Cerquetti was born in Montecosaro, near Macerata, Italy. She originally studied violin and trained eight years with Luigi Mori. After a mere year of vocal study at the Conservatory of Perugia, she made her operatic debut in Spoleto in 1951 as Aida. She sang all over Italy, notably in Florence as Noraime in Gli Abencerragi (the Italian version of Les Abencérages) under Carlo Maria Giulini in 1956, and as Elvira in Ernani under Dimitri Mitropoulos in 1957. Her La Scala debut was in 1958 as Abigaille in Nabucco. She also sang on RAI in a wide variety of roles, such as Elcia in Mosè in Egitto, Mathilde in Guglielmo Tell and Elena in I vespri siciliani.
Cerquetti made headlines in January 1958 when she replaced "in extremis" the ailing Maria Callas in Norma, at the Rome Opera House. She was already singing the role at the San Carlo in Naples. She commuted between the two cities to honor both engagements for several weeks. This "tour de force" won her great acclaim, but had serious effects on her health. Shortly afterward she started withdrawing little by little from the stage until her complete retirement in 1961, aged only 30.
She was due to have made her debut at The Royal Opera House in the title role in Aida in July 1958, but was forced to withdraw following an appendectomy in late June. She was replaced by Leontyne Price. Anita Cerquetti was thus destined never to sing at Covent Garden.
Cerquetti sang relatively little in America. Her debut there was at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1955, as Amelia in Un ballo in maschera opposite Jussi Björling, under Tullio Serafin. She made only two commercial recordings, both for Decca in 1957, a recital of Italian opera arias and a complete La Gioconda with Mario Del Monaco, Ettore Bastianini, Giulietta Simionato and Cesare Siepi under Gianandrea Gavazzeni. Among her "pirated" recordings is a 1958 Aida from Mexico City, with Flaviano Labò, Nell Rankin, Cornell MacNeil, Fernando Corena and Norman Treigle. The 1958 Rome production of Norma with Franco Corelli is also available.
A number of her live performances have been recorded and issued on CD. This list comes from actual CDs and is not exhaustive. Un Ballo in Maschera (Verdi) January 1957 Florence; Don Carlo (Verdi) June 1956 Firenze; Ernani (Verdi) June 1957 Florence; La Forza del Destino (Verdi) September 1957 Rome; La Forza del Destino October 1958 Mexico (only 46' extracts); La Gioconda (Ponchielli) January 1956 Florence; La Gioconda (Poncielli) 1957 Milano; Gli Abencerragi (Cherubini) May 1956 Firenze; Guiglielmo Tell (Rossini) April 1956 Milan; Mosè (Rossini) June 1956 Rome; Nabucco (Verdi) September 1960 Hilversum; Norma (Bellini) January 1958 Roma; Oberon (Weber) October 1957 Milan; I Vespri Siciliani (Verdi) November 1955 Torino. There are also a couple of CDs from recitals. Many of these re-issues are on specialist labels and may not still be available.
- G. B. Meneghini (1981). My Wife Maria Callas. London, The Bodley Head, p. 265.
- "Anita Cerquetti - obituary", in The Daily Telegraph, Friday 31 October 2014 (accessed 3 November 2014).
- "Visconti to produce Don Carlos", in The Times, Saturday March 8, 1958, p. 3 column B.
- "A New Star at Covent Garden", in The Times, Thursday July 3, 1958, p. 5 column D.
- "Lirica in lutto, è morta Anita Cerquetti" in il Resto del Carlino, 11 October 2014 (accessed 3 November 2014) (in Italian)
- Alain Paris, Dictionnaire des Konferenzdolmetschern et de l'Auslegung musicale au XX siècle (2 Bde.), Ed. Robert Laffont (Bouquins, Paris 1982, 4. edn. 1995, 5. Edn 2004); ISBN 2-221-06660-X
- Roland Mancini und Jean-Jacques Rouveroux, (orig. H. und J. Rosenthal Warrack, französische Ausgabe), Guide de l'opéra, Les indispensables de la musique (Fayard, 1995); ISBN 2-213-59567-4
- Anita Cerquetti profile, cerquetti.saint-sever.org; accessed 13 October 2014.
- Anita Cerquetti on IMDb
- Anita Cerquetti at Find a Grave