Mattia Battistini
The Complete Recordings

56002-2 (6 CDs)  | $ 72.00
VOCAL

 

Mattia Battistini
Mattia Battistini is unique among baritones. Battistini was born in 1856 and sang in the tradition of Tamburini, Ronconi, and Cotogni. Due to an exceedingly long career the zenith of which coincided with the invention of the gramophone, we can enjoy a rare glimpse into a bygone era of baritone-singing, especially since Battistini was still singing beautifully well into his sixties. To round off this six CD set, Marston will add eleven Fonotipia sides from 1910-1911 of baritone Giuseppe Bellantoni (1880 - 1946). Bellantoni is a “modern” singer who overlaps Battistini on the musical timeline. Pairing these two baritones on one CD set provides the contrast needed to paint a more complete history of baritone singing on record.

CD 1 (76:44)

GRAMOPHONE & TYPEWRITER, LTD.

Warsaw, 1902

Recorded by Franz Hampe

1.DON GIOVANNI: Fin ch’han dal vino (Mozart)2:35
 (439z) 52663 
2.TANNHÄUSER: Wie Todesahnung … O du mein holder Abendstern (Forier di morte … Oh! tu bell’astro incantator) (Wagner)3:17
 (440z) 52664
Transposed up a tone to A
 
3.EUGENE ONEGIN: Kogdabizhizndomashnimkrugom (Se dell’Imen la dolce cura) (Tchaikovsky)2:55
 (441z) 52665 
4.DON GIOVANNI: Deh vieni alla finestra (Mozart)2:21
 (442z) 52666 
5.La mantilla (Álvarez)2:48
 (443z) 52667 
6.Occhi di fata (Denza)2:41
 (444z) 52668 
7.Ancora (Tosti)3:13
 (445z) 52669 
8.THE DEMON: Ne plach, ditya (No, non plorar tu piangi invano) (Rubinstein)2:45
 (446z) 52670 
9.IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA: Largo al factotum (Rossini)3:17
 (447z) 52671 
10.FAUST: Avant de quitter ces lieux (Dio possente) (Gounod)3:25
 (448z) 52672 
11.LA FAVORITA: In questo suolo ... Ah! l’alto ardor (Donizetti)3:44
 with Tilde Carotini, mezzo-soprano
(449z) 54034
 

GRAMOPHONE & TYPEWRITER, LTD.

Milan, 12 November 1906

Recorded by Frederick W. Gaisberg

12.PER LA PATRIA: Or limpida m’appare la superba visione! (Cocchi)3:19
 (866c) 052140 

GRAMOPHONE & TYPEWRITER, LTD.

Milan, mid-November1906

Recorded by Frederick W. Gaisberg

13.ERNANI: Oh de’ verd’anni miei (Verdi)3:06
 (874C) 052141 
14.ERNANI: Da quel dì che t’ho veduta (Verdi)4:24
 with Emilia Corsi, soprano
(876c) 054103
 
15.UN BALLO IN MASCHERA: Alla vita che t’arride (Verdi)3:18
 (877c) 052142 
16.ERNANI: Lo vedremo o veglio audace (Verdi)3:22
 with Aristodemo Sillich, bass
(879c) 054105x
 
17.ERNANI: Lo vedremo o veglio audace (Verdi)3:19
 with Aristodemo Sillich, bass
(879 ½c) 054105
 
18.ERNANI: Vieni meco, sol di rose (Verdi)2:33
 with Emilia Corsi, soprano; and chorus
(880c) 054106
 
19.ERNANI: O sommo Carlo (Verdi)4:03
 with Emilia Corsi, soprano; Luigi Colazza, tenor; Aristodemo Sillich, bass; and chorus
(881c) 054107
 
20.DON GIOVANNI: Alfin siam liberati, Zerlinetta gentil … Là ci darem la mano (Mozart)4:19
 with Emilia Corsi, soprano
(882c) 054104
 
21.MARTHA: Povero Lionello … Il mio Lionel perirà (Flotow)3:53
 (883c) 052143 
22.LA FAVORITA: A tanto amor (Donizetti)4:01
 (884c) 052144 
23.DOM SÉBASTIEN: Ô Lisbonne, ô ma patrie! (O Lisbona, alfin ti miro) (Donizetti)4:05
 (885c) 052145 

CD 2 (79:13)

GRAMOPHONE & TYPEWRITER, LTD.

Milan, mid-November 1906

Recorded by Frederick W. Gaisberg

1.UN BALLO IN MASCHERA: Eri tu che macchiavi (Verdi)4:23
 (886C) 052146 
2.LA DAMNATION DE FAUST: Voici des roses (Su queste rose) (Berlioz)3:34
 (888c) 052147 
3.ZAMPA: Pourquoi, pourquoi vous troubler (Perchè tremar?) (Hérold)4:02
 (889c) 052148 

THE GRAMOPHONE COMPANY, LTD.

Milan, 2 June 1911

Recorded by Frederick W. Gaisberg

4.PAGLIACCI: Si Può? [Prologue] (Leoncavallo)7:37
 (260ai/261ai) 052305/052306 
5.WERTHER: J’aurais sur ma poitrine (Avrei sovra il mio petto) (Massenet)3:32
 (262ai) 052307 
6.WERTHER: Pourquoi me réveiller (Ah! non mi ridestar) (Massenet)3:36
 (263ai) 052308 
7.HAMLET: Comme une pâle fleur (Come il romito fior) (Thomas)3:03
 (267ai) 052309 
8.Le soir (Gounod)4:05
 (268ai) 052310 
9.Amour, amour (Tosti)3:08
 (269ai) 052311 

THE GRAMOPHONE COMPANY, LTD.

Milan, 3 June 1911

Recorded by Frederick W. Gaisberg

10.TOSCA: Tre sbirri, una carrozza [Te Deum] (Puccini)3:50
 with chorus
(270ai) 052312
 
11.TOSCA: Tre sbirri, una carrozza [Te Deum] (Puccini)3:47
 with chorus
(271ai) unpublished
 
12.HAMLET: O vin dissipe la tristesse (O vin discaccia la tristezza) (Thomas)3:43
 with chorus
(272ai) 052302
 
13.THAÏS: Baigne d’eau mes mains et mes lèvres (D’acqua aspergimi) (Massenet)3:26
 with Ebe Boccolini, soprano
(273ai) assigned 054318 but published only on HM 47
 
14.TANNHÄUSER: Als du in kühnem Sange (Allor che tu coll’estro) (Wagner)3:16
 (274ai) 052303 
15.FAUST: O sainte médaille … Avant de quitter ces lieux (O santa medaglia ... Dio possente) (Gounod)4:11
 (275ai) 052313 
16.I PURITANI: Ah! per sempre io ti perdei (Bellini)3:12
 (276ai) 052314 

THE GRAMOPHONE COMPANY, LTD.

Milan, 6 June 1911

Recorded by Frederick W. Gaisberg

17.THAÏS: Baigne d’eau mes mains et mes lèvres (D’acqua aspergimi) (Massenet)3:09
 with Attilia Janni, soprano
(277ai) unpublished
 
18.THAÏS: Baigne d’eau mes mains et mes lèvres (D’acqua aspergimi) (Massenet)3:11
 with Attilia Janni, soprano
(278ai) 054317
 
19.MARIA DI ROHAN: Son cifre di Riccardo! … Bella è di sol vestita (Donizetti)3:57
 (281ai) 052315 
20.I PURITANI: Bel sogno beato di pace (Bellini)2:59
 (284ai) 052316 
21.LA TRAVIATA: Mio figlio! Oh, quanto soffri … Di Provenza il mar (Verdi)3:32
 (285ai) 052317 

CD 3 (79:49)

THE GRAMOPHONE COMPANY, LTD.

Milan, 6 June 1911

Recorded by Frederick W. Gaisberg

1.TANNHÄUSER: Blick’ ich umher in diesem edlen Kreise (Nel rimirar quest’adunanza) (Wagner)4:00
 (286ai) 052318
Transposed up a semi-tone to E
 
2.TANNHÄUSER: Wie Todesahnung … O du mein holder Abendstern (Forier di morte … Oh! tu bell’astro incantator) (Wagner)3:32
 (287ai) 052304
Transposed up a tone to A
 
3.Culto (Denza)2:59
 (288ai) 052319 
4.Ideale (Tosti)3:19
 (289ai) 052320 
5.O ma charmante (Quaranta)3:45
 (290ai) 052321 
6.Mia sposa sarà la mia bandiera (Rotoli)4:26
 (291ai) 052322 

THE GRAMOPHONE COMPANY, LTD.

Milan, 7 June 1911

Recorded by Frederick W. Gaisberg

7.La serenata (Tosti)3:16
 (292ai) 052323 
8.La gondola nera (Rotoli)3:51
 (293ai) 052324 
9.Non m’ama più (Tosti)3:54
 (294ai) unpublished 
10.Non m’ama più (Tosti)4:08
 (295ai) 052325 
11.Mia sposa sarà la mia bandiera (Rotoli)4:16
 (296ai) 052326 issued only in Russia and Germany
Sung in B Minor; a semi-tone higher than matrix (291ai)
 

THE GRAMOPHONE COMPANY, LTD.

Milan, 25 May 1912

Recorded by Edmund J. Pearse

12.L’AFRICAINE: Fille des rois (Figlia di regi) (Meyerbeer)4:21
 (214af) 052357 
13.L’AFRICAINE: Mais, pour lui, pour Vasco (Ma per questo stranier) (Meyerbeer)3:07
 (215af) 052358 
14.L’AFRICAINE: L’avoir tant adorée … Écrase-moi, tonnerre! (Averla tanto amata … O folgor, su me piomba!) (Meyerbeer)3:41
 (216af) 052359 
15.LINDA DI CHAMOUNIX: Ambo nati in questa valle (Donizetti)4:24
 (217af) 052360 

THE GRAMOPHONE COMPANY, LTD.

Milan, 27 May 1912

Recorded by Edmund J. Pearse

16.QUO VADIS?: Errer à travers les mers (Errare per l’ampio mar) (Nouguès)4:16
 (218af) 052361 
17.QUO VADIS?: Vois, Phoebé elle-même (Or Febea pur essa) (Nouguès)3:24
 (219af) 052362 
18.LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR: Cruda funesta smania (Donizetti)4:09
 (220af) 052363 

THE GRAMOPHONE COMPANY, LTD.

Milan, 28 May 1912

Recorded by Edmund J. Pearse

19.PAGLIACCI: Decidi il mio destin (Leoncavallo)2:58
 with Maria Mościska, soprano
(221af) 054389
 
20.PAGLIACCI: E allor perché (Leoncavallo)3:53
 with Maria Mościska, soprano
(222af) 054390
 
21.RIGOLETTO: O mia Gilda! (Verdi)4:08
 with Maria Mościska, soprano
(223af) 054392
 

CD 4 (73:45)

THE GRAMOPHONE COMPANY, LTD.

Milan, 28 May 1912

Recorded by Edmund J. Pearse

1.LINDA DI CHAMOUNIX: Un buon servo del visconte (Donizetti)4:42
 with Maria Mościska, soprano
(224af) 054393
 
2.LA TRAVIATA: Madamigella Valéry? ... Pura siccome un angelo (Verdi)4:04
 with Maria Mościska, soprano
(225½af) 054395
 

THE GRAMOPHONE COMPANY, LTD.

Milan, 29 May 1912

Recorded by Edmund J. Pearse

3.GUILLAUME TELL: Mon fils … Sois immobile (Ti benedico, figlio mio … Resta immobile) (Rossini)4:37
 (226af) 052364 
4.QUO VADIS?: Amici, l’ora attesta è questa (Nouguès)4:30
 (227af) 052365 
5.OTELLO: E qual certezza sognate … Era la notte (Verdi)4:06
 (228af) 052366
A portion of this aria is transposed up a semi-tone to D-flat
 
6.Delizia [Trauerwalzer No. 2, D. 365] (Schubert)4:17
 (229af) 052367 
7.HÉRODIADE: Vision fugitive (Vision fuggitiva) (Massenet)3:29
 (233af) 052368 

THE GRAMOPHONE COMPANY, LTD.

Milan, 30 May 1912

Recorded by Edmund J. Pearse

8.MACBETH: Perfidi! All’Anglo contro me … Pietà, rispetto, amore (Verdi)4:17
 (234af) 052369 
9.NÉRON: Hymen! Hymen! fils d’Uranie (Imen! Imen, sòrte di vita) [Epithalamium] (Rubinstein)3:26
 (235af) 052370 
10.Occhi di fata (Denza)2:38
 (236af) 052371 

THE GRAMOPHONE COMPANY, LTD.

Milan, 2 June 1913

Recorded by Frederick W. Gaisberg

11.DON GIOVANNI: Deh, vieni alla finestra (Mozart)2:08
 (17569b) 2-52847 
12.LA FAVORITA: Vien, Leonora … Ah! Mia Leonora … De’ nemici tuoi lo sdegno (Donizetti)4:50
 (17570b/17571b) 2-52848/2-52849 
13.Malìa (Tosti)2:53
 (2807c) 052403 
14.DON CARLO: Felice ancor io son … Per me giunto (Verdi)3:48
 (2808c) 052404 
15.DON CARLO: O Carlo ascolta (Verdi)5:03
 (2809½c) 052405 

THE GRAMOPHONE COMPANY, LTD.

