Maria Chiara, a pearl of the bel canto

Knowing that Maria Chiara was in the jury of the 2011 San Marino International Voice Competition has been a real balm. In fact, she is a worthy representative of a range of sopranos who have maintained a strong link with Tebaldi’s voice, a conscious connection, which has never denied Tebaldi’s lesson. In 1983, in a small book whose title was “I casti divi”, Walter Ricci wrote about her: «Maria Chiara… has a suave voice, which she uses skilfully with enchanting accents and sounds. A splendid lyric soprano with a pure voice. Nothing in her is artificial… Sentiment is in her temper ». But through experience we had already known her sweet natural expressiveness due to her female spontaneity and internal logic. Such features were far away from the explosive expressionism of idols lost on the way of market divinization and from the fragmentary and affected ostentation typical of recent artists.
In Chiara also her walking on the scene was spontaneous adherence to the characters. In fact, as the elegant Neapolitan soprano Maria Carbone taught to her, posture and walking on the scene are fundamental to outline a character: ‘Mimì can not appear on the scene walking like Aida or Vargas’ Leonora; Countess Rosina will necessarily be different from Susanna’. Maria’s solid technical basis are due to Carbone and to the teaching of Antonio Cassinelli, a basso from Bologna with great theatre and cinema experience who would soon become Maria’s husband. In time, Chiara would keep intact the beauty and delicate suggestion of her voice.
Maria was born on Christmas Eve in Oderzo, a small town near Treviso in the North East of Italy: a castle, a church with severe architectural lines, a long bridge decorated with flowers on the Monticano river and several museums to witness the ancient dignity of the territory.
Since she was young, Chiara experienced singing through the performance of complex madrigals then her skills were refined by Cassinelli and Carbone’s teaching. So in the summer of ’65 Maria Chiara could make her debut in the role of Desdemona in Venice in an open-air Otello at Palazzo Ducale.
Piero Mioli, who was hard to please due to the demanding characteristics of the role, called her an elected Desdemona and from then on she showed the features of the perfect Tebaldi-like soprano. Chiara has sung successfully in the most renown theatres in Italy (San Carlo, Opera in Rome, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Turin, Verona), in Europe (Wien, München, Berlin, Covent Garden) and overseas (New York’s Metropolitan). Her repertoire is wide but kept within wise limits, which do not exclude some fearful risks. First of all, old Verdi’s Otello, Ballo in maschera, Forza del destino, Aida and Simon Boccanegra, as well as the role of Odabella in Attila (1985). However, they are all challenges (also Donizetti’s Anna Bolena) faced with the awareness of the real possibility to win them unharmed thanks to her vocal orthodoxy. Along the way, Chiara allowed herself some reassuring performances such as the role of Suzel in L’Amico Fritz or in Susanna by Wolf-Ferrari (do not miss Decca recording) or Carmen’s Micaela. About this role Mioli said “highlighted by the enchanting Micaela played by Maria Chiara.
Bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly (fantastic a Bavarian recording of this opera), Suor Angelica and Liù are all roles that define a real, yet not affected, prima donna. Some call her “Maria C. without claws” while Caballé appreciated her for the performance of Butterfly, Nilsson for a Bohème in Bavaria with Domingo and Tebaldi for an Aida in Genoa.
From 16th to 31st December 1977, Chiara was very successful in the role of Violetta in La Traviata at the Met before being called as the absolute protagonist of a solemn inauguration at the Scala Theatre at the end of 1986. In an interview given to Corriere della Sera she said with no fear (the predictable reaction of opposing factions could endanger the outcome of the performance) that her Aida would be inspired by old-time Tebaldi’s voice and colours. She was conducted by Maazel and sang with Pavarotti, Dimitrova and Ghiaurov. The English branch of Decca, after asking her to record successful solo recitals, produced a CD and a DVD of great commercial success and that of Aida became her major role in her irresistible career. In 1992, about an Aida in Verona, Mioli said:”the latest of a series that amazes and astonishes”.
In July 1993, Antonio Cassinelli died and Maria did not want to go on along a path always faced with the strength taken from her essential life companion. She preferred the quietness of her town where she still receives respect and esteem. She chose the difficult way of teaching practised with healing ability also on voices compromised by wrong inputs. And now she will come to San Marino in a qualified international jury as a spokesperson of a vocal beliefs that we would like to define as “Tebaldian bel canto”.

Vincenzo Ramón Bisogni
Trieste, 27th July 2011