Both Mattia Battistini and Titta Ruffo were declared as “king of the baritones”. Battistini was only known in the American continent through recordings since he was deathly afraid of the water and was horrendously seasick on his only trial sailing off the coast of Italy. Ruffo, however, was well known in both Europe and the Americas. This recording in our Heritage series affords the listener the opportunity to compare the two side by side in arias from Don Giovanni, Barbiere di Siviglia, La Traviata, Pagliacci, La Favorita, Hamlet, Ernani, Ballo in Maschera, and Don Carlo. You can deicde who was the true king! I have my opinion, what’s yours? Please share your opinions. I look forward to reading your comments and seeing which great baritone you have decide was the king. Battistini is pictured on the left and Ruffo on the right.
As part or our desire to preserve the art of great singing [so much of which is lacking today] we started the "Rare Cylinder Recordings" series as part of our growing Heritage Series. This series is our own private label and is included as part of our catalog. These cylinder recordings [all of which have been carefully and judiciously remastered] introduce modern opera lovers to an era where great singing was the norm and expected. The artists presented on these recordings spent endless years perfecting their craft and this is evident by the ease of their singing and incredible vocal control displayed. Many of these artists began their careers in the 19th century when the composers were still alive. Therefore, their interpretations bring us back as close as possible to the composer's intent. If you have never heard or are unfamiliar with the artists and era included in this series, I encourage you to "pull back the curtain of time" and be amazed!
Elena Souliotis was one of those unusual singers whose star burned bright for a brief season and then the flame flickered and eventually went out. Hers was a unique and certainly controversial career and truthfully after listening to many of her performances she has become one of my favorite sopranos, not because she sang so well but because her singing had incredibly good dramatic instincts and her use of color and nuance was impeccable. When she made her New York debut in 1967, the young soprano tackled Norma, hardly the fare for a relatively new and very inexperienced singer. Her performance went well until the "Mira O Norma" duet. She missed the Bb at the end of the prima part of the duet, and was outshone by Nancy Tatum who held the Bb at the end of the cabaletta part of the duet too long as if to show the "young upstart" a thing or two about singing. The audience response was a mixture of cheers and boos and the young singer was visibly shaken. When it was time for her next entrance she was nowhere to be seen and the audience responded with stamping, booing, jeers, and catcalls. Souliotis was in her dressingroom in tears, shaken and refusing to go back onstage. Callas, who was in the audience along with everyone who was anyone in New York musical society, went back stage and challenged the young singer to pull herself together and go take the stage as her own. Souliotis in this wildly boisterous performance proved the adage "no guts no glory' to be true. She rallied herself, sang her heart out and won the audience over, ending the evening in a barrage of tumultuous applause. Great artists must have more than a great voice, they must have a great heart!
Here at The Opera Shoppe we have access to many recordings from around the world. As we listen to them we choose those for our catalog using several specific criteria. One is sound quality. Of course, the older the performance and the more our source is distant from the original source, the more work is required to "clean up" the sound and make it acceptable for release. often, in spite of our efforts, a recording just does not meet our standards and we choose not to include it. There are thousands of recordings being circulated by websites and collectors around the world. Not all of them are performances worth listening to and we have determined that just because something is "live" does not make it good. We refuse to indiscriminately release anything and everything. Our philosophy is based upon quality, not quantity. We will not release a recording that is off pitch without first correctly pitching it. We will not release a recording without first equalizing and restoring the sound as much as possible. And most importantly, we will not release a recording of an inferior performance. Even before launching the website we decided that we would rather have a small catalog of quality performances as opposed to a large catalog of anything and everything regardless of the pitch, sound quality, or quality of performance. There are many live opera websites out there in cyber space, most of which have inferior products. One can notice that our catalog grows very slowly but is both substantial and of very fine quality.