Milan, 3 June 1913

Recorded by Frederick W. Gaisberg

16.UN BALLO IN MASCHERA: Ve’, se di notte (Verdi)3:46
 with Elvira Barbieri, soprano; Vincenzo Bettoni, bass; and chorus
(2812c) 054449
 
17.ERNANI: Uscite … Vedi come il buon vegliardo (Verdi)4:39
 with Elvira Barbieri, soprano; Giuseppe Tommasini, tenor; and Vincenzo Bettoni, bass
(2813½c) 054450
 
18.IL TROVATORE: Qual voce, come! tu, donna? … Mira, di acerbe lagrime (Verdi)3:03
 with Elvira Barbieri, soprano
(2815½c) 054452
 
19.IL TROVATORE: Conte! Ne cessi? Grazia! … Vivrà! Contende il giubilo (Verdi)3:29
 with With Elvira Barbieri, soprano
(2816c) 054453
 

CD 5 (79:43)

THE GRAMOPHONE COMPANY, LTD.

Milan, 3 June 1913

Recorded by Frederick W. Gaisberg

1.FAUST: Par ici, par ici, mes amis! … Écoute-moi bien, Marguerite! (Per di quà … Non val … Stammi ad udir, Margherita!) (Gounod)7:03
 with Elvira Barbieri, soprano; and chorus
(2817c/2820c) 054454/054455
 
2.FAUST: Par ici, par ici (Per di quà … Non val) (Gounod)2:28
 with Elvira Barbieri, soprano; and chorus
(2819c) unpublished
 
3.UN BALLO IN MASCHERA: Ve’, se di notte (Verdi)3:34
 with Elvira Barbieri, soprano; Vincenzo Bettoni, bass; and chorus
(2821c) 054449x
 

La Société Suisse des Disques Phonographiques d’Art

Zürich, ca. 1920

4.Ideale (Tosti)4:00
 (C5002) C3002 
5.Caro mio ben (Giordani)3:39
 (C5008) C3003 

THE GRAMOPHONE COMPANY, LTD.

Milan, 21 May 1921

Recorded by Raymond R. Sooy

6.La mantilla (Álvarez)2:49
 (BA1-2) 7-62029 
7.LE ROI DE LAHORE: Aux troupes du Sultan … Promesse de mon avenir (Le barbare tribù … O casto fior) (Massenet)4:05
 (CA2-3) 2-052201 
8.Vittoria, vittoria, mio core! (Carissimi)2:37
  (BA3-1) 7-52192 

THE GRAMOPHONE COMPANY, LTD.

Milan, 22 May 1921

Recorded by Raymond R. Sooy

9.RUY BLAS: Io scacciato! Io bandito! … Ai miei rivali cedere (Marchetti)4:16
 (CA4-1) 2-052202 
10.DON CARLO: Felice ancor io son … Per me giunto (Verdi)3:52
 (CA5-1) 2-052203 

THE GRAMOPHONE COMPANY, LTD.

Milan, 23 May 1921

Recorded by Raymond R. Sooy

11.TANNHÄUSER: Wie Todesahnung … O du mein holder Abendstern (Forier di morte … Oh! tu bell’astro incantator) (Wagner)3:40
 (CA6-2) 2-052204
Transposed up a tone to A
 
12.ERNANI: O sommo Carlo (Verdi)3:47
 with Giuseppe Taccani, tenor; Jannina De Witt, soprano; and chorus
(CA7-2) 2-054118
 
13.RIGOLETTO: No, vecchio, t’inganni … Sì, vendetta! (Verdi)2:26
 with Lulu Hayes, soprano
(BA8-2) 7-54018
 
14.LA GIOCONDA: Così mantieni il patto? … Ebbrezza! delirio! (Ponchielli)4:24
 with Jannina De Witt, soprano
(CA9-2) 2-054119
 

THE GRAMOPHONE COMPANY, LTD.

Milan, 24 May 1921

Recorded by Raymond R. Sooy

15.MARIA DI ROHAN: Voce fatal di morte (Donizetti)3:27
 (CA10-1) 2-052207 
16.LA FAVORITA: Vien, Leonora … De’ nemici tuoi lo sdegno (Donizetti)4:22
 with Alberto Trevisan, flute obbligato
(CA11-1) 2-052208
 
17.LA FORZA DEL DESTINO: E la fè che giurai? … Urna fatale (Verdi)4:10
 (CA12-2) unpublished 
18.LA FORZA DEL DESTINO: E s’altra prova rinvenir potessi? … Egli è salvo! (Verdi)2:42
 (BA13-2) 7-52194 

THE GRAMOPHONE COMPANY, LTD.

Milan, 26 May 1921

Recorded by William J. Beckwith

19.MARIA DI ROHAN: Voce fatal di morte (Donizetti)3:44
 (CM24) unpublished 
20.LA FAVORITA: Vien, Leonora … De’ nemici tuoi lo sdegno (Donizetti)4:18
 (CM26) unpublished 
21.MARIA DI RUDENZ: Egli ancora non giunge … Ah! non avea più lagrime (Donizetti)4:17
 (CM27) 2-052209 

CD 6 (77:37)

THE GRAMOPHONE COMPANY, LTD.

Milan, 22 February 1924

Recorded by George W. Dillnutt

1.LA FORZA DEL DESTINO: E la fè che giurai? … Urna fatale (Verdi)4:00
 (Ck1418-1) 2-052251 
2.UN BALLO IN MASCHERA: Alla vita che t’arride (Verdi)2:51
 (Bk1422-1) 7-52264 
3.LA FAVORITA: A tanto amor (Donizetti)3:51
 (Ck1423-1) 2-052253 

THE GRAMOPHONE COMPANY, LTD.

Milan, 24 February 1924

Recorded by George W. Dillnutt

4.DON CARLO: O Carlo ascolta … Io morrò (Verdi)3:40
 (Ck1419-3) 2-052252 
5.UN BALLO IN MASCHERA: Non è su lei, nel suo fragile petto … Eri tu che macchiavi (Verdi)4:48
 (Ck1424-1) 2-052254 

THE GRAMOPHONE COMPANY, LTD.

Milan, 25 February 1924

Recorded by George W. Dillnutt

6.LE NOZZE DI FIGARO: Non più andrai (Mozart)3:48
 (Ck1427-2) 2-052255
Transposed up a semi-tone to D-flat
 
7.PARIDE ED ELENA: O del mio dolce ardor (Gluck)3:42
 (Ck1428-2) 2-052256 
8.Si vous l’aviez compris (Denza)3:38
 (Ck1429) 2-032079 

THE GRAMOPHONE COMPANY, LTD.

Milan, 27 February 1924

Recorded by George W. Dillnutt

9.IL GUARANY: Olà dunque, miei bravi! … Senza tetto, senza cuna (Gomes)3:32
 (Ck1432-3) 2-052257 
10.DON GIOVANNI: Deh, vieni alla finestra (Mozart)2:08
 (Bk1433-3) 2-52265 
11.La partida (Álvarez)4:14
 (CK1434-2) unpublished 

APPENDIX 1

Mattia Battistini’s only non-commercial recording

12.TANNHÄUSER: Da scheinest du … O du mein holder Abendstern (Or splendi tu … Oh! tu bell’astro incantator) (Wagner)2:15
 Privately made 2-minute cylinder recorded Berlin circa 1898
Transposed up a semi-tone to A-flat
Note: The cylinder runs out of time before the end of the aria.
 

APPENDIX 2

Giuseppe Bellantoni, Baritone

1880-1946

Selected Fonotipia Recordings, Milan, 1910-1911

13.Occhi di fata (Denza)3:31
 16 March 1910 (XPh 4274-1) 62468 
14.L’ultima canzone (Tosti)3:01
 16 March 1910 (XPh 4275-1) 62469 
15.Luna cortese (Valente)2:52
 21 March 1910 (XPh 4285-1) 62467 
16.Chianiutedda mia (Graffeo)3:12
 21 March 1910 (XPh 4286-1) 62466 
17.UN BALLO IN MASCHERA: Alla vita che t’arride (Verdi)3:03
 24 March 1910 (XPh 4298) unpublished 
18.SAFFO: Di sua voce il suon giungea (Pacini)3:35
 16 January 1911 (XPh 4495-1) 92784 
19.SAFFO: Mesta elegia Saffo sciogliendo ... Un’ Erinni atroce, orrenda (Pacini)3:08
 17 February 1911 (XPh 4531-1) 92785 
20.HÉRODIADE: Vision fugitive (Vision fuggitiva) (Masssenet)3:44
 26 October 1910 (XPh 4400-1) 92679 
21.RUY BLAS: Ai miei rivali cedere (Marchetti)3:03
 29 October 1910 (XPh 4405-1) 92730 
22.SIEGFRIED: Wache, wala! (Veglia, Wala!) (Wagner)6:00
 25 November1910 and 16 January 1911 (XPh 4423-1/XPh 4498-1) 92725/92726 
 

CD 1:
Accompaniment: Tracks [1-11] with piano; Tracks [12-23] with orchestra conducted by Carlo Sabajno
Language: All tracks sung in Italian except: Track [5] sung in Spanish
Track 12: The record label gives the title incorrectly as “Bella Italia.”
CD 2:
Accompaniment: Tracks [1-7, 10-21] with orchestra conducted by Carlo Sabajno; Tracks [8-9] with Carlo Sabajno, piano
Language: All tracks sung in Italian except: Tracks [8-9] sung in French
Track 5: The record label gives the title incorrectly as “Ma come dopo il nembo,” which is sung toward the middle of the record.
CD 3:
Accompaniment: Tracks [1-2, 12-21] with orchestra conducted by Carlo Sabajno Tracks [3-11] with Carlo Sabajno, piano;
Language: All tracks sung in Italian except: Track [5] sung in French
Tracks 16-17: The titles of these arias are given incorrectly on the original labels
CD 4:
Accompaniment: Tracks [1-5, 11-19] with orchestra conducted by Carlo Sabajno; Tracks (6-10) with Carlo Sabajno, piano
Language: All tracks sung in Italian
Track 4: This aria was written for Battistini to an Italian text, and is not part of the French score.
CD 5:
Accompaniment: Tracks [1-3, 6-7, 9-20] with orchestra conducted by Carlo Sabajno; Tracks [4-5] with piano accompaniment; Track [8 and 21] with Carlo Sabajno, piano
Language: All tracks sung in Italian except: Track [6] sung in Spanish
Track 21: Battistini sings “Ella ancora non giunge,” having changed the original text
CD 6:
Accompaniment: Tracks [1-7, 9-10] with orchestra conducted by Carlo Sabajno; Track [8] accompanied by violin, cello, and piano; Tracks [11-12] with piano; Tracks [13-17] with Angelo Bettinelli, piano; Tracks [18-22] with orchestra
Language: All tracks sung in Italian except: Track [8] sung in French; Track [11] sung in Spanish

 


Producers: Scott Kessler and Ward Marston

Audio conservation: Ward Marston and J. Richard Harris

Booklet Design: Michael Aspinall

Booklet Design: Takeshi Takahashi

 

Photographs: Marston would like to thank Girvice Archer, Gregor Benko, André Tubeuf, and Peter van der Waal.

Original recordings: Marston would like to thank the following for making rare recordings available for the production of this compilation:
Gregor Benko, Bill and Kenny Breslin, Marco and David Contini, J. Neil Forster, Harry Glaze, Lawrence F. Holdridge, Larry Lustig, Jeffrey Miller, and Jim Stephens.

Marston would like to extend special thanks to our close friend, Lawrence F. Holdridge, who has generously made available his complete collection of Battistini recordings, many of which are pristine special shellac and vinyl pressings from the original metal masters. Working with these discs has been immensely pleasurable because it has enabled us to present Battistini in the best possible sound.

Marston would like to extend special thanks to Elizabeth Black and Dr. Mark Duijnstee for editorial advice.

Marston would like to thank Michael Begley for his financial contribution toward the production of this set.

 


LA GLORIA D’ITALIA

“Arthur, remember, there are three geniuses of music—Beethoven, Mozart, and Battistini!” (Boleslaw Sznek, Arthur Rubinstein’s uncle, quoted in My Young Years, Knopf, New York, 1973.)

“He…makes the audience appreciate beauties in the music that nobody has ever properly brought out before.” (Anonymous review of Ernani, 1885, quoted by Jacques Chuilon.)

“The corpse was laid out in a Hall of Medals, the walls hung with some of the wreaths and ribbons awarded to Mattia Battistini by audiences all over the world, as tributes to his art. The room had been transformed into a mortuary chapel, adorned with many plants and flowers. Four enormous wax candles burned around the body, which had been dressed in the habit of a Franciscan monk, according to the desire of the departed, who had been a fervent member of the third order of Franciscans. The numerous Italian and foreign medals were arranged on one side of the chapel. The body is watched over by Spanish nuns, to whose order Mattia Battistini has entrusted the care of the noble chapel in which he will lie beside his beloved wife, the Baroness Dolores. All the local authorities and many citizens have come to pay their respects to the departed. The Bishop of Rieti, Monsignor Rinaldi, and other priests have said masses for the departed in the presence of the corpse. Telegrams of condolence have arrived from all over the world. We learn that the great man has left one hundred thousand lire to our local hospital and all his priceless artistic treasures have been donated to the Civic Museum of Rieti.” (Undated newspaper clipping, Rome, 1928) [This, and all other quotations found in this essay, whether Chuilon or other foreign language sources, have been translated by Michael Aspinall.]

