Opera, like any other art form, has its cult figures, typically singers who died young and enacted tragedies, on stage or (sometimes "and") in their own lives. While Maria Callas is probably the best known of these, Claudia Muzio has her own legion of devotees. Like Callas, her voice had a certain veiled tone, one making it near-perfect for tragic heroines; she was an excellent actress and a beautiful woman, and also had some major vocal troublesRead more towards the end of her career, though was still able to thrill audiences by her vocal and physical communication. (There was something of a personal connection as well -- Aristotle Onassis had been Muzio's lover earlier in his life, Callas' much later.) Muzio's vocal acting was poignantly subtle, based on colors and shading of her tone, rather than the harsh-toned, uncontrolled shrieks or melodramatic gulping sobs that too often passed (and still do) for dramatic high notes or powerful involvement, and she was known as "the Duse of song," after Eleonora Duse, an actress famed for her intensity. During most of her life she was more or less a recluse, and avoided society.
She came from a background that combined music and drama; her father was an operatic stage director at both the Met and Covent Garden, and her mother an opera house chorister. She studied at an early age with Annetta Casaloni, the mezzo-soprano who created the role of Maddalena in Verdi's Rigoletto, in Turin, and made her own operatic debut as Massenet's Manon in Arezzo in 1910; in 1911, she made her first recordings, an aria from La bohème and part of La traviata. Her La Scala debut was as Desdemona in 1913. This was so successful that a member of the Paris Opera management immediately offered her the same part for the next season, and a representative of the Covent Garden management heard her in rehearsals, and immediately offered her the role of Manon for the next year. However, while she sang several roles during just ten weeks there, that was the only season she sang at Covent Garden; much of the remainder of her career was in Italy and North and South America, especially at the Teatro Colon, where she was known as "La unica."
Her Met debut was as Tosca, in 1916, singing with Enrico Caruso and Antonio Scotti, and she appeared in each season there for the next six years, singing a total of 15 roles and 152 performances, including, in 1918, the role of Georgetta in the world premiere of Puccini's Il tabarro. Her Chicago debut was in 1922 as Aida, and she remained there for nine seasons, singing a combination of contemporary (such as Fevrier's Monna Vanna and Ginevra in Giordano's La cena delle beffe), and nineteenth century works. She died in Rome, probably from either a rheumatic heart condition or Bright's Disease, though to this day, rumors of suicide persist, as her love life was never a happy one and the stock market crash had affected her finances deeply.
Among the relatively few recordings that she left, her "Del mio amato bene," by Donaudy (available on both EMI and Nimbus recital discs; the listener's choice can be dictated by preference of transferring methods), is an enduring classic, simple, without histrionics, and yet haunting. Read less
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