Anita Cerquetti’s career was regrettably cut short in 1961; she withdrew temporarily, so she thought, for personal reasons but never returned to the scenes of her triumphs because the effort to regain her former eminence proved too great. She abandoned her career just when she had established herself alongside the slightly older Callas (Cerquetti’s idol) and Tebaldi in the lirico-spinto repertory.
Her only two commercial recordings indicate why her talent was so highly valued and why her departure from the scene was such a blow to the world of Italian opera. Her full-bodied, wide-ranging voice, refined line (listen to ‘O patria mia’), her natural gift for correct phrasing, her sincerity of expression seldom come together in one singer. Since she retired, few of her kind have followed, which is why her small output of recordings has been so highly valued by collectors.
Cerquetti was born near Macerata in 1931. She first studied violin but used to sing for her own pleasure. At sixteen she performed the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria at a friend’s wedding. A stranger told her she had a treasure in her throat. She was persuaded to audition for the Conservatory in Perugia, and was immediately accepted. Her natural talent was quickly polished into a thoroughbred of a voice. After winning several singing competitions, which led to performances as Leonora in Il trovatore at Modena, she made her official debut in 1951 as Aida at Spoleto. After that, as she has commented, ‘my career exploded like a meteor’. She repeated the role at the Arena di Verona in 1953, then scored successes in France, Switzerland and on the major Italian stages before making her American debut at Chicago in 1955.
She came under the tutelage of the great Tullio Serafin, Callas’s mentor, who knew a thing or two about voices. He coached her as Abigaille in Nabucco, which she then sang triumphantly under his baton at the Arena di Verona in 1956. It became one of her most notable roles, as we can judge from her version of that scheming character’s opening scena. So did Norma. She performed it regularly for some ten years to great acclaim, including performances at Catania, Bellini’s birthplace. Another triumph was Elisabetta in Don Carlos at Florence.
Cerquetti died in Perugia in 2014, aged 83, from cardiovascular disease.