This description of the lying-in-state of Battistini on the eve of his funeral gives an idea of the exalted status of this opera-singer in the eyes of his contemporaries: a royal status, in fact—“the King of Baritones and the Baritone of Kings”.

In his magnificent book Mattia Battistini—Le dernier divo (Editions Romillat, Paris, 1996) the singer Jacques Chuilon has meticulously gathered together every bit of information he could find about the life, the career, and the art of his idol. Lovers of the finest singing will always be indebted to his research, and to his collection of Battistini reviews from many countries.

A FIFTY-YEAR CAREER IN A FEW PARAGRAPHS

Mattia Battistini was born in Rome on 27 February 1856. His father, Luigi Battistini, was a well-known doctor, director of the Santo Spirito hospital, his mother a descendant of an old Roman noble family. Like many such families, the Battistinis enjoyed profitable connections with the Church. After displaying a certain aptitude for singing and acting as a child, the teenage Mattia interrupted his studies (law? medicine? both? - the accounts vary) at university in order to study singing with Venceslao Persichini (1827-1897), who also gave lessons to the tenor Francesco Marconi and the baritones Antonio Magini-Coletti, Giuseppe De Luca, and Titta Ruffo. Persichini was installed as Professor of singing, pianoforte, and composition at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome, in 1877; we do not know if Battistini studied with him at the Accademia or privately. In 1877 Battistini joined the chorus of the Filarmonica Romana. During the spring and summer of 1878 he sang in several concerts in private homes and churches in Rome, Rieti, and other towns. (The critic Rodolfo Celletti found a reference to a provincial performance of Donizetti’s Poliuto in which a young tenor named Battistini made a debut in the supporting role of Nearco, winning applause for a traditionally interpolated high note. Was this the Battistini, in an otherwise undocumented trial as a tenor?) Then came his opportunity: the season at the Teatro Argentina, Rome, had run to a standstill because neither of the company’s two baritones was available to sing King Alfonso in La favorita. The conductor Luigi Mancinelli took young Battistini, whom he may have noticed during concerts at the Filarmonica, round to the hotel where the celebrated mezzo-soprano Isabella Galletti Gianoli was impatiently tapping her foot, wondering whether she would sing Leonora that night or not. The anxious baritone sang through Alfonso’s music, and as he observed the approving glances passing between his hearers, he began to feel that sensation of sprouting wings experienced by well-trained singers when seized by inspiration and the thrill of the moment. Galletti Gianoli rushed him off to the theater to find a suitable costume, and he had one orchestral rehearsal. His debut took place on Saturday 9 November 1878, a date—like many others—firmly established by the researches of M. Chuilon, who reproduces (translated into French) several reviews of the event. The debut of the young baritone, whose comrades from the Filarmonica and other friends were there to cheer him, was a greater triumph than any ever awarded to a debutant in a Roman theater. At the end of the evening, Maestro Persichini came on stage to congratulate his pupil, and the audience awarded him a salvo of applause. The long review by the Marquis d’Arcais from the Opinione di Roma of 11 November 1878 gives an exhaustive description of Battistini’s voice and art as it then was, together with sage counsel for his immediate future. The voice is described as beautiful and agreeable, with a magical mezza voce, though of no great volume or wide range. Only two years later, reviews would comment on the impressive volume and extensive range of his voice. The young man is advised to avoid, for the present, heavy dramatic roles that might tempt him to force his voice. Few music critics today would be capable of writing such a detailed and fascinating report on a new singer.

At the time of his debut Battistini had already learned and was ready to sing twenty-two operatic roles: Donizetti (4), Verdi (8), Marchetti, Petrella, etc. During his career he would sing in sixty-four operas (according to the biography by Jacopo Serafini, Il fiorito oblio, Pagano, Napoli, 2002) though Jacques Chuilon lists as many as ninety-two. Battistini’s next role at the Teatro Argentina was il Conte di Luna to the Azucena of Galletti Gianoli in Il trovatore on the 26 November. He was at Ferrara in January-February 1879, where he sang in La forza del destino and Rigoletto at the Teatro Tosi-Borghi, followed by appearances in Bologna, Chieti, and Perugia. He returned to Rome in December 1879 to sing at the Teatro Apollo in performances, again led by Mancinelli, of Gli Ugonotti, I puritani, Lucia di Lammermoor, Lohengrin, and Sardanapalo (Libani)with the tenor Roberto Stagno and the soprano Elena Boronat (elder sister of Olimpia), the mezzo-sopranos Eva Hortensia Synnerberg and Stella Bonheur, and the bass Romano Nannetti. Wagner himself came to Rome to oversee rehearsals of Lohengrin. Battistini was scheduled to sing the role of the Herald, but when the composer heard him, he insisted that he be promoted to the leading baritone part, Telramondo, in which he was so successful that he had to encore the long duet with Ortruda, Stella Bonheur. The year 1880 saw him at Ravenna, Trento, Florence, and Turin. His career now took a jump forward with his first engagement abroad: from May to July 1881 he appeared at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires, in Ruy Blas (Marchetti), La favorita, L’Africana (with Elena Boronat and Francesco Tamagno), Aida, Gli Ugonotti (with Erminia Borghi-Mamo, Elena Boronat, and Tamagno), and La forza del destino (with Borghi-Mamo and Tamagno). The same singers offered a similar repertory in Rio de Janeiro in August and September, and in São Paulo in November. The next traced Battistini performances were in March 1882, again at the Colón with the same company. One wonders where they had all been wintering. Did they all return to Italy at the beginning of December and then sail back to South America in the spring? Performances in Buenos Aires lasted from March to July 1882, after which the company again went to Rio de Janeiro until the end of October. Additions to Battistini’s repertory included Faust (with Francesco Marconi), Ernani, and La traviata (with Medea Borelli and Tamagno). By 18 December 1882 Battistini was in Madrid for the first time, making his debut in La favorita with Medea Mei, followed by Il barbiere di Siviglia with Bianca Donadio, Angelo Masini, and Nannetti. He then sang La traviata, Il barbiere di Siviglia, and I puritani in Seville with Stagno. On 8 May he made his Covent Garden debut as Riccardo in I puritani with Marcella Sembrich, Marconi, and Edouard de Reszke, after which he sang in Il trovatore with Pauline Lucca, in Lohengrin with Emma Albani, in La traviata with Adelina Patti—the only occasion on which these two supreme masters of bel canto ever sang together. It was not a happy memory for Battistini, because Patti, engaged in a war that she was eventually to win against the high pitch of the Covent Garden orchestra, had the entire second act duet transposed a tone down! He then returned to Madrid for two seasons, from October 1883 to April 1885. In April 1884 he sang with Julián Gayarre in La favorita and I puritani at the Teatro Regio, Turin. The year 1885 brought performances at the Teatro Costanzi, Rome, the Théâtre-Italien, Paris, and the San Carlo, Naples.

At the height of the London season of 1887 Augustus Harris produced a month of Italian opera at Drury Lane Theatre, which established him at once as the leading London impresario. At the suggestion of Luigi Mancinelli he had paid a visit to Madrid with the noted critic Herman Klein in search of talented new artists and engaged Fernando De Lucia, Guerrina Fabbri, and Battistini. In the event Jean de Reszke stole the show, but Battistini’s debut as Rigoletto on 15 June was favorably received, and M. Chuilon quotes several enthusiastic reviews of this and of his subsequent appearances in Il barbiere (with Sigrid Arnoldson and De Lucia) and Lohengrin (with Jean and Edouard de Reszke). If London opera goers had to wait until 1905 to hear him again (although the more adventurous of them may have heard him in Italy, Spain, or even Russia) this may fairly be attributed to his paranoid fear of the sea—more specifically of the monsters of the deep that feed on human flesh. After his ocean voyages to and from South America in 1881-1882 and 1889-1890 even the idea of crossing the English Channel filled him with dread, and this was why he never ventured to the United States.

After London, Battistini’s next engagement was at La Scala, Milan, where he first appeared as Alfonso in La favorita on 12 February 1888, followed by L’Africana and Lohengrin, all with Gayarre, while in April he sang in Il barbiere (with Arnoldson) and La favorita (with Gayarre) at the Teatro Argentina, Rome. Between October 1888 and March 1889 he was at the Teatro São Carlos, Lisbon, appearing in nine operas including his first performances as Jago in Verdi’s Otello. In May 1889 he sang for the last time in Buenos Aires and Montevideo, where he appeared for the first time as Simon Boccanegra, which he repeated at La Scala on his return to Italy in January 1890. This was followed by Il barbiere, Ernani, and his first Hamlet in Thomas’s Amleto (with Emma Calvé and Félia Litvinne). He was busy in the leading theaters of Italy, Spain, and Portugal until 1893 brought another significant step forward in Battistini’s career, art, and lifestyle: he made his first appearance in Saint Petersburg on 11 March as Hamlet, with Sembrich. Such was his success that for ten years he practically limited his appearances to Russia and Poland, where the loving warmth of his audiences was unique. “I have always enjoyed singing in Saint Petersburg, and nowhere else do I sing with such pleasure; not one successful note is missed, but is always saluted by friendly hearts. With just my own skills I should never have obtained so full a success, lasting continuously for ten years, but the poet and the singer bloom when surrounded by a climate of love.” (from a 1903 interview quoted in Chuilon, op. cit., p. 59-60.) His biographer Francesco Palmegiani (in Mattia Battistini, Il Re dei Baritoni, Stampa d’Oggi, Milan, 1949) reports that during a performance of Rigoletto in Moscow in 1912 his audience was so enthusiastic that he had to encore every number in the opera—but this was by no means an unusual event! We read that in Maria di Rohan in Kiev in 1902 he sang the whole of his music, except only the recitatives, twice over.

He would rest at his villa in Rieti during the summer months, then return to Moscow and Saint Petersburg, stopping off for guest appearances in Warsaw on the way there and back. In those ten years his only operatic performances elsewhere were at the Kroll-Oper, Berlin in August 1893, Bucharest in November 1899, Vilnius in April 1900, and a solitary Maria di Rohan in Rieti in August 1902. In Russia he appeared with extraordinary all-star casts, whose younger artists like Caruso and Tetrazzini were able to learn from the experience.

In 1903 Battistini seems to have remembered Italy: in August he sang Amleto and Rigoletto at the Teatro Grande, Brescia (with Regina Pinkert), and in October-November Ernani and, with Maria Barrientos, Linda di Chamounix and Amleto at the Teatro Adriano, Rome. After a strenuous winter season in Vilnius, Riga, Minsk, Warsaw, and Kiev—but skipping Saint Petersburg and Moscow this time—he sang Ernani and Un ballo in maschera at the Teatro Verdi, Florence, in May 1904, followed by another season at the Adriano, Rome, in November-December, singing Maria di Rohan and Zampa with Emilia Corsi, and Werther. Emilia Corsi and Maria di Rohan went with him to the San Carlo, Naples in December, after which he sang Rigoletto with Regina Pacini and Alessandro Bonci. After returning to Warsaw and Saint Petersburg for the winter season of 1904-1905, on 30 August 1905, at the Teatro Vespasiano, Rieti, Battistini obligingly sang in the premiere of Per la patria by his nephew Goffredo Cocchi, adding Linda di Chamounix on 11 September, with the bass Ettore Borucchia, another student of Persichini.

On 15 November 1905 he made his long awaited rentrée at Covent Garden as Rigoletto, with the delightful soprano Esperanza Clasenti (a pupil of Melchiorre Vidal) and Aristodemo Giorgini. This was an Italian season, mostly conducted by Leopoldo Mugnone, and the enthusiastic audience demanded and obtained a generous encore from Battistini—the Finale to Act Three [Act Two in the score]. He also sang in Faust with Melba, Giovanni Zenatello, and Adamo Didur, and added Don Giovanni. He then hurried to Naples for five operas, including Il barbiere with De Lucia, and then to Rome for Un ballo in maschera and Rigoletto, both with the now aging Marconi. After a short Russian season in March and April, he returned to Covent Garden for the summer season of 1906, singing with Caruso and Melba in Rigoletto and La traviata and with Emmy Destinn in Eugene Onegin, Aida, and Don Giovanni. (P.G. Hurst saw La traviata, in which he found that Battistini overshadowed even Caruso and Melba.)

His triumphant tours in Eastern Europe continued until the Great War broke out in 1914. In 1909, 1910, and 1911 he appeared in Prague; in 1910 at the Hofoper, Vienna, and in Budapest and Bucharest; in 1912 at the Volksoper, Vienna, and the Hofoper, Berlin; in 1913 at the Vienna Volksoper again, at the Munich Hofoper, and in concert at the Berlin Philharmonic. In 1914 he sang at the Hamburg Stadt Theater. In Italy he appeared in several significant revivals: Simon Boccanegra at La Scala in December 1910 (with Adelina Agostinelli and Augusto Scampini, conducted by Tullio Serafin), Macbeth at the Costanzi, Rome, in March 1911 (with Cecilia Gagliardi), followed by Guglielmo Tell (with Mario Gilion) and Don Sebastiano (with Virginia Guerrini), all conducted by his old friend and mentor Luigi Mancinelli. On 4 January 1913 the Costanzi staged Don Carlo as part of the Verdi centenary celebrations (with Juanita Capella, Luisa Garibaldi, Edward Johnson, and Nazzareno De Angelis). In 1915 he sang Dinorah at the Teatro Quirino, Rome, with Elvira de Hidalgo, conducted by Mascagni.

