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Passings : Leyla Gencer

Turkish soprano thrived in Italy

May 11, 2008|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer, 79, who made her career at Italy's famed La Scala opera house, died Friday of respiratory problems and heart failure at her home in Milan, a Turkish arts foundation announced.

La Scala expressed "immense sorrow" over Gencer's death and said the singer -- known as La Diva Turca, or the Turkish Diva -- had "one of the most emotional voices of any time."

Her career spanned about 30 years and included more than 70 roles.

In 1956, Gencer became the first Turkish soprano to be heard in opera in the United States when she sang the title role of "Francesca da Rimini" with the San Francisco opera.

The next year, she debuted with La Scala, playing Madame Lidoine in the premiere of Francis Poulenc's "Dialogues des Carmelites." She moved to the Milanese opera house after successful performances in "Madame Butterfly" and Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin" in Naples.

Born in Istanbul in 1928, Gencer made her operatic debut in 1950 in Ankara, the Turkish capital, cast as Santuzza in Pietro Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana" -- a role she would reprise on world stages.

She retired in 1985 and devoted herself to discovering and training young talent.

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