Grigore Constantinescu

Lucia Bercescu-Ţurcanu's Centenary


        When in 1992, at the concert studio of the Romanian Radio Broadcasting Systems, we invited the great soprano Lucia Bercescu Ţurcanu, to offer her the Prize for “A life dedicated to art”, on behalf of the “Mihail Jora” Union of Romanian Music Critics, after she received the award, she turned towards the audience and with her clear voice, that had attained brilliant triumphs in the lyrical world, simply said: “I am grateful that you haven’t forgotten me.”
         To refresh our memory, the end of March has a symbolical meaning, against the shadows of forgetfulness, since the 27th of March marks the centenary of this superb voice that brought glory to Romanian art all over the world. Nevertheless, the landmarks of this century need to be remembered, even in the shape of a review. In the large Bercescu family from Bucharest, two girls, Olga and Lucia, out of five children, were gifted exceptional voices. But their destinies were different.

         Olga, a voice that promised a great career, after a much-appreciated beginning, didn’t fulfill her future, at the level of a true rise to fame. However, Lucia became a legend, climbing the steps towards world glory. At the recommendation of her older sister, Lucia auditioned and, to everybody’s surprise, she was accepted, after a short period of preparation, into the Royal Academy of Music in Bucharest, under the guidance of professors Mihail Vulpescu and Elena Saghin. She didn’t know that she was lining up alongside other famous figures of our lyrical history, from Elena Teodorini to Hariclea Darclée and Florica Cristoforeanu.
         In 1939, her debut on the stage of the Bucharest Opera, as Marguerite in Gonoud’s Faust, with Mihail Ştirbei, Edgar Istratty si Constantin Teodorian, is acknowledged by a journalistfrom Universul as “a revelation… a new and precious talent”. After this show, she will be immediately hired as lead singer of the Opera by the director of the Theatre, conductor George Georgescu. The premiere of Alexandru Lăpuşneanu by Al. Zirra followed, with her as Lady Ruxandra, of which Mihail Jora wrote in Timpul: “We have anxiously listened to the most beautiful voice that we have ever heard at the Romanian Opera”. The soprano’s partner, baritone Petre Ştefănescu Goangă, will also declare: “Lucia Bercescu, the most beautiful voice after Darclée…”. The first Romanian lyrical stage is witness to other prestigious debuts such as the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart, Eva in The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, Elsa in Wagner’s Lohengrin, Agathe in Der Freischütz by Weber, Madame Butterfly, Tosca by Puccini, La Juive by Halévy, Aida, La Traviata by Verdi (the last show she presented as an employee of the Romanian Opera). During this seven year period, the soprano performed several vocal concerts at the Romanian Athenaeum, opera shows in Zagreb, Belgrad, Danzig and Budapest and toured with the Bucharest Theatre in Transylvania and Budapest. Of all the famous artists she sang with, we would mention soprano Maria Cebotari in The Marriage of Figaro and Danish tenor Helge Rosswange in Tosca.
         The year 1942 marks the beginning of her international career, being the only one selected out of fifteen sopranos, in an audition at the Viennese Volksoper, for the role of Aida, performed in German. The opening of the Viennese theatre season is conducted by George Georgescu, with a Romanian cast, that includes, besides Lucia Bercescu Ţurcanu, tenor Dinu Bădescu and baritone Şerban Tassian. The review published in Neuihkeiter Welt Blat comments: “The debut of Lucia Bercescu was a sensational discovery. One talks about her as a new Jeritza. Her voice, even in the highest pitch, has a graceful timbre, possessing an effective elasticity, which brightly lights up all the orchestral splendors, both in the Nile aria as well as in the grand finale.” In her recollections, the artist mentions that the great aria of Aida was “tricked” in the series of Viennese shows.
         A five year contract follows, with shows performed alternatively with the Bucharest Opera, a true tour de force for the young soloist. On the same stage, she sings The Troubadour by Verdi, Tosca by Puccini, Lohengrin by Wagner. She then decides, after obtaining a leave, to attend master classes in Milan. She auditions for conductor Tulio Serafin, who decides her faith. On the 26th of December 1946, the new season at Teatro alla Scala in Milan is opened, under the brilliant conductorship of Tulio Serafin, with the premiere of Nabuco, Lucia Bercescu performing as Abigaille, alongside Gino Bechi, Cesare Siepi and Fedora Barbieri. Eight shows will follow on the same stage, La Gioconda and Turandot.
         During the three seasons at Scala, the artist also sings in Aida (partener Mario del Monaco), Tosca (with Benjamino Gligli) at Terme di Caracalla in Rome and at Cagliari, Faust at San Carlo in Naples, The Troubadour at Palermo, The Masked Ball in Bologna, touring in Turin, Padua, Cremona, Modena, Ravenna, Spoleto, Trieste, Sicily and Lausanne. After signing some promising contracts she goes to USA, for a contract with the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1949. She makes her debut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York with Aida, then she performs Turandot and Cavalleria rusticana at the City Center Opera, Tosca in Venezuela (partner Ferruccio Tagliavini), Aida in San Salvador and Guatemala, she replaces Stella Roman in La Gioconda (partner Richard Tucker) and Aida at Philadelphia La Scala Opera Company. The last years spent in America will be dedicated to teaching in Detroit.
After several interventions, Lucia Bercescu and her husband, conductor Constantin Ţurcanu, who conducted many shows performed by the artist, return to Romania. She will be forced to accept the humiliation of an audition at the Opera in Bucharest, in order to be given the right to sing once again on the Romanian stage. She is thus scheduled for several shows: Tosca (partners Petre Ştefănescu Goangă, Ion Piso), The Mastersingers of Nuremberg (with German baritone Hajo Muller and Octavian Naghiu), The Troubadour (partners Micaela Botez, Nicolae Martinoiu). In 1965 she is invited to the Romanian Opera in Cluj with Aida, Tosca and Madame Butterfly and at the Opera in Iaşi with Tosca and Aida. She performs in shows and vocal-symphonic concerts in Craiova, Cluj, Iaşi, Bacău, Sibiu, Oradea.
         Listening to her at a concert held at the Romanian Athenaeum, together with pianist Martha Joja, tenor Emil Marinescu confesses in his book on “The World of Opera”: “…Lucia Bercescu’s voice still amazes the listener through its unfaltering freshness and brilliance”. Thus, numerous radio and live recordings are justified, that constitute the only record of arias and lieder sang by Lucia Bercescu, at the Radio Broadcasting Systems. Of the young voices that benefited from the guidance of the artist, sopranos Lucia Ţibuleac and Cleopatra Melidoneanu will be noted for their careers. The memory of this centurial artist remains, after her passing away in 1995, the image of a destiny that bestowed upon her a grand lyrical career, in times troubled by a dramatic world conflagration and social shifts, under the sign of glory that places her in the company of those who wrote, through melody, all over the world, the history of Romanian vocal lyric.

(English Version by Simina Neagu)