With the coming of war, Battistini intensified his Italian appearances, with frequent trips to Spain and Portugal. He announced “Farewell Performances” in Luisa Miller and Don Giovanni at the Teatro Costanzi in 1916, but these did not materialize and he never traded on the “farewell” cliché: even the Golden Jubilee performance of La favorita planned for the Teatro Argentina in 1928, and of which death cheated him a few days before it could take place, was not advertised as a farewell.

In 1917 at the Salle Garnier, Monte Carlo he appeared in Ernani, The Demon, and Il barbiere with all-star casts, then made his debut at the Paris Opéra with Maria di Rohan, Rigoletto, and Thaïs. The French welcomed him ecstatically: “We might have thought that we would never be able to hear him…except on the gramophone. Why has he waited so long? His reception here must have demonstrated to him that he had nothing to fear. If the great art of Italian singing, which our grandfathers never stopped raving about, has any heirs today, then he is the main one…and the first proof of it—the first thing that strikes you, on hearing him—is the incredible youthfulness of this sixty-year-old voice. This purity, this clarity of timbre, this flexibility, this charm, this molding of the melodic line, this perfect support, this absence of any nasality or unwelcome vibrations…everything here is seduction: it represents an unrivalled school.” (Le Guide Musical—undated cutting.) After performances of Rigoletto at Monte Carlo in April (with Tito Schipa), he returned to the Opéra for Hamlet and La favorita. Now that Russia was out of the question, he began his winter operations in 1917-1918 with a long season at the Paris Opéra, appearing in Saint-Saëns’s Henri VIII (with the title role especially re-touched for him by the composer), followed by Thaïs, Rigoletto, La favorita, a pastiche entitled Les virtuosi de Mazarin, and Hamlet. In February 1918 he returned to Monte Carlo for Rigoletto, La traviata, and Tosca, all with Schipa. For the first three months of 1919 he was again at Paris and then Monte Carlo, where he sang with Beniamino Gigli in La traviata and Tosca. On 27 February 1920 he sang the first of ten performances of Quo vadis? at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris, followed by four operas in Cannes, where the soprano Gabrielle Ritter-Ciampi appeared with him in Don Giovanni, Rigoletto, and La traviata. In June 1920 he sang for the first time in Zürich, performing four operas at the Stadt Theater followed by a concert tour of Swiss cities. In October he sang Rigoletto, Tosca, and La favorita in Stockholm. After a handful of appearances in Rigoletto in Trieste (November 1920, with Giacomo Lauri-Volpi) and Padova (December 1920, with Toti Dal Monte), he did not sing in opera again in Italy except for occasional performances in Rieti. During these last years he gave opera performances in Vienna, Nice, Paris (Opéra and Opéra-Comique), Zürich, Berlin, Monte Carlo, Basel, Poznan, Warsaw, and Budapest, where he gave his last stage performances, of Tosca, Un ballo in maschera, and La traviata, in December 1925. In November 1925 he had sung widely-admired performances at the Vienna State Opera: Rigoletto with Selma Kurz and Alfred Piccaver, Ernani with Kurz, and Un ballo in maschera with Maria Nemeth and Kurz.

Concert tours, winding up with Prague and Vienna in 1927, occupied much of his time. The Berliner Allgemeine Zeitung of 26 September 1927 carried the following review by Rudolf Kastner: “The 74 year-old [sic] magician not only fills the massive Philharmonic Hall with people, he also fills it with the most delicate sounds of his magical voice. Faced with this incomparable wonder of song and singing, how idle, how meaningless it would be to dispute about the source or the essence of the impression produced! Some explain it as the highest technical refinement, even as ‘mechanical art’, whereas thousands of others ecstatically embrace this ‘mechanical art’. We share the view of the thousands. In this one man you must observe every single thing: breathing, attack, tone formation, the unprecedented dynamics of the mezza voce, the nobility of phrasing—and a thousand other things. Once more the audience rejoiced endlessly and once more the miracle happened: Battistini’s voice was so fully free in the encores that it was a happy treat for all of us….”

MATTIA BATTISTINI AT HOME

Gino Monaldi, whose analysis of Battistini’s art we give below, was a personal friend of the singer, and reports that: “It is difficult to imagine more exquisite good manners and more generous and noble feelings than those of Battistini.”

In 1885 Battistini married a noble Spanish lady, Dolores Figueroa y Solís. They lived for some years on the bride’s estate in Spain, then took up residence on Battistini’s own estate at Collebaccaro di Contigliano, near Rieti, where he invited various friends to come and live. Battistini’s wife was of a very religious nature, and it is said that after the death of their only son when only a few days old, she became entirely devoted to spiritual matters and turned a blind eye to her husband’s extra-marital adventures. She died in 1922. By a noble lady in Russia, he had a son who was eventually taken by his mother to England, where direct descendents of his still live today. Battistini himself was also of deeply religious temperament. In her diverting, though not entirely trustworthy memoirs, Lina Cavalieri recalls singing Thaïs with him in Russia: “Battistini loved his role of Athanaël and, in order to feel truly at home as a visionary hermit, he used to wear his coarse monk’s habit in the house almost all day long. Every now and then, through the open window (it was May) he looked into the street and once, when someone noticed him and a small crowd of curious people gathered to watch him in amazement, he—rather imposing and mystical in his costume—showed his entire person at the window and, with a broad and majestic gesture, blessed his ‘audience’!” (Le Mie Verità, Roma 1936, p. 125.) [Note: all performances of Thaïs in Saint Petersburg with Cavalieri and Battistini seem to have taken place in January, February, or March!]

He fancied himself as a painter, and would spend hours daubing canvases of doubtful worth. This artistic activity came to a sudden end when the tenor Marconi opined: “Hey, Matty, you had better stick to singing!”

In 1910 Battistini was named Grande Ufficiale nell’ordine della Corona d’Italia, and from then on he was always addressed as “Commendatore”. He was named Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur by the French Government in 1920. Honors were also bestowed upon him by the rulers of Russia, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Spain, and Portugal. He was photographed in his uniform as Court Chamberlain to the Tsar.

Fred Gaisberg of “His Master’s Voice” gives us a vivid portrait of the singer (in The Music Goes Round, The Macmillan Company, New York 1942). “Battistini offers the rare instance where a singer’s social career was as distinguished as his professional career. He was exceedingly sensitive on the point of his artistic prestige, so much so that it almost amounted to a mania….To balance this harmless vanity, he was a man of great charm and distinction of manner, generous to fellow artists and a lavish host at his home in Rieti.” His daily routine, as described by Gaisberg, suggests compulsive practicing and rehearsing. He would rise at 5:30 a.m. and ride for two hours around his estate. He took coffee at 7:30 then dedicated two hours to his correspondence. He sang from 10:00 till 12:00. Lunch was from 12:00 until 2:00 p.m., after which he took a rest, then exercised his voice again from 4:00 to 7:00. When on tour, on performance days this pattern was slightly relaxed: at 11:00 a.m. he would receive distinguished guests in his bedroom while he sipped his chocolate, after which they would be privileged to listen to the maestro as he warmed up his voice and ran through the entire program of that evening’s appearance. Gaisberg and the impresario L.G. Sharpe managed the three highly successful concerts that Battistini gave in London in each of the years 1922, 1923, and 1924. “…the programme consisted of up to twenty of the most difficult arias and romances ever written for the baritone voice. The baritone seemed to get better as his voice warmed up and the remarkable thing was that he finished each concert absolutely fresh. Afterwards he would relax and say, ‘Now I will indulge my one remaining vice.’ He would then produce a large Havana cigar, light this up, and lie back luxuriously in perfect ease and contentment.”

In later years he suffered from arthritis: during a concert in Zürich he was standing in the wings listening to the solo pianist who was sharing the program, and when a chair was produced for him, he refused it with a smile: “I am an old man. If I sit down now, I shall not get up again.” During his last concert tour he suffered from a heart condition, which finally caused his death on 7 November 1928.

Many years ago a well-known record collector, the late Richard Bebb went to visit an elderly Russian lady living in England, who had records of Battistini that she wished to sell. When, at dinner, one of her sons made polite fun of her Battistini worship, she exclaimed: “Don’t laugh at Battistini! How do you know he wasn’t your father?”

THE BARITONE VOICE

The earliest publication that gives us a real insight into how the technique of singing was taught in the eighteenth century is the Méthode de Chant du Conservatoire de Musique (Paris, Year 12—i.e. 1804), written in the main by Italian teachers working in Paris, led by the tenor Bernardo Mengozzi (1758-1800). Here we find, on pages 3-5, the now familiar classification of male voices. The low voice is Basse Contre or, in Italian, Basso, with a range from the F below the bass stave to the F two octaves above it; the medium voice is Basse Taille or Concordant, in Italian Baritono, whose range is given as from B, second line of the bass stave, to the high F in chest voice—with some higher notes in head voice. It would be a long time before the Italians would use the designation baritono in their vocal scores, whereas the French had been dividing the baryton from the basse for years. Rossini had already been writing higher and lower bass parts in his operas (for example, in Il barbiere), but in Paris he heard singers like the baryton Henri-Bernard Dabadie (1797-1853), who created Pharaon in Moïse, Rimbault in Le Comte Ory, and most tellingly the title role in Guillaume Tell, an opera that, once imported into Italy, had an enormous influence on the increasing importance of baritone parts in opera. Dabadie’s voice was described by a contemporary as “a concordant of notable purity”.

By 1878 there was a wide range of baritone parts available for Battistini to sing. Right from the start some people wondered whether he really was a baritone, and not, rather, a bari-tenore (or medium-range tenor) who had opted to sing baritone because it was more comfortable. The great man himself said: “Baritone? Tenor? I am Battistini.” (Quoted by Chuilon, op. cit.: taken from Sergei Levik—The Levik Memoirs [1962], London, Symposium Records, 1995.) Caruso could sing, and indeed record, “Vecchia zimarra”, Tibbett could record “Vesti la giubba”, and Leonard Warren could sing “Di quella pira”, but these were occasional “stunts”. A wise singer keeps to the tessitura in which his voice is comfortable. The definitions “baritone” and “tenor” do not refer to timbre: since Ruffo’s day people have come to expect a kind of gruff sound from baritones, but the difference is one of range, not of timbre. Tenors like Marconi and Caruso, baritones like Battistini and Campanari all cultivated a pure, rounded, golden sound that came from an open and relaxed throat and the expert use of head resonance.

THE KING OF BARITONES

In Le Temps, 16 April 1917, Pierre Lalo wrote: “The sureness and flexibility of his voice are intact; there is no exaggeration, no bad taste; he follows the contour of the melodic phrase with incomparable skill. The extraordinary clarity of his diction allows him to make dramatic effects without either effort or noise. This manner of singing is as unknown to even the most famous of the Italians of today, just as it is unknown to us; it is a great pity that so accomplished an art should be on the point of disappearing.” In a few words, Lalo has pinned down some essential features of Battistini’s singing. To modern ears, his recordings can be puzzling. Certainly, any music lover can hear at once the beauty of the voice, the flawless emission of tone, the long breath span and the smooth flow of the legato with its infinite dynamic flexibility. Today even the embellishments he adds to Don Giovanni’s Serenata will seem less strange than they did fifty years ago. However, the increasing domination of the conductor since the “reforms” of Toscanini, leading to the relegation of the vocalist to second place, has left us unaccustomed to a way of making music in which the conductor (the excellent Carlo Sabajno in Battistini’s records) follows, rather than leads, the singer. Battistini “follows the contour of the melodic phrase” with flexibility and elasticity of rhythm and a basic use of portamento. Battistini did not invent this intimate and personal way of phrasing music by “speeding up and slowing down wherever he likes” to increase the musical expression: Adelina Patti, Fernando De Lucia, and many other singers born in the mid-nineteenth century employ a similar rhythmic freedom, the rules of which were founded on good taste and passed on by imitation of good models. The Mapleson cylinders reveal that Luigi Mancinelli conducted Ernani at the Metropolitan in 1903 in a style that would have perfectly suited Battistini, whom he often accompanied in the theater, in Ernani and many other works. As early as 1885 a reviewer quoted by M. Chuilon extols Battistini in Ernani: “His voice is so sweet and honeyed that in a recitative a fior di labbra [melodiously murmured] he can obtain all the effects he might desire, new effects, and makes the audience appreciate beauties in the music that nobody has ever properly brought out before.” Battistini’s record of the duet “Da quel dì che t’ho veduta” from Ernani contains a curious and quite forgotten example of performance practice: though Elvira’s entry “Fiero sangue d’Aragona” is printed in the score superimposed over the last note of Don Carlo’s “del tuo re”, Emilia Corsi waits for Battistini to finish his phrase completely before bursting in with hers, effectively adding another beat to the bar. The authenticity of this practice is confirmed by the Mapleson cylinders in which Mancinelli conducts the ensemble “O sommo Carlo” from the same opera: Sembrich and De Marchi wait for Scotti to finish “delle tue gesta imitator” before they attack “acquista insolito”. In 1919 the magazine Musica announced that Mancinelli was writing an opera especially for Battistini, La veillée divine, to be staged at the Paris Opéra, but this never materialized.

