Italian opera star Mirella Freni dies at 84

Italian soprano Mirella Freni (pictured in 2010) shared a wet nurse with childhood friend and fellow opera star Luciano Pavarotti and was also his partner on stage

One of the great stars of Italian opera Mirella Freni, who as an infant shared a wet nurse with Luciano Pavarotti, died Sunday at the age of 84 following a long illness, media reports said.

Born in 1935 in the northern town of Modena, Freni was a childhood friend of tenor Pavarotti and was also his partner on stage.

As infants they were looked after by the same woman as their mothers worked at the same tobacco factory and were unable to breastfeed them.

In a career that spanned five decades, Freni particularly shone in Italian opera and was famed for her roles as Mimi in Puccini’s “La Boheme” and Desdemona in Verdi’s “Otello”.

She was also a favourite of legendary conductor Herbert von Karajan.

Aside from her live performances, Freni also starred with Placido Domingo in the 1975 film “Madama Butterfly” with von Karajan acting as musical director.

The announcement of her death sparked an outpouring of tributes from the music world and opera fans.

Freni (R, with Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballe, L, and French conductor Alain Lombard in 1977) was particularly known for her roles as Mimi and Desdemona

“Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra family join the music world in mourning the loss of legendary soprano Mirella Freni,” Chicago Symphony Orchestra said on Twitter.

“RIP Mirella Freni … one of the greatest sopranos of all time,” French baritone David Serero tweeted.

Freni in 1978 married for a second time to Bulgarian bass singer Nicolai Ghiaurov, who motivated her to launch into the Russian repertoire.

She bade farewell to the stage at the Washington National Opera in 2005 in “The Maid of Orleans”, playing the young girl’s role at the age of 70.

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