• 1905 — 1979
Often appears with
Regarded by many as having had the most beautiful spinto soprano between the primes of Claudia Muzio and Renata Tebaldi, Maria Caniglia was chosen to record a number of major soprano roles, several of them with Beniamino Gigli. Her generous temperament sometimes led her to dramatic overemphasis and her technique sometimes failed her in the topmost register, but she was always a vivid presence, always committed to giving her all in performance. When Tebaldi and Callas divided La Scala audiences, Caniglia became the Prima donna Assoluta in Rome.
Born to a family from the province of Abruzzi, Caniglia studied at the Naples Conservatory with Agostino Roche, a famous pedagogue who trained many artists, notably mezzo soprano Ebe Stignani, with whom Caniglia would perform and record often. Roche believed that the young soprano was destined for more than lyric roles and, accordingly, trained her to sing the spinto repertory. In 1929, Caniglia was dispatched to La Scala to audition for three prominent conductors: Ettore Panizza, Carlo del Campo, and Gino Marinuzzi. The opinion of each was that she should return in a half-year's time to present a more lyric repertory. At that time, she was engaged, but ironically, from the beginning was given more spinto roles than lyric. Her debut, however, took place in 1930 at Turin's Teatro Regio, where the soprano had already been engaged for a production of Elektra. Singing Chrysothemis to the Elektra of Giulia Tess, she enjoyed a success, but felt overwhelmed by the power of her colleague's performance. When her La Scala contract began in 1931, Caniglia found that she had been assigned only one role, that of Maria in Ildebrando Pizzetti's Lo straniero with the composer conducting. In the aftermath of her performances, she found that she had been scheduled for other productions for the duration of the season. Her next assignment was the premiere of Italo Montemezzi's La notte di Zoraima, a work whose popularity prompted the scheduling of a second run of performances the following year. Several cancellations pushed Caniglia further into the spotlight as she took over leading roles in Mascagni's La maschere and in Wagner's Fliegende Holländer. Her success in the latter opera led to other assignments in the lighter Wagnerian repertory, culminating later in Sieglinde. During her La Scala years, Caniglia sang with the leading Italian conductors of the day, maestri such as Santini, de Sabata, Serafin, Panizza, Ghione, Gui, Marinuzzi, and Guarnieri. As Toscanini had already left the company, she had to wait until her performances as Alice Ford at Salzburg to sing under his direction. In 1951, Caniglia left La Scala, feeling that the discipline that had made it a great company in the 1930s and 1940s had eroded. She subsequently became the leading spinto/dramatic soprano at the Rome Opera. Meanwhile, Caniglia had also enjoyed successes in London, New York, Barcelona, and the theaters in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. During Covent Garden's 1937 season, critics objected somewhat to Caniglia's unevenness of voice in Tosca, but found her Alice Ford sprightly and full of youthful vigor. New York heard her for only one season following her November 21, 1938, debut as Desdemona. The Italian government's confiscation of artists' passports denied her services to both London and America. Among Caniglia's recordings, Tosca and La forza del destino represent her at her estimable best.