In the days when great conductors loved fine singing (and sometimes taught singing) Felix Weingartner was eager to learn from Battistini. Recalling a Don Giovanni in Vienna, he wrote, in 1926: “He rehearsed with precision, calm and courteous towards his colleagues, and when he wanted to make an observation, he always asked permission first. His comments were always artistic and to the point; in the end I told him that he should speak up without constraint, and that all of us could profit from his hints.” (Quoted by Chuilon, op. cit., p. 260.)

Both Battistini and De Lucia were studying their art in about 1880, and continued to present in the opera house long-dead stylistic mannerisms—Battistini as late as 1925—although each of them had also adopted certain stylistic features of modern verismo opera.

Battistini’s voice was a high baritone; he is uncomfortable on the C in the bass stave and even, sometimes, on the D-flat, whereas he can play as he likes with the high E, F, and G. (In the Prologue to Pagliacci he reaches the low B.) He can sing the high A-flat either forte (“O sommo Carlo”) or pianissimo (a heavenly note, in “Perchè tremar?”). And although he sings, for example, Tosti’s “La serenata” in the tenor/soprano key of F, this does not mean that he was secretly a tenor. There are several examples of upward transposition among his records, and scores in the Santa Cecilia Library, Rome, show that in concert performances he transposed scenes from The Demon, Der fliegende Holländer, and Die Walküre a tone up.

When Battistini came to make his first records in 1902 he was forty-six years old and had been singing, with universal success, for twenty-four years. During this period he had developed his voice and his musical and dramatic style by obsessive daily study. All of his records seem convincing reproductions of a great voice, though people who heard him in the flesh would say that they “only partially reproduce the splendor of his voice.” (Chuilon, op. cit., page 139.) The middle-aged Battistini has the same pure, sunny tone as the young Caruso or the young Gigli; the emission is totally free of the throat, and the impression is that the voice floats on the breath, and the singer is able to do whatever he wants with it. Those who heard him remembered that his soft singing filled the theater just as completely as his loud singing. The legato is only a starting-point for Battistini, who molds a sinuous and expressive line with infinite shadings of color and intensity, using portamento as a basic part of phrasing. His elaborately detailed realization of the bare notes of the score (as, for example, in Don Giovanni’s Serenata) seems perfectly spontaneous, the voice responding immediately to the fantastic conception of the artist’s imagination. His breathing method is that of the old Italian school, the method we now refer to as “inter-costal” breathing, which frees the vocal tract from tension and allows the singer complete control of vocal emission. Rodolfo Celletti used to say that the two most important features of singing are the breathing and the passaggio di registro. On pages 107-108 of his book Il Canto (Garzanti, Milan 1989) he minutely analyzes Battistini’s singing. Battistini does not try to push the voice or increase the volume when he ascends the scale to the high notes: instead, he blends the registers correctly and the voice acquires more brilliance and resonance as it sails effortlessly upwards. There is a constant ebb and flow of meaningfully modulated sound, a kaleidoscope of colors, brightly flashing or darkly shimmering, just as the master desires. In any given musical number, Battistini’s singing will be more varied, more alive with pulsating colors, than that of any other baritone. That does not mean that, for instance, his performance of Scarpia’s “Te Deum” is automatically the best version, for many of his records include antique mannerisms inappropriate to modern music, as well as verismo clichés that clash with the older music. He does not sing everything in the same style: though he may sing the “Fin ch’han dal vino” from Don Giovanni in a style redolent of Crispino e la Comare, he distinguishes neatly between the free style appropriate to Ernani and La traviata and the more modern style of Otello.

Many critics have wondered why Battistini, with his perfect technique and profound understanding of his repertoire, should so often take a high note perfectly and then increase the pressure, pushing until the note becomes tremulous and sharp in pitch. The attentive listener will hear that the great singer only commits this lapse from bel canto in his later recordings, from 1911. I believe that light is thrown upon this in the detailed description of his art and career given by the critic, musicologist, and impresario Marquis Gino Monaldi (1847- 1932) in his Cantanti Celebri (Rome, Edizioni Tiber, 1929, pp. 238 ff.): “The baritone Mattia Battistini was a true arbiter elegantiarum…. Not merely in a superficial, exterior way…but with an elegance that we might describe as aesthetic, intellectual… The voice and singing of Mattia Battistini always seemed to realize his intention of true nobility and supreme elegance, which was never missing from a single note…. Eager to learn, a worshipper of beauty in all its forms, of immaculate taste, exceptionally ambitious, he carefully studied all the best models as well as his own work, and he represented a flawless and exquisite example of the true bel canto on the modern opera stage. Taking advantage of the natural morbidezza of his voice, he studied the art of shading so that there was no form of refined tonal modulation that he could not execute with every delicate tint. When he wanted his voice to be honeyed and insinuating he made use of an enchanting mezza voce that drove audiences wild, and they worshipped him.”

Monaldi quotes “A tanto amor” and “Vieni meco, sol di rose” as Battistini specialities of unequalled grace. But his repertoire, thought Monaldi, was too ambitious: “Battistini’s temperament did not incline towards high tragedy and dramatic passion. He, however, delighted in all this, which led him into paths into which he ought to have ventured only rarely and with extreme caution….. Battistini’s real artistic development and transformation took place over a period of years…. Little by little he managed to fulfill his dramatic ideals, undertaking the roles of Rigoletto and Hamlet and even Macbeth and the husband in Maria di Rohan, in which he won enormous triumphs. He achieved these victories in spite of his temperament, which remained just the same as it had been when he was a young man. A master of bel canto and the master of his own voice, he managed to raise it to the level of high tragedy, but not so easily as he had previously managed to mold it to all the softest shades of refined modulation. One might say that singing never tired him, and, unlike most singers, all his life long he allowed himself very little rest. Battistini, more than anything else, was greedy for applause, and looked out for it all the time, and so, even when, at an advanced age, his voice could no longer stand up to the wear and tear of the stage, his concerts gave him almost as much satisfaction as the theatre.”

SOME CRITICAL REACTIONS TO BATTISTINI

“Nowadays there is nothing to question in Battistini. You admire him, you acclaim him, you exalt him. Mattia Battistini is the only one on the operatic stage who has the right to consider himself the heir of the traditions of Italian opera….. He is the greatest, the most complete singer living.” (Orfeo, Rome, 14 April 1912.)

Towards the end of the fifty-year career, some Italian critics were guilty of lèse majesté, insinuating that the King of Baritones had held the stage too long—for example, when he sang Ernani at La Scala in January 1917, the critic of Musica (15 January 1917) wrote: “Battistini, when all is said and done, managed to become the central figure of the show, he was admired for his well-preserved voice, flexible enough to lend itself to all the precious mannerisms with which the celebrated baritone decorates—not always appropriately—his interpretations.”

In 1920 Battistini appeared for the last time at the Costanzi, Rome, in La forza del destino (with Nazzareno De Angelis and Ezio Pinza alternating as the Padre Guardiano), provoking an unfriendly reaction from “La Solfa”, the critic of the magazine Le Maschere. (Rome, 18 January 1920): “We cannot discuss Mattia Battistini: the only language he is interested in is superlative and laudatory adjectives! And we, because once we dared to make a few honest comments about him, fell into disgrace and forfeited our friendship with him. And so, as now we should only have to repeat those comments, we prefer to remain silent. In homage to the long and patient studies of our illustrious fellow-citizen, and his artistic merits, which have always kept the reputation of Italian art high in other countries, we should prefer—instead of publishing in the newspapers that he is the glory of the Paris Opéra, etc. etc.—that he should retire “honorably” from the stage. At about seventy years of age, a voice of crystal such as his has been should definitely fall silent, especially considering that he has earned millions and obtained every satisfaction that an ambitious artist can aspire to. How awful, if this ‘Stop!’, which, to be honorable, must come from the artist, should come instead from the public!”

The bass Alexander Kipnis always cited Battistini as the greatest singer he had heard, his voice ringing like a golden bell. Frances Alda, who sang Gilda to Battistini’s Rigoletto, considered him “the finest singer I have ever heard. Not only for his magnificent baritone voice, but for the perfection of his art of singing.” (Frances Alda, Men Women and Tenors, Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1937, p. 65.) When the violinist Albert Spalding heard Perosi’s La Risurrezione di Cristo in Rome “the baritone role of the Christus was sung by the veteran Battistini, then a sexagenarian, and, I think, the greatest vocalist I have ever heard. The passing years had brought no impairment to the effortless production of golden sound, which poured itself forth with astonishing opulence. He phrased like an instrumentalist; breathing became an expressive punctuation rather than a necessity, and he had a sustained legato that was unbearably beautiful.” (Rise to Follow, Frederick Muller Ltd., London, 1946, p. 224.) Arthur Rubinstein heard him in The Demon and La traviata “and he thrilled me immensely. Along with Caruso, he had the finest male voice I have ever heard.” (My Young Years, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1973.) From Glenn Plaskin’s biography of Vladimir Horowitz we learn that the great pianist became an ardent fan of Battistini, listening to his records, describing him as a forgotten genius and admiring, in particular, the elasticity of his phrasing, his mastery of breathing, his colorful vocal palette and the expressive power of his singing. Unfortunately RCA turned down Horowitz’s offer to write the sleeve notes for a projected LP re-issue of Battistini records!

The myriad critical reviews quoted by M. Chuilon leave no doubt that Battstini, in his heyday, was an impressive actor. He was proud of his beautiful, specially made, expensive, and historically accurate costumes, which travelled everywhere with him, and which he left to the Rieti museum; today they are in the care of the town council of Collebaccaro, which has no space in which to exhibit them. Mr. L. de Noskowski recalled visiting the Hotel Bruhl in Warsaw while Battistini was staying there: “I counted in the entrance hall over thirty large and beautiful trunks with the large letters “M.B.”, containing his costumes.” (The Record Collector, Vol. VII N° 9, September 1952.)

BATTISTINI AND THE PHONOGRAPH

Battistini did little teaching. He would say: “My school is in my records.” The most completely satisfying illustrations of his voice and unique art are to be found in the 10-inch red label Warsaw Gramophone & Typewriter Company records of 1902 and, more particularly, in the 12-inch orange label Milan G & Ts of 1906. P.G. Hurst remembered the issue of both sets, and assures us that the 1906 records (issued in 1907) “were considered as some of the finest examples of recording then produced” and “at fifteen shillings each they seemed even cheap, so splendid were they. Myself, I selected Eri tu and A tanto amor, and as soon as I had restored my shattered finances I added O sommo Carlo.” (The Golden Age Recorded, 1946 and 1963.)

THE WARSAW G & Ts OF 1902

Rather like Emma Calvé on her visit to the G & T recording studio in London earlier that same year, Battistini seems not to have taken seriously his first encounter with commercial recording; a party atmosphere prevails, with friends in the studio ready to applaud. He may have consented to record his voice as part of the celebrations of his silver jubilee on the stage, in 1903. If he had known that over a hundred years later critics would judge his art from what they heard on these records, he might have thought twice about allowing “Largo al factotum”, with its hesitations and inaccuracies, to be published. Never mind! All the discs are closely recorded, making fine copies sound very lifelike, except perhaps the rather foggy “Occhi di fata”, so we can enjoy them as vivid impressions of a great singer and theatrical personality.

The 1911 recording of “O tu bell’astro” from Tannhäuser may be a more carefully finished performance, but the 1902 version captures the full beauty of the voice. A comparison between the 1902 and 1911 recordings of Valentine’s “Dio possente” from Faust is revealing, especially in reference to Monaldi’s criticism quoted above. In 1902 Battistini emulates the cello in his sustained legato singing, reminding us also that the aria is a prayer: the high F and G are never forced, but concentrated in tone whenever he wants to accentuate the note for effect. He takes the middle section of the aria in a more martial style but does not force the tone. In the 1911 repeat, which includes a beautifully declaimed recitative, his manner is more truculent throughout the aria, and he tends to overload the high notes.

“Largo al factotum” is a tour de force, especially considering the improvisational quality of the performance. At one hilarious moment singer and accompanist are “all at sea”, but they pull themselves together and off they go again. Battistini’s florid execution, always praised in reviews, seems to have become somewhat blustery by 1902, but there is considerable charm in this wayward performance as well as light, limpid and rapidissimo delivery of the final patter section. Battistini had frequently sung with the mezzo-soprano Tilde Carotini in at least fifteen operas, including La favorita. Their duet “Ah! l’alto ardor” (possibly Carotini’s only recording) is a model of well-balanced duet singing. Carotini, the best of Battistini’s duet partners, sings splendidly with an “old-fashioned” Italian contralto voice, reminiscent of Fabbri. Her chest voice on the E, first line, is perhaps too open, but she sings her solo accurately and with a pleasing legato—it was no easy thing to follow after the divo’s beautifully smooth and elegant phrasing of the opening solo, “In questo suolo”. In the a due section each listens to the other and the voices blend perfectly in some lovely soft singing in thirds and sixths, culminating in the final cadenza, which they elaborate, introducing an echo effect.