This is undoubtedly an interesting and historical recording. Caruso was a tenor and the aria, "Vecchia Zimarra" from the opera La Boheme is for Coline, a character for basso, who sings a song of farewell to his old coat.You might heard about the legend about How Caruso sang this piece for Andres de Segurola during a performance of La Boheme. During the performance of La Boheme in Philadelphia, de Segurola, the bass, who was about to sing the "Coat song" (Vecchia Zimarra) turned to Caruso and whispered "I've lost my voice". Caruso replied, "You just stand still and move your lips and I'll sing it for you". And so, with his back turned to the audience, Caruso sang the aria for de Segurola. The latter then acknowledged the cheers from the audience who did not realise that it was Caruso who had in fact sung. Actually, there is even confusion regarding the date of the performance, some insisting that it took place on December 23, 1913, and others swearing January 25, 1916 is the correct date.
After the performance, which turned out to be a very successful one, many of Caruso's friends, including Mr. Calvin Child of Victor Talking Machine company, asked him to record the aria, and he made a recording sometime in 1917. (The EDVR data says that this recording session was taken place on February 23rd, 1916, but this date is still in dispute) After Caruso made the recording, and presented eight copies to those who were involved in the performance, he ordered the master destroyed since he "didn't want to spoil the bass business".
For years, the record was one of the rarest recording Caruso made. In 1949, however, a surviving copy of Caruso's Coat Song was acquired from Dr. Mario Marafioti, former physician at the Met, by Wally Butterworth, conductor of the "Voices that Live" radio program. Butterworth took the record to RCA, who issued a dubbing that was sold exclusively by Butterworth.
Included here with the video is one version of how Caruso happened to sing this aria, as told by Frances Alda.
In the 1956 season at the Metropolitan Opera House Rise Stevens and Giuseppe Di Stefano were performing Carmen to packed houses and the adulation of the audiences. During one particular performance, getting caught up in the intense drama of the final scene's confrontation Di Stefano accidentally sliced Steven's arm with the knife he was wielding. Being the true trooper that she was, Stevens kept singing, not missing a beat, while a chorus member from back stage handed her a handkerchief to bind her wound which was bleeding quite profusely. being ever gallant, Di Stefano covered her from the audiences gaze and bound her arm, while he also continued to sing. They finished the performance brilliantly and the audience went wild with enthusiasm. While it was a miraculous save of a fine performance, it was even more so a tribute to two artists who would not allow personal circumstances to interfere with their craft.
Few people realize that legendary soprano, Magda Olivero was born at the time Enrico Caruso was first experiencing international fame as the world's greatest tenor. This amazing lady made her debut in 1932 in Turin in a radio Broadcast. She immediately won the attention of the major Italian opera houses and began an impressive career as a lyrical spinto with an extended top [a high Eb was not a problem for her]. She married in 1941 and retired from the stage.
Francesco Cilea, the composer of Adriana Lecouvreur petitioned her to return to the stage to sing his beloved Adriana again [a brief and tantalizing film clip from a 1934 Covent Garden performance with Beniamino Gigli exists as well as many complete audio recordings most of which are in our catalog] and after repeated petitions she decided to return to the stage. Sadly Cilea died before he was able to hear her sing Adriana again, but his request for her return opened what is possibly the most amazing career in operatic history. Her international career exploded and she was in demand by all of the prestigious European houses. Her American debut [in Dallas 1967 as an incredible Medea] was immediately talked about in all the operatic circles, and this "new" sensation became well known to those who understood the world of opera well.
After forty years of being an international sensation and the most unique singer in the world, she finally made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Tosca in 1975. It was Marilyn Horne who pressed the Metropolitan Opera administration to engage her for these performances. Her American appearances, primarily in Hartford, Newark,
San Francisco and Dallas were always met by an incredible [and sometimes wild] outpouring of applause, bravos, and love by an appreciative audience who had the privilege of hearing the last great verismo soprano embody a role and make it come to life.
Olivero's voice, typical of the veristic Italian tradition, with its rapid vibrato and delicate shades of nuance and color enabled her to paint the music with her own personal stamp. Olivero was not just a great singer, she was a consummate interpreter who gave her audiences the gift of true "living" opera. One has to only listen to one of her live recordings to hear the electricity she generates on stage [just listen to acts 2 and 3 of her Fedora from Newarkas an example] and the thunderous applause and wild enthusiasm that followed her art.
