‘Romanian soprano Nelly Miricioiù is indeed one who can sing gloriously During the finals she stepped up the challenge by throwing in al, of her stage experience. Perhaps it was not objectively exceptional what she did, but her ‘E strano’ from La traviata brought he audience to frenzy. Especially the high notes were tossed out with mighty splendor.’ (Hein Zomerdijk, ‘Vocalistenconcours is uniek,’ Brabants Dagblad, September 10, 1979.)
‘It was foremost her interpretation of the aria ‘È strano!’ with the dazzling cabaletta ‘Sempre libera’ that brought the fierce glow of dramatic eruptions by the likes of Maria Callas in our minds.’ (Chris de Jong-Stolle, ‘Miricioiù ging met de eerste prijs strijken,’ NRC, September 10, 1979)
‘Soprano Nelly Miricioiù is an opera diva pur sang, who commands all elements of the trade to perfection. Her arias of Bellini, Charpentier and Donizetti were a triumph of vocal virtuosity and a deserved triumph for the artist, who brought the audience to a frenzy.’ (Chris de Jong-Stolle, ‘Zangers beter op het slotconcert,’ NRC?, September 14, 1979)
‘This extraordinary diva can sing anything and sing it well .’ (Rodney Milnes in Opera Magazine)
Hailed as a singing-actress, Nelly Miricioiù’s repertoire soon extended from Mozart and bel canto to Verdi, Puccini and the verismo to modern Italian opera Respighi and Zandonai, taking in French and Russian composers too. She won the International Vocal Competition (IVC) Den Bosch 1979, among many other competitions, and soon emerged as a prima donna assoluta in both verismo and bel canto repertoire. She was cherished from London to Washington, and from La Scala to Paris, but above all, she was the Dutch matinee idol for almost 30 years.
Born in Adjud, Romania, Miricioiù (March 31, 1952) started singing at age 5, and she was soon hailed as a child prodigy. At 9 she started studying piano and at 14 she won her first singing contest, ‘Young Talents, Great hopes.’ Miricioiù in Opera:
‘My mother was an amateur singer. When I was just five, a sore throat prevented her from taking part in a concert where she was due to sing some folk songs, so I said, ‘I'll do it, and I know your songs!’ So they stood me on a chair. When the accordionist started, I said, ‘Maestro, that is not my key.’ Everybody was just bemused. I was soon heard on Romanian radio and in recordings, since I never had a child's voice. At 14, when I sang on television, I sounded as if I was 25.’
In 1972 she was the youngest contestant in the Francisco Viñas Competition in Barcelona; in 1975 she won the First Prize at the very first Maria Callas Grand Prix in Athens. Miricioiù made her operatic debut in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, as the Queen of the Night at Iași Opera House, and continued to sing at Brasov Opera House between 1975-1978 in roles such as Mimi in La bohème, Micaela in Carmen and Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus. More 1st Prizes followed and by September 1979 she also arrived to the International Vocal Competition (IVC) Den Bosch, Netherlands. She arrived there as a mature artist, and immediately established herself as the favorite of audience and press alike. When she confirmed her status in the finals with the dazzling ‘È strano!... Sempre libera’ from La traviata, there was no stopping her. She was the only competitor in that particular competition to achieve a 1st Prize, and in the concluding Gala Concert most people truly wondered why she wasn’t also given the Great Prize of the City of Den Bosch? The splendid recording of the concert sustains this question, and makes one wonder what more a singer could possibly do to achieve that Prize? In retrospect, we are sure that had there already been an orchestra finale, there would have been no stopping her from also taking that prize home. Without such a finale, it may well have been that the full power of her voice and her theatrical instincts could not fully unfold with mere piano accompaniment.
All in all, there can be no doubt that Miricioiù achieved not just a career of world class, but, more than any other IVC winner, she also became the idol of Dutch audiences over the decades (one might make an exception for Elly Ameling, who was the pride and glory of the Dutch audiences in song repertoire from her IVC Victory in 1956 until the mid 1980s). Miricioiù ultimately also became a frequent juror at the IVC in the 21st Century, in addition to which she gave a number of Master classes there. In short, we can only be too happy that she let the IVC staff either persuade herself, or the Brasov Opera to release her for the IVC Gala Concert 1979, where she made the mentioned deep impression on press and audience alike, which we gladly demonstrate by a sample of her ‘Sempre libera’ of that very concert. Until any of her previous western European vocal competition efforts emerges from the vaults of time, this IVC Gala Concert recording from our own archives momentarily stands as her earliest extant west European concert debut recording.