On 4 November 1913 Battistini sang Don Giovanni at the Volksoper, Vienna: “Hitherto German singers have always interpreted Don Giovanni as a tragic role…. Battistini, on the other hand, as some Viennese critics have determined, gives the true interpretation, offering the marveling and delighted audience a playful, lighthearted, and carefree Don Giovanni who delivers the occasional sword-thrust in the same nonchalant manner with which he tests and triumphs over the virtue of the ladies.” (Orfeo, Rome, 29 November 1913.) Battistini’s 1902 record of Don Giovanni’s “Fin ch’han dal vino” has become a much-cited example of how not to sing Mozart. We do not know if the “Italian traditions” that he learned from Antonio Cotogni in 1894 included the curious flattening-out of the rhythm that distresses modern critics, however we shall find this tendency elsewhere in Battistini’s records. This “ironing out” of dotted notes is typical of the traditional buffo style, now dead, which we can hear in the records of Antonio Pini-Corsi, Arcangelo Rossi, Ferruccio Corradetti, and other exemplars. Battistini sings the “Champagne aria” in his own version of the buffo style, half sung and half spoken but always legato, with a delightfully smiling tone, introducing a few variants. P. G. Hurst reports that he was dancing as he sang—anticipating television! (When he sang the role in London in 1905, one critic wrote that “his fine voice told less well in the more rapid passages of the role”.) Don Giovanni’s Serenata “Deh, vieni alla finestra” is another matter: this lovely record deserves to be widely recognized as a magnificent example of Mozartian style. This is a point in the opera—like Cherubino’s “Voi che sapete” in Le nozze di Figaro—where the action stops while a character sings a song. It is an invitation to the singer to “show off”. Battistini avails himself fully of this opportunity: the phrases are long, the tone flexible and caressing, the tempo insinuating with plenty of rubato. There are some charming ornaments, culminating in an ascent to high F-sharp, pianissimo. One could never tire of this eloquent performance, frequently twice encored in the theater.

The Warsaw series includes some other discs on this very high level of vocal accomplishment, especially the two Russian arias and Tosti’s “Ancora”. The latter is such a finished piece of singing that I often play it for students, as it demonstrates what the passaggio di registro should sound like, on the D of “Ah, vieni a me”, and other fine points of vocal technique and style, culminating in an astonishing messa di voce on the high E. (An elegant portamento takes him effortlessly up to the E, which he then swells and diminishes—almost to nothing—with insolent ease.) As in “Occhi di fata” he does not seem to be counting very precisely, sometimes jumping ahead of the beat, but he makes exactly the same rhythmic changes in his 1912 recording of “Occhi di fata”. In the offstage aria, “No, non plorar, tu piangi invano”, part of an ensemble from Rubinstein’s opera The Demon, a popular number with basses and baritones in those days, we hear sustained legato singing, with a magnificent high F double-sharp and a messa di voce on the last note. In Onegin’s aria “Se dell’Imen la dolce cura”, from the end of Act One of Tchaikowsky’s opera, Battistini executes all the high-lying “talking” passages with the lightest tone and the crispest diction, maintaining an eloquent expression together with an impeccable legato. At the end he takes the F an octave higher than written in the score, attacking it piano then swelling it and letting it die away in a perfect messa di voce. This alteration may well have been “traditional” among Russian baritones and it is certainly suggested by the score: the orchestra here is marked piano, followed by a crescendo. [In an almost equally beautiful but strikingly different performance recorded in 1934, the great German baritone Heinrich Schlusnus—a Battistini fan—also interpolates a pianissimo high F at the conclusion, a lovely note but apparently in falsetto: Battistini’s F is in mixed voice, so he is able to effect a double messa di voce (crescendo and diminuendo) on this lengthily sustained note. Schlusnus manages to “say” all the words lightly and clearly in the high tessitura, but he cannot match the airy, teasing, and floating flexibility of Battistini’s vocal line.]

THE 1906 RECORDS

This spectacular group of fifteen titles, including six sides from Ernani, recorded in Milan in November 1906 with a chorus and orchestra optimistically described as from La Scala, and with some respectable assisting artists, was an ambitious venture for those days. In his book of reminiscences Student and Singer (London, Edward Arnold, 1892) the great English baritone Sir Charles Santley recalls singing in Ernani at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London in 1866: “Carlo Quinto is a part I always enjoyed; it is full of singing. However, it presents one difficulty, which I have seldom heard overcome. The air ‘Lo vedremo o veglio audace’, a very rugged declamatory address to old Silva, is succeeded by a cabaletta, all grace and tenderness, addressed to Elvira. As a rule this air is bellowed, and consequently the voice cannot sustain the soft delicate melody which comes almost immediately after it. It is a question of accent: if properly declaimed, the air requires no extraordinary expenditure of force, which may then be preserved for the more trying, because much more sustained, cabaletta, and the singer (provided the part suits his voice) who depends on art rather than on physical strength will suffer no distress in the execution of this—one of the most trying scenes I know in Italian opera.” No problem for Battistini: on the high E-natural and F-sharp repeatedly called for in “Lo vedremo” he concentrates the tone without forcing the voice. The sound is brilliant, and in the theater must have competed effectively with the trumpet accompaniment. Where Verdi wants the notes to be accented, Battistini can stress them effortlessly without spoiling the musical line. “A question of accent”, as Santley has it. The final cadenza is a marvel, every note ringing with head resonance. His phrasing is nineteenth-century in style: he will snatch a breath in the middle of a phrase in order to be able to join the end of the phrase to the beginning of the next. He should not have breathed in the middle of the word “traditor”, but he is gathering wind for the high F-sharp, and the practice was familiar, as was the irritating one of sometimes substituting “L” for “N”, as when he cries for “veldetta” instead of “vendetta”. (His excellent bass, Sillich, also does this.) After recording two takes of the aria, Battistini then warbled the cabaletta, “Vieni meco, sol di rose”, with no hint of hoarseness, and the contrast between the controlled rage of the aria and these honeyed tones, with quite a lot of attractive ornamentation, is a revelation. In the other Ernani records we can admire the prayerful tone of the opening solo in “O sommo Carlo”, which Don Carlo addresses to the tomb of Charlemagne, a solo nobly sung and crowned by a ringing high A-flat. In the duet “Da quel dì che t’ho veduta” he woos Elvira tenderly, billing and cooing, and decorating his music with lovely embellishments. Emilia Corsi had been well trained and had a good career, but on records she is too violent to cut much of a figure beside Battistini. However, they manage a beautiful double cadenza together. Battistini is even greater, perhaps, in the aria “Oh de’ verd’anni miei”, conscious of duetting with the cello, and he concentrates on his legato; note the effective pause before the word “disparve” (disappeared) where the cellist has to wait for him. He irons out several dotted notes in his familiar fashion, and anticipates the attack on the high G-flat. His execution of the florid passages is accurate and the record ends with a magnificent cadenza including a perfectly focused high G. These unparalleled records confirm that the role of Don Carlo is indeed “full of singing”. Renato in Un ballo in maschera was another favorite role. “Eri tu che macchiavi” is a model of bel canto singing. The declamatory opening sets the stage for a very theatrical performance, with the highest virtuoso singing in the concluding soft section. A lovely record, indeed. Although by 1906 very few Italian singers were practicing this elegant and ornate style, it would not have sounded strange to opera-goers in the 1870s. (Will Crutchfield: Vocal Ornamentation in Verdi: the Phonographic Evidence, in 19th Century Music, Vol. VII number 1, Summer 1983, subsequently reprinted in part in Opera News and Opera.) Palmegiani reports that Battistini used to meet Verdi frequently at the spa of Montecatini, and the composer told the baritone: “I have often come, mingling with the crowd, to hear you sing, and I have always applauded you warmly!”

Battistini began this 1906 series by recording the aria labeled “Bella Italia” (actually, “Or limpida m’appare la superba visione!”), a noble piece of declamation from his nephew Goffredo Cocchi’s opera Per la patria. All the remaining selections exploit the baritone’s tender vein, a highlight being “A tanto amor” from La favorita. In the opening phrases he hints at the ironic dramatic situation, while the repeat brings some ornamentation, ending with a breath-taking cadenza in which the ascent to a ringing high G is followed by a downward passage of rapid patter. Such virtuosity has never been heard since in this music. Berlioz’s “Su queste rose”, sung in the original key in an insinuating mezza voce, suits Battistini perfectly, and on records only his fellow-pupil Giuseppe De Luca can rival his control of shading. In “Il mio Lionel”, an aria added to Martha by Flotow for the Italian stage, the splendid declamation of the recitative is followed by a marvelous example of legato singing, ending with a particularly brilliant execution of the florid cadenza—no blustering here. “Perchè tremar”, part of a duet in Zampa, illustrates how the art of portamento can convert mediocre music into something magical.

Particular mention must be made of the recitative “Alfin siam liberati” from Don Giovanni. Although short, it contains invaluable information about the correct handling of recitativo secco. According to the rules (partially written down by García) this should be sung quickly and lightly, but sung and not whispered. The voice should change to a fuller tone and a broader tempo at every modulation of the key. Battistini gives us a lesson that we sadly needed, for there are very few examples of recitativo secco on old records. [The most astonishing of all are the recitatives in the 1929 Columbia complete recording of Il barbiere di Siviglia, in which Dino Borgioli and Riccardo Stracciari—with extraordinary virtuosity—push the tradition to extremes, gabbling at a grotesque rate.] How charmingly Battistini woos his Zerlina, insinuating but never vulgar, and how delightful is his soft high F-sharp on “gioiello”!

THE LATER BATTISTINI RECORDS

By the time he returned to the recording studio in 1911, Battistini had developed some new features in his style, not all agreeable to today’s listeners. The voice has suffered no deterioration, but the manner is now decidedly more middle-aged, suggesting at times the hectoring of a crotchety Edwardian schoolmaster. He has acquired what Desmond Shawe-Taylor called his “splendid snarl” as well as the uncomfortable habit of pushing high notes until they become unsteady and sharp in intonation. Some verismo mannerisms, including the intrusive H, have crept into his singing to slightly vulgarize the master’s style. The uninterrupted golden flow of Battistini’s legato, which we can admire unconditionally in the records of 1902-1906, is occasionally compromised in the later recordings when a certain unsteadiness manifests itself. The Roman accent, always present, is now often intensified, with some unlovely open vowels. Despite his many years in Russia, where he would have spoken French practically all the time, his accent when singing in French is not perfect—not so carefully correct as Caruso’s. In the theater, the personality of the singer and the impressive volume of the golden voice would have compensated for any such “defects”.

The long list begins with an uncut performance on two sides of the prologue from Pagliacci. Italian newspapers criticized Battistini for ignoring modern Italian works in favor of foreign or out-dated Italian operas. “What is there for me to sing in La bohème?” he would enquire, while pointing out that he had sung Mascagni’s I Rantzau, Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, Franchetti’s Cristoforo Colombo, Puccini’s Tosca, and Leoncavallo’s I Medici: Mascagni had promised to write Vestilia for him, and Boito had promised that he should create Nerone. Battistini sang Pagliacci for the first time in Saint Petersburg in 1894, with Sembrich, Garulli, and Cotogni. Later, he would often sing Tonio’s Prologue in evening dress before the curtain, then, for the rest of the opera, he would assume the role of Silvio. Leoncavallo, a personal friend, authorized Battistini alone to do this. We learn from the memoirs of Mr. L. de Noskowski that once when he sang the Prologue in Warsaw “the audience sat spellbound and applauded so persistently that he repeated it. Then the opera continued with another baritone as Tonio. When after endless recalls, it was realized that Battistini would not return again to make another bow, it is no exaggeration to say that about one third of the audience contentedly left the opera, not wishing to spoil the impression of his matchless singing.” Occasionally he would sing the whole role of Tonio, as in Saint Petersburg on 8 February 1901. Battistini turns the Prologue into distinguished music with his elegant phrasing: this is audibly a gentleman in evening dress, not a clown costume! Original touches include the gentle laugh as he sings “Non allarmatevi!” (“Don’t worry!”). He realizes Leoncavallo’s instruction quasi recitato (almost spoken) at “Il concetto vi dissi” (“I told you the idea”). Battistini may have been the first to introduce the high A-flat at “Al pari di voi” and the high G at the conclusion: while his high notes in this recording are mostly brilliant and firmly focused, we also notice here for the first time his habit of pushing a high note until it is wobbly and sharp.

Three records from Tannhäuser show him at his best. The Italian translation by Salvatore Marchesi changes some accents and note values, but how warmly expressive, how dignified is Battistini’s singing! He sings the passage from Act One “Allor che tu coll’estro” in the original key, contrasting the martial opening strains with the persuasive legato of the second part. Wolfram’s eloquent song contest arioso “Nel rimirar quest’adunanza eletta” is transposed a semitone higher, a common adjustment when Italian baritones sang the role, the eloquent performance justifying the liberty. “O tu bell’astro”, transposed a whole tone up into A Major, is one of his most polished interpretations: he closely follows the dynamic markings in the score, to sublime effect.

Two contrasting sides from Thomas’s Hamlet show a dashing rhythmic impetus, with a brilliant cadenza, in the “Brindisi” (in which he omits the trill), and a haunting melancholy in “Come il romito fior”. One of his great specialties (well remembered fifty years later by my teacher, Vincenzo D’Alessandro, who sang Nicias to Battistini’s Athanaël at the Costanzi in 1915) was the oasis duet “D’acqua aspergimi” in Thaïs. Of the two recordings the one with Attilia Janni is to be preferred, as she is able to match the piano and pianissimo effects of her virtuoso baritone, who ends a ravishing performance by interpolating a beautifully floated high E-flat.

