This will keep some of you out of trouble for a little while ;-)
It is not completely fleshed out but most of it is there. If anyone can
add to it, please let me know. A special word of thanks to Scott
Grunow, our own Zia Cloe, for providing a great deal of information.
The period 1900 to 1940 presented a large roster of Italian mezzos of
the first rank, Elvira Cassaza, Virginia Guerrini, Luisa Garibaldi, Nini
Frascani, Gabriella Besanzoni, Irene Minghini Cattaneo, Maria Capuana,
Maria Benedetti, Nini Gianni, Ebe Stignani, Gianna Pederzini and the
subject of our article, Giuseppina Zinetti. They were all much admired
and there was tremendous overlap in their careers, allowing Italy and
much of the World to have consistently fine casting for the major Verdi,
Donizetti, Rossini and Verismo operas, and, of course, Carmen. In
addition, Aurora Buades of Spain and Fanny Anitua of Mexico had
brilliant careers at the same venues over the same period of time.
Though it seems that most would place Stignani in a class apart from the
others, my personal favourite is Irene Minghini Cattaneo, whose vibrancy
and range remain models of that which I look for in the species.
Zinetti was among the most vivid actresses of the group, and her
recordings reflect the character of her stage performances, described by
many as imprecise and wide ranging, but extremely effective. Her Carmen
was presented far more often than by any of the others, and was almost
unanimously praised by critics and public, though we have little by
which to judge its merits, since it was never recorded complete.
As with so many other singers, Giuseppina Zinetti's beginnings are not
certain. Most biographical notes list her birthplace as Ferrara, but
several have claimed Verona. Her date of birth has been placed as early
as 1884 and as late as 1889. After some fairly exhaustive research,
with help from others. I am prepared to say that it was likely in 1889,
and definitely at Ferrara. The confusion seems to be linked to the
facts that she married the Veronese conductor, Gaetano Zinetti in, or
about, 1909, and that certain biographers from Verona, because of that
connection, wished to claim her as their own. What is certain is that
she bore four children, two of them stillborn, and that the two
survivors, daughters Dora, who sang under the surname of Dori, and Lina,
who sang as "Zinetti", both had considerable careers in Italy after the
retirement of their mother. The mystery of their private lives is
further complicated by the fact that Lina began her career as Liliana
Stelvio, which leaves another question, as of now, unanswered: did
Giuseppina remarry or was that, Lina's married name. My inquiries have
resulted in no additional information.
About Giuseppina Zinetti's career, we know a great deal more, perhaps as
much as there is to know, though that is not likely. She debuted at
Palermo's Teatro Massimo on 25 February, 1913 in "La Traviata", singing
both Flora and Annina. The conductor was Bavagnoli and the cast
included Cannetti, Armanini and Bellantoni. There were nine
performances. She immediately sailed for Buenos Aires, where, on 25
May she debuted as the Contessa in "Rigoletto" with Barrientos, Anselmi,
Stracciari and Ludikar. She was to sing Flora in "Traviata" with
Barrientos, Schipa and Stracciari and Ursula in "Feuersnot" with
Krusceniski, Perini, Bonfanti and Stracciari. Her singing was
complimented by several of her more famous colleagues, and she was
encouraged to continue her career. Many years later, when she was
teaching in Milan, she referred to his period as the one in which she
learned the most. Among the students with whom she shared her thoughts
about these early days, was Mafalda Favero, who occasionally sought
Zinetti's advice about matters both technical and intepretive.
In the late autumn she would repeat Flora at the Milan Dal Verme with
Finzi Magrini and Schipa as well as appearing in an opera called Mese
Mariano in the role of "La Contessa". In 1914, she returned to Buenos
Aires where she appeared at the Colon premiere of "Parsifal" as a Page
in the stellar company of Rakowska, Rousseliere, Galeffi, Formichi, and
de Angelis. Her husband conducted the opera. Her season continued as
Puck in Oberon with Gagliardi, Perini, Botta and Manfrini and it
concluded with Faust in the role of Marthe. Cannetti, Perini, Bonci,
Galeffi and de Angelis completed the cast. During this period she and
her husband had recurring and bitter fights over her continued pursuit
of a career, he, claiming that her role as wife and mother precluded the
possibility of allowing her to go into the world of performing on her
own. Gaetano Zinetti was killed in battle shortly after he outbreak of
World War I. Giuseppina moved to Milan with her children, where she
engaged an agent to help her secure work.
