When Claudia Pinza sang the role of Violetta in Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia on January 23, 1947, noted tenor-turned-music critic Max de Schauensee wrote in the Evening Bulletin of Philadelphia that she could “conduct a vocal line in the highest traditions of the bel canto art.” He took eight paragraphs to extoll the compelling beauty of the soprano’s warm and expressive voice, her stage presence, and her convincing acting before moving on to a brief critique of the other singers in the opera. He was clearly smitten.
As dramatic as Ms. Pinza’s performance must have been that night, it could not have surpassed the drama of her unexpected entrance into the world 21 years earlier, on July 27, 1925. Her mother, Augusta Cassinelli had traveled to Buenos Aries with her husband, Ezio Pinza, not knowing she was nearly nine months pregnant until she was rushed to the hospital in severe pain. It was only after treating the pain that the doctors realized Augusta’s real emergency; but the medication also halted the contractions, and the life of Augusta and her unborn infant were in imminent danger. The drama ended safely for both, and Augusta’s only child was baptized Dominga (for Domingo, the doctor who saved the precious lives of both mother and infant) Claudia (for her godmother, Claudia Muzio) Tullia (for her godfather Tullio Serafin) Pinza—before conductor and cast rushed off to perform that evening’s Aida at the Teatro Colón.
It was Claudia’s mother, Augusta, an accomplished pianist, who was the master teacher of Ezio Pinza. Ezio started with only two or three resonant notes in his voice, and under Augusta’s diligent instruction he extended his vocal range note by note in both directions. Augusta’s only other students were her brothers, Antonio and Costantino Cassinelli, and her daughter, now known by her second given name, Claudia. This process and method resulted in vocal production that was even from top to bottom, never forced; and is familiar to Claudia’s students generations later.
Father and daughter were separated during the war, so he was unaware that Claudia was becoming a serious singer in her own right. Her operatic debut was in the role of Amore in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, at Teatro alla Scala, Milan. She was 18 years old.
Claudia traveled to United States in 1947 for performances with the Philadelphia La Scala Opera Company (predecessor to the current Philadelphia Opera Company), both on tour and at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. Daily coaching sessions in Italy with Antonino Votto prepared her for the role of Mimi in La bohéme, which she sang with the Philadelphia La Scala Opera Company, in October 1947. Her debut with the Metropolitan Opera Company came on November 18, 1947, as Micaëla in Carmen, with mezzo-soprano Risë Stevens, tenor Ramon Vinay, and baritone Martial Singher. Two weeks later she sang her first Mimi at the Met with Jan Peerce as her Rodolfo. Her career continued with appearances with major opera companies and regional opera houses throughout the United States.
In 1954 on a visit to Italy, Claudia met Rolando Bozzolla, and, embracing an unknown future, made the difficult decision to leave her burgeoning American career and her American family for a new life in Italy. For the next 63 years Claudia and Rolando were inseparable. In 1969 they moved from Bologna to Bellevue with their sons Samuele and Simone, to accommodate the medical needs of Simone, their younger son. Shortly after their arrival, Claudia began her long association with Duquesne University as founder of the Duquesne University Opera Workshop and voice teacher, where she was stage director for many opera productions. Among them was a production of L’elisir d’amore with Ulises Espaillat and Daria Kissel. In 1979 she joined the music faculty at the University of Pittsburgh, where she taught voice and directed a memorable fully-staged production of Cavalli’s L’ormindo, starring Guy Russo and Anna Maria Silvestri, with orchestra conducted by Don Franklin, and stage design by Angelo Bozzolla. Concert performances of other operas included Don Giovanni, and Marriage of Figaro in English translations by Andrew Porter, who came to Pittsburgh to view the production.
Claudia Pinza became widely known throughout Western Pennsylvania as the host of Opera with Claudia, a weekely radio program on WDUQ-FM, produced at first by Riccardo Schulz, and later by her husband, Rolando Bozzolla. Opera with Claudia, sponsored by the Gulf Oil Foundation, became the longest-running locally-produced radio program in the history of Pittsburgh public radio. The program featured up-to-date opera news and intrigue and interviews with many of the singers featured on the recordings. Between acts, Claudia might give her listeners a recipe for pollo limone (lemon chicken) by Luciano Pavarotti (“Don’t forget the lemon”), a dinner at Mirella Freni’s apartment in New York (“She washed all the dishes herself, even the pans and pots”), and news of a phone call from Rosa Ponselle, her godmother for Confirmation.
