Fernando De Lucia
The Complete Gramophone Company Recordings 1902-1909

54004-2 (4 CDs)  | $ 54.00
VOCAL

 

Fernando De Lucia
Fernando De Lucia (1860 - 1925) is one of the most well-known tenors on early records. His recording career spanned 18 years and yielded some 300 sides. Although De Lucia portrayed a number of important verismo roles, his vocal technique was solidly grounded in the pre-verismo style. Therefore today, De Lucia is viewed as one of the most important links to the graceful and ornamental style of singing prior to verismo. His early recordings, which appear in this compilation, many of whichare rare and highly sought-after, present a broad range of roles both bel canto and verismo. Although other historic labels have documented De Lucia's recordings, this release will provide new insight into De Lucia's recorded legacy by transcribing his records at play back speeds that Ward Marston is convinced are correct, yet remain controversial. The set will conclude with an ample selection of De Lucia's later recordings for the Phonotype label, which reflect his important operatic roles that were not represented on his Gramophone Company discs.

CD 1 (79:07)

Gramophone & Typewriter, Ltd.

Milan

1.Ideale (Tosti; Errico)2:10
 30 November 1902(1); (2861R) 52410 
2.WERTHER: Pourquoi me réveiller (Ah! non mi ridestar) (Massenet)1:59
 30 November 1902; (2862R) 52435
Transposed down a whole tone to E Minor
 
3.RIGOLETTO: La donna è mobile (Verdi)1:31
 30 November 1902; (2863R) 52411
Transposed down a semitone to B-flat
 
4.IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA: Se il mio nome (Rossini)1:44
 30 November 1902; (2864W2) 52427
Transposed down a whole tone to G Minor
 
5.FEDORA: Amor ti vieta (Giordano)1:40
 30 November 1902; (2865W2) 52436
Transposed down a semitone to B
 
6.Marechiare (Tosti; Di Giacomo)1:47
 30 November 1902; (2866W2) 52412 
7.Napulitanata (Costa; Di Giacomo)2:37
 30 November 1902; (2867W2) 52413 
8.TOSCA: Recondita armonia (Puccini)2:23
 30 November 1902; (2868R) 52414
Transposed down a semitone to E
 
9.Fenesta che lucive (Cottrau; Genoino, Paolella)2:31
 30 November 1902; (2869R) 52415 
10.MANON: En fermant les yeux (Chiudo gli occhi) [Il sogno] (Massenet)2:23
 30 November 1902; (2870W2) 52416 
11.CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA: O Lola ch’ai di latti [Siciliana] (Mascagni)2:25
 3 December 1902; (2897b) 52652
Transposed down a semitone to E Minor
 
12.A suon di baci (Baldelli)2:31
 3 December 1902; (2898W2) 52651 
13.CARMEN: La fleur que tu m’avais j’etée (Il fior che avevi a me tu dato) (Bizet)2:41
 3 December 1902; (2899R) 52437
Transposed down a semitone to C
 
14.Sei morta ne la vita mia! (Costa; Capitelli)2:06
 3 December 1902; (2900R) 52438 
15.LOHENGRIN: Nun sei bedankt, mein lieber Schwan (Mercè, mercè, cigno gentil) (Wagner)2:37
 3 December 1902; (2905W2) 52650
Transposed down a semitone to A-flat
 
16.FEDORA: Mia madre, la mia vecchia madre (Giordano)2:48
 6 October 1904; (2153L) 52077
Transposed down a semitone to G-flat
 
17.FEDORA: Vedi, io piango (Giordano)2:28
 6 October 1904; (2154L) 52078
Transposed down a semitone to F-sharp Minor
 
18.Occhi di fata (Denza; Tremacoldo)3:11
 6 October 1904; (2155L) 52079 
19.LA TRAVIATA: Ah sì, da un anno … Un dì felice, eterea (Verdi)2:16
 6 October 1904; (2156L) 52080 
20.LA FAVORITA: Una vergine, un angel di Dio (Donizetti)3:15
 6 October 1904; (2156L) 52081
Transposed down a whole tone to G
 
21.La Serenata (Tosti; Cesareo)2:05
 6 October 1904; (2158L) 52082 
22.Lontananza (Cilea; Carugati)2:37
 6 October 1904; (2159L) 52084 
23.ADRIANA LECOUVREUR: L’anima ho stanca (Cilea)2:17
 6 October 1904; (2160L) 52083
Transposed down a semitone to B-flat Minor
 
24.FAUST: Il se fait tard (Tardi si fa) (Gounod)3:54
 with Celestina Boninsegna, soprano
6 October 1904; (213m) 054043
 
25.IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA: Ecco ridente in cielo (Rossini)4:21
 6 October 1904; (214m) 052078
Transposed down a semitone to B
 
26.LOHENGRIN: Atmest du nicht (Di’, non t’incantan) (Wagner)2:51
 September-October 1905; (7339b) 2-52472 
27.LOHENGRIN: Kommt er dann heim (S’ei torna alfin) (Wagner)2:56
 September-October 1905; (7340b) 2-52473 
28.LES PÊCHEURS DE PERLES: De mon amie (Della mia vita) (Bizet)2:04
 September-October 1905; (7341b) 2-52474
Transposed down a semitone to C-sharp Minor
 
