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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 7, No. 3

Pasta Tetrazzini

by Lucie Renaud / November 1, 2001

Version française...

The recipe (serves 4)

  • 15 ml (1 tablespoon) butter
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 finely chopped cloves of garlic
  • 750 ml (3 cups) sliced mushrooms
  • 1/2 teaspoon each of salt, pepper, dried thyme
    and aromatic herbs
  • a pinch of Cayenne pepper
  • 50 ml (1/4 cup) flour
  • 500 ml (2 cups) milk
  • 375 ml (1 1/2 cups) chicken broth
  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) white wine or Sauternes
    (if you can afford it)
  • 400 g short pasta (rotini, broad egg noodles, etc.)
  • 1 l (4 cups) cooked chicken (turkey, veal or ham)
    cut up into small pieces
  • a few teaspoons of fresh chopped parsley
  • 50 ml (1/4 cup) grated Parmesan (or more)
  • Garnish (Optional)

  • 15 ml (1 tablespoon) of butter
  • 1 finely chopped clove of garlic
  • 250 ml (1 cup) of bread crumbs
  • 25 ml (2 tablespoons) fresh chopped parsley
  • 25 ml (2 tablespoons) almonds or chopped
    pecan nuts
  • 25 ml (2 tablespoons) Parmesan
  • In a thick-bottomed saucepan, melt 1 soupspoon of butter. Fry the two garlic cloves and the
    onion in it until they become soft, but not brown. Incorporate the mushrooms and the spices
    until the mushrooms release their water, which takes a few minutes. (As a variation of this recipe
    add the mushrooms at the end of the process if you want them to be a little crisper.) Add flour
    and cook for 1 minute stirring without allowing it to turn brown. Using a whisk, gradually
    incorporate the milk, the broth and the wine until all the lumps are gone. Continue the cooking
    stirring until the sauce thickens and comes to a boil. Do not let it boil.

    Meanwhile cook the pasta “al dente”. Drain and add it to the sauce along with the chicken,
    parsley and Parmesan. Pour into a casserole.

    Garnish: in a small frying pan melt the butter at low heat. Brown the garlic. Add the
    breadcrumbs, parsley and Parmesan. Mix well. Spread over the casserole.

    Cook in the oven at 180°C (375°F) for 30 minutes until the sauce starts bubbling
    and the breadcrumbs become golden brown.

    The Diva

    Luisa Tetrazzini was born in Florence in 1871. Legend has it that she started singing at the age of three and that her sister Eva, also a soprano, taught her everything she knew. Luisa had her debut at the age of 19 in the role of Inez in Meyerbeer’s Africana, at the Theatro Pagliano in Florence. A number of stories are going around regarding this famous premiere. They say that Luisa was sitting in the audience that night when it was announced that the prima donna was indisposed. She got up and said: “Don’t despair maestro, I know the part by heart. I’ll sing it!” More realistically, Charles Neilson Gattey, author of the biography entitled Luisa Tetrazzini: The Florentine Nightingale, wrote that Luisa who was then married to Giuseppe Scalaberni, the manager of the theatre building, would slip backstage to attend all the rehearsals, memorising the part. When the soprano announced she was sick, she was ready to take her place. But it doesn’t matter how it happened. That night Luisa received a huge ovation that launched her career.

    From 1891 to 1906 she sang in Italy, Eastern Europe, South America, Spain and Mexico. In 1907, following a number of intrigues she managed the tour de force of singing the role of Violetta (La Traviata) at Covent Garden, while the reigning diva was on tour outside the country. Tetrazzini returned to Covent Garden every year from 1908-1912.

    Numerous legal battles punctuated her career. The management at New York’s Metropolitan made a serious mistake by not reading her contract closely and she quietly went off to Oskar Hammerstein I’s Manhattan Opera, to sing Lakmé, Dinorah and Elvira (I Puritani). Luisa Tetrazzini finally sang 8 times at the met during the 1911-1912 season in the roles of Lucia, Guilda and Violetta. In 1910 an argument broke out when banker Otto Khan helped the Met buy back Hammerstein’s contract. The diva “ran off” to San Francisco not heeding the injunction and feeding the gossip of the local papers. She told the press that she was prepared to sing in the street if it came to that. True to her word, Tetrazzini sang before a delighted crowd estimated at over 200,000 people on Christmas Eve 1910, in front of the San Francisco Chronicle Building.

    Critics at the time often praised her acting talents as well as her exceptional voice. The diva had quite a reputation for the ease with which she interpreted the coloratura parts and for the high bright register of her voice. Until the end of her career she could still easily sing a high E even if the rest of her register had somewhat deteriorated. She sang until 1934 to generate revenue, which her numerous ex-husbands were quick to dilapidate. She died in 1940 in a state of utter poverty. She is reported to have said a short time before her death, “I am old, I am fat, I am ugly but I remain Tetrazzini!”

    A number of the diva’s recordings are available on CD, such as a 3-CD EMI pack Luisa Tetrazzini: The London Recordings. The diva also published an autobiography in 1921: Tetrazzini on the Art of Singing.

    [Translated by Alexandre Lebedeff]

    Version française...

    (c) La Scena Musicale