"Singers should stay motionless when they sing. Otherwise the voice
shifts. The singer has to be an actor through gestures, face, arms and
hands. Through his voice."
Born in 1931, Cerquetti first studied violin and sang for her own pleasure.
At 16 she performed the Bach-Gounod "Ave Maria" at a friends
wedding and was persuaded to audition for the Perugia conservatory,
where she was accepted. She performed Leonora (Trovatore) at Modena
but her official debut was in 1951, as Aïda, at Spoleto. She appeared
throughout Italy, France, Switzerland and in Chicago, and she sang Abigaille
with Serafin at Verona in 1956. In 1957, in her only New York appearance
(at The Town Hall), she sang Paride ed Elena (Gluck). Among her recordings
are Gioconda, Oberon, Norma, Forza, Vespri, Tell, Ernani and Abencerages
(Cherubini). She retired abruptly. We discussed this:AC: I sacrificed
my career for my family.
AC: By leaving my career so early.
SZ: There are various explanations regarding why you stopped. For example,
RAI [Italian radio] told me you had a brain disease.
AC: Uff! [Sound of disgust] What?
SZ: And that you could no longer remember your parts.
AC: They told you that at RAI? What dears! How nice of them! No, thank
God, no! Do you know why this rumor got started? I was studying Il pirata,
which I was scheduled to sing in Palermo. At the same time I was singing
Norma at the Rome Opera, substituting for Callas and going back and
forth between Rome and Naples, where I was also performing Norma. Naturally,
traveling back and forth like that, and singing in both cities, there
was little time to study. When I arrived in Palermo, knowing they had
a cover ready, I said, "Because I havent prepared this opera
well, I dont feel I should sing it." From that point people
began to say I had lost my memory. The Milan paper wrote, "Anita
Cerquetti has suddenly lost her memory." It wasnt that Id
lost my memory; it was simply that I hadnt studied. This is the
SZ: Let me read this quote of Franco Corelli [the Pollione of the Rome
performances]: "Cerquetti strained her voice by singing too much."
AC: Yes [sardonically].
SZ: "She substituted for Callas in Rome while performing Norma
at the San Carlo in Naples at the same time, and after three months
she developed nodes on her vocal cords."
AC: This is another lie, because, thank God, I have never had nodes.
Instead I was overcome by stress because I was tired, very tired.
SZ: When did you have the stress?
AC: I was very tired because I couldnt sleep at night and during
the day I sang. It got to the point where I had absolute need of physical
rest. Above all I needed to sleep. This was from stress. But, thank
God, my vocal cords remained intact and have remained so until today.
This is the truth. And other things were said as well, not just that.
They said my husband left me, didnt they? [Her husband, Edo, grunts
affirmatively.] They also said I had lost my mind, that I had had a
heart operation (this news arrived from America). So many things were
saidunderstandablybecause I had left my career at its most
beautiful moment. Its only natural that people asked why. And
since everyone needed a reason, each one invented his own.
SZ: Did you commit acts of divismo?
AC: When I canceled the Pirata, all kinds of things were said about
methat I did scandalous things, that I turned a hotel upside down
because I couldnt find a room to my liking. They called me hysterical,
a crazy womaneverything. And no oneno onespoke up
for me. No one said, its not true, thats not the way it
is. Apparently it was convenient at that moment for some people that
I disappear. Since I needed my family and affectionin this life
you need more than just successI said "Basta: Im closing
the door, and thats the end of it."
SZ: Do you have the desire to sing, to perform?
AC: Not today. The first years, yes, but no longer.
SZ: And the first years?
AC: In the first years it was hard, because I withdrew abruptly, no
longer seeing people or listening to music. I wanted to erase those
memories even though they can never really be erased. But at least I
wanted to keep them at a distance, put them in the back of my mind.
SZ: Why didnt you attempt a return to the stage?
AC: I received many offers to return. There were moments when I almost
accepted. But then I thought, whats the point? Ive already
found my peace, my serenity. To return under the gun! Basta! And so
I closed the door.Today one tends to think of dramatic soprano voices
as heavy, in the manner of Martons, but Cerquettis instead
was brilliant and penetrating, with soaring top notes. Her breath span
was a trifle short. She was expert at such elusive subtleties as the
grace notes in "O patria mia." Her temperament sometimes seems
a little cool, lacking in pathos, her sound Nordic. (In Opera Fanatic
she warmly interprets words in demonstrating an excerpt from Norma.)
Gioconda inspired her to sizzle. She sang the part with a heavier tone.SZ:
What is your opinion about chest voice?
AC: I hate it.
SZ: To me you sound as if you used pinches of it as Gioconda.
AC: Well, I used chest notes despite myselfbut lightly. The part
brought them out of me. I couldnt sing with heavy chest resonance
if I wanted to because Ive always tried to avoid it.
SZ: Are chest notes harmful to the voice?
AC: Yes. They ruin the middle voice, and they are ugly. I prefer a note
that is less forte but more beautiful. If you throw a note into the
chest you hear the difference when the sound rises and passes the first
passaggio [change of register]. You hear that its no longer the
same voice, that something has happened. Its as if you open a
door and find a narrower hallway because the notes in the middle voice
are comparatively thinner and weaker.