Leyla Gencer (born Leyla Ceyrekgil, 10 October 1928 in Istanbul; die 9 May 2008 in Mailand) was one of the greatest sopranos of the 20th century.
She started studying vocal arts in İstanbul Conservatory and she later studied with renowed Italian soprano Giannina Arangi-Lombardi and Apollo Granforte. In 1950, Gencer performed with Ankara State Opera and Ballet Chorus until she made her operatic debut as Santuzza in Mascagni's 'Cavalleria Rusticana'. In the following years, she was renowned in Turkey and was invited to perform at ceremonies of Turkish government.
Leyla Gencer made her Italian debut at Teatro di San Carlo in Naples as Santuzza. She returned to Naples the following year to perform 'Madama Butterfly' and 'Eugeni Onegin'. On January 26, 1957 she made her debut at Teatro alla Scala in Milan as Lidoine in the world premiere of Poulenc's 'Les Dialogues des Carmelites'.
In February 1957, she performed the final part of Verdi's 'Requiem' with Teatro alla Scala Chorous and Orchestra conducted by Victor De Sebata in Toscanini's Memorial Ceremony held in Milan Duomo Cathedral. In July 1957, she sang the leading part in 'La Forza Del Destino' during the Koln tour of Teatro alla Scala.
She sang many times at Teatro alla Scala between 1957 and 1983. She performed different roles in Verdi's 'Don Carlo', 'La Forza del Destino', 'Aïda' , 'Macbeth', 'Simon Boccanegra', 'I Vespri Siciliani'; Bellini's 'Norma'; Donizetti's 'Poliuto', 'Lucrezia Borgia'; Mozart's 'Idomeneo'; Monteverdi's 'L'Incoronazione di Poppea'; Gluck's 'Alceste'; Tchaikovsky's 'Queen of Spades'; Britten's 'Albert Herring'. She also sang in the world premiere of Pizzetti's 'L'assassinio nella Cattedrale' in 1958, at Teatro alla Scala.
Gencer achieved an international career in a short time and performed with renowned Italian maestros such as; Gui, Serafin, Gavazzeni and Muti. She contributed to the improvement of the 'Donizetti Renaissance' with her great performances of Donizetti's forgotten operas.
Gencer's repertoire consists of 72 roles including works from composers such as; Monteverdi, Gluck, Mozart to neo-classical period; from Cherubini, Spontini, Mayr and the romantic period to Puccini, Prokofiev, Britten, Poulenc, Menotti and Rocca; from a lyric soprano varying to dramatic colorature.
Chopin's 'Lyric Compositions' she performed in Paris with Nikita Magaloff, her Liszt-Bartok performance in La Scala and her concert regarding 'the operas about Turks' within the Venice Carnival at La Fenice Theatre, show her innovative character as an opera singer. She concluded her singing career in 1985 with Francesco Gnecco's 'La Prova di un'Opera Seria' performance at La Fenice Theatre, though she continued to give concerts until 1992.
In 1982, Leyla Gencer dedicated herself for education of young opera artists. She worked as a didactic art director of As.Li.Co. of Milan between 1983-88 and was appointed by Maestro Riccardo Muti to run La Scala's School for Young Artists between 1997-1998. Gencer was the artistic director of the academy for opera artists formed in Teatro alla Scala where she was teaching opera interpretation.
Leyla Gencer performed leading roles in many famous operas and she is known as the 'last diva of the 20th century'. She achieved her strong presence in the opera world, not only by the variety of her repertoire, but also with the dramatic nuances that she attributed to the roles she performed. Being a good researcher and a teacher, she reintroduced many forgotten works of the romantic period to the opera stages.
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