Olivero's most popular roles were Adriana Lecouvreur, Iris, Fedora, La Bohème, La Fanciulla Del West, La Traviata, La Wally, Madama Butterfly, Medea, Tosca, Manon Lescaut, Mefistofele, and Turandot (as Liù). Her Minnie in La Fanciulla Del West has set the standard for other sopranos. Her voice, while not having the dramatic "heft" of some others, had the ability to carry in the largest opera houses in the world due to her impeccable technique. One has to merely listen to one of her recordings to realize, they are in the presence of [and not just listening to] greatness.
Magda Olivero sang well into her late 80's and sang an occasional song or aria even after that. Her singing even at an advanced age is a model of what a great voice and technique can do. Olivero at the age of 103 is still with us and as such is the greatest living legend in the world of opera. She is truly an international treasure and this amazing lady is a gift to the ages to come.
One can hear Olivero in all of her great roles on cds available in our catalog. Should you have any questions please feel free to contact us. Below are a few video clips for your enjoyment.
Mattia Battistini (February 27,1856 – November 7, 1928) was an Italian operatic baritone. He became internationally famous due to the beauty of his voice and the virtuosity of his singing technique, and he earned the title "King of Baritones". His phenomenal top register and willingness to show it off and linger there caused him to be a sensation in Europe. He was deathly afraid of the water since he suffered from an acute case of sea-sickness, and so never ventured to the American shore. Listeners here had to settle for his recordings, distributed in the USA by Victrola. His immense recording output [120 published sides in all] include a large portion of Don Carlo's music in Ernani, a role in which he was justifiably famous.
The real caveat came, however, when Jules Massenet, incredibly impressed with his gorgeous voice, manly physique, and eloquent stage presence offered to rewrite the tenor part of Werther in the opera by that name specifically for him. Battistini accepted, and the rest is history,. We are fortunate that he recorded "Ah non mi ridestar" the primary aria so that history has a momento of this occasion.
From 1914-1918 he actually had his own very successful touring company that toured Europe extensively. He busied himself between his opera company, recitals and guest appearance in leading opera house. The rigorous schedule, however, took its toll on his health, and he developed heart disease near the end of this period.
Battistini sang into his 70's with apparently little deterioration to the voice. He retired from the stage in 1928, dying at his villa of heart failure a few months later. Below is his rendition of "Ah, non mi ridestar". What do you think? King of the baritones or not?
Lillian Nordica, possibly the greatest American soprano of all times, was somewhat stoic in temperament and extremely refined, both in her singing and her stage deportment. Her extraordinary voice was poorly captured on disc by Columbia records inferior recording process [how I wish she would have recorded for Edison!]. However, her discs still show an instrument of incredible size, flexibility, and technical control [if you can find it, listen to Ah! rebegis from the Hungarian opera Hunyadi Lazlo the only disc that hints at her true voice, she trills on a high C!]. The Mapleson cylinders include some of her great Wagnerian roles [available in our exclusive Heritage Series].
On December 30, 1898 she was to sing Isolde to the Tristan of the legendary Jean de Reszke at the Metropolitan Opera House. Nordica was reclining on her couch during the long and quiet prelude, patiently waiting for the curtain to rise, when the stage manager noticed that her eyes were closed and her breathing somewhat shallow and regular. He realized she had fallen asleep while the conductor creeped along at a snail's pace with the music and panic struck him. Much to his consternation, when the curtain arose, Nordica still did not open her eyes! However, once the sailor's song was finished, she sprang into action with an electric intensity that was uncommon for her. The sudden rise in music had startled and awakened her and she immediately began to sing, Nordica was, as usual, in complete control of the situation.
