by Richard W. Amero
Amelita Galli-Curci, hailed as "the world's greatest coloratura soprano" in the 1910's and 20's, spent her retirement years during the 1950's and 60's in Rancho Santa Fe and La Jolla. There, she said, she could "converse with and caress trees." Though many years had elapsed since her heyday as an opera singer, her presence in Southern California attracted comment in the regional and national press. Galli-Curci's career progressed from success to success, from a performance on the opera stage at Trani, Italy in 1906 to a dramatic downturn during a Central-European tour in 1930, to a last unfortunate appearance with the Chicago Opera in 1935.
She was born in Milan, Italy, on November 18, 1882, the daughter of Enrichetta Bellisoni Galli and Enrico Galli. Her mother was a niece of the Countess de Luna of Cadiz and her father was "a man of business." (No commentator had the foresight to ask,"What business?")
While Signorina Galli loved her mother deeply, the inspiration for her singing came from Signora Galli-Rota, her grandmother who had been an opera singer. Her childhood years were happy. There was little she wanted that she could not have. By the time she was 16 she had become proficient in Italian, Spanish, French, German and English. She studied music and played the piano at the Milan Conservatory of Music. After winning a prize for piano playing in 1903, she became a teacher of the piano. Her brothers, Giuseppe, two years her senior, and Enrico, four years her junior, were fellow students at the Conservatory. Although she enjoyed playing the music of Bach, Chopin and Schumann, she knew she could never become a professional pianist.
In 1905, the composer Pietro Mascagni made an observation with momentous consequences for the 23-year-old musician. After she had played and sung for him, he said: "You have a unique timbre, and this is a rare gift. I would recognize your voice twenty years from now anywhere, and this is something others would give anything to possess. Remember there are many gifted pianists, but not singers."
The collapse of her father's business in 1905, compelled him to go to Argentina to recoup his fortunes. Her brothers followed. Amelita and her mother were on their own. Since her mother disapproved of her becoming a professional singer and lacked money to hire instructors, Amelita taught herself to sing by practicing the exercises of Manuel Garcia (1805-1906), the teacher of Jenny Lind and Lilli Lehmann. Her grandmother suggested she concentrate on the light soprano parts that were suitable to her voice.
After she had become famous, Galli-Curci claimed she had become proficient in the arpeggios, roulades and trills of her upper range by imitating the repeated notes and rushing crescendos of nightingales.
Nature provided the foundation for Amelita's unique voice, but nurture made it possible. She listened to the sopranos who sang at Milan and tried to excel them in range and agility. "When I took up singing," she remarked, "I decided to rely upon myself. If I was to have defects, they would at least be my own and not those given to me by a teacher."
She polished her roles, beginning with the poignant sounds of Gilda's "Caro nome," in Rigoletto by Verdi. Her success in depicting the fragile innocence of Gilda at Trani in 1906 was the first of hundreds of brilliant portrayals. Also at Trani, in 1908, she married Luigi Curci, son of Marchese Carlo Curci.
From Trieste to Catania, audiences hailed Galli-Curci as an outstanding singer. Demonstrative Italians sometimes yelled insults and hurled vegetables at clumsy singers, but they never booed Galli-Curci. Instead of carrots and turnips, they showered her with flowers.
Galli-Curci knew enough not to give in to prima-donna tantrums. However, after Director Mingardi told her she could not sing the role of Amina in La Sonnambula at La Scala, she retorted: "Dear Mingardi, don't forget this . . . I shall never put my foot again in this theater." And she kept her word.
Visits to Egypt in 1908, Spain in 1913, 1914 and 1915, Belgium in 1913, and Russia in 1914 made opera lovers aware of her talent. Her composure on the stage and her sensitivity to nuances of character captivated audiences. No matter what ordeal the persons she was portraying might be undergoing, she conveyed their suffering through eloquent acting and polished singing. To make her parts distinctly her own, she substituted her own cadenzas for those sanctioned by tradition. C. E. Le Messena, Galli-Curci's biographer, described how she placed audience approval ahead of other considerations: "Her aim was not to measure art in terms of money, but in terms of popularity. She wanted to please, wanted everyone to enjoy her singing and in order to accomplish this, she had to sing in beguiling tones. If but one thing is preserved of her song career, it will be that her voice caressed the ears."
