Ghena Dimitrova

Opulent-toned operatic soprano
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The Independent Online

Ghena Dimitrova was a Bulgarian soprano with a powerful, opulent-toned voice whose career took her all over Europe, to Buenos Aires and New York. Her best-known role was Puccini's Turandot, but she also excelled as some of Verdi's more violent heroines, such as Abigaille in Nabucco, Lady Macbeth, Leonora in La forza del destino and Odabella in Attila. At the beginning of her career she was apt to "stand and deliver", allowing the splendour of her voice to obviate the need for characterisation, but later the necessity for caution in spending her vocal gifts so prodigally meant that she shaped her singing more dramatically.

Ghena Dimitrova, opera singer: born Beglej, Bulgaria 6 May 1941; died Milan 11 June 2005.

Ghena Dimitrova was a Bulgarian soprano with a powerful, opulent-toned voice whose career took her all over Europe, to Buenos Aires and New York. Her best-known role was Puccini's Turandot, but she also excelled as some of Verdi's more violent heroines, such as Abigaille in Nabucco, Lady Macbeth, Leonora in La forza del destino and Odabella in Attila. At the beginning of her career she was apt to "stand and deliver", allowing the splendour of her voice to obviate the need for characterisation, but later the necessity for caution in spending her vocal gifts so prodigally meant that she shaped her singing more dramatically.

Dimitrova was born in Beglej, Bulgaria, in 1941 and studied at the National Conservatory of Sofia, making her début at the Sofia Opera in 1966 as Abigaille and becoming a member of the company. In 1970 she came to the Flanders festival to sing Emma in Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina and the same year won first prize at the Fourth International Competition for Young Opera Singers, held in Sofia. She immediately started on an international career, singing first in Germany, then in Italy. She sang her first Turandot in 1975 at Treviso and in 1978 made the first of five consecutive yearly visits to Buenos Aires.

She made her American début in 1981 at Dallas, singing Elvira in Ernani, a rather more gentle Verdi heroine than some others in her repertory. The following year she sang Turandot at the Verona Arena, where she remained consistently popular for nearly two decades. She made her London début in 1983, with a concert performance of the title role in La gioconda, which I remember as immensely enjoyable, if not very subtle. Later in the year she returned to London for her Covent Garden début as Turandot. During the performance the sheer ease with which she sang such a difficult role was breathtaking. Only afterwards did doubts begin to creep in.

Dimitrova also made her first appearance at La Scala in 1983, again as Turandot, while in Naples she sang Leonora in La forza del destino. She sang the same role in the same city eight years later when, though the size of her voice was diminished, the artistic value of the performance was far greater. In 1984 she sang both Abigaille and Odabella (Attila) in Barcelona; Lady Macbeth at the Salzburg Festival; and, in her New York début, Abigaille in a concert performance of Nabucco given by the opera orchestra. During the late 1980s Dimitrova sang Lady Macbeth with the Royal Opera on a tour to Greece; she sang Aida in Luxor and made her début at the Paris Opéra as Norma - not one of her best roles.

She returned to Covent Garden in 1989 as Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana, which she had already sung at the Metropolitan. This was the first time, in London at any rate, that a new feeling for the characterisation of a role was apparent. This feeling was even stronger in 1990 when she sang Turandot again at Covent Garden. The power was still there, as well as the sheen on the voice but, especially in the third act, a real development was evident inside the icy heart of the Princess as it began to thaw. The result was very exciting, as large numbers of opera lovers discovered the following year when she sang Turandot with the Royal Opera in Wembley Stadium.

Dimitrova continued to appear throughout the 1990s. She sang Maddalena in Giordano's Andrea Chénier in Geneva; La gioconda in Rome; Puccini's Tosca in Torre del Lago and at the Metropolitan; the title role of Catalani's Loreley at the Teatro Filharmonico in Verona; Amneris (as opposed to Aida) in Rome and at the Verona Arena; and of course Turandot, at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome and at Torre del Lago. And she sang Abigaille, in Genoa, in Tel Aviv, in Catania, at the Rome Opera in 1998 - apparently in very good voice - and at Verona the same year.

Elizabeth Forbes



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