to a superior singer. Especially persuasive are the Verdi Requiem and Missa Solemnis (Beethoven) she recorded with Toscanini and examples of her wonderfully sung Verdi specialties. Read less
There are 3 Bruna Castagna recordings available.
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