An Italian soprano
of an exquisitely sweet and piercing
tone. At the height of her career she sang mainly in the United States, first in Chicago then in New York, and her records were phenomenal best-seller
She was born Amelita Galli in Milan on 18 November 1882 and entered the Milan Conservatory at the age of eleven, at first to study piano. But Mascagni, hearing her accompany herself, was so struck by her voice that he guided her towards singing as a career.
Her debut was as Gilda in 1906, and she was instantly successful, in South America as well as all over Italy. But in 1910 La Scala made the mistake of refusing her a major role, and she refused to set foot there again.
In 1916 she went to America and sang Gilda in Chicago, where she stayed until 1924. She sang Dinorah in New York in 1918 with the Chicago company (demand for tickets outnumbered supply ten to one), and sang at the Met in 1921, as Violetta, opposite Giuseppe de Luca. Other partners were Gigli and Tito Schipa.
She retired from the stage in 1930, and a throat tumour forced her to give up singing entirely in 1936. She died on 26 November 1963. Curci was her first husband's name; her second was Homer Samuels.
Her first recordings for the Victor label in America sold 400 000 copies in the first six months of 1917. These included Je veux vivre dans ce rêve from Gounod's Romeo and Juliet, Una voce poco fa from The Barber of Seville, Ombra leggiera from Meyerbeer's Dinorah, Caro nome from Rigoletto, and the Mad Scene from Lucia di Lammermoor.
Galli-Curci's singing was full of power and emotion, never lightweight, but it was 'light', leggiero, spanning a great range, leaping and dancing in trills and arpeggios. Many compared her to a bird and she herself said she learnt from birds how to sing naturally.
For me the two examples which stay with me most forcefully are the gay Io son Titania from Thomas's Mignon -- in fact it almost drives me mad with its refusal to go away after I've heard it --; and the great quartet Bella figlia dell'amore from Act 3 of Rigoletto, where amid much strong singing Gilda's voice emerges and takes off into the empyrean.