Italian Opera Singers: 3 Amazing Female Operatic Voices

Italian opera singers, whether female or male, but with a sensational operatic voice are classical singers and stars in their own right. For opera lovers, when a top opera singer dies, it is cause to review how to become an opera singer, relisten to the recordings of famous auditions for opera singers and recall great past performances of opera singing. Today, it has become popular to hire singers for party or to research opera singers to hire for weddings. For some, an opera singer for hire may appear to be counter to the fine art of opera singing.

Here, we present a behind-the-scenes look at 3 secret opera singers you probably didn’t know were/are Italian female opera singers. Each of these famous female opera singers performed in Ukraine – Lviv and Odesa.


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Salomea Krusceniski (1872 – 1901) sings the aria Ritorna Vincitor from Act I of the opera Aida by Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901). Recorded in Milan, in 1907 with emerging technology. Deposited in the archives of the S.Krushelnytska Museum (new window will open) in Lviv.


A Great Among Female Italian Opera Singers

Gemma Bellincioni as Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana
Gemma Bellincioni as Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana

Gemma Bellincioni was born Matilda Cesare Bellincioni on August 18, 1864 in Monza, Italy. She was the daughter of opera singers – bass Cesare Bellincioni and contralto Carlotta Soroldoni. As a child, Bellincioni was exposed to her parents’ rehearsals and performances and received music and singing instruction.

Records show that on October 6, 1870 at age 6, Gemma Bellincioni appeared at the Teatro Filodrammatico in Milan in a song written for her by Italian composer Luigi Ricci-Stolz (1852 – 1906). Interestingly, there is conflicting information on when and how Gemma Bellincioni actually made her operatic debut.

According to the Italian musicologist Rodolfo Celletti (1917 – 2004), Gemma Bellincioni made her operatic debut when she was 14 years old in May 1879, at the Teatro della Societa Filarmonica in Naples in the opera Il segreto della Duchessa by composer Giuseppe Dell-Orefice (1848 – 1889).

On the other hand, there are claims by Giovan Battista Baccioni, a contemporary of the female opera singer, that Gemma Bellincioni made her operatic debut at 16 years of age in November 1880 in Tutti in maschera (Everyone in Disguise) by Italian composer Carlo Pedrotti (1817 – 1893). According to Baccioni, Gemma’s parents had been engaged to sing the roles of Don Gregoria, a music teacher (bass) and Dorotea, his wife (mezzo-soprano). When, during a piano rehearsal, the conductor Camillo De Nardis (18567 – 1951) heard the young Gemma sing, he immediately engaged her to perform the main female role of Vittoria, a prima donna (soprano).

Gemma Bellincioni is famously remembered as the female singer who premiered the role of Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni (1863 – 1945) on May 17, 1890, a role she repeatedly performed on all the great stages of Europe and South America.

After the end of her operatic career, Gemma Bellincioni agreed to perform the role of Santuzza in the silent film Cavalleria Rusticana (1916) directed by the Italian silent film director Ugo Falena (1875 – 1931).


A Diva Among Famous Italian Opera Singers

Riccioni and Krusceniski
Riccioni and Krusceniski

Salomea Krusceniski (1872 – 1952), as she was officially known in Italy, was born Solomiya Krushelnytska (Соломія Крушельницька) on September 23, 1872 in the village of Biliavyntsi, Ukraine. Her father was a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest (Greek Catholic priests are permitted to marry) and her mother came from a line of literary writers.

Salomea Krusceniski made her operatic debut as Leonora in La favorita by Gaetano Donizetti (1797 – 1848) on April 15, 1893. Interestingly, the part of Leonora is a mezzo-soprano role, and yet Kruceniska went on to become a great operatic soprano.

At the time of Krusceniski’s performance in Lviv, there was a group of Italian opera singers on tour in the city, including Gemma Bellincioni (and, probably Mattio Battistini). Salomea impressed these Italian opera greats and they encouraged her to pursue her vocal studies in Italy.

It was in Milan, Italy, in the fall of 1893, at age 21 that Krusceniski discovered she was not a mezzo-soprano as she had believed and had been trained, but a lyric-dramatic soprano. In Italy, Salomea Krusceniski began her vocal studies anew. Her acquaintance with Gemma Bellincioni helped her out as records show that in addition to arranging and facilitating her vocal training in Italy, Salomea boarded with the Bellincioni’s mother.

But perhaps Salomea’s greatest claim to Italianism is the fact that in 1904 she made Viareggio, a resort town that at the time was home to Italy’s cultural and intellectual elite, her permanent residence. In Viareggio, Krusceniski purchased a house and became an active member of the local social scene.

Either before or after her move (the records are unclear), Krusceniski made the acquaintance of Alfredo Cesare Augusto Riccioni (1868 – 1936), twice mayor of Viareggio who has a street named in his honour in the city (Via Cesare Riccioni). On July 10, 1910, during a tour of South America, the two were married. For 26 years until his death in 1936, Krusceniski lived with her Italian husband in Viareggio. To the local townspeople, the famous opera singer Krusceniski became known as Signora Riccioni.


