Boninsegna, Celestina (1877–1947)

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Boninsegna, Celestina (1877–1947)

Italian soprano. Born on February 26, 1877, in Reggio Emilia, Italy; died on February 14, 1947, in Milan; studied with Mattieli in Reggio Emilia and Virginia Boccabadati in Pesaro.

Debuted as Norina (1892) at the Teatro Municipale in Reggio Emilia and at the Teatro Piccinini in Bari (1897); made debut at Covent Garden (1904), Teatro alla Scala (1904–05), Metropolitan Opera as Aïda (1906–07), Boston (1909–10), Barcelona (1912), St Petersburg (1913); retired (1923).

Celestina Boninsegna is known more for her recordings than for her appearance on the operatic stage. Made for several companies between 1904 and 1919, these splendid transcriptions document the voice of a major artist, yet her career on stage was not especially illustrious. Boninsegna sang the most demanding roles alongside the most famous singers of her era but was never allowed to step into the spotlight. Her stay at most major companies was short. While she blamed jealousy for her undistinguished career, some have cited her acting, rather than her voice, as the cause of her operatic failure. Physique may have also played a role. Boninsegna was tall in an era when large women were discouraged from appearing on stage. She was best suited to middle and late Verdi, specifically the two Leonoras from Il Trovatore and La forza del destino, and Aïda.

The voice on her recordings has been described as unusually attractive, dark and resonant with a spectacular chest register and clear, ringing top. Her range was not especially exceptional, and she sometimes left breaks exposed, though she negotiated difficult passages without forcing. Boninsegna left over 100 recordings which establish her legacy. Thanks to this electronic medium, her voice was handed down to posterity which has judged her more kindly than did her contemporaries.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia

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