Verdi: La traviata ‘Sempre libera’
Nelly Miricoiù (Violetta), Brabants Orkest – André Vandernoot (conductor), IVC Gala Concert, Casino Theatre, Den Bosch, September 12, 1979
Born under the star of the oppressive Ceaușescu regime, she faced some tough choices following her IVC Victory. There was no ‘free travel,’ visa could be denied at random, and as her compatriot and IVC 1969 1St Prize Winner Maria Slatinaru told us previously, the government took the largest cut out of singer’s foreign wages. The stress eventually caused a nervous breakdown. It was at that point that Miricioiù was given the chance to go to… the Philippines! A guest conductor at one of her Bucharest performances (where she was now regularly appearing in broadcasts) invited her there, precisely at the moment when the Securitate was harassing her. In 1981, while on the Philippines, Miricioiù decided to defect to the West. This was made possible by the Scottish Opera, where she debuted in the same year as Violetta in La Traviata. Manon Lescaut and Tosca followed. A year later she had her big breakthrough at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden as Nedda in Pagliacci opposite John Vickers, Piero Cappuccilli and Thomas Allen. After her successful debut she became a household name at the Royal Opera House where she has sung for over two decades in roles such as Marguerite in Faust, Antonia in Tales of Hoffmann, Valentine in Les Huguenots, Norma, Elisabetta in Roberto Devereux to name just a few. In 1996 she was trusted with the revival of the infamous Tosca production for Maria Callas. The revival was a huge success and established her as one of the best Tosca's seen on stage. In 1983, Nelly Miricioiù was called to replace Luciana Serra at Teatro alla Scala Milan as Lucia di Lamermoor. Her debut on the demanding stage was an absolute triumph. There was unanimous praise from the critics and newspapers for her extraordinary performance. After this success, she went on to sing on the stages of the most important opera houses in Europe such as Amsterdam, Brussels, Rome, Hamburg, Berlin, Geneva, Munich, Vienna, Salzburg, Paris, Madrid, and Barcelona etc. She has been highly praised and acclaimed for her characterization of roles as diverse as Violetta in La traviata (a role which she has reprised more than 350 times), Mimi and Musetta in La Boheme, Cio-Cio San in Madama Butterfly, Silvana in La fiamma, Adriana in Adriana Lecouvreur (a role which she debuted at La Scala in 2000), Francesca in Francesca da Rimini, Isabella in Robert le diable, Elisabetta in Don Carlo, Gilda in Rigoletto, the four soprano roles in Les contes d’Hoffmann, Magda in La rondine, Norma by Bellini, Lucrezia Borgia and the three Donizetti queens, Thais, Semiramide, and many more, including the mesmerizing title role in Iris by Mascagni (created by her great Romanian predecessor Hariclea Darclée in 1898).
Her Armenaide in Rossini’s Tancredi at the 1992 Salzburg festival was greatly admired and she continues to sing other Rossini roles such as Armida, Semiramide and Ermione to similar acclaim. In 1989 she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York as Mimi in La bohème. She continued to sing also in Philadelphia, Dallas and San Francisco and in 2007 she made her house debut at New York City Opera as Agrippina. In South America, she has had success in Santiago and the famous Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires.
A ‘Dutch’ Diva!
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Where many IVC prize winners frequently appeared in The Concertgebouw for various Dutch radio broadcasts, most famously the VARA Matinee series (Howard Crook, for instance, debuted there within a month from his 2nd prize in the same 1979 IVC), it took Miricioiù rather long before she returned to The Netherlands, in order to perform the title role in Massenet’s Thaïs, on January 19, 1985. Her Concertgebouw debut now belongs to Dutch operatic history, since it started her special bond with the Dutch audiences, who hailed her as the only true successor to VARA Matinee legends Magda Olivero in the veristic repertoire, and Joan Sutherland in the bel canto repertoire. As with Olivero and Sutherland before her, some people divided their operatic lives in terms of the reappearance of Miricioiù, from the Thaïs debut in 1985, to the Verdi Requiem (November 30 Concertgebouw/ December 1 Utrecht, 1985) and Boïto’s Mefistofele in the same year, and from there to Rossini’s Tancredi in Amsterdam and Utrecht 1987, the Dutch premiere of his Armida on September 24, 1988, the title role in Donizetti’s Anna Bolena on September 12, 1989, or his Lucrezia Borgia on May 18, 1991. From then on she was the one and only Matinee idol until the final Caterina Cornaro on March 20, 2010.
Zandonai: Francesca da Rimini ‘Benvenuto, signore mio cognato’
Nelly Miricoiù (Francesca), Kaludi Kaludov (Paolo), Radio Symphonie Orkest – Giuliano Carella (Conductor), Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, 2000.
Universally acclaimed for her luscious sound, impeccable technique and exceptional theatrical stage presence individual sound, with her hall marks being the veristic ring and the rich, golden vibrato that seems inborn in Romanian sopranos from Elena Theodorescu and Hariclea Darclée to Stella Roman, Virginia Zeani, and former IVC Winners & participants Maria Slatinaru-Nistor, Maria Krilovici, and Mariana Nicolesco, up to Angela Gheorghiu today. Among them, Miricioiù clearly belonged to the exceedingly rare breed of the assolutas, comprising the entire bel canto repertoire from the Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti era up to the veristic masterpieces by Puccini, Leoncavallo, Mascagni, and Zandonai. With her unique voice, light and colorful in texture while still able to battle the heavy orchestrations of verismo composers, she succeeded Callas, Sutherland and Caballé mostly by continuing their efforts to revive more of the forgotten bel canto repertoire, if by the likes of Mercadante, Rossini, and Donizetti, or by the likes of Zandonai (Francesca da Rimini), Mascagni (Iris), Respighi (La fiamma), and many others. In her own way, Miricioiù continued what the three great bel canto divas before her had started, which is testified by the discography on 401DutchDivas.nl page, where we also present filmed excerpts from interviews that I had with her over the years on various subjects.