A writer for Punch wrote Galli-Curci was "as dark and slim and graceful as a cheetah." She had the attenuated beauty of a woman painted by Modigliani or Botticelli. Her face was oval, her eyes almond-shaped, and her nose aquiline and slender. Her neck was elongated and her shoulders sloped. Although small of stature, she projected an image of winsome beauty. Though she often sang of disappointment, her sparking eyes showed she enjoyed being alive.
During a visit to Spain in 1915, an attack of typhus forced her to bed for six weeks. While sick and unable to stand, she rolled a wheel chair on the stage at the Teatro Real in Madrid to sing the role of Rosina in Rossini's The Barber of Seville. A writer for El Mundo exclaimed: "She sang the 'Una voce poca fa' with such perfection and masterful delineation of the difficult passages that the applause broke out again at the end and continued for five minutes, interrupting the opera. From then on the enthusiasm kept on increasing."
She made three trips to Argentina in 1910, 1912 and 1915. During the first she sang supporting roles. When Cuban soprano Esperanza Clascenti was taken ill before a performance of Rigoletto, Galli-Curci's opportunity came. From then on, she sang lead roles. Her only appearance with tenor Enrico Caruso took place at the Teatro Colon in Buenas Aires in June and August of 1915, she singing the role of Lucia and he Edgardo in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor.
As the European war of 1914-18 made it difficult for the opera company with whom she was appearing to return to Italy, the company toured Uruguay, Brazil and Central America. While she was stopping in New York City, William Thorner, a vocal coach, persuaded Cleofonte Campanini, impresario of the Chicago Opera, to engage the singer for two trial performances at $300 each. Calvin G. Childs, president of the Victor Talking Machine Company, did not wait for the outcome of the trials. He signed Galli-Curci for recordings under the same terms as Caruso's.
Her Chicago debut, November 18, 1916, being a success, her contract was extended to cover the season. Campanini did not increase her fee until May 15, 1917 when he renewed her contract at $1,000 a performance. Critic Edward C. Moore, in the Chicago Daily Journal, raved: "There have been singers with voices limpid and pure; Galli-Curci is a little more limpid and pure. There have been singers of outstanding dexterity and flexibility, Galli-Curci is a little more dexterous and a little more flexible. There have been singing artists who made a successful effort to give a visual characterization of their role, Galli-Curci carried almost the entire burden of characterization. Few opera singers have been able to do all these things at once. Galli-Curci did them all and more."
In Forty Years in Opera, which he wrote many years later, Moore was still awed by Galli-Curci's singing: "She frequently had trouble with her trill, and she sometimes sagged under her intended pitch. Never in her life was she within even bowing distance of (Luisa) Tetrazzini's carefree, bewildering vocal gestures. But she had that delicately lovely, that cream velvet, that entrancing quality of her voice, and public and critics alike fell down and worshiped."
Charles L. Wagner, Galli-Curci's manager from 1917 to 1920, renegotiated her contract with the Chicago Opera in March 1919. At that time she accepted $2,000 for each appearance in Chicago, $2,500 for each in New York, and $3,000 for each on the road. These terms were greater than Caruso's, who never topped $2,500 for a performance.
Galli-Curci's New York debut, as Dinorah in Meyerbeer's opera of the same name, took place, January 28, 1918, at the Lexington Opera House, under the auspices of the Chicago Opera Company. Between her New York and Chicago debuts she sang at concerts and on the road with the Chicago Opera. Between appearances she wrote articles and gave interviews for newspapers and magazines. The 61 curtain calls she received at the Lexington were tributes to her smooth legato and staccato and flexible trill. She had a voice so limpid that soprano Geraldine Farrar likened it to "the heart of a pansy."
