Leyla Gencer Evi



Turkey’s greatest gift to the opera world, Leyla Gencer, was one of the most important divas of the 20th century.

Gencer was most famous for being the primadonna of the opera, La Scala, for 25 years, an era during which Europe witnessed the glorious rise of her career. Throughout that period, Gencer spent many years in Milan. She was renowned for her marvellous interpretation technique.

When she was not performing, she dedicated herself to exploring forgotten opera works and her research was recognised as being a crucial factor in the Donizetti and Rossini renaissances.

İstanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) has recreated the Milanese life of the opera star who was a devoted friend of the foundation and the late president of the Board of Trustees, on the 2nd floor of its building in Şişhane.

Designed by Pier Luigi Pizzi, with the support of Melahat Behlil, Franca Cella, and Massimo Gasparon, the Leyla Gencer House reveals intricate details of the soprano’s life.


After a long and successful career on the stage, during which she was acclaimed as the 20th century’s last diva, soprano Leyla Gencer bid farewell to the opera and worked as an instructor at Teatro alla Scala.

Gencer has always had a unique place within İKSV and since 2006, the foundation has been striving to sustain Gencer’s presence in the art world as well as continue her efforts of discovering new talents via the bi-annual ‘Leyla Gencer Voice Competition’.

Leyla Gencer bequeathed her assets to İKSV, trusting that the foundation would keep her memory alive and in honour of this, İKSV has dedicated a special section of its new building to her as a way of sharing the life of this legendary star with art enthusiasts.


Designed by Pier Luigi Pizzi, the decorator of La Scala with whom Gencer worked extensively, the Leyla Gencer House provides a unique insight into the life of this great soprano, who was not only an admired opera artist but also led an intriguing personal life.

A reproduction of Gencer’s house in Milan, Leyla Gencer House is a direct reflection of her colourful and profound personality and features Gencer’s living room with her piano, her library, her dining room where she hosted her guests and her bedroom. It also features details of her personal life such as photographs of prominent figures who played important roles in her colourful career, her awards and medals, her accessories, and her clothes.


Leyla Gencer, one of the greatest sopranos of the 20th century, was born in İstanbul. She started her formal education at the İstanbul Municipal Conservatoire and was later trained by the renowned Italian soprano Giannina Arangi-Lombardi and Apollo Granforte. Gencer was a regular performer with the Ankara State Opera and Ballet Chorus until she made her operatic debut as Santuzza in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana in 1950. Within a few years, she earned a reputation as a rising star, and was regularly invited to perform at official ceremonies for the Turkish Government.

Gencer made her Italian debut at Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, once again performing as Santuzza, and she returned the following year to Naples to perform in Madama Butterfly and Eugene Onegin. On January 26, 1957 Gencer made her debut at the world famous Teatro alla Scala in Milan, as Lidoine in the world premiere of Poulenc’s Les Dialogues des Carmelites.

Between 1957 and 1980, the acclaimed soprano performed in various leading roles at the Teatro alla Scala . The roles included operas by Verdi, Bellini, Donizetti, Mozart, Monteverdi, Gluck, Tchaikovsky, Britten, and Pizzetti.

After performing with such distinguished Italian maestros as Vittorio Gui, Tulio Serafin, Gianandrea Gavazzeni and Riccardo Muti, her outstanding performances of Donizetti’s forgotten operas ensured that she was remembered as one of the stars of the “Donizetti Renaissance.”

With her extensive repertoire consisting of 72 roles within a broad array from lyric soprano to dramatic coloratura, Leyla Gencer was the primadonna of La Scala for 25 years, an era during which legendary names such as Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi, Monserrat Caballé, Joan Sutherland and Beverly Sills dominated the opera world.

The legendary singer bid her farewell to the opera scene in 1985 with her performance of Francesco Gnecco’s La Prova di un’Opera Seria at La Fenice Theatre, however, she continued performing at concerts and recitals until 1992.

From 1982 on, Leyla Gencer dedicated herself to the education of young opera artists. She worked as the Didactic Artistic Director of As.Li.Co. of Milan between 1983–88 and was appointed by Maestro Riccardo Muti to run La Scala’s School for Young Artists between 1997–98. Until her passing away in 2008, Gencer was the artistic director of the Academy for Opera Artists at the Teatro alla Scala, where she also taught opera interpretation. She also served as the President of the İstanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts’ Board of Trustees.