One must realize that this lady had current in her repertoire: La Traviata, Faust, Les Huguenots, L'Africaine, Tristan und Isolde, Mignon [Philline], all 3 Ring Brunnhildes, Hamlet, Lohengrin, Il Trovatore, Aida, and La Gioconda. She sang them all actively in her repertoire and she sang them all well according to contemporary accounts.
Richard Strauss’ 1905 opera Salome about Salome and John the Baptist was so graphically violent that it was banned at the Metropolitan Opera in New York for decades. It includes incest, nudity, murder, and a dramatic scene where Salome kisses the lips of John the Baptist’s severed head. The first Metropolitan Opera Salome was the famous Olive Fremstad who was hardly erotic and could more accurately be described as matronly. Her Dance of the Seven Veils was danced by a dancer named Bianca Froehlich since Fremstad was definitely not of the physique to perform any kind of dance, let alone an erotic one! Fremstad sang one performance of it on January 22, 1907 and the outrage from both the audience and critics alike was so intense that the Metropolitan Opera immediately banned it from their repertoire. It did not return to the Metropolitan Opera stage until January 13, 1934 when the Salome was the beautiful Gjota Ljungberg.
There is a virtual treasure trove of great recordings and great singers hidden in archives around the world. There have been many fabulous singers in the past whose 78 RPM recordings were few and far between but whose voices were remarkable and superior to some of the "stars" of the day. Some of these recordings have thankfully fallen into my hands and will eventually be remastered and released in my Heritage Series of great singers of the past. Two such singers were Salomiyra Krushelnytska [the Butterfly of the second world premiere who changed her name to Salomea Krushelniski - see below] and Natalija Ermolenko-Yuzhina, a soprano who reminds me a great deal of the incredible Celestina Boninsegna. Both of these sopranos had substantial careers but are unknown today, along with thousands of others. It is our hope here at The Opera Shoppe to make some of these great singers known so that the modern opera goer knows more about the great heritage that has been passed down through the generations. Below is a sample of Ermolenko-Yuzhina's fine voice.
Madama Butterfly had its world premier on February 17, 1904 at La Scala in Milan. It was a phenomenal failure. This had nothing to do with the singing but much to do with political intrigue , the late finishing of its composition which left little rehearsal time, and the length of the score. Puccini originally had what we today call Acts 2 & 3 as one act. The two-act opera was longer with the act one scene of the relatives and wedding guests being excessively long and tedious. The unruly audience with their cat-calls and interruptions made the premier an uncharacteristic failure for the great composer, one which he was not used to experiencing. Rosina Storchio, the original Butterfly [who can be heard on our Heritage Series "Forgotten Sopranos" cd] sang most of the performance in tears due to the cruelty and harassment of the audience. her singing was not the problem, it was a concerted effort on the part of certain "Verdians" to undermine the popularity of Puccini, whom they considered unequal to Verdi in composition stature.
Puccini immediately withdrew the score, reworked it and gave it a second premier in Brescia and it was a huge success. The original Butterfly, Rosina Storchio, was not a part of the second premier due to prior commitments,
but was replaces by another truly great singer, Solomiya Krushelnytska [who changed her name to Salomea Krusheniski]. Giovanni Zenatello, the Pinkerton of the original premier repeated the role as did Gaetano Pini-Corsi as Goro. Giuseppe DeLuca, the original sharpless was replaced by Virgilio Bellatti. Krushelnytska was a tremendous spinto/dramatic soprano who recorded Un Bel Di from Madama Butterfly [available to listen to below]. Rosina Storchio did recorded, albeit her recordings are very few and very rare [available on our Heritage Series "Forgotten Sopranos" cd] but unfortunately she never did record anything from Madama Butterfly. Perhaps she wanted to put the painful memories of that event far behind her.
A new release in our Heritage Series will feature all available recordings by Solomiya Krushelnytska, look for it soon!