In February 1920, Gatti-Casazza, manger of the Metropolitan Opera Company, engaged Galli-Curci to sing in New York and Atlanta at a fee of $2,500 an appearance. Her Metropolitan debut took place, November 14, 1921, as Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata, at the opening of the season. This was the first season in 18 years that Caruso did not open as he had died three months before.
Galli-Curci was 40. No longer possessing the pure voice of a young soprano, she labored to reach E's and F's at the end of cadenzas. Her tone color was narrow, her intonations wobbly, and her florid flights forced. Critic Richard Aldrich, of The New York Times, found her coloratura to be lacking in brilliancy and finish. Critic W. J. Henderson, of The New York Sun, deplored her inability to start tears going in her polite, but passive audience.
Unlike Aldrich and Henderson, critic Henry Finck, of The New York Evening Post, was thrilled by Galli-Curci's stunning acrobatics: "Galli-Curci often sings distressingly out of tune, but the Eiffel tower staccati are true to pitch. They are the business end of her voice and they have given her an income rivaling Caruso's."
Galli-Curci left the Chicago Opera, January 4, 1924, after Giorgio Polacco, manger of the Company, refused to let her choose the operas in which she would sing. Her failure to dissuade Polacco did not deter her from threatening to leave the Metropolitan if Gatti-Casazza extended the contract of Italian coloratura Toti dal Monte, who sang roles that Galli-Curci considered her own. When singers posed no threat, as was the case with dramatic soprano Eva Turner, who in 1928 sang Amelia in The Masked Ball by Verdi, Galli-Curci was kindness itself in dispensing compliments and advice.
Her first husband, Luigi Curci, whom she divorced in 1920, had become a burden as he refused to apply for American citizenship and was content to live on his wife's earnings. Her second husband, pianist Homer Samuels, whom she married in 1921, accompanied her at recitals. Her managers, Jack Salter and Lawrence Evans (who replaced Charles Wagner in 1920) arranged her recitals. Her husband, a flutist, and one of her managers joined her on the road.
A June 5, 1924 appearance at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles attracted 27,000 persons, who paid $25,935, a record sell out. The New York Times claimed the singer was paid $15,000 for her performance. This figure (which may be a misprint) was the highest paid to a singer for a performance up to that time. Not showing the strains that were to beset her later, she sang a battery of coloratura arias including the "Caro nome" from Rigoletto, the "Bell Song" from Lakme, the "Polonaise" from Mignon, and the "Mad Scene" from Lucia de Lammermoor. Her enraptured audience cheered with the enthusiasm sports lovers give to successful athletes.
A sold-out British tour of 35 appearances in less than 60 days in October and November was followed in March and April 1925, by 34 concerts in Australia. H. C. Collies, of The London Times, wrote in measured terms of her October 12 debut at Royal Albert Hall: "Generally what one admires about Galli-Curci is that she can do so much with a voice confined to one color and that a pale one. She is herself the pretty mocking bird of which she sings with such agility. One must not expect to be emotionally swayed by her or hope for a new light on masterpieces of song. She cannot give what she has not, but what she has she gives unstintingly, the piquant conjunction of mercurial personality and perfect mechanism."
Singers accustomed to singing with a full orchestra sometimes have difficulty making the transition to singing with a piano or a flute. Galli-Curci was not one of them. She thrived on the intimate conditions and less exacting demands of the concert stage and the recording studio. Evidence of Galli-Curci's gifts exists on Compact Disc reissues of old recordings on Nimbus and Pearl labels. Her diction in the 1917-22 recordings was pure, her melody fluent, her ascensions unforced, her projections smooth, and her impersonations moving. Her crystalline delivery came through in fioritura arias, such as Juliette's "Je veux vivre dans ce reve" and Dinorah's "Ombra leggiera," and also in songs requiring a seamless legato, such as Mimi's "Mi chiamano Mimi" and Leonora's "Tacea la notte placida." The hymns she sang ("Abide with Me" and "Lead Kindly Light"), the folksongs ("Comin' thru the Rye" and "Mah Lindy Lou"), and the sentimental numbers ("Home Sweet Home" and "Love's Old Sweet Song") appealed to unsophisticated people who might have been turned off by the coloratura pyrotechnics.
