Standing apart from other lyric sopranos of her day, Lucrezia Bori was a superb interpretive artist, adept at using the oboe-like timbre of her modest-sized voice to create interpretations of rare pathos. While not conventionally beautiful, she bewitched her audiences into believing her to be a creature of extraordinary allure. Her ability to disguise a somewhat ordinary figure with immaculately cut costumes is borne out by numerous photographs taken of her during her prime years. She survived the onset of nodes on her vocal cords, retiring and allowing a period of absolute silence to afford the healing that enabled her to return for an additional decade and a half of singing. Upon her retirement, she devoted herself to working on behalf of her beloved Metropolitan Opera, first as a board member, later as a director of the Metropolitan Opera Association where she remained until her death.
First educated at a convent in her native city, Bori (born Borja) began her vocal training at the Valencia Conservatory and later pursued advanced studies with Melchiorre Vidal in Milan. Her debut took place at Rome's Teatro Adriano as Micaëla in 1908. She subsequently sang Nedda at two other theaters and undertook Butterfly in Naples. When the Metropolitan Opera visited Paris in 1910, Bori was recommended as a replacement for an ailing Lina Cavalieri in Manon Lescaut and was approved by an audition panel consisting of Puccini, Toscanini, and Metropolitan manager Gatti-Casazza. With Toscanini conducting and Caruso as her Des Grieux, Bori's triumph was complete, and the New York company sought her immediate engagement. Earlier success, however, had led to an engagement at La Scala for the next year, and she sang a variety of lyric roles, performing Octavian in the Italian premiere of Rosenkavalier as well as the Goose Girl in the first Italian performance of Humperdinck's Königskinder (both under Tullio Serafin's baton).
Bori finally arrived in New York where her November 11, 1912, debut came in the role of her Paris success, Puccini's Manon. Although some critics felt her voice was somewhat restricted in size and color, Bori soon won her way with both the writers and audiences. She became more than a valuable singer; she became a genuine star. W.J. Henderson, somewhat reserved in his initial reaction, was unreservedly enthusiastic about Bori's Fiora in Montemezzi's L'Amore dei tre re the following season and others increasingly succumbed to the singer's dramatic authority and beguiling demeanor in comic roles.
Aside from a four-year rest period concluded with a performance in Monte Carlo, Bori sang productively until 1936, when her retirement was celebrated with a gala farewell. Over the course of her Metropolitan career, she appeared (by her own count) 429 times in 28 different roles. Among the most popular were Violetta, Mimì, the Manon of Massenet, and Norina. For the Metropolitan, she created a significant number of roles, including Despina, Mélisande, Antonia in Les contes d'Hoffmann (she was also a seductive Giulietta despite her relatively delicate voice), Concepcion in Ravel's L'heure espagnole, Salud in La vida breve, and Mary in Deems Taylor's Peter Ibbetson.
Once she returned to New York in 1921, Bori remained loyal to the Metropolitan, singing only occasional performances with other American houses and making regular appearances at Ravinia Park each summer. She remained through her very last performance an artist both inimitable and irreplaceable.