Riccardo Martin as Dick Johnson
Did you know that Riccardo Martin [1874-1952, born Hugh Whitfield Martin] not only studied with several incredible singers, notably Leon Escalais [if you've never heard this phenomenal voice, he will be featured in a near future release in the Heritage Series] and the legendary Jean de Reszke [heard on Echoes of the Golden Age HS-5 release] but had the misfortune of being thought of by many people as "Caruso's understudy" since he was on call if the great Caruso was indisposed. Martin began his vocal studies with Giovanni Sbriglia [1832-1916] who was the teacher that helped Jean de Reszke move from the baritone to tenor vocal range. He had a voice in many ways similar to Caruso's, not as dark in timbre, but he was a very fine singer in his own right who had a number of significant premieres at the Metropolitan Opera House. His recordings are scant but next month will be featured in the Heritage Series as one of our new releases. You can then determine for yourself if he was worthy of greater honor than that of an understudy, even if it was for one of the greatest voices of all time. He is another example of a very fine, first-class voice that has been forgotten by history and is virtually unknown today.
Geraldine Farrar and Enrico Caruso sang together often during their Metropolitan Opera years and enjoyed what might be called an amiable "star rivalry". They knew each other well and each knew many of the other's shortcomings. It has been said that Caruso was not above having an occasional drink. The story goes that on the day he was to record, among other things, the Madama Butterfly love duet with Farrar [March 10, 1908] he had enjoyed a coctail before going for the recording session. Whether this is true or not is unknown, but when listening to the recording, Butterfly's phrase "si per la vita" sounds like "he's had a highball' and Pinkerton's response which is "vieni, vieni", sound strangely like "strega, strega" [witch, witch]! The truth of this is certainly in question, you will have to listen to this recording yourself to decide, but it is an amusing anecdote concerning two great singers both of whom were respected and admired and who often teased each other.
In addition, between 1907 and 1909, Farrar, Caruso, Scotti, and Homer recorded all of the major music from Madama Butterfly, making it as close to a complete Caruso performance that we will ever get. Perhaps one month I will put them all on the website for you to enjoy.
Fremstad as Isolde
Did you know that the Metropolitan Opera Company was experimenting with broadcasting live performances from the stage of the Met as early as 1912? On February 28, 1912 a portion of a performance of Tosca was broadcast as an experiment to determine the range of the broadcast signal. It was hoped by the company that the signal would be strong enough to reach at least the central states, however, due to the relative infancy of the technology it only went as far as New Jersey. It was decided by the management to withdraw the project and work on improving the technology. The cast of the performance can only make one dream: Fremstad, Caruso, and Amato as the principles with Toscanini conducting!
The first actual Met broadcast was on December 25, 1931, a performance of Hansel and Gretel. The first few years of broadcasts were sporadic at best but by 1935-1936 the Saturday matinees were being broadcast on a regular basis. The unfortunate thing is that not all of the broadcasts have survived. They were all recorded on 16 inch transcription discs professionally for the purpose of rebroadcasting at a later date. When in the 1950's reel-to-reel tape began to be used, the archivists threw out most of the transcription discs to make room for the tape storage. Precious performances [Ponselle's Norma Act II, a complete L'Africaine with her as well as the complete Don Giovanni with Ponselle, Schipa, and Pinza (excerpts exist), Aida with Rethberg and Lauri-Volpi,etc.] have been lost forever. The few precious performances that do survive are amazing and have been circulated for years in collector's circles.
Did you know that the fabulous Rosa Ponselle, the greatest American soprano after Lillian Nordica [more abut her in another blog] was not only plagued with the most common singer phobia [fear of top notes] but was also extremely superstitious and would not sing unless she had gone through a specific regimen before a performance, possibly an early victim of a severe case of OCD.
Ponselle would arrive at the theater several hours early and turn all of the heat off in the dressing rooms because she believed the heat affected her voice. She would check the back stage area frequently and while the other poor singers froze, she was perfectly contented! Being the true superstar that she was, not one dared disrupt her routine but left her alone.
