Besanzoni, Gabriella

Italian mezzo-soprano, 1888 - 1962

Biographical notes:

Gabriella Besanzoni studied at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome where she was taught by Alessandro Maggi and Ibilda Brizzi. She made her debut at Viterbo in 1911 as Adalgisa. Because of her expansive middle register and rich low tones she decided to restudy and appeared as a mezzo-soprano at the Teatro Costanzi Rome in 1913 (Ulrica). She was very successful at La Scala, as Orfeo and Amneris, and in 1932 as Carmen and Mignon. In the 1910s and ‘20s Besanzoni was a star of the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires and other South American opera houses. Her roles included Dalila, Carmen, Amneris, Lola, La Cieca, Preziosilla, Marina, Leonora in La Favorita, Mignon, Adalgisa, Isabella in L’Italiana in Algeri, not to forget the roles in the first performances of Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini and Marinuzzi’s Jacquerie. She returned to sing at the Colón until 1935. The artist also appeared at the Met opposite Caruso in the season 1919/20, but she was not successful. She also made guest appearances at the opera houses of Chicago, Havana and Berlin. Carmen was the role that brought her fame and it was this part she chose for her farewell performance at the Terme di Caracalle in Rome (1939). After her retirement she dedicated herself to teaching.






Bizet - Carmen (Sabajno 1931/Pauli, E. Besanzoni, Carbone)


Casa Sonzogno - A Historical Vocal Portrait


Il “Carlo Felice” di Genova Vol. 3


The Great Mezzo-Sopranos - The Italian School 1902 - 1930


Mike Richter’s Opera Page: The Record of Singing Vol. 2




According to his biography, the great pianist Artur Rubinstein was more than attracted by her...



She recorded seven outstanding sides of 78s in the years 1920/21 (American Victor Company). In 1932 she recorded some scenes from Carmen. Her brother Ernesto Besanzoni (1894 - 1969) was Escamillo.

Gabriella Besanzoni is one of the most eminent mezzo-sopranos to be heard on records. Hers is a full-toned and smoothly produced voice. In my opinion, there is but one Italian mezzo being her equal, namely Ebe Stignani.


A portrait by Herman Mishkin

She has a rich low register, a secure middle and a brilliant top register which seems to be short on records very rarely. What I particularly like is not only the beauty of her voice but also its velvety quality. She is one of very few Italian mezzo-sopranos who are able to sing with flexibility, and she can be very charming. Listen to her Carmen! In her interpretation Carmen is an Italian-like “femme fatale” but still it is a subtle portrait. There is a lot of delicacy and grace in her singing what is so essential for this character. You will not find the primitive effects we have to get used to hear on most of the recordings during the past 40 years.

 Habanera in Italian (Title role in Carmen / Bizet / HMV 1931)


As Mignon (?)


Gabriella Besanzoni and Charles Hackett in Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algeri”