The Italian sopranos: Ester Mazzoleni, Giannina Russ, Eugenia Burzio, Iva Pacetti, Bianca Scacciati, Claudia Muzio, Giannina Arangi Lombardi, Tina Poli Randaccio, Celestina Boninsegna Gina Cigna, Caterina Mancini, Anita Cerquetti and Maria Caniglia are all familiar to opera fans around the world. They had a great deal in common including, that their repuations as famous Normas survive, though several sang the role very few times. Not all were equally successful, but each one left a stamp of individuality as the Druid priestess. Unquestionably, Russ is the one whose fame most clearly rests on that role and she certainly sang more than one hundred performances of the opera in an illustrious career. To round out the list of the Century's famous Normas, we can add Rosa Raisa, Maria Callas, Rosa Ponselle, Zinka Milanov, Montserrat Caballe and Joan Sutherland, each of whom can be counted among the most lauded sopranos of all time. Rasponi's "The last Prima Donnas" states, "In the twenties and thirties there were very few who dared to challenge (Norma); among the successful were Raisa, Muzio, Scacciati, Pacetti, Ponselle, Amerighi-Rutili and Cigna." This story is about the one who is least well known; the one who sang more performances of the role than any other in this Century, and in more places.
Amerighi was born at Pisa in 1896 and studied voice at the Florence Conservatory from 1915 until the end of World War One. Leopoldo Mugnone discovered her during a concert for students at the academy and persuaded her to debut as Aida. The venue was, surprisingly enough, London's Covent Garden in July of 1919, though other biographies list it as at Reggio Emilia during the same year. Those performances took place three months later. Harold Rosenthal, in his book "Two Centuries of Opera at Covent Garden" states that her intense performance was extremely successful, more successful than would be her career in her homeland. Well, that isn't really true, but it does again highlight how little is known about her.
She sang ten performances of "Norma" at Reggio in late September and was immediately hired to repeat the opera at Catania's Massimo Bellini, a high honor indeed, for this young, unknown singer. She sang both Aida and Norma in the autumn and returned in February of 1920 for Donizetti's "Lucrezia Borgia" and her first performances of "La Gioconda". Genoa's Politeama, hearing of this new sensation, offered her a contract and she debuted as Norma in mid year. It was so successful that she was asked to return in November for performances of "Gioconda" and a new opera for her, "Mose", which she performed with Nazzareno De Angelis. While in Genoa, the Carlo Felice presented her in two concerts with Angelo Minghetti. Pisa also saw her Norma in 1920.
Amerighi Rutili was now among the most sought after singers from Italy. In 1921, she traveled to Lisbon, where, at the San Carlo she repeated the role as well as Gioconda. Oporto also saw her in the Ponchielli work. Later in the season she toured with Norma to several Adriatic cities, including Ancona and Trieste. Her year ended at Palermo where she debuted again as Norma. During the years 1922 to 1924 she sang Norma at Milan's Teatro Lirico, and appeared as Gioconda in several Northern Italian cities including Mantua, Pisa and a tour of the Veneto. In the 1925-26 period she sang Norma at Parma with Irene Minghini Cattaneo and Renato Zanelli, at Venice, Cremona, Catania's Bellini and at Modena. Venice's Fenice feted her to gala evenings of celebration not only for Norma, but Aida and Gioconda, which she also sang there to enormous success. Ebe Stignani partnered her in the Bellini and Verdi operas. At Turin's Teatro Chiarella she sang in "La Gioconda", at Bologna's Comunale she sang the "Siegfried" Brunnhilde and at Pisa's Verdi she sang in "Il Trovatore" for the first time.
1927 saw Amerighi at Brescia, Trieste and Genoa in "Norma", and the Verona Arena presented her as the Grand Vestale in Spontini's opera. In the autumn she undertook Elvira in "Ernani" for the first times at Pisa and Florence. In 1928,at Genoa's Carlo Felice, she sang in Bellini's "Pirata"; at Milan's Dal Verme she presented the Druid priestess and Florence saw her as Aida. 1929 found her at Palermo for "Tosca" and "L'Africaine", at Genoa, Florence and Como for Norma and at Mantua for "La Gioconda" with Apollo Granforte. Amerighi also debuted at Milan's La Scala in "Vestale". She had a fine success, but there were very negative observations about her girth, which was apparently, enormous. About her singing there was no equivocation.