A Ukrainian Opera Singer Makes Her La Scala Debut in a German Opera

S.Krusceniski in Salome by R.Strauss
S.Krusceniski in Salome by R.Strauss

The story of the premiere of the opera Salome by Richard Strauss (1864 – 1949) in Italy is very operatic, filled with intrigue and involves two (not one!) female Italian opera singers. The title role of Salome demands the ability to sing both high soprano and low mezzo-soprano notes – a difficult and, for many female opera singers, an elusive feat.

During the 1905 – 1906 season, the conductor Arturo Toscanini (1867 – 1957) was music director at the Turin Opera. According to The Letters of Arturo Toscanini, published by The University of Chicago Press and compiled, edited and translated by Harvey Sachs, on July 1905, Toscanini began negotiations with Richard Strauss (1864 – 1949) to bring the Italian premiere of the announced (but at the time uncompleted) opera Salome to Turin. Strauss had agreed.

At the end of the opera season in 1906, Toscanini traveled to South America. Upon his return from his engagements, Toscanini decided to accept an offer to return to Milan and the La Scala Opera House. Naively, he expected to take the previously negotiated Salome premiere with him. As a result, the directors of both Turin and La Scala, the conductor and the composer got embroiled in an operatic competition.

The Teatro Regio of Turin premiere was scheduled for December 26, 1906. La Scala in Milan announced their premiere for the same evening. Teatro Regio moved their premiere to December 22. La Scala presented an open dress-rehearsal on December 21 and invited their patrons, critics and benefactors.

The Turin premiere on December 22, 1906 was conducted by Richard Strauss and Gemma Bellincioni performed the title role. The Milan open rehearsal on December 21, 1906 was conducted by Arturo Toscanini and Salomea Krusceniski performed the title role. Records don’t show whether the opera house rivalry impacted on the relationship between the two opera divas.


An Armenian, Ukrainian, Italian… Female Opera Singer

Maria Guleghina
Maria Guleghina

Maria Guleghina was born Maria Meytarjan on August 9, 1959 in Odesa, Ukraine. She is considered to be a leading dramatic soprano among female opera singers of our time while specializing in the Italian opera repertoire.

Maria Guleghina’s ancestors came from present-day Eastern Turkey where until 1915 there was a vibrant Armenian community. During the Armenian Genocide, her grandmother (Maria Martirosi Gyadukian) and her grandfather (Mkrtick Yeghishei Meytarjian) fled to Southern Georgia with their respective parents – Guleghina’s great-grandparents. Eventually, her father was born and the family moved to Odesa.

Maria Guleghina graduated from the Odesa Conservatory and performed as a soloist at the Minsk Opera House. In 1986, after winning the Tchaikovsky International Competition, she began a career in Europe and North America. Today, Maria Guleghina lives in Luxembourg.

Not surprisingly, Maria Guleghina is often asked about her background.

Which nationality are you? In each newspaper article or interview you are always either Ukrainian or Armenian or Russian.

This is a very good question! Once after a concert I heard an argument between the Ambassador of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Armenia. Each one was claiming me for his country! The problem is that I feel and in fact I am not one nationality but a minimum of 6 nationalities combined. I have Ukrainian blood as well as Armenian, Jewish and Polish blood. I am the citizen of Belarus and I speak Russian, have a Russian son, a Russian husband, partially even live in Russia… And of course I sing in Italian, I am constantly in Italy, so I even feel Italian…

quoted from Official Website (a new window will open)


Lviv, Odesa and Italian Female Opera Singers

Lviv Opera and Odesa Opera Houses
Lviv Opera and Odesa Opera Houses

The histories of both Lviv and Odesa are filled with passion, betrayal, intrigue and reflect the turbulent and often conflicting history of Ukraine. Certainly, opera singers have been a part of this past.

Historically, both Lviv and Odesa have stood at the crossroads of trade and commerce – Odesa on the north-south water route from the Black Sea to the North Sea and Lviv on the east-west land route joining Eastern and Western Europe. In the 19th century Lviv (Lemberg, at the time) was an important administrative and cultural center of the Hapsburg Empire, while Odesa (Odessa in Russian) was a free port within the Romanov Empire and a center for trade and culture. Today, both cities are coveted tourist destinations.

Female Italian opera singers have sung in Ukraine numerous times. At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, the most famous of the female Italian opera singers to have appeared in Lviv and Odesa was Gemma Bellincioni (1864 – 1950), who traveled to Lviv and Odesa during the 1892 – 1893, 1896 - 1897 and 1903 – 1904 opera seasons. Bellincioni performed as part of a traveling Italian opera singers troupe. Such groups of singers were frequently engaged for extended stays by the ruling Romanovs and Hapsburgs to perform throughout the vast empires. Today, both Lviv and Odesa boast splendid opera houses.

During one such visit in 1893, Bellincioni witnessed the debut performance of a young female opera singer, Salomea Krusceniski, whom she encouraged to travel to Italy to continue her operatic studies and training. During the 1896 – 1897 tour, both mentor and protégée performed.

3 Italian female opera singers:

  • Gemma Bellincioni – born in Italy to a family of Italian opera singers
  • Salomea Krusceniski – obtained Italian citizenship through marriage
  • Maria Guleghina – feels Italian as a result of her career choices.

Odesa and opera bring these female Italian opera singers together.

Text by Oksana A. Wynnyckyj-Yusypovych


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