Galli-Curci was not a dramatic soprano. Her voice was too light and her manner too gentle to take on heavy roles, such as Aida, Gioconda, Minnie, Norma, Tosca and Turandot. Critic James Gibbons Huneker, who was more sarcastic than H. C. Collies, described Galli-Curci as "exciting as soda water." But he added quickly, "She is sweet and gentle and evokes a certain charm."
Recordings from Galli-Curci's peak years are more exciting than "soda water." Her excellence in depicting the friendlier heroines, such as Butterfly, Mimi, Rosina, and Violetta, was so impressive, no one wanted her to be a fiery fury, such as Lady Macbeth, Leonore, and Medea. Her voice caressed. It did not cause hairs to stand on end.
J. H. Duval, a music teacher, claimed Galli-Curci's voice on the recordings was "better than her voice in large auditoriums where the lack of tone was apparent." She sang better on records than on the stage because she could work for shorter periods, could make "retakes," and could avoid the pressure of a critical audience.
J. B. Steane, a connoisseur of old recordings, compared Galli-Curci to Lucrezia Bori (1887-1960), Elizabeth Schumann (1888-1952), and Victoria de los Angeles (1923- ),sopranos who conveyed their charming personalities through their singing. Galli-Curci's pure toes, even scale over a two-octave range, and ability to float "dreamily lingering phases" fascinated Steane. She had "a way," he wrote, of "making language sound like the murmur of a distant brook."
As with Steane, so also critic Philip Hope Wallace was struck by the dreamy quality of Galli-Curci's voice which he likened to "a nightingale singing it its sleep."
When she married Homer Samuels in 1921, Galli-Curci became a United States citizen. She learned to sing the National Anthem and she gave benefit concerts for the Verdi House of Aged Musicians, the Caruso Memorial Foundation Scholarship for Talented American Musicians, the New York Osteopathic Hospital Fund, and the Illinois Children's Home and Aid Society. Le Messena claimed her opera and concert appearances and her recordings brought her salary to a figure five times the President of the United States.
Because she placed a higher value on simplicity than luxury, she did not have an abundance of clothes and jewels. She did, however, buy a 188-acre estate, named "Sul Monte," in the Catskills in 1928. Here she relaxed in an English manor style house. The grounds included a poultry farm, grain fields and a dairy. She named the cows in the dairy Favorita, Tosca, Butterfly, Zaza, Mimi and Louise. Her activities consisted of horseback riding, playing golf, and reading books by Emmanuel Swedenborg, her favorite author. Though she made her living in a world of illusion, she rarely read fiction.
Reporters and managers have made up anecdotes about every well-known singer. In Galli-Curci's case, the anecdotes have a ring of authenticity. A foreman of workmen outside her "Sul Monte" home asked: "Is you the lady wot's been singin' all mornin'?" "Yes," she answered, "have you enjoyed it?" "Well, mum, it ain't exactly that. I was goin' to ask if you'd mind not 'anging on to that top note so long next time - my men 'ave knocked off for dinner three times already."
While on a visit to Universal City in Hollywood in 1924, the singer requested fighter Jack Dempsey to teach her to box. "Fine," Dempsey replied, "I'll do it if you teach me to sing." After listening to Galli-Curci take 'high E," Dempsey decided to stay in the ring.
In her account of the July 21, 1927 Dempsey-Sharkey fight for Universal Service of Chicago, Galli-Curci saw in Jack Dempsey a fellow artist: "What I saw was the technic, so cunningly covered, yet so cleverly displayed. I saw the steady advance of Dempsey, slowly but surely advancing to the goal which he had set himself - a showing to the world what he could do after all the world thought he couldn't. One could see that purpose gleam in his eyes and that's what won the fight."