She continued to sing comprimario roles for several more years, though
rarely in theaters not of the top rank. In 1915 she toured to fifteen
cities in "Linda di Chamounix" with Clasenti. Rome's Costanzi
especially welcomed her talents as Suzuki, Emilia in "Otello", Pantalis
in "Mefistofele", the mother in "Louise", and the singer in "Manon
Lescaut". At Verona she sang Siebel in "Faust". In the Spring of 1917
she stepped into "Il Trovatore" at the Costanzi when Gabriella Besanzoni
became indisposed, and from that point forward, the career took a
different turn. She sang Orsini in "Lucrezia Borgia" at Rome, Azucena
at Barcelona on New Year's Day, 1918 and, in September took on the title
role in Mignon at Bari's Teatro Petruzzelli. The audiences and critics
at Bari were so impressed that she was reengaged for the Winter season
as Aida, Carmen and Laura in "La Gioconda". Alfredo Giovene's Il Teatro
Petruzzelli states: "stately and imposing, Giuseppina Zinetti epitomized
the cigarette girl with superb artistic instincts". It was done; all of
Italy heard about their next great "Carmen" and before the year was
over, Genoa, Florence, Turin and Cremona hd seen her as the
In 1920, she added Vienna, Budapest, Bergamo, Rovigo and Piacenze to the
roster of cities that capitulated to her gypsy. On 24 Jan, at Trieste's
Teatro Verdi, she sang Amneris for the first time with the stellar cast
of Poli Randaccio, Fleta, Maugeri and Lanskoy conducted by La Rotella.
In July, she triumphed in the role at the Verona Arena, again with Poli
Randaccio, as well as with Pertile, Morellato and Manfrini.
In January, 1921, at Trieste, she sang Dalila for the first time with
Calleja as her doomed "lover", and Catania saw it barely a month later
with Famadas. Carmen continued to dominate her career to the exlusion
of almost all other roles, and, for the remainder of 1921, it was the
only role she sang.
In 1922, for the third time in succession, she began her year in
Trieste, when she sang Octavian in "Der Rosenkavalier" with Labia,
Tegani and Ludikar conducted by Marinuzzi. On 14 October, she returned
to the Dal Verme for "Il Trovatore with Poli Randaccio, O'Sullivan,
Franci and Righetti, conducted by Guarnieri, after which, she returned
to Trieste, where, on 3 November, she debuted as Carmen at the Teatro
In 1923, she added Marguerite in Berlioz's "Damnation of Faust" and
Brangane to her repertoire at Rome's Costanzi, and, near the end of the
year, at Trieste, she sang Fedora for the first time. On 22 Nov, she
sang Amneris at the Costanzi in a gala performance honoring the King and
Queen of Spain. Poli Randaccio, De Muro, Molinari and Manfrini
completed the cast and Mascagni was afforded the honour of conducting.
In the winter of 1924 she sang at Cairo and Alexandria in Aida, Carmen
and Samson and Dalila, and, in May, debuted in the Netherlands as
Carmen, with additional performances of Fedora and Aida. She appeared
at Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the Hague. On 4 December, she made her
eagerly awaited debut at La Scala as Carmen with Alfani-Tellini, Crimi
and Franci conducted by Gui. Her critical and public success was so
great that she was retained for eight performances of the role as well
as eight of Amneris with the formidable cast of Arangi Lombardi,
Pertile, Franci and Righetti in February, 1925. Before singing Amneris
in Milan, she again opened her year at Trieste as, the by now defining,
Carmen, singing 11 performances with Menotti, Chiaia and Persichetti.
On 7 April, Rome saw her gypsy for the first time, and, in November,
Barcelona's Liceo hosted her first Spanish assignment in the role.
