Amelita Galli was born into a musical family in Milan, Italy on November 18, 1882. Her parents, particularly her mother, encouraged her to develop her musical talents. For many years, Amelita was primarily interested in becoming a pianist. However, everything changed when, in 1905, the members of the Galli family received a visit from their old friend, composer Pietro Mascagni (I Pagliacci). During their time together, Amelita casually sang part of Bellini’s I Puritani. Mascagni was completely floored by the young lady’s vocal capabilities and advised her to give up piano and concentrate on opera. Amelita insisted on teaching herself and, a year later, made her debut in Trani, Italy as Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto. After she sang the famous Caro Nome, the audience went wild.
In 1908, Amelita married the Marchese Luigi Curci. Although they would divorce in 1920, she kept his surname throughout the rest of her career. Not long after her marriage, Galli-Curci’s career took off during a South American tour. Once, while filling in for an ailing Gilda, the audience insisted on her singing Caro Nome three times!
Galli-Curci nearly died in 1915 after contracting typhus during a trip to Spain. Thankfully, the illness did not affect her voice. A year later, she went on another South American tour and she visited New York on her way back to Italy. The director of the Chicago Opera Company convinced her to delay her return long enough to perform in Rigoletto. On November 18, 1916, the Italian soprano took America by storm. The evening’s success also earned her a recording contract with Victor Records. Needless to say, one of her first recordings was Verdi’s Caro Nome. Click here to listen to a recording from February of 1917.
All were shocked when it was realized that, by some miracle, the primitive acoustical recordings captured Galli-Curci’s voice perfectly. At the time, opera singers, particularly sopranos, did not record well. As her recordings prove, Galli-Curci’s voice was angelic. The tone was as clear as crystal and her firm upper register soared to an E above high C. Why her voice recorded so well has remained a mystery. However, opera fans shall be eternally grateful for this window into the past.
For years, Galli-Curci remained one of the most popular singers in the world. In 1930, she stopped performing staged operas and concentrated on vocal recitals. She often voiced concern about singers who were more interested in acting than in singing. She began to prefer the concert setting simply because it forced the audience as well as the singer to concentrate on the music rather than on what she called the “ugly stage business”.
Unfortunately, Galli-Curci’s career declined fast. In 1925, Victor Records had started making electrical recordings that did not capture her voice the same way. During the early 1930s, she began having vocal problems. In 1935, it was discovered that she had developed a goiter. Although it was removed with great care, the destruction of her voice was inevitable. She attempted a comeback in 1936, but quickly retired from public life.
Amelita Galli-Curci lived quietly in California until her death on November 26, 1963.