In listening to Ponselle's commercial recordings and to those few precious live performances that exist with her, one can hear an extraordinary voice with an impeccable technique and not hint of a problem or hesitation with the top of the voice. What a shame she was so tormented by her own fears and imagination. We can only be grateful that she did not shy away from the recording studio because her legacy has assured her place as one of the greatest singers of the twentieth century and one of the most beautiful voices of all time. The totally seamless vocal line from bottom to top and the dark coloration of her voice that was consistent throughout makes her truly unique and a treasure in the annals of operatic music.
Did you know that the stereophonic process of recording was not introduced in the late 1950's but rather in 1912? When Edison saw that the Victor and Columbia discs were edging him out of the market with his cylinders he decide to develop a disc that was better than anything currently available, and being the genius that he was, he did. His discs were all 10 inch, but played up to 5 minutes in length, longer than any Victor or Columbia disc on the market. He continued to record cylinders, but his new diamond discs edged them out of the market.
Why were they called Diamond Discs? Because unlike the conventional discs of the day which were played with a steel stylus, Edison discs needed to be played with a special diamond stylus which didn't wear out or wear the record surface. he totally reconfigured the tone arm and used a recording process known as "hill and dale" rather than the lateral cut surface Victor, Columbia, Brunswick, and the other disc manufacturers used. Their records wore out quickly, his did not.
But here is the amazing thing. The process Edison developed caused a noticeably greater sense of depth and reality to the music he recorded. The discs recorded by the opera singers of the day are generally remarkable, because the process he used was essentially a stereophonic process! The amazing vibrancy of most of his discs is amazing and comparing his recordings of singers like Muzio, Bori, Zenatello, Bonci, and many many more to their lateral cut discs for Victor and Columbia is startling.
Future releases in our Heritage Series will include many of his best Diamond Disc recordings. Below is an example of an Edison Diamond Disc by the legendary Claudia Muzio.
Besides two La Bohemes there are also two Otellos? Rossini's Otello is an important milestone in the development of opera as musical drama. It provided Giuseppe Verdi with a benchmark for his own adaptations of Shakespeare. However, the opera deviates heavily from Shakespeare's original, not only in that it takes place in Venice and not on Cyprus, but also in that the whole dramatic conflict develops in a different manner. The role of Iago is reduced to some degree, and it is much less diabolical than in the original or in Verdi's Otello of 1887. In further contrast, the role of Rodrigo, of subsidiary importance in Shakespeare and Verdi, is very prominent in Rossini's version and is assigned some of the most difficult and brilliant music. The roles of Otello, Iago, and Rodrigo are all composed for the tenor voice. This deviation was less popular as time went on and the traditional assignment of the baritone voice to the villain became the standard for popular operas by the late 19th century.
While Rossini's opera contains much beautiful and florid music, his style of writing became much less popular as the more veristically dramatic style of the 1880's took over the pens of composers. As Rossini's operas became less fashionable and less often mounted the issue of finding singers appropriately trained in the Bel Canto style became more and more difficult, plunging his works into even greater obscurity.
It is only withing the past few decades, thanks to singers like Callas, Gencer, Sutherland, Sills, and a few more that a resurgence of interest in Rossini's works has emerged. The majority of his operas are virtually unknown today, with the exception of the ever-popular Barbiere di Siviglia and La Cenerentola both of which have always been handy vehicles for singers to show off their technical skills. Fortunately today there are a number of excellent recordings and performances of his works available, a number of which are listed in our catalog.
Shown below for a side by-side comparison are June Anderson singing the "Willow Song' [canzone di Salce] from both operas.
Did you know that while being considered one of the great conductors of the 19th and 20th centuries, Toscanini was equally well known for his rigged perfectionism and sharp tongue? He had little if no patience for musicians and singers who refused to allow him to lead them, did not do things to his personal liking, or disagreed with his decisions. He was a purist in the best and worse sense of that word all at the same time, and a very complicated man. While conducting the world premier of Turandot on April 25, 1926, Toscanini abruptly put his baton down in the third act, turned to the audience and said, "Qui finisce l'opera, perché a questo punto il maestro è morto" ("Here the opera ends, because at this point the maestro died"). The curtain was lowered slowly and the house lights brought up leaving a silent and stunned audience.His unpredictable behavior and acrid tongue caused a number of interesting and tension-filled situations. One example of this is Toscanini's insistence on the firing of Frederich Schorr from a 1940 performance of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis with the complaint that Schorr had no voice and could not sing. A complaint that has advocates on both sides of the argument to this day.