Much was made in the Gramophone Company’s advertisements of the fact that Massenet rewrote the tenor role of Werther for Battistini, who was very successful in it, singing it for the first time in Warsaw on 17 November 1901, and subsequently in Saint Petersburg, Odessa, Rome, Barcelona, and Madrid. Both the recorded selections are in the original keys, with the melodies rewritten for a medium range. “Ah non mi ridestar” contains some delicious touches; we are not surprised to learn that in Odessa in 1903 the audience demanded three encores of the aria! The role of Riccardo in I puritani was written for Tamburini and has attracted many baritones; Battistini kept the lovely aria “Ah, per sempre” in his repertoire until the 1920s, and devoted two sides to recording it complete. We wish that he had recorded it earlier, for in 1911 he seems too intent on investing the coloratura passages with dramatic significance, missing the easy, clear-cut brilliance and accuracy of his florid execution in the best 1906 records.

It is good to be able to hear him in his great specialty, the role of the Duke of Chevreuse in Donizetti’s Maria di Rohan, an opera that had been almost completely shelved when he first sang it in Madrid in 1885. Whatever the critics might say, he took this interesting opera with him and staged it in at least thirty cities, from Florence to Vilnius and back to Madrid again, for the last time, in 1919. In the recitative “Son cifre di Riccardo” Battistini endeavors to bring the dramatic tension of the theater into the studio, but he is more convincing in the sorrow-laden aria proper, “Bella e di sol vestita”, in which he closely observes the indications of the score. His phrasing is grandly noble, his tone hauntingly lovely. At the cadenza he sings brilliantly the F-sharp and G, followed by a forced and shaky sound on the penultimate D-flat. As no copy has survived of his 1913 recording of the cabaletta “Voce fatal di morte”, to hear Battistini conclude this great scene we have to go to the 1921 version, which starts well, with splendidly incisive declamation. The andante “Ogni mio bene” concludes with a beautiful soft high F which, after some not particularly convincing sobbing, leads into the vigorously articulated allegro. Although he introduces the second strophe with a perfectly focused and brilliant high F, the same note in the last phrase is forced and wobbly.

“Cruda funesta smania” form Lucia di Lammermoor is exactly the type of well-known aria in which one longs for Battistini to set a definitive example, but alas, his interpretation suffers from an overdose of belligerence. However, two excerpts from Linda di Chamounix reveal both singer and actor at his best. Here, as in excerpts from Pagliacci, Rigoletto, and La traviata, the well-known Polish soprano Maria Mos´ciska lends good support to her stellar partner. Battistini-Germont is devastatingly rough with poor Violetta in the recitative “Madamigella Valéry?” from La traviata, then subsides into his most warmly caressing tones in “Pura siccome un angelo”. Even more splendid is “Di Provenza il mar”: typically, Battistini includes a few bars of recitative, then has to abbreviate the aria, amalgamating two strophes into one. Verdi has graced the syllables “ven” and “cor” of “Di Provenza il mar, il suol, chi dal cor ti cancellò?” with a single acciaccatura, which Battistini converts into a two-note mordent each time, then adds more of these graces to the vocal line. As Victor Maurel and Francesco Tamagno make similar changes to the music of Otello, and Will Crutchfield has found many other examples in records made by singers who were singing during Verdi’s lifetime, we may be sure that the composer would not have been startled by this tradition. It is to be noted that in his excellent record of “Era la notte” from Otello Battistini does not introduce any ornamentation, though he consistently interprets the acciaccatura as a two-note mordent. He begins the recitative, “e qual certezza?”, with admirable scorn and distaste; when he comes to the words “ma pur se guida” singer and orchestra shift almost imperceptibly a semitone higher, so that the aria begins and ends in D-flat rather than C Major. He manages perfectly the suggestive sotto voce whisperings as Jago relates Cassio’s supposed dream, maintaining the balance between singing and talking that Verdi requests. He treats the passage as classical recitative, so instead of strictly following the note values, he weights the syllables according to the demands of Italian poetry.

In 1912 Battistini recorded a complete version of Nelusko’s great scene from the second act of L’Africaine. Meyerbeer requires both finished singing and careful attention to his performance markings if his music is to make the desired effect. Battistini’s performance is vivid, and the final prayer to Brahma is most exquisitely sung, the traditionally interpolated high G perfectly taken. However, in his laudable intention of portraying all the violence of the noble savage, Battistini is too often led into “over-acting”. The record of “Averla tanto amata” from Act Four of the opera is perfectly successful: it lies comfortably in his voice, and he is able to contrast a beautifully smooth legato in the espressivo e sostenuto section with the controlled but biting rage of the allegro.

The music of Quo vadis?, reputedly sumptuously orchestrated, sounds weak and derivative today, but Battistini is singing Petronio’s airs with love. “Errare per l’ampio mar” is the finale to Act One, ending with a delicious, interpolated high A-flat pianissimo. The undistinguished aria “Amici, l’ora attesa è questa” does not appear in Sonzogno’s 1908 vocal score of the opera, for Nouguès added it specially for Battistini in 1911.

Other great records from 1912 include the delicately ornamented and moving performance of “Resta immobile” from Guglielmo Tell and the swaggering wedding song from Rubinstein’s Nero, a concert favorite of Battistini’s. The aria “Pietà, rispetto, amore” from Verdi’s Macbeth is taken rather too quickly, but gives a good idea of how impressive this performance must have been on the stage.

The 1913 recordings, though clear, do not reproduce the full beauty of the voice, making it sound rather wiry. It is a pity he did not record “Vien, Leonora” in 1906. However, the two sides making up the Death of Posa from Don Carlo are a treasure indeed, containing very detailed and imaginative singing. He is careless about dotted notes, but the overall effect is not only of vocal grandeur, including the startling and unexpected sweeping ascent to a pianissimo high G-flat, but he has succeeded in suggesting the drama of a stage performance in the recording studio. He is dazzling in the fiery duet from Il trovatore, singing aggressively but with perfectly focused tones, and in the Death of Valentino from Faust his beautifully poised singing suggests why so many famous baritones loved to sing this short role, rewarding only to the truly great.

THE VETERAN

The singing teacher Viktor Fuchs heard Battistini in Vienna in the 1920s. In 1957 he remembered that his voice might have lost some of its brilliance, but both the pianissimo and the vehement power were still at his command. Moreover, “he loved his own voice more than any other artist that I can recall.” (Opera News, 25 November 1957.)

Battistini always enjoyed friendly relations with “His Master’s Voice” and, personally, with Fred Gaisberg, the company’s main recording engineer, talent scout, and producer. However, an unsigned letter in the EMI archives to Eldridge R. Johnson and Alfred Clark of the Victor Company on the subject of cooperation between “His Master’s Voice” and Victor, dated 22 October 1919, contains shrewd remarks about HMV’s relations with Schipa, Tetrazzini, Melba, Ruffo, and Battistini. Of Battistini, Gaisberg says, “This is artistically one of the greatest singers in the world. He is an old man. He will never go to America. He is vain, very rich, and cantankerous. He has lawsuits against this company for ridiculous reasons founded on his vanity. I am making an attempt to consolidate all outstandings with him and cancel them all on the basis of a number of new records at a fixed price.”

In 1920, surprisingly, Battistini broke his contract with HMV by making two records in Zürich for La Société Suisse des Disques Phonographiques d’Art, and by so doing forfeited all royalties on his HMV recordings. These records are as fine technically as was possible in 1920, both voice and piano beautifully and naturally recorded. For some reason he chose two songs that mostly call upon his soft singing, of heavenly quality here. In “Ideale” he competes only with his own wonderful 1911 recording, and voice teachers like myself can only bless him for having redeemed “Caro mio ben”, probably sung by every student of singing the world over, with a performance of supreme refinement. [A score in the Santa Cecilia Library, Rome, brought from England by the castrato Pacchierotti, attributes this arietta to Handel.]

Thanks to diplomatic handling of the situation by Sabajno, Battistini agreed to make a new set of records for HMV at a flat payment. (Paul Lewis, Battistini’s Late Records, in The Record Collector, Vol. 42 N° 4, December 1997.) These closely recorded 1921 discs are more realistic than those of 1913 and show more of the velvet of the voice. This velvet is beginning to wear thin in places—he is now sixty-five years old. Sometimes the tone is a little dry, sometimes a little rubbery, very occasionally a pianissimo may be a little breathy, but in Battistini’s voice the aging process, as Compton Mackenzie put it, may be compared to the maturing of a fine wine. “Per me giunto” from Don Carlo is even better than the 1913 recording and includes Battistini’s best attempt at a trill. “Vien, Leonora” from La favorita is also an improvement on the earlier recording. “O casto fior” from Il Re di Lahore is a marvelous record, full of entrancing soft singing, exotic, and sensual. It is interesting to hear so famous a Rigoletto in “Sì, vendetta”, an impressive performance that would perhaps have been more accurate in his palmy days. The speed increases with each strophe, until an almost hysterical effect is reached. We find this interpretation on practically every early recording: the tradition must be firmly anchored in nineteenth century practice. The series ends with one of his finest achievements, “Ah! Non avea più lagrime” from Donizetti’s Maria di Rudenz, which Battistini was not the first to interpolate into Maria di Rohan as his entrance aria. (In Warsaw in 1896 he also interpolated the aria “Ah! Quello fu per me” from Maria Padilla.) Here Battistini executes all the filigree ornamentation and his own interpolated embellishments with delicacy and precision, without any overpowering of the top notes; it almost seems as though he is reaching back to the style of his youth, even his rubato suggesting an earlier fashion.

Battistini agreed to record a further ten titles in 1924, but at a rather reduced fee, as HMV had still not made the hoped-for profit on the 1921 series. There is some strikingly beautiful singing in “Urna fatale del mio destino” from La forza del destino, which Battistini sings in E, the lower of the two published keys, and also in “O Carlo, ascolta” from Don Carlo, in which he almost equals his inspiring recording of 1913. “A tanto amor” from La favorita demonstrates no loss of focus and brilliance in the high notes since 1906, and he includes the final phrase for the sake of delivering two splendid extra high F-sharps. He obviously enjoyed singing the drinking song from Il Guarany, a silly but likeable number, but, for the first time, we sense that he is taxed by the consistently high tessitura. He worthily concluded his recording career by singing with accuracy and charm another souvenir of Spain, “La partida” by Álvarez. This record, unpublished during the 78 era, was, like the aria from Maria di Rudenz, an extra which he recorded gratuitously as a gift to His Master’s Voice—and to us today.

SONGS

The song records are an unmitigated delight: we shall not find here any inappropriate verismo mannerisms or forced high notes. Battistini has one style for the theater, another for the drawing room. In “Mia sposa sarà la mia bandiera” how touchingly he tells the sad story of the rejected lover who enlists in order to leave his fair one to her preferred Beppe; the earlier of the two takes, recorded on 6 June 1911 and sung in B-flat, is particularly rich in vocal and dramatic detail, with hauntingly expressive soft singing and two sensationally brilliant high Gs. The repeat, recorded the following day, is sung a semitone higher, in B: perhaps he had felt uncomfortable on the lower notes, but somehow the higher key does not seem to help and the performance is not so moving. Any baritone would have been proud of the G-sharps, but the great man does not hang on to them and the G-naturals of the previous day are preferable. (The second take seems to have been published only in Russia and possibly Germany and may be his rarest record.) In “La gondola nera” he builds up the tension as he describes the black gondola bearing the handsome couple to a watery suicide pact. He sings exquisitely in some songs by Tosti in which his style differs from Caruso, Patti, or Melba: he uses more rubato and, in general, a more intimate and seductive style. His version of “La Serenata” is in much the same style as Tetrazzini’s, languorous and lingering. He is particularly winning in Quaranta’s “O ma charmante”, and at his grandest in Gounod’s “Le soir”, much of which is murmured a fior di labbra (almost whispered, “on the lips”), rising in each strophe to a ringing high G, then melting away on the last note of all, a prolonged pianissimo. “Delizia”, published by Ricordi with anonymous words and attributed to Beethoven, was identified in 1959 by the late William R. Moran as an arrangement of Schubert’s “Delizia” [Trauerwalzer No. 2, D. 365] turns out to be the improbable name of the young lady apostrophized by the singer from his gondola: Battistini sings the song with great care, and uses contrasting colors to charming effect. “La mantilla”, better in the 1902 record, is an exuberant and joyful song by the neglected Firmin Álvarez, in which Battistini enjoys himself. The 1921 and 1924 sessions include two old Italian arias from Parisotti’s collection “Arie Antiche”, both of which he loved to include in his concerts: Carissimi’s “Vittoria, vittoria” and Gluck’s “O del mio dolce ardor” (from Paride ed Elena). The Carissimi he really sings too quickly, but with such enviable panache that he makes an effect. The Gluck is most beautifully sung, and despite its late date may be considered one of his most characteristic recordings, an example of perfect vocal control. The “other side of the record” in 78 days was Denza’s “Si vous l’aviez compris”, another fine example of his most careful and deeply felt singing. In all these songs his wide range of expression, the richness of his vocal palette, the easy command of dynamics—all set to the service of musical and poetic expression - make us regret that he never recorded any of the Lieder that he would include in his programs in later years. All in all, we might say that if we are looking for “the lost art of bel canto”, some of the happiest examples are in Battistini’s song records.

