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Leyla Gencer (b1928)

Leyla Gencer was born into a wealthy family: her father was a Turkish Muslim with business interests in Istanbul and her mother a Polish Catholic who had converted to Islam. When she was sixteen she entered the Istanbul Conservatory, but after meeting the distinguished Italian soprano Giannina Arangi-Lombardi (who was a voice coach with Ankara State Opera) in 1949, she withdrew from the Conservatory to study with Arangi-Lombardi in Ankara while also singing as a member of the chorus of the Turkish State Theatre. Following Arangi-Lombardi’s death in 1951 she continued her vocal studies with Apollo Granforte, as well as working on Italian repertoire with Adolfo Camozzo and Domenico Trizzio and German opera with Georg Reinwald.

In 1950 Gencer made her solo operatic stage debut as Santuzza / Cavalleria rusticana with the Ankara State Opera. She also began to sing at official functions of the Turkish government, while further appearances in Ankara included the title role in Tosca in 1952 and Fiordiligi / Così fan tutte in 1953. Her Italian stage debut came in 1953 at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples as Santuzza; she returned during the following year to sing the title role in Madama Butterfly and Tatyana / Eugene Onegin and her American stage debut was in the title role of Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini in 1956 at San Francisco.




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