Iva Pacetti


Born: December 13, 1898 Died: January 19, 1981
Respected in her native Italy as a dramatic soprano of the first rank, Iva Pacetti found her generous vibrato (a characteristic she shared with most of her large-voiced Italian soprano colleagues) not to the taste of many English critics who preferred the cleaner, less-ripe sound of German leading ladies of that time. Ironically, while she was charged with display of tremolo or even wobble, this very richness was expected by Italian audiences. That critics in the British Iles could ignore Pacetti's beautifully chiseled facial features, statuesque carriage, and stirring passion speaks more to their prejudices than to deficiencies on her part. Gifted with an instrument of large caliber, Pacetti was able to master the most imposing roles in the dramatic soprano repertory, including Verdi's Abigaille and Norma, Strauss' Dyer's Wife, Isolde, and Brünnhilde (the later three sung in Italian as was the custom of the day). Born in Prato, almost contiguous with Florence, Pacetti began singing lessons at the age of 13, training first as a mezzo-soprano and later, as a dramatic soprano. A last-minute cancellation at the Teatro Metastasio in Prato thrust the 22-year-old singer on-stage for the first time as Aida. Engagements at other Italian theaters quickly followed and two years later, Pacetti sang Boito's Elena at La Scala with Aureliano Pertile as her Faust, the bronze-voiced bass Nazzareno de Angelis as Mefistofele, and Arturo Toscanini in the pit. In the first of two unpleasant episodes with the maestro, Pacetti was informed that Toscanini was displeased with her and wished her replaced. The soprano held her ground and sang all of her contracted performances. Pacetti's spectacular debut and now her refusal to yield to the great Toscanini made hers a celebrated name throughout the country and she sang in many other houses. When Toscanini planned to present Dukas' Ariane et Barbe-Bleue at La Scala, he reluctantly turned to Pacetti after having rejected more than 30 other candidates. Rehearsals were tense and at one point, Pacetti walked out after the maestro labeled her a "sheep." Pacetti was begged to return rather than force a cancellation, but it was the last time the two collaborated and La Scala remained closed to her until after Toscanini's departure. For the 1931 - 1932 season at the Chicago Opera, the soprano sang performances of Aida, Il trovatore, and Tosca. She was booked for the following year, but that season failed to materialize and, in a theater accustomed to the likes of Raisa, Muzio, and Eva Turner, she was not regarded as essential enough to re-engage in future years. During the 1930s, Pacetti's second period at La Scala brought a variety of roles, from Fidelio to Pizzetti's Fedra, a part she took over from the much-adored Giuseppina Cobelli. Minnie in La fanciulla del West became a favorite role and she enjoyed success in the verismo repertory with Fedora, Adriana Lecouvreur, and Francesca da Rimini. At the core of her repertory in Milan and elsewhere, however, remained the larger Verdi roles and two Bellini works, Norma and Il Pirata. For her first London season (1930), she was not in good voice as Tosca and her Desdemona was deemed a failure, but later impressions of her Tosca were more favorable, particularly regarding her dignity and avoidance of misplaced theatrics. During the 1931 Covent Garden season, Pacetti was recruited to take over from Rosa Ponselle a performance of Leonora in La forza del destino.