Obituary: Herva Nelli

Herva Nelli, opera singer: born Florence 9 January 1909; married (marriage dissolved); died Sharon, Connecticut 31 May 1994.

HERVA NELLI, the Italian-born American soprano, was best known for the Verdi recordings that she made, conducted by Arturo Toscanini. These were taken from live concert performances, broadcast on NBC between 1947 and 1954, of Otello, Aida, Falstaff, Un Ballo in Maschera and the Verdi Requiem.

Although Nelli's voice, with its pure, almost instrumental tone, did not appeal to everyone, she was greatly admired by Toscanini, who also featured the soprano in a concert that he conducted at La Scala, Milan, on 10 June 1948, the 30th anniversary of the death of Arrigo Boito. The concert was devoted to music from Boito's two operas Mefistofele and Nerone. Later that year Nelli sang Aida, probably her finest role, at La Scala; otherwise her career was spent mainly in the United States. She sang from 1953 to 1961 at the Metropolitan and also appeared in San Francisco, Chicago and other US cities.

Herva Nelli was born in Florence, but came to America at the age of 12. She studied at the Pittsburg Music Institute and in New York, where she made her debut in 1937 as Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana with the Salmaggi Opera at the Hippodrome. She also appeared with the Philadelphia La Scala Company, in a repertory that included Bellini's Norma as well as several of her Verdi roles. In 1947 she sang Desdemona in Otello, the first (and generally acknowledged the best) of the NBC broadcasts conducted by Toscanini. The following year she went to Milan to take part in the Boito memorial concert, singing Margherita in two acts of Mefistofele and Asteria in scenes from Nerone, and to appear as Aida at La Scala. Back in New York she sang in two more of the NBC broadcasts, with Toscanini, as Aida (1949) and Alice Ford in Falstaff.

Nelli made her San Francisco debut in 1951 as Desdemona, and during the season she also sang Leonora in La Forza del Destino. Returning to San Francisco the following year she was heard as Leonora in Il Trovatore and as Aida, which was the role of her Metropolitan debut in 1953. During her nine seasons at the Met, Nelli also sang Maddalena in Andrea Chenier, Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera, Santuzza, Donna Anna in Don Giovanni and both Leonoras. In 1954 she participated in another NBC broadcast, this time as Amelia, and in 1956 she sang in the US premiere of Darius Milhaud's David, which was given as a concert performance in the Hollywood Bowl. The same year she appeared in Chicago as Leonora (Il Trovatore) and in 1957 returned a final time to San Francisco for Amelia. She continued singing into the 1960s, taking Norma in 1962 with the Brooklyn Opera Company. After she retired she took up catering.

Her legacy of the Verdi opera recordings made with Toscanini ensures that Herva Nelli will not be forgotten. Her Desdemona and Alice Ford, in particular, are the performances of a fine artist and singer who is inspired by the genius of the conductor to achieve greatness. Other sopranos may have larger or richer voices, but none penetrates more deeply into the hearts of Verdi's characters than Nelli, guided by Toscanini.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Recruitment Genius: Senior HR Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company's vision is to be t...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test