Our appendix introduces a privately made wax cylinder from 1899 that preserves a primitive but surprisingly faithful recording of “O tu bell’ astro incantator” from Tannhäuser, the earliest surviving impression of Battistini’s voice. The performance is more similar to the 1911 recording than to the slightly less detailed interpretation of 1902. The celestial pianissimo and the loving care with which Battistini spins the melodic line make his interpretation unforgettable, and unlike any other in its moving spirituality.

©Michael Aspinall, 2015

GIUSEPPE BELLANTONI

The baritone Giuseppe Bellantoni was born in Messina in 1880 and died at Forte dei Marmi in 1946. He was a favorite pupil of Antonio Cotogni. He made his debut in December 1905 as Renato in Un ballo in maschera at the Teatro Vittorio Emanuele, Messina, and by 1907 he had arrived at the Teatro Carlo Felice, Genova (Aida, conducted by Ettore Panizza) and La Scala, where he sang Albericco in Il crepuscolo degli dei with Félia Litvinne, Luisa Garibaldi, Fiorello Giraud, and Juste Nivette, conducted by Arturo Toscanini. In 1908 Bellantoni took part in the inaugural season at the new Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires, singing Wotan (il Viandante) in Sigfrido and Kurvenaldo in Tristano e Isotta; he also appeared that season in Uruguay. From December 1908 to February 1909 he was at La Fenice, Venice, appearing in Aida, La Walkyria, Tristano e Isotta, and Eidelberga mia! by Ubaldo Pacchierotti, returning in 1909-1910 for Aida, La Walkyria, Jaufré Rudel by Adolfo Gandino and Erodiade, all with the soprano Carolina White. In December 1910 he began a series of fourteen performances of Sigfrido at La Scala, with Tina Poli-Randaccio, Fanny Anitúa, and Giuseppe Borgatti, conducted by Tullio Serafin, followed in January 1911 by a revival of Pacini’s Saffo with Eugenia Burzio, Fanny Anitúa, and Augusto Scampini. Saffo was repeated in 1911 at the Politeama Fiorentino, Florence, and the Costanzi, Rome, with Hariclea Darclée in the title role. In December 1911 he repeated Wotan in Sigfrido with Borgatti, conducted by Edoardo Vitale, at the Costanzi, Rome, followed by Lucia di Lammermoor with Maria Barrientos and Giuseppe Taccani.

In February 1913, the Verdi centenary year, he sang the first of many performances he was to give of Nabucco, then a neglected opera unknown to most critics. “His voice is masculine and well rounded, his carriage noble, and he has profound artistic intuition.” (Orfeo, 8 February 1913.) He repeated Nabucco in Parma, Padova, Turin, Pisa, and Bari. In March 1913 he appeared in the inaugural season of the Teatro Massimo, Palermo, in La traviata with Linda Cannetti and Giuseppe Armanini, and in December 1913 at the Teatro Real, Madrid in La traviata with Rosina Storchio and Umberto Macnez, and La favorita with Ninì Frascani and Alessandro Bonci. In March 1914 he was at the Teatro Rossini, Venice, for Il trovatore with Elisa Bruno and with Emanuele Ischierdo, followed by a season of Italian Opera in Budapest and Un ballo in maschera and Il trovatore at the Liceu, Barcelona. In December 1914 came a series of performances of Faust, Rigoletto, and La favorita at the Politeama Genovese. Before the war he sang in France and also at the Kursaal, Ostende.

Back at the Costanzi in January 1916 he replaced Battistini in La forza del destino with Ester Mazzoleni, Gennaro De Tura, and Gabriella Besanzoni. In 1917 he sang La traviata with Mercedes Llopart at the Teatro Dal Verme, Milan, La favorita at the Teatro Verdi, Florence, and La forza del destino with Celestina Boninsegna at the Politeama Genovese. In 1918 he was heard at the Teatro Mastrojeni, Messina, and the Comunale, Bologna. In 1919 he sang Ponchielli’s Marion Delorme with Burzio at the Teatro Lirico, Milan and L’Africana at the Politeama Chiarella, Turin and the Teatro Ponchielli, Cremona. He sang Guglielmo Tell at the Dal Verme in 1922 and at the Teatro Adriano, Rome in 1923, where he also added Scarpia in Tosca to his repertoire. His career seems then to have trailed off, ending with concerts in 1930-1931.

On records we hear a rather individual, sonorous baritone voice of rich timbre, descending to an easy low A and rising to a splendid high G. The medium register is warm, with a softly glowing patina that sometimes even sounds furry, but always placed in the mask and capable of a brilliant cutting edge; the high notes have a clarion quality almost suggesting a tenor. As we might have expected from a pupil of the great Cotogni, Bellantoni is capable of virtuoso singing when a piano or pianissimo is required, as is illustrated by his beautiful singing of the cantabile affettuoso “Di sua voce il suon giungea” from Saffo, probably his best record. In the second phrase, “Come in sogno mi parea”, how elegantly he rises from E-flat to the high F! His phrasing is masterly, making noble eloquence out of rather ordinary music. In contrast with Battistini, he is a “modern” singer and tends to employ a gracefully executed portamento only where the score expressly calls for it. The reverse side of the original Fonotipia record begins with a musicological infelicity: between the aria and the cabaletta the anonymous “arranger”—perhaps the maestro who prepared the score for the Scala revival—has inserted the recitative “Mesta elegia Saffo sciogliendo” which should, in fact, precede the aria. However, this does allow us to hear how authoritatively Bellantoni can declaim a classical recitative. As usual in those days, only one strophe of the cabaletta is given, forcefully but without any forcing. In his thrilling declamation of “Ai miei rivali cedere” from Marchetti’s Ruy Blas, the high tessitura holds no terrors for him and he is able to trumpet forth his vows of vengeance upon the unfortunate Queen of Spain without shouting. In the phrase “Sul mio poter temuto” over which Marchetti has placed a legato sign, he shows his command of the portamento style when he wishes to observe it. In “Vision fuggitiva” from Hérodiade there is something of oriental luxuriousness in Bellantoni’s loving care for the melody, though his occasional pianissimo touches make us wish that he had ventured even more delicately. Like Battistini, he chooses to sing “Urna fatale del mio destino” in E rather than F; in direct comparison with the older singer, the execution is slightly more clumsy and the cadenza rather vulgar in its ending (is he singing “mi concitò, oibo?” or what?). On the other hand, the unpublished “Alla vita che t’arride” from Un ballo in maschera is a fine performance, clearly recorded.

Apart from his importance as a Cotogni pupil, his posthumous reputation depends somewhat on his status as an Italian Wagnerian, but, in fact, he sang Wotan and Kurvenal on a mere handful of occasions. The Fonotipia recording expert does not seem to have captured the full beauty of the voice in excerpts from La Walkyria and Sigfrido, and although Bellantoni’s “Addio di Wotan” is well declaimed with a good legato style and aristocratic enunciation, he is inclined to push the voice so that the final notes of phrases are wobbly and there is a lack of fatherly affection in the phrasing. (It is for this reason Marston has not included the Walkyria selection, despite this recording’s popularity.) Schorr, Kipnis, and Tibbett bring more bel canto to Wagner. On the other hand the scene from Sigfrido in which Wotan awakens Erda, less familiar on the old phonograph, is an authoritative performance with splendid declamation and brilliant, secure high Fs.

Like Battistini, Bellantoni has left some of his most attractive and characteristic performances in the song repertoire. A direct comparison between the “old fogey” and the “young upstart” is possible in “Occhi di fata”: both singers draw on their virtuoso technique to make their interpretative points, and here Battistini’s thirty-odd years of steady practice ensure his victory. Bellantoni shows some sign of wanting to emulate Titta Ruffo in the more strenuous passages, using some throaty resonance, but still delights us with his diminuendo. He makes a considerable impression in “L’ultima canzone”, an imaginative interpretation crowned by a dazzling high note and beautiful execution of the concluding vocalise. Most memorable of all are the Sicilian song “Chianiutedda mia” and the Neapolitan “Luna cortese”, both dramatic songs brought to vivid life by Bellantoni’s sensitive and emotional singing, with much expressive use of rubato and a well-developed head register.

Mattia Battistini was among the first great opera singers to risk offering their voices to the early gramophone. He was nearly forty-six years old when he made his first group of recordings in 1902 and had been singing to acclaim for more than twenty years. The phonograph was new territory and many famous singers were reluctant to make records. It is impossible to know whether Battistini viewed the making of records strictly as a commercial venture or perhaps he foresaw that recording would actually add luster to his name and preserve his artistry for future generations to appreciate. By the time of his final recording session in 1924, he had made more than 100 published discs, many of which remained in HMV’s catalog until the close of the 78 rpm era. Very little of Battistini was available on long playing records until 1986 when EMI released an impressive seven LP boxed set of his complete extant recordings. In 1997 I began planning a complete compact disc edition for the Romophone label, but only the first two CDs were released before the company’s demise. Finally after eighteen years, Marston is releasing this complete edition, comprising all of Battistini’s extant recordings. Two new items that were unknown at the time of the EMI LP release are included: a test pressing of an alternative unreleased take of the “Te Deum” from Tosca, and an 1898 private cylinder recording of the “Evening Star” aria from Tannhäuser. I should mention that there are several recordings listed in the discography with issue numbers, that have, however, never been seen, not even as test pressings: “Il balen” from Il trovatore; duets from Lucia di Lammermoor, Simone Boccanegra, Rigoletto, and Hamlet; and also the Sextet from Lucia. It is highly unlikely that any of these was ever released, but if a copy ever does come to light, it will be a major find for the world of record collectors.

For this compilation, I have made new digital transfers of each disc from original sources. The first step as always was to locate and select the best possible pressings, which involved the painstaking task of comparing one disc against another for each recording. Fortunately, many metal masters still exist for the Battistini recordings at EMI’s archive. During the 1950s and 1960s the archive offered a special service to collectors whereby new custom pressings of old recordings could be ordered, pressed directly from the masters. This was apparently a fairly well-guarded secret known to only a few collectors, but during this time, many such pristine pressings found their way into private collections and institutional archives. Since Battistini records were highly prized by collectors, many latter-day pressings of his records circulated throughout the collecting community. For this project, I was able to locate over seventy of these discs, which tended to provide the clearest reproduction of Battistini’s voice and the least amount of surface noise. Depending on the condition of the metal master at the time of pressing, most of these discs sound absolutely magnificent, with a few suffering from irreparable distortion, usually a result of metallic corrosion. Where the later pressings were unsatisfactory, I used superior copies of the issued shellac pressings.

After making the appropriate choices, I transferred each selected disc using the optimum stylus size that yielded the best sound, occasionally finding it necessary to use different stylii for various parts of a particular disc. I also took care to adjust the playback speed of each disc to maintain constant pitch. I must mention that Battistini’s recording sessions resulted in widely differing sonic characteristics, making it impossible for me to give his voice a consistent sound. Particularly disappointing and frustrating are the 1913 records, which lack richness in the bass frequencies, giving Battistini’s voice a hollow and strident sound. Sadly for me there was little I could do to remediate this flaw.

A personal note: When I was about six years old, I was given some old 78 rpm opera records. I immediately fell in love with the voices I heard and asked my mother to find more of the same for me. She took me to various thrift shops where there were always shelves full of 78s for ten cents each, and I began to accumulate a fairly substantial collection. By the time I reached my teens, I had heard and was entranced with the voices of Caruso, Melba, Tetrazzini, Ruffo, McCormack, Galli-Curci, Ponselle, and many others. I heard the name Battistini spoken by older music lovers my parents introduced to me, but I had never found any of his records. I did buy one LP of Battistini on a budget label, but the sound was so poor that I could derive nothing of his artistry: to me he was just another baritone. At the time I was consumed primarily with recordings of pianists and orchestras under great conductors, so I simply pigeonholed Mr. Battistini for later consideration.

Just out of college, I became a member of a small organization in New York City called the International Piano Library. One day in 1974, I took the train to Manhattan in order to visit the library and meet its director, Gregor Benko. Expecting to find a middle-aged frumpy academic, I was astonished to discover an affable music lover, only seven years older than I, with a prodigious knowledge of historic recordings and no pretentions. He invited me to stay for several hours to hear recordings of the great pianists of the past and I felt a euphoria I shall never forget. After hearing Ignaz Friedman’s exquisite record of Chopin’s op. 55 E-flat nocturne, Mr. Benko said that he wanted me to hear something even more beautiful. He then placed on to the turntable Mattia Battistini’s record of Tosti’s “Ancora.” Although I had heard records of Tosti songs before, I had never heard this one and had certainly never heard anything like Battistini’s singing. This great artist had taken this undistinguished song and made of it a work of sublime artistry. I had absolutely no idea that a human voice could weave such a spell. I will never forget that day’s experience, which has set me on the path of collecting records by golden age singers for the past forty years. It is my sincere hope that this compilation will reach a young audience of music enthusiasts, giving them a first chance to hear one of the greatest singers on record, perhaps awakening them to the magic that changed my life so many years ago.

© Ward Marston, 2015