Miguel Fleta joined her in a reception which "hasn't been seen in this
city for many years, certainly not in the memory of this correspondent"
La Vanguardia. It was Fleta's Liceo debut, and, though his was the
greatest triumph of the evening, "the fascinating Giuseppina Zinetti
received more than a fair share of the applause": same correspondent.
She subsequently sang Gluck's Orfeo for the first time, and "was called
to the footlights too many times to count". After "Che Faro", the
theater erupted into such applause that the performance was suspended
for several minutes". She recalled it as the greatest personal success
of her career, and she was asked to repeat the role in all three
additional seasons in which she appeared at the Liceo. She ended her
engagement with Amneris, partnered by Poli Randaccio and Fleta. His
vocalism and her acting were noted with superlatives by virtually every
newspaper in the city. It should be noted that she sang more roles and
more performances at the Liceo than any other "featured" mezzo soprano
between the two Wars.
After seeing her at the Liceo, several impresarios made lucrative
offers,and she accepted one that would take her to Majorca and several
cities on the Spanish mainland in the Spring of 1926. After repeats of
Carmen and Aida at La Scala in January, and a repeat of Rosenkavalier at
Trieste in March, she travelled to Valencia, where, on 5 May at the
Teatro Principal, she opened the tour with "La Favorita". Fleta was her
partner in this and her other two tour operas, "Aida" and "Carmen".
Ticket prices were inflated by four times for all performances, and in
several of the cities, the "Sold Out" sign went up every day.
Valencia's Fidelio, on 7 May, stated - The theater was full and the
artists received the ovations that they rightfully deserved, special
praise being saved for Fleta. La Signora Giuseppina Zinetti,
exemplified her role. She is an artist who sings beautifully, with a
fresh voice and who performs with gusto.
After this sole performance at Valencia, Palma de Majorca and Bilbao saw
her in "Favorita", "Aida", and "Carmen". The Palma engagment ended on
15 May and the Bilbao performances did not begin until 17 June, so it
seems certain that other cities were visited in the interim "including
bullrings and other outdoor stadiums", so enormous was the demand for
tickets. The likely venues were Saragossa, Pamplona, San Sebastian and
Valladolid, though, without firm evidence, we cannot know. On 25 June
she embarked from Bilbao to join the Walter Mocchi tour to Rio de
Janeiro and Sao Paolo. Her colleagues included Scacciati, Pacetti,
Sayao, D. Borgioli, de Muro, Merli, Cesa Bianchi, Galeffi, Granforte,
Crabbe and Vanni Marcoux. Her two month stay featured performances of
"Carmen", "Aida" and "Samson and Dalila", and, for the only times in her
career, Massenet's "Don Quichotte" and "Don Carlo".
Though the tour was both a financial and critical success, it was to be
the last of the Mocchi tours, a tradition that had been part of South
America's operatic ritual for twenty years.
She returned immediately to Barcelona for a long and most impressive
season. On 16 November she sang Carmen, again with Fleta, to their now
accustomed acclaim. This time there were some questions in the press
about Fleta's vocalism, though there was no lack of enthusiasm on the
part of the public. She sang in "Favorita", "Lohengrin" for the first
time, with Spani, Fleta and Granforte, "Aida" with the "Lohengrin" cast,
"Un Ballo in Maschera" with Spani, Bonci and Stracciari and "Orfeo e
Eurydice". On 3 Feb, 1927, La Scala audiences saw her Carmen for the
third year in a row, and Parma's notoriously demonstrative audience saw
it for the first time on the 17th of the month. According to all
reports, she was acclaimed as a most exciting and expressive exponent of
her now most familiar role, and stayed for five performances.
On 9 September, at Venice's Teatro La Fenice, she sang Isabella in
"L'Italiana in Algeri", and, on the 28th, she sang the title role in the
World Premiere of "La Fata Malerba" by Vittorio Gui. It was a
"scandalous" failure and was dropped after two performances. Her year
again ended at Barcelona where she sang in "Carmen", "Aida" with Poli
Randaccio, Lindi and Granforte, "Orfeo", "La Gioconda" with the "Aida"
cast, "Samson e Dalila" with La Fuente and Granforte and another new
role, Fricka in "Die Walkuere".