Perhaps his most famous "showdown' however was during a rehearsal of Madama Butterfly in November of 1908 at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. The stars of the evening were Geraldine Farrar and Enrico Caruso. The main cast members had been carefully groomed by Puccini himself for the American premier the previous year and they felt both comfortable and confident with their roles.During the rehearsal Miss Farrar didn't like Toscanini's tempo and began to impatiently stamp her foot on the floor as she sang to get him to comply with the tempo she wanted. Toscanini, not being one to take such insurrection against his authority lightly stopped the orchestra and glared at her. Farrar told the maestro that she didn't like the tempo and his job was to follow her, after all, she was a "star". Toscanini's reply? "Madam Farrar, the stars are in the heavens, you are a singer, and a very bad one". Needless to say a war broke out between them and it was only the skill of then general manager Gatti-Casazza that brought an uncomfortable truce between the two of them.
Toscanini and Farrar were both stars in their own right, and truly he was a divo and she was a diva in the greatest sense of the word. Who says all the divas are the rock stars of today!
Did you know that several famous tenors either began their careers as baritones or ended their careers as baritone? The most prominent examples are the legendary Jean de Reszke, Renato Zanelli, Ramon Vinay, and Carlo Bergonzi. It should also be noted that Enrico Caruso, the inheritor of the De Reszke mantle had such an extensive range and dark-timbered voice that he could have successfully sang bass, baritone, and tenor roles, but more on that to follow in another blog.
Jean de Reszke [1850-1925] seen here as Raoul in Les Hugeunots began his career in 1974 as a baritone. Unhappy with the results of his singing he withdrew and restudied his voice, making a second debut as a tenor in 1879. His fame and popularity was tremendous, as well as his success with the ladies due to his handsome appearance and good looks. His reputation soon became that of the greatest tenor of his day. He has come down to us through history as the greatest tenor of all times, with perhaps the exception of Caruso. His authority was so great that when in 1888 he chose to take on the role of Radames in Aida in 1888 [remember the opera premiered in 1871] he opted to eliminate Radames' opening aria "Celeste Aida" due to the fact he felt it came too early in the opera for him to be sufficiently warmed up vocally. We do not know how Verdi felt about this but de Reszke had his way. Noted for his rounded timbre and matchless ability to combine a virile singing style with an exceptional degree of gracefulness and vocal refinement, de Reszke is generally regarded as being one of the very greatest tenors of all time. It is therefore highly unfortunate that the release of his only two commercial gramophone records, cut in Paris in 1905 for the Fonotipia label, never took place as intended. The matrices and test pressings appear to have been destroyed when de Reszke expressed his disappointment with the results. (Rumors of the survival of one of these discs, current in the 1950s, are to be discounted). Only a few Mapleson Cylinders, primitive recordings made privately during actual performances at the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1901, exist to give us a faint souvenir of him at work.Next month in the Heritage Series we will be releasing the best of his cylinders along with others of famous and probably unknown singers to today's opera lovers.
An interesting side note on de Reszke - his most highly anticipated role, that of Otello in 1891 was somewhat of a disappointment to critics because he lacked the edgy clarion sound of Tamagno, the creator of the role and Verdi's choice for it. A number of discs recorded by Tamagno at his villa in 1903 show the power of his voice and will be available on CD in the Heritage Series in the near future, including a very rare unpublished duet "Si Pel Ciel" from Otello, a private recording made with his brother.
