(Born April 13, 1931- October 11, 2014)
Anita Cerquetti was an Italian dramatic soprano- long retired.
She had a meteoric rise to fame in the fifties and suddenly withdrew to fully retire in 1961.
There has been much speculation over the early retirement ever since and various theories have been put forward but not one theory seems adequate.
Even her own explanation hardly throws any light on the real reason.
Following eight years of violin studies she trained in voice for only one year before making her debut as Aida in 1951 at Spoleto.
Following this success she sang all over her native Italy and notably she sang Noraime in Les Abencérages in Florence under the baton of Carlo Maria Giulini in 1956 and Elvira in Ernani, under Dimitri Mitropoulos in 1957.
Her debut at La Scala came in 1958 when she sang Abigail in Verdi's Nabucco. Other roles followed such as Elcia in Mosè in Egitto, Mathilde in Guglielmo Tell and Elena in I Vespri Siciliani and many more.
In January 1958 she made world headlines stepping in for Maria Callas as Norma in the Rome Opera House. As she was already singing it in San Carlo in Naples she had to commute between the two houses for several weeks to complete both seasons.
It was an extraordinary feat earning her great acclaim- however it also seemed to have a great impact on her health and she was never the same after that- scaling down her number of performances until she retired completely just three years later in 1961 aged only thirty!
During this time Anita Cerquetti had hardly established herself in America singing only a limited number of performances- most notably with the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1955 singing Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera opposite Jussi Björling and Tito Gobbi with the great Tullio Serafin conducting. (He had been responsible for bringing her there and was considered as one of her mentors).
Un Ballo was a huge success for her and probably came at the time of her peak because her return to the same theatre two years later but her vocal estate was not quite in the same condition.
So why did Anita Cerquetti retire so early?
Among the theories some claimed it was heart problems others claim it was professional pressure and others again claim her voice was about to give out following the huge demands that had been placed on her.
Madame Cerquetti herself did nothing to quiet the various theories by first claiming it was facial spasms - then later stating she gave it all up to have a child- but if this was so the child didn't come along till much later...a real slow cooker!
Whatever the reason, one thing is clear- the memory of her performances has endured decades after her departure from the opera stage and despite the fact that there are few recordings of her - only two commercial recordings in fact and a handful of pirated ones!
The two studio recordings by Decca in 1957 contain a recital of Italian opera arias plus a complete recording of La Gioconda with Mario del Monaco, Ettore Bastianini, Giulietta Simionato and Cesare Siepi- a stellar cast by anyone's measure.
Among the "pirates" is a 1958 Aida, from Mexico City, with Flaviano Labò, Nell Rankin and Cornell MacNeil.
There is also a Norma from Rome with Franco Corelli in 1958 and a recording of Don Carlos from Florence in 1956 with her singing Elizabetta.
She also sang and spoke in the Jan Schmidt-Garre's film/doco, Opera Fanatic.
She will be remembered as a big girl who did learn to move around the stage with a certain grace- and a voice that had a particularly bright piercing top- although it lacked the agility of a Callas or a Sutherland and she masked her difficulties with maintaining a pianissimo by keeping the phrase right on the breath.