In November, 1927 it was announced in newspapers, magazines and many
opera programs that Irene Minghini Cattaneo had been engaged to travel
with a particularly stellar group of Italian artists to Australia for a
six month season of opera "the likes of which Australia had never seen".
At some point, before the group departed Italy, Minghini-Cattaneo
withdrew and Zinetti stood n her place. The company was to appear at
Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth, and included Arangi Lombardi,
Spani, dal Monte, Lina Scavizzi, De Muro Lomanto, Minghetti, Merli,
Granforte, Rossi Morelli, Autori and di Lelio. Among non-Italians were
Xenia Belmas, Vera di Cristoff and John Brownlee, the famous Aussie from
Geelong, who would be a major drawing card in the first third of the
season. Zinetti was hailed as the "most famous Carmen of the day",
which was probably true, and appeared in some 17 performances of "Aida",
eight of "Lohengrin", and two of "Il Trovatore". She was scheduled to
appear in at least ten performances of "Carmen", but illness prevented
her from singing more than two, both of them at Melbourne. Of Zinetti,
Argus said: (She) gave a strongly dramatic reading of Ortrud" and The
Age declared that "Zinetti's striking, rich voiced Carmen justified her
reputation". Alison Gyger's Opera for the Antipodes notes that "Il
Trovatore" at Sydney was "strongly cast"; the protagonists were Arangi
Lombardi, Zinetti, Merli and Granforte. Need we wonder about that
observation? In "Aida", Argus referred to Zinetti as "the ideal
Amneris, not only because of her remarkable beauty of face and form,
but, because she combined her physical attributes with a warm contralto
voice and considerable acting powers".
In December she sang in "Aida", "Il Trovatore", "La Favorita", "Carmen"
and "Orfeo" at the now, most welcoming Barcelona Liceo and with these
performances, her international was about at an end.
1930 saw her as Fidelma in Cimarosa's "Matrimonio Segreto" at Rome's
Teatro Reale, a role she would repeat at Turin's Regio and at Salzburg
in 1931. On 29 November she sang for EIAR in the World Premiere of Rito
Selvaggi's "Maggiolata Veneziana" and repeated the role of Sirena the
following year on the same radio circuit. Her farewell was at Turin's
Teatro Vittorio Emanuele on 16 March, 1936 as the Principessa in "Suor
Angelica" in a cast that included Augusta Oltrabella and Magda Olivero.
It has been reported that as late as 1941 she sang Prezziosila at
Alessandria, but I am persuaded that it was her daughter, Lina, who sang
Before Zinetti's death in 1973, she taught in Milan at Corso Lodi 78.
Lina sang as a mezzo for a good many years and appeared in many of
Italy's important theaters including Genoa's Carlo Felice, Paganini and
Politeama, the Costanzi of Rome, Piacenza's Municipal, Modena's
Comunale, Ravenna's Alghieri and Bari's Petruzzelli. Her roles included
Maddelena, Azucena, Lisa in "La Sonnambula", Beppe in "L'Amico Fritz'
Teodoro in "Boris Gudonuv", Amneris, Suzuki, Preziosilla, La Principessa
di Bouillion, and La Cieca. Dora was not nearly so successful, though
she sang throughout Italy, especially at Bari's Teatro Petruzzelli, and
at other Adriatic cities in the "lyric" repertoire for some number of
years. Among roles that I have discovered are Samaritana in "Francesca
da Rimini", Musetta, Tosca, Nedda, Olga in "Fedora" and Oscar in "Ballo
in Maschera. It must have been particulary rewarding to their mother,
and to them, that, on 25 October, 1941, they appeared together in
Pick-Mangiagalli's "Notturno Romantico" at the Teatro Municipale of
Reggio Emilia. After Zinetti's death, they continued to teach in her
apartment, until sometime in 1985, at which point, it would seem hat
they disappeared into the history that had so framed their lives.