Ghena Dimitrova is one of the few dramatic sopranos of the past 30 years, belonging to that class of artists who have tackled with disarming ease the most demanding of the heavyweight roles. Her voice blends an inherent lyrical beauty, superbly sustained by the refined technique of a soprano leggero with an impressive dynamic range culminating in an intensely powerful volume.
Her formidable voice puts her in a class of her own. She has developed her repertoire gradually, growing from strength to strength, taking on roles which seem congenial to her overpowering vocal prowess and regal stage presence. Yet she is of kind and gentle disposition. In fact she feels a closer affinity to such roles as Minnie (La Fanciulla del West) and Elizabeth (Don Carlos) than to the decidedly dramatic roles which have sealed her fame and earned her raving reviews.
Ghena, a Bulgarian born in Beglej, nurtures close ties with the Italian artistic and cultural milieu. She considers herself as an Italian by adoption. She studied with Mro C. Brambarov at the Sofia Conservatorio where she graduated with distinction. Her debut as Abigaille in Sofia on the 27th December 1967 was due to a last minute indisposition of the two prima donnas. Ghena threw herself heart and soul into the part and triumphed. Her resounding success as the cruel-hearted slave-queen soon made her synonymous with the part. In 1970 she won a scholarship which enabled her to perfect her studies in Italy. She studied at the La Scala Academy under the distinguished Renato Pastorino, Enza Ferrari and Renata Carosio. During 1971-72 she interpreted the role of Leonora (La Forza del Destino) all over France. In ’72 she won the Treviso contest as Amelia (Ballo in Maschera) and was invited to sing the same role at the Teatro Regio at Parma with Carreras and Capuccilli and in ’73 she sang the role alongside Domingo at La Scala. During the years spanning ’74-’79 she toured the leading theatres of South America, Spain, Italy, Russia, Germany, Austria, Checkoslovakia and Hungary. Her repertoire was enhanced by such operas as Aida, Il Trovatore, Tosca, Don Carlos, Andrea Chenier, Turandot, Ernani, Cavalleria Rusticana, Manon Lescaut, La Fanciulla del West, Macbeth and Othello. Everywhere she was hailed as a leading dramatic soprano with a tremendous impact.
In 1980 her immortality as one of the post-war greatest voices was assured when she interpreted La Gioconda together with Pavarotti at the Arena di Verona. Incidentally it was the same role which shot Maria Callas into fame when she interpreted it at the Arena in 1947. At the Arena, Ghena Dimitrova appeared in Nabucco (’81), Macbeth (’82), every Turandot starting from ’83, Cavalleria ’93 and Aida ‘93.
She is reputed to possess one of the most prestigious voices ever. She has been invited three times to open the opera season at La Scala: as Turandot under Maazel, Aida (alternating both roles) and Abigaille, which marked the beginning of Mro Muti’s tenure of office at the theatre in ’86. She also interpreted I Lombardi alla prima Crociata (’84), Macbeth (’85) under Abbado, Cavalleria (’88) and Tosca (’89). Contemporaneously she toured the Italian theatres enchanting the notoriously hard-to-please Italian audiences with her remarkable powerful, yet, agile voice which apparently remains unequalled. She was invited to sing Macbeth for two consecutive years (84-85) at the Salzburg Festival while she regularly sings at the Staatsoper. In ’87 she triumphed as Norma at the Opera in Paris. Norma enjoys an undisputed pride of place in the soprano’s repertoire, whether the voice is a dramatic coloratura; lyrical with a propensity to agility; or even lirico-leggero toutcourt, particularly when the voice gains in weight.
In the same year she made her debut at the Metropolitan where she reigned supreme interpreting Turandot, La Gioconda, Cavalleria Rusticana, Tosca and La Fanciulla del West.
Those who are acquainted with the soprano, also through CDs, cannot but be impressed by her extremely powerful voice and the intelligent manner with which she infuses her singing with an astonishing array of dynamics to bring out the finer nuances of each role. Her Abigaille at La Scala, under Muti, is considered to be an outstanding example of how this role should be tackled, tempering a domineering and arrogant vocal stance with a honeyed timbre betraying an anguished heart hardened by neglect and an appalling lack of love. The exceptional extension of the range enables her also to alternate roles such as Aida and Amneris and Elizabeth and Eboli in Don Carlos.
Ghena Dimitrova will go down in history alongside Maria Callas and a few others who have graced international opera scene and held audiences in thrall. To say “I was there to hear her sing” is a most coveted wish of any opera buff.