Another interesting sidenote - Tamagno lived long enough to witness the rise to fame of the young Enrico Caruso (1873–1921). He admired Caruso's ability, predicting as far back as 1898 that Caruso would go on to become the number-one Italian tenor of the 20th century. As M. J. Phillips-Matz observes in her 2002 Puccini biography, Tamagno and Caruso actually appeared on the same stage in February 1901, during a concert at La Scala. The concert had been organised by Toscanini as a commemorative tribute to the recently deceased Verdi. (In it, Tamagno sang an extract from La forza del destino and Caruso led the quartet from Rigoletto.) It seems that these three tenors were a "royal succession" that passed the mantle of greatness, one to another!
Renato Zanelli [1892-1935] seen here as Otello, is our next baritone turned tenor. Zanelli made his debut as a baritone in 1919 and sang at the Met.as a baritone until 1923. In 1923 he withdrew and restudied his voice, making his tenor debut in 1924. Zanelli had a rich voice and was equally successful as a baritone and a tenor, his early death from cancer cutting short a brilliant career. His artistry is preserved, however, on a number of recordings of operatic arias which he made at the height of his powers in the two vocal categories that he had mastered. These recordings will be available on a CD in our new Heritage Series next month so that you can hear him as both a baritone and tenor. His tenor recordings, made when he was already beginning to suffer the effects of the cancer that would prematurely take his life show a voice of incredible beauty and richness although by that time his power had been diminished. His untimely death robbed the operatic world of an incredible singer with a deeply felt passion for his art. Arias from his two most popular roles, Andrea Chenier [his most beautiful tenor recording] and Otello, will be presented on our CD.
Ramon Vinay [1911-1996] like Zanelli, was Chilean by birth. he began his career as a baritone in 1938.He also withdrew from the stage, restudied his voice, and re-emerged as a tenor in 1943. Vinay eventually returned to the baritone fold in 1962 and retired from the stage in 1969. Even as a tenor, however, his vocal timbre retained its dark, baritonal colouration. His powerful dramatic voice was ideal for the heavier, dramatic tenor roles such as Samson, Otello, Radames, and of course the Wagnerian heroes. The many available recordings both live and commercial attest to his vocal prowess. A fine actor, Vinay was also the first tenor to sing the role of Otello on television. That was in 1948, in the initial telecast of an entire opera from the Met. He also sang Otello at La Scala, in Salzburg and at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. In all, he performed it hundreds of times. He is said to be the only opera singer to have sung both Otello and Iago (the baritone villain) in Verdi's tragic masterpiece during the course of a career.
Vinay's overall tenor repertoire was comparatively ample. It also embraced heavy Wagnerian roles (he sang at the Bayreuth Festival in 1952-57), as well as Canio in Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, Don José in Bizet's Carmen and Samson in Saint-Saëns's Samson et Dalila. Apart from Iago, the baritone parts which he performed included Telramund, Bartolo, Falstaff and Scarpia. The Opera Shoppe features recordings of both his Otello and Iago as well as his Telramund and Scarpia in our catalog.
Carlo Bergonzi [1924-] began his career in 1948 as a baritone, withdrew, restudied and emerged in 1951 as a tenor. His first years ad a tenor can be heard in the RAI recording of Giovanna D'Arco which he performed with the young Renata Tebaldi [available in our catalog]. Bergonzi's voice and career are distinguished by his elegant style, superb musicianship and and beautiful vocal timbre. Although he bacme justly famous for his interpretation of the lyric and spinto Verdi tenor roles, his career included a vast repetiore of all the major Italian operas with the exception of the most heroic roles. His one excursion into dramatic tenor territory, Otello, did not end well. His primary competition at this time, Corelli and Del Monaco, although fabulous in their own right, did not outlast Bergonzi, who sang well into the early 1980's when advancing age brought on vocal decline. Now retired, Bergonzi spends most of his time at I due Foscari, his hotel in Busseto, which also hosts the Accademia Verdiana. Bergonzi has left a legacy of many recordings of individual arias and complete operas, including works by Verdi, Puccini, Mascagni and Leoncavallo. They confirm the exceptional quality of his voice, his good taste and the consistently high standard of his musicianship. Many of his live performance are available on CD and a number of his best are in our catalog, a special recommendation going to his magnificent portrayal of Werther.