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Giulietta Simionato dies at 99; Italian mezzo-soprano

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Giulietta Simionato, an Italian mezzo-soprano whose instantly recognizable voice was wildly popular with audiences, died Wednesday, La Scala opera house said. She would have turned 100 on May 12.

Simionato, a great friend of Maria Callas and the president of the Maria Callas Assn., died at her home in Rome, the ANSA news agency reported, citing the director Bruno Tosi.

Simionato and Callas sang a historic duet in 1957 in Donizetti's "Anna Bolena."

Born in Forli, Italy, in 1910, Simionato landed an audition at La Scala in Milan in 1933 after winning a singing competition in Florence.

Because her voice wasn't judged mature enough, Simionato had only secondary roles until 1947, when she was given the title role in Ambroise Thomas' "Mignon."

Over a 30-year career at La Scala, she sang Amneris, Azucena, Carmen, Cenerentola, Cherubino, Eboli, Donna Elvira, Ifigenia, Orfeo, Rosina and Tancredi, the opera house said.

Simionato's American debut was at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in the company's debut season in 1954.

She made her Metropolitan Opera debut on opening night of the 1959-60 season as Azucena in Verdi's "Il Trovatore" in a new production that included Carlo Bergonzi, Antonietta Stella and Leonard Warren.

Winthrop Sargeant wrote in the New Yorker that she "sang the role of Azucena with a degree of authority, power, and musical taste that I have not heard approached in this part since the days of the great Bruna Castagna." He went on to describe her as "a small, round-faced woman with an intense stage personality that matches her extraordinary vocal gifts."

Simionato sang with the Met 28 times, including tour performances, also appearing as Santuzza in Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana," Amneris in Verdi's "Aida," Rosina in Rossini's "Il Barbiere di Siviglia," Dalila in Saint-Saens' "Samson et Dalila" (singing in Italian while the rest of the cast sang French). Her last performance at the Met was in 1962, but she did go on a U.S. tour with the company in 1965.

She officially retired in 1966 singing in Mozart's "La Clemenza di Tito" in La Piccola Scala.

Information on survivors was unavailable.

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