Emma Renzi - A Tribute
I wonder how many bells start to ring if I say ‘Emmerentia Scheepers’. She sang for some years with the English Opera Group, most notably as the Governess in The Turn of the Screw, replacing the eternally irreplaceable Jennifer Vyvyan. ‘Emmerentia’ then modulated into ‘Emma Renzi’ and though lost to view over here she reappeared in Italy with this new name and a new voice to match. That voice is heard now in some impressive recordings, starting with the great aria from Act 3 of Un ballo in maschera, for which the standard was set many years ago by Elisabeth Rethberg. The disc is called ‘A Tribute’, and perhaps as a further tribute it may be added that her singing here brought Rethberg to mind more than once.
Some of these recordings were made in her native South Africa, others in Milan, where her career reached a somewhat bizarre climax in 1976. For the important performance at La Scala of Turandot on the 50th anniversary of its premiere Birgit Nilsson had first been engaged, then Montserrat Caballe was to be substituted; but on the night Caballe took ill and Renzi stepped in, Zubin Mehta having addressed a deeply disgruntled audience in the interval before Act 2. Their ugly mood soon broke out again, though not at Renzi’s expense: the tenor, Gianfranco Cecchele, omitted the optional top C at ‘ti voglio ardente d’amor’ and to the hisses shouted ‘E scritto da Puccini’ (or ‘Puccini wrote it’). The recording preserves this edifying interchange very clearly, Cecchele’s retort coming so promptly as to sound like part of the show. For Renzi one can have nothing but admiration. Her voice has lost some of its glow (she was the same age as the opera), but it is firm, strong and effectively used.
In her prime, as in the Forza aria of 1968 and the very testing one from Catalani’s Loreley made in 1971, she was clearly an artist of some distinction. She also shows herself a fine Aida in an excerpt from the opening night of Cape Town’s opera house, and to have preserved her voice well into her mid-fifties. The tribute is richly deserved.'