Moffo, Anna (1932—)

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Moffo, Anna (1932—)

American soprano. Born on June 27, 1932, in Wayne, Pennsylvania; daughter of Nicolas Moffo (a shoemaker) and Regina (Cinti) Moffo; graduated (as valedictorian) from Radnor High School, in Wayne, Pennsylvania; studied at the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with Giannini-Gregory and at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, in Rome, Italy, with Luigi Ricci and Mercedes Llopart; married Mario Lanfranchi (a film director and later her manager), on December 8, 1957 (divorced 1972); married Robert Sarnoff (former RCA chair), in 1974 (died 1997); no children.

An American-born soprano of international renown, Anna Moffo was also one of the first opera stars to be acclaimed for her looks as well as her singing. Following her Metropolitan Opera debut in November 1959, Harold C. Schonberg of The New York Times called her "one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the stage of an opera house."

Although her talent blossomed at an early age, Moffo did not settle on a singing career until she was in her late teens. Born to Italian-Americans in Wayne, Pennsylvania, in 1932, she made her stage debut at age seven, singing a rendition of "Mighty Lak a Rose" for a school assembly. She continued to perform at family and community events throughout her childhood, but remained untrained. In high school, she excelled in academics and also played on the tennis and basketball teams. After graduating at the head of her class, she was offered a Hollywood film contract which she declined, saying she intended to become a nun. Moffo soon changed her mind, however, and began preparing for a singing career. She spent four years at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, then enrolled at Rome's Accademia di Santa Cecilia under a Fulbright grant. Her early engagements included radio performances and an appearance in an Italian television production of Madame Butterfly, staged by Mario Lanfranchi, who later became her husband and manager. They would marry in 1957.

In 1955, Moffo made her stage debut in Spoleto, Italy, as Norina in Don Pasquale, and in 1957 she appeared at La Scala in Falstaff. In the fall of that year, she also made her American debut, singing the role of Mimi in La Bohème with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Her Metropolitan debut in 1959 was as the fragile consumptive Violetta in La Traviata, a role that some critics found too ambitious for the young singer. Moffo returned to the Met for the 1960–61 season to sing three new roles: Gilda in Rigoletto; Adina in the farcical L'Elisir d'Amore; and the slave girl Liù in a lavish production of Turandot, which also included Birgit Nilsson

and Franco Corelli in leading roles. "Miss Moffo has a fine voice and excellent ear," wrote Paul Henry Lang in the Herald Tribune of her performance in Rigoletto, "and she knows what to do with both. She can sing a delectable pianissimo and although obviously a dramatic soprano, she is entirely at home in the coloratura passages—the staccatos were clear and on the dot."

Moffo enjoyed a 17-year run with the Met, during which time she gave 220 performances in 18 operas. Throughout her career, the singer also found many additional avenues by which she reached new audiences. Always active in television, she had her own series in Italy, "The Anna Moffo Show," which ran from 1960 to 1973. She also appeared in over 20 films (including several in which she played straight dramatic roles), and made numerous recordings, including La Traviata, Madame Butterfly, La Rondine, and La Bohème with Maria Callas .

Moffo was divorced from Lanfranchi in 1972, and in 1974 married former RCA chair Robert Sarnoff, who would die in 1997. In 1974, Moffo also suffered a vocal breakdown, but fortunately was able to resume her career in 1976. Through the years, the singer continued to expand her repertoire; during the late 1970s, she began singing the heavier Verdi roles, such as Leonora in Il Trovatore and Lina in Stiffelio. In 1991, she added the title role in Bellini's Norma. Recently, Moffo received an honorary degree from her alma mater, the Curtis Institute, and on November 14, 1999, she celebrated the 40th anniversary of her Metropolitan debut.


Moritz, Charles, ed. Current Biography 1961. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1961.

New York Herald Tribune. January 20, 1961.