Gencer's Italian debut was in 1953 at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples. The role was again as Santuzza. She appeared in Naples in 1954, in both Eugene Onegin and Madama Butterfly. In 1957, she made her big La Scala debut, in the world premiere of Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmelites. From that point forward, she was in demand, and she began to sing abroad. Italy—and specifically La Scala, was clearly her artistic home, where she was adored and given many important roles. While she did sing in many foreign cities and venues, including in the United States, she did not appear at the Met, for some reason. Gencer's biography, especially from an American point of view, could be called exotic, and it may be the case that many of her decisions about appropriate foreign engagements were determined by convictions both personal and artistic. This is not always the case, in a business where managements often make almost all career decisions for their artists.
Throughout her career, Gencer was especially renowned as a Donizetti interpreter, although she sang many, many different operas. He repertoire was enormous, exceeding 70 roles!! She was additionally a researcher and teacher, and responsible for re-introducing many works from the Romantic period. Like her mentor and teacher, Giannina Arangi-Lomardi (q.v. in Great Opera Singers) Gencer's singing was characterized by great control and elegance. There was plenty of power in her voice, but one always has the feeling that there is so much more in reserve. This sense of restraint gave great credibility to her vocal presentations and always suggests refinement. The great tenor Gigli once said that he sang through most of his songs and arias quite lightly most of the time because basically, it was loud enough, and he saved the big sound for the ending. This common-sense approach to vocalism gave him great durability and an extremely long career. There is something of that in Gencer also. The power is there when she wants it, and it seems that it is always there, in reserve, even when she is not using it. Others have done this, but it is, to my ear at least, more pronounced in Gencer. In any case, the effect is magical. One other quality is noteworthy, and that is the very unusual glottal attacks in her singing, for which she became somewhat well-known, for better of for worse. This is certainly not recommended by Western voice teachers, but seeminglhy natural for her, I suspect it is a habit formed from speaking Turkish. Here is a wonderful "Deh, non volerli vittime," from Norma:
Do you see what I mean about the intense—even smoldering—voice that somehow suggests restraint; that there is an explosion waiting to happen, whether it actually does or not? It's not that it is not there—you can certainly hear the dramatic high voice in the B natural that jumps out around 1:40.
Here is another good example of what can be accomplished by the intelligent use of vocal dynamics. I call your attention to the final note of this aria, which starts with a controlled and covered piano, and develops into a mezzo forte at the end. This is a classic artistic singing device which, properly used, can be counted upon to have its desired effect on the audience. The aria is "Addio del passato," from La Traviata:
Extremely moving! There are not a large number of Gencer videos on Youtube, because she made few commercial recordings. Usually, they are excerpts from actual performance, of varying quality. I suggest, for the interested reader, having a look at the O Patria Mia and the Un Bel Dì. Gencer's vocal technique, coupled with her admirable sense of restraint, elegance and dignity, are all exemplary, and absolutely worthy of study.