Although she changed her mind about radio, her comment in 1926 deserves inclusion in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations: "To broadcast is like making love to a wall. One misses the personal touch."
Bob Zuppke, football coach at the University of Illinois, put down a critic who claimed all his star player Red Grange could do was run, by saying: "All Galli-Curci can do is sing."
Resenting her rival, soprano Nellie Melba, who was nearing the end of her career, said of Galli-Curci: "That woman sings either flat or sharp. She has never been able to sing." No novice at delivering insults, Galli-Curci retorted: "When she (Melba) has finished singing 'Lo hear the gentle lark,' you would think you had been listening to a turkey."
As the 20's waned, Galli-Curci's vocal difficulties increased. The first warning came in January 1928 at Charleston, West Virginia, when laryngitis forced her to cancel a concert. Her public treated her kindly. They enjoyed her singing, even when it came from the slopes rather than the summit of Parnassus.
For singers who love singing, it is hard to give up what they have spent years perfecting. Sometimes, as in the case of Madame Schumann-Heink (1861-1936), they are compelled to go on singing because of financial setbacks. Like so many before and after her, Galli-Curci was forced to accept the inevitable. She struggled against the signs. A successful tour of the Far East for four months in 1929 bolstered her hopes. Audiences in Manila, Shanghai and Tientsin consisted mostly of Americans and Europeans. Audiences in Japan consisted mostly of Japanese, an indication of the role Western culture was playing in Japan at the time.
In comments to the press, Galli-Curci claimed the "pure" high octave music she sang was acceptable to her audiences because the spirit in which she sang overcame linguistic and technical obstacles. These arguments in favor of "pure" music were not persuasive enough to convince the person who made them. She began shifting away from the coloratura fireworks toward lighter songs in the lyric soprano range. She even talked of forsaking opera for musical comedy and spoke disparagingly of opera's make-believe and old-fashioned character
If Galli-Curci had doubts about opera, Gatti-Casazza, manager of the Metropolitan Opera, had doubts about her. By mutual agreement, she severed her connections with the Metropolitan after appearing in Brooklyn as Rosina in The Barber of Seville, January 14, 1930.
Having lost a number of investments in the stock market crash of 1929, she planned a European tour in 1930 to gain back her fortune. The tour was a fiasco. She wanted to sing songs in the "new" style, but audiences insisted she sing Gilda, Rosina and Violetta, the high-octave roles that had made her famous. A recurrence of laryngitis augmented the difficulties. Critics in Prague and Budapest derided her overrated talent.
Le Messena, her biographer, made the point that Central Europeans resented her because she was a rich American. But Messena to the contrary, the reception she received had little to do with nationalistic prejudice. She sang badly and her audiences knew it.
Aladar Toth, a Hungarian music critic, compared her singing in Budapest to "a great, very great violinist playing on a wreck of a fiddle with constantly sagging strings." Galli-Curci retorted that Hungarians "can only enjoy goulash with paprika and not French champagne."
A coloratura is like an acrobat on a steel wire. The public waits for her to reach the high notes and for the acrobat to do his tricks. When they fail, the public jeers. So they did in Prague and Budapest.
Galli-Curci retreated to "Sul Monte" for a summer of gardening, golf and reading. Restored and convinced she was on the right path, she embarked in October on a national tour during which she sang in small and smaller halls the bel-canto songs she considered suitable for her thin and thinner voice.
Despite her sagging pitch and strain in negotiating taxing passages, she continued to give tours from 1930 to 1935. She was in Great Britain in 1930, '31 and '34, in South Africa in 1932, '33 and '34, in Australia in 1933, in South America in 1934, and in the Far East in 1935. Audiences and some critics thought her singing was beautiful and her attention to texts was penetrating. Her personality was always engaging.