In addition to Opera with Claudia, there was also a 13-part radio series on the classical music radio station, WQED-FM, also sponsored by the Gulf Oil Foundation. These one-hour programs featured taped interviews with Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Anna Moffo, Mirella Freni, Giuseppe di Sefano, Claudio Abbado, and others. One feature of these programs was Claudia’s personal assessment of the featured artist. One famous baritone was described as having “a wonderful voice—but modesty is not his virtue.”
Not to be forgottten are the memorable artists that Claudia and Rolando brought to perform in Pittsburgh: Luciano Pavarotti for two recitals with piano at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland, dating from the beginning of his international fame (1976) and a second one in 1979; Mirella Freni in 1980, in conjunction with the Y-Music Society; Carlo Bergonzi, sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh Music Department; violinist Salvatore Accardo; soprano Youngok Shin at the Byham; bass Michele Pertusi at Pittsburgh Opera in the Strip; and Sutherland and Pavarotti in a joint concert with orchestra conducted by Richard Bonynge, at Heinz Hall in 1982. There was also a live-television production with actors Charita Bauer and Christopher Bernau (from the CBS television series The Guiding Light). The production included an early music ensemble conducted by Colin Sterne and dramatic readings describing scenes of a recent devastating earthquake in Italy, translated from Italian by Carla Lucente, and adapted for this production by Pittsburgh writer and actress Susan Chapek.
In 1983 Claudia launched the inaugural season of EPCASO—the Ezio Pinza Council for American Singers of Opera—which continued for the next 35 years. The 5-week program in Italy, for aspiring opera singers, was modeled after the intense instruction Claudia herself received as a young singer in Italy: lessons and coachings—not once a week, but every day. Many EPCASO graduates have appeared in Pittsburgh Opera productions, including Ulises Espaillat, Kevin Glavin, Oren Gradus, Richard Bernstein, Vivica Genaux, Ann Panagulias, Paula Delligatti, Sebastian Catana, Anna Singer, Dong-Jian Gong, Marianne Cornetti, Jeff Mattsey, and Suzanna Guzmán. Other EPCASO graduates include tenor Arturo Martín, now singing in Germany; sopranos Youngok Shin, Diba Alvi, Demarius Cooper, Angela Brown, Charlene Canty, Ailyn Pérez, and Alianna Whiteaker-Chudecke; and award-winning counter-tenor Andrey Nemzer. Another EPCASO graduate, Rema Webb, is a successful jazz and Broadway singer and actress. In addition to the singers, a young Pittsburgh native, Christopher Franklin, attended EPCASO one summer and became the assistant to maestro Maurizio Arena; Franklin now has an active career in Italy and throughout Europe and the Americas.
For many years the EPCASO program provided language instruction with Rosetta Bassi, vocal coaching with pianists Enza Ferrari, Mary Jane Austin, and Gianni Cappelletto; stage direction with Graziella Sciutti, Paolo Trevisi, and Renato Capecchi; and master classes with Maurizio Arena and Maria Chiara.
Claudia and Rolando’s son Simone attended EPCASO concerts for all of those 35 years and became friends with the students and many opera singers. Simone also had audiences with three popes—Paul VI in 1965, John Paul II in 1995, and Benedict XVI in 2007.
Still actively teaching in July, Claudia Pinza died at the age of 92 on August 3, 2017, following complications from a series of strokes. She is survived by her husband, Rolando Bozzolla, her sons Simone and Samuele, and daughter-in-law Nathalie Campanile, all of Bellevue; two children from a previous marriage, John Hall Boller, Jr., and Marina Boller Jones, her brother-in-law Romano Bozzolla of Urbino, Italy; and her aunt, Maria Chiara, of Oderzo, Italy; and numerous cousins. Her legacy lives on through her devoted family and friends, and her many students. - Riccardo Schulz
Riccardo Schulz is a recording engineer and Teaching Professor at the Carnegie Mellon School of Music; he has recorded every Pittsburgh Opera production since 1988, and was the USA co-ordinator for EPCASO from 1985 to 1992.