1930 found her at Livorno for Aida, at Lecce for Aida and "La Forza del Destino" and at Trieste for Aida and "Il Trovatore". She sang Norma at Pola, Bologna and Forli in 1931, as well as for Italian Radio at both Rome and Turin. The Rome Radio station also presented her in "Il Trovatore". Livorno and Genoa saw her as Norma in 1932 and Italian Radio of Turin hosted her in Donizetti's "Poliuto" and Verdi's "I Vespri Siciliani". Vera's Rome stage debut was at the Teatro Adriano in "La Gioconda". In 1933 Fiume, Trento, and Bari all heard her in Norma and Cagliari and Sassari saw her Aida with Luigi Marletta, Minghini-Cattaneo and Apollo Granforte.
1934 was Amerighi's Norma year of Norma years. She sang the role at Bolzano and Merano, and after singing Donna Anna and Norma at Trieste she embarked on a two month tour of Italy in the Bellini masterpiece with Irene Minghini Cattaneo, Ebe Stignani, Antonio Bagnariol, Antonio Melandri, Diulio Baronti, Pasero and Pinza. Though the list of cities visited is not complete, she is known to have appeared at Civitavecchia, Rome, Grosseto, Livorno, Siena, Montevarchi, Frosinone, L'Aquila, Pescara, Foggia, Lecce, Perugia, San Severo and Chieti.
In 1935, the Centenary of Bellini's death, Amerighi debuted at both Piacenza and Monte Carlo as Norma and repeated the role at the Carlo Felice with the defining Oroveso of De Angelis. In commemoration of the anniversary, Palermo's Massimo presented her in a gala production of "Pirata". At Bari, in 1936, she sang in "Aida" with Aureliano Pertile and in "Mefistofele" as Elena, and, she made her long overdue debut at Naples' San Carlo in "La Gioconda". Naples' Teatro Giacosa also presented her as Gioconda and Frascati mounted "Aida" and "La Gioconda" for her. At Assisi she sang in Perosi's "Resurrezione di Lazzaro".
In 1937, after "Gioconda" at Ancona, she made another two month tour of Italy with Carro di Tespi as Aida and Gioconda, singing at Grosseto, Pisa, Lodi, Lecco and Prato among about fifteen cities. In the autumn, Amerighi appeared at Santiago, Chile and Lima, Peru in "La Forza del Destino", "Aida" and "Gioconda" and she returned to South America in 1938 for "Gioconda" and "Mefistofele" at Rio de Janeiro. The career in opera was by now winding down, appearing sporadically at her home town, Pisa, in "Trovatore" and "Ernani" as well as in Turin as the "Trovatore" Leonora. Concerts took most of her time and she offered at least one every year at Pisa until 1950 as well as in other cities of Tuscany and Liguria. Galliano Masini partnered her at Livorno in 1940 and other singers often joined her in scenes from her beloved "Norma". "Casta Diva' and "Mira o Norma" were programmed as late as 1946. Amazingly, in 1947, she sang the Gotterdammerung Brunnhilde at Trieste, and with these performances her opera career came to an end.
Many years later Elena Nicolai was to say "I first sang Adalgisa at Piacenza with the remarkable Vera Amerighi-Rutili, .of huge dimensions, but with a nobility that left one in awe. She taught me to understand the dignity of a priestess, and I shall always be grateful for her example and her advice."
Amerighi's performance total as Norma is uncertain, though I know it exceeds one hundred and fifty. What is certain is that no other soprano in this Century has approached it. Her several recordings of scenes from the opera are quite wonderful and for those who would want to know
more, she is represented on Genoa's Carlo Felice, One Hundred Years - Vol 5 in "Deh, non volerli vittime" with Antonio Righetti. We find the voice to be in fine estate, clear, vibrant and with a ringing top though her ascent is rather ungraceful. The tone is very forward and she can darken it for dramatic effect when she wishes. The line is lovely and the dramatic urgency is very apparent. I do not wonder why she was Italy's Norma for nearly twenty years.
Chronology of some appearances
1919 11 Firenze Teatro Della Pergola Mefistofele (Elena)
1922 05 Pavia Teatro Fraschini Norma (Norma)
1924 06 Firenze Politeama Fiorentino Aida (Aida)
1926 01 Venezia Teatro Fenice Aida (Aida)
1928 04 Genova Teatro Carlo Felice Il Pirata (Imogene)
1930 04 Livorno Politeama Aida (Aida)
1932 01 Pisa Teatro Verdi Concerto
1934 06 Livorno Piazza Luigi Orlando Norma (Norma)
1936 01/02 Bari Teatro Petruzzelli Aida (Aida)
1938 08 Rio de Janeiro Teatro Municipal Gioconda (Gioconda)
1940 07 Pisa Politeama Trovatore (Leonora)
1942 06 Massa Teatro Guglielmi Concerto
1943 01 Pisa Dopolavoro Ospedalieri Concerto
1947 Trieste Teatro Verdi Crepuscolo Degli Dei