The concert Galli-Curci gave at the Savoy Theater in San Diego, March 26, 1934, showed her capabilities in the twilight of her career. Her maudlin lyrics, safely in the middle register, conveyed a kindly person, but no longer one who frolicked on the heights. "Where the Bee Sucks" (Arne), "Star Vecino" (Rosa), "The Second Minuet" (Besly), "May the Maiden" (Carpenter), and "Who'll Buy Me Lavender?" (German) were pleasantly sung and received. The "Shadow Song" from Dinorah by Meyerbeer, the "Tarantella" by Rossini, and "Pretty Mocking Bird" by Bishop, all transposed down, brought back memories of a time when she held her audiences spellbound by her aerial soarings.
Surgeons removed a six and one-half ounce goiter from her throat in Chicago on August 10, 1935. For fifteen years this growth had compressed her trachea, displaced her larynx, and restricted the passage of air. Alas, Galli-Curci's vocal range remained cramped. No matter how improved was her singing and breathing in private, she could not sing with the same confidence and strength in public. Her belief that she had somehow developed a dramatic soprano's voice and could sing Aida and Tosca was a pathetic delusion. Like a fire on the verge of going out, her voice hinted at its former brightness as it became progressively dimmer.
Her final performance, November 24, 1936, as Mimi in La Boheme by Puccini with the Chicago Opera, after a 12-year absence, was so bad a critic compared her singing to the singing at a puppet show at which a record of her voice in former years was played. "There were no rave notices when the great Galli-Curci sang at the Chicago Civic Opera the other week in which some writers said was her 'comeback.' The critics were gentle - but not too enthusiastic. There was more enthusiasm here about a puppet act at Lowes' State. This unheralded act stopped practically every show and the applause was thunderous. This was chiefly because of the leading lady puppet. Every time she sang the audience went wild. The ironic tag is that the voice behind the puppet was a Galli-Curci recording made many years ago; while the star in the flesh was being greeted coldly in Chicago, her voice on the disc, pulsating through the animated puppet, was scoring a tremendous success."
She had been living part-time at Palos Verdes in California since 1930. Desiring an inland location, she moved to Beverly Hills in 1935 and to Westwood in 1937, the same year she sold her "Sul Monte" estate in the Catskills. In 1949, seeking relief from the air pollution in the Los Angeles basin which exacerbated her husband's asthma, she moved to Rancho Santa Fe, north of San Diego.
After her husband's death in 1956, Kathryn Brown, a friend from Chicago, became Galli-Curci's companion in Rancho Santa Fe. While living in Southern California, Galli-Curci kept up her interest in opera by coaching would-be singers and by receiving visitors from her days as a prima donna. Two such visitors, soprano Joan Sutherland and her husband Richard Bonynge visited Galli-Curci in Rancho Santa Fe in 1961. After Sutherland told her hostess how the critics had "roasted" her for including the popular "Serenata" by Tosti on her program, Galli-Curci responded, "Never worry about critics. You just put on blinders like the 'orse and go straight ahead to your goal. And zen when you get there, take zem off." Sutherland later called her hostess "the most enchanting lady I ever met in my life, so full of vitality and personality - and so warm. So often one's idol does not meet one's expectations when the time comes. But we can in all honesty say Lita surpassed our dreams."
Suffering from the same respiratory condition that had afflicted her husband, Galli-Curci moved to a smaller version of her Rancho Santa Fe home in La Jolla in 1961 to be near medical facilities. All her California homes had been designed to resemble Tuscan villas.
San Diegans handled Galli-Curci with respect. Few attempted to commandeer her services or her money. She lived a quiet life with her piano, books, painting and memories. She treated others with grace and dignity and expected them to treat her the same. Her interest in the occult and her belief in a "Great Source" provided her with solace. She became friends with Paramahansa Yogananda, head of the Self Realization Fellowship in Encinitas, and read Daisetz Suzuki's books on Zen Buddhism. Handwriting analysis and palm reading diverted her in idle moments. Painting landscapes and still lives was a more serious occupation, as soprano Geraldine Farrar, her friend, pointed out in a letter: "What a gift and recreation you enjoy, to be able to paint - such another type of release into beauty and illusion."
