Marcella Pobbe

Marcella Pobbe  “All I did was right. I didn’t make mistakes.”

Born in 1927 (some reference books give 1921), Pobbe studied in Vicenza, Pasero, Siena and won several vocal contests, making her debut, in 1948, in Spoleto, as Marguerite. The following season she sang at the San Carlo in a revival of Petrella’s I promessi sposi. In 1954-55 she appeared at La Scala as Elsa, as Betsabea in the house premiere of David (Milhaud) and as Agathe. In 1956 she sang in the world premiere of Rossellini’s La guerra, at the San Carlo. She appeared in Verona, London, Paris, Vienna and in South America. Her Met debut was in 1958, as Mimì.

Her recordings include Mefistofele, Isabeau (Mascagni), Jeanne d’Arc au Bûcher (Honegger), Carmen, Pêcheurs and Otello. She made films of Adriana, Ballo, Tosca, Francesca da Rimini as well as the Countess in Figaro and several recitals. Her repertory included Giulio Cesare, Ifigenia in Aulide, Orontea (Cesti), Kovàncina, Fiera di Sorocinski, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Strauss’s “Four Last Songs.”

She renounced her Met engagement for Elisabetta, in 1959, because she didn’t want to appear in the same house as Nicolai Gedda, with whom she was having a lovers’ quarrel. This step ended her Met career. (Her affair with Gedda continued off and on, notwithstanding his various marriages and lovers.) In watching the film it might be helpful to know that, on the phone before the interview, Pobbe herself spoke of all this heatedly and at length and asked to discuss it for the record, but when the cameras were rolling she clammed up.

She supposedly was dogged by ill luck. For example, she divorced a wealthy husband (the divorce was one of the first in Italy), only to have him drop dead the next day. She made bad investments.

Her sound was sweet, bright, charming, white, evocative of adolescence. She was an Italian Upshaw or Hong but with a more powerful voice. It was even from top to bottom and seemingly produced without effort. Her intonation was accurate, and she had excellent control over dynamics.

In Don Carlo she found more tonal body, but her voice had less focus and her vibrato was wider. She was well schooled but lacked sufficient emotion. Hers was a lighter, brighter sound than one associates with Don Carlo or Trovatore (in which she had a good high D-flat). Divas from the period often claim that, unlike Scotto and Freni, singers then didn’t undertake heavy roles if they had voices that were lyric in color. Pobbe is the counterexample. 

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Opera Fanatic: Biographies, Opinions—and Dish