Galli-Curci, Amelita (1882–1963)

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Galli-Curci, Amelita (1882–1963)

Italian coloratura soprano. Pronunciation: GAHL-uh KOOR-chee. Born Amelita Galli on November 18, 1882, in Milan, Italy, of Italian-Spanish ancestry; died on November 26, 1963, in La Jolla, California; studied harmony, composition, and the piano under Vincenzo Appiani at the Royal Conservatory in Milan; was mainly a self-taught singer, though she studied briefly with Carignani and Sara Dufes; married Marquis Luigi Curci, in 1910 (divorced 1920); married Homer Samuels (her accompanist), in 1921.

Debuted as Gilda in Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto (1909); was a sensation at the Chicago Opera (1916); sang with the Chicago Opera Company (1916–24); continued to sing with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City (1920–30).

Amelita Galli-Curci's operatic career resembled that of a rock star, for she was enormously popular, especially in the United States. Tens of thousands of fans who had no tickets for her performances mobbed theaters outside to catch a glimpse of her. Once a crowd brought a piano, and she performed for them on the street. Many of her followers knew her voice through her recordings which sold as soon as they reached the stores. Her recording of "Caro nome" sold 10,000 copies of the first edition in Chicago alone. She continued to sell huge editions of recordings which only increased her popularity. Few opera singers have had such an adoring public.

Galli-Curci never trained for opera. When she attended the Milan Conservatory, it was to study piano. Pietro Mascagni, the opera composer, was intrigued by the unique timbre of her voice and encouraged her to sing. Though she took a few lessons and studied some opera scores, her vocal training was brief as she had to help support her family by teaching piano. GalliCurci mainly relied on her ability to imitate the singing of birds and used phonograph records of her voice as a means of discovering defects of tone and delivery. She understood her unique abilities well enough to select operatic roles carefully. She sang Lakmé, Dinorah, and Manon, all roles which are typically performed by coloratura sopranos. She emphasized her electrifying high notes which were unlike any that listeners had experienced before.

Galli-Curci made her operatic debut in 1909 at the Teatro Constanzi, Rome, in the role of Gilda in Verdi's opera Rigoletto. During the following seven years, she sang in Spain (the country of her mother's birth), Italy, Russia, and South America. She made her first U.S. opera debut as a member of the Chicago Opera Association on November 18, 1916, once again as Gilda. Unprepared for her amazing voice, the audience went wild when she began to sing the "O caro nome" aria. Critics were as overwhelmed as average music listeners. Galli-Curci had come to the United States almost on a whim. Performing in South America, she had a letter from Victor Records in New York City and hoped to make recordings there. After her Chicago appearance, a tour of the United States and subsequent recordings solidified her popularity.

Two years later in New York, Galli-Curci proved she could be as popular on the East Coast as she had been in America's heartland. Singing Myerbeer's Dinorah, she was forced to make 24 curtain calls after the "Shadow Song" and 60 curtain calls at the end of the opera. "It wasn't a woman's voice but a bird's swelling throat," raved the critic for The New York Times. Each time she performed in New York, crowds well over capacity jammed the theater. Those who could not get seats waited outside. Throughout her career, her popularity never wavered. While remaining a member of the Chicago company until 1925, she also became a member of the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York City, making her debut at the Met as Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata (1920); she stayed with the Metropolitan until 1930. Her operatic repertoire also included the roles of Rosina in Rossini's The Barber of Seville, Mimi in Puccini's La Bohème, Lakmé in Delibes' Lakmé, Juliette in Gounod's Roméo et Juliette, and Elvira in Bellini's I Puritani.

Shortly after Galli-Curci's marriage to her accompanist Homer Samuels, the couple built Sul Monte, a home in the Catskill Mountains in Highmount, New York. But a goiter caused by a thyroid condition increasingly interfered with her singing. Critics noticed that she began to sing under pitch which may have been caused by this condition. Her limpid voice, however, had such natural beauty that minor flaws were overlooked by her fans. Her best recordings were the acoustic ones made early in her career. Later recordings divulge a metallic quality which is an effect of the technology rather than of her actual voice. In 1935, Galli-Curci finally underwent an operation to remove her goiter. She attempted a comeback after the surgery, but the cheers were more for courage than performance, and she decided to retire from the stage.

One of the greatest recording artists of the early period, she was notable as a concert singer as well as an opera singer. At the Hollywood Bowl, she sang for 20,000; while touring Australia, she broke many box-office records. Amelita Galli-Curci was one of the best-known and most widely renowned coloratura sopranos of her time.


Ewen, David. Living Musicians. H.W. Wilson, 1940.

La Massena. C. Galli-Curci's Life of Song. New York, 1945 (reprinted, 1978).

John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

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