Neighbors gathered near her home to listen as she played the piano and sang songs she had never sung on the stage, such as the "Suicidio!" from Ponchielli's La Gioconda. Galli-Curci regarded the pursuit of beauty as synonymous with the pursuit of truth. To find beauty she adopted the motto of the Bishop's School for Young Women in La Jolla: "Simplicity, Sincerity, Serenity."
Upon her death, November 26, 1963, her body was cremated and the ashes placed in Cypress View Mausoleum in San Diego. Ben Fletcher of La Jolla, a neighbor, became the executor of her estate. Galli-Curci's will provided that the bulk of her estate, valued at $285,000, be used to help music students. To this end, on July 17, 1961, she established an Amelita Galli-Curci Foundation. She left $3,000 to John Digrottle, a former employee, and her La Jolla home, valued at $85,000, her jewelry and personal effects to Mrs. Ben (Georgiana) Fletcher. The Metropolitan Opera Association got a portrait of the singer by Henrique Madena.
The San Diego Union mentioned Ripon College in Ripon, Wisconsin and Bishop's School in La Jolla as recipients of Galli-Curci's benefactions. Ripon College had awarded Galli-Curci an honorary degree in 1929. The Amelita Galli-Curci Foundation gave the college $300 in scholarship funds in October 1961 and $200 in March 1962, and nothing thereafter.
In 1961 Galli-Curci informed Bishop's School it was to receive $250,000 to build a concert hall, but this money was never delivered. The Amelita Galli-Curci Foundation was dissolved, December 21, 1989, following the death of executor Ben Fletcher the preceding year. The liquidation was accomplished by distributing $20,000 to the Friends of Bob Hope Cultural Center and $262,000 to the Francis W. Parker School in San Diego.
At the time of her death, Harold C. Schonberg, of the New York Times, wrote that Galli-Curci's records "show her to have been one of the most polished coloraturas ever to appear before the public."
It would be ridiculous to claim Galli-Curci was a Colossus among coloratura sopranos whose liquid notes, running passages, intensity and passion surpassed such distinguished coloraturas as Jenny Lind (1820-1887), Adelina Patti (1843-1919), Nellie Melba (1861-1931), Luisa Tetrazzini (1871-1940), Lily Pons (1898-1976), Joan Sutherland (1926- ), and Beverly Sills (1929- ). For one thing, we cannot verify, except by testimony, the skills of many of these singers. For another, every coloratura, no matter how good, has had limitations. For example, for technical as well as temperamental reasons, Galli-Curci never sang the Queen of the Night from The Magic Flute by Mozart, the ne plus ultra of coloratura roles.
Galli-Curci is not forgotten. In May 1972, critic Simon Trezise chose Galli-Curci as "best soprano" of the 20th century, bypassing such favorites as Mirella Freni, Cheryl Studer and Kiri Te Kanawa. Part of the fascination with Galli-Curci rests on the light, agile and ravishing tone of her voice, first recognized by Italian composer Pietro Mascagni. Listening to recordings of Galli-Curci in her prime confirms the view that her voice was special. Her effortless turns, leaps and runs, her ability to hold and to float high notes, her wide and even range, and the purity of her sounds are so magnificent they seem to come from the "Great Source" in whom she so passionately believed. "Art that reflects externals," she once wrote, "is not for us who live in a world of melody." The voice could be that of an angel, or, as critics said so often, of a nightingale pouring forth its soul in ecstasy from an internal world of beauty of small concern to people who spend their lives getting and spending in the external world.
As Izaak Walton wrote in praise of nightingales in The Compleat Angler (1653), "Lord what music has thou provided for the Saints in Heaven when thou affordest bad men such musick on Earth."