The mezzo soprano, Elena Nicolai, was born on 24 January 1905 in Cerevo under the name Elena Stoianka Nikolova. She graduated from the American College in Simeonovo and began vocal studies with Ivan Vulpe. When she was not accepted at the State Academy of Music because she never learned to play the piano, she joined her brother in America and began studies in Philosophy.
When her vocal abilities became evident she was urged to go to Italy for vocal studies, and there in Milan she won first prize in a vocal competition. After an unsuccessful debut as Maddalena in Rigoletto under her name of birth she continued vocal studies. Her real debut in 1938 in Naples was successful as Annina in Der Rosenkavalier, this time under the name Elena Nicolai.
Following her 1941 debut at La Scala as the Principessa in Adriana Lecouvreur she became a regular performer on the opera stages of Italy for the next twenty years. In 1963 her farewell at La Scala was as the Witch in Hansel and Gretel. Her career at the Arena di Verona lasted eight years, from 1946 until 1954, Additional international appearances took her to Switzerland, Paris, South America, Spain and Egypt.
Elena Nicolai returned to Bulgaria in 1942, 1956, 1960 and 1961 where she gave a total of 16 performances of Il Trovatore, Aida and Don Carlo with the Sofia National Opera. In addition to the roles of Azucena, Amneris, Eboli, Laura in La Gioconda, the Principessa and Orpheus she was famous for her concert and oratorio singing, especially in the Baroque composers.
Elena Nicolai died in Milan on 28 October 1993.
Mascagni: Cavalleria Rusticana Voi lo sapete
Verdi: Don Carlo O don fatale
We are pleased to present her here in excerpts of Il trovatore and Aida