29.MIGNON: Adieu, Mignon! (Addio, Mignon!) (Thomas)3:52
 September-October 1905; (549c) 052111 
30.MIGNON: Elle ne croyait pas (Ah! non credevi tu) (Thomas)2:54
 1 May 1906; (8054b) 2-52518 
31.MIGNON: Ah! que ton âme enfin (La tua bell’alma) (Thomas)2:13
 September-October 1905; (7342b) 2-52475 

CD 2 (79:31)

Gramophone & Typewriter, Ltd./Gramophone Company, Ltd.(2)

Milan

(continued)

1.FAUST: Salut! demeure chaste et pure (Salve! dimora casta e pura) (Gounod)3:19
 1 May 1906; (8058b) 2-52519
Transposed down a semitone to G
 
2.LES PÊCHEURS DE PERLES: Je crois entendre encore (Mi par d’udir ancora) (Bizet)2:59
 1 May 1906; (8059b) 2-52520
Transposed down a whole tone to G Minor
 
3.LES PÊCHEURS DE PERLES: Ton coeur n’a pas compris (Non hai compreso) (Bizet)4:00
 with Josefina Huguet, soprano
1 May 1906; (621c) 054082
 
4.IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA: All’idea di quel metallo (Rossini)3:47
 with Antonio Pini-Corsi, baritone
1 May 1906; (619c) 054080
Transposed down a semitone to G-flat
 
5.IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA: Numero quindici (Rossini)2:47
 with Antonio Pini-Corsi, baritone
1 May 1906; (8053b) 5429
 
6.IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA: Ah! qual colpo (Rossini)3:06
 with Josefina Huguet, soprano and Antonio Pini-Corsi, baritone
1 May 1906; (630c) 054083
Transposed down a semitone to E
 
7.LA TRAVIATA: De’ miei bollenti spiriti (Verdi)2:44
 1 May 1906; (622c) 052129
Transposed down a semitone to D
 
8.LA TRAVIATA: Parigi, o cara (Verdi)4:11
 with Josefina Huguet, soprano
1 May 1906; (620c) 054081
Transposed down a semitone to G
 
9.RIGOLETTO: È il sol dell’anima (Verdi)4:01
 with Josefina Huguet, soprano
1 May 1906; (638c) 054084
Transposed down a semitone to A
 
10.Pietà, Signore (attributed Fétis)2:57
 July-September 1907; (10512b) 2-52608 
11.L’ELISIR D’AMORE: Ecco il magico liquore … Obbligato, obbligato (Donizetti)2:46
 with Ernesto Badini, baritone
July-September 1907; (10513b) 54357
 
12.MANON: En fermant les yeux (Chiudo gli occhi) [Il sogno] (Massenet)2:50
 July-September 1907; (10515b) 2-52607 
13.LOHENGRIN: Nun sei bedankt, mein lieber Schwan (Mercè, mercè, cigno gentil) (Wagner)3:55
 with La Scala Chorus,
July-September 1907; (1174c) 052184
 
14.LOHENGRIN: Mein Held, mein Retter … Nie sollst du mich befragen (Mio salvatore … Mai devi domandarmi) (Wagner)4:14
 with Josefina Huguet, soprano
July-September 1907; (1171c) 054175
 
15.LOHENGRIN: Das süsse Lied verhallt (Cessaro i canti alfin) (Wagner)4:07
 with Josefina Huguet, soprano
July-September 1907; (1170½c) 054171
 
16.CARMEN: Votre mère avec moi sortait de la chapelle … Ma mère je la vois! (La tua madre … Mia madre io vedo ancor) (Bizet)4:37
 with with Josefina Huguet, soprano
July-September 1907; (1171c) 054175
 
17.CARMEN: La fleur que tu m’avais j’etée (Il fior che avevi a me tu dato) (Bizet)4:05
 July-September 1907; (1175c) 052185
Transposed down a semitone to C
 
18.FAUST: Il se fait tard (Tardi si fa) (Gounod)3:12
 with Josefina Huguet, soprano
July-September 1907; (1173c) 054173
 
19.DON GIOVANNI: Dalla sua pace (Mozart)3:30
 May 1908; (11164b) 2-52666
Transposed down a semitone to G-flat
 
20.DON GIOVANNI: Il mio tesoro intanto (Mozart)2:33
 May 1908; (11166b) 2-52661 
21.IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA: Ecco ridente in cielo (Rossini)4:09
 May 1908; (1442c) 052250
Transposed down a semitone to B
 
22.IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA: Se il mio nome (Rossini)3:04
 May 1908; (11167b) 2-52667
Transposed down a whole tone to G Minor
 
23.IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA: Ah! qual colpo (Rossini)2:39
 with Maria Galvany, soprano
May 1908; (11168b) 54384
 

CD 3 (79:45)

Gramophone Company, Ltd.

Milan (May, 1908)/Naples (21 May 1909)

(continued)

1.ROMÉO ET JULIETTE: Ah! lève-toi soleil (Deh, sorgi o luce in ciel) (Gounod)2:52
 May 1908; (11165b) 2-52660
Transposed down a whole tone to A
 
2.LA SONNAMBULA: Prendi, l’anel ti dono (Bellini)3:52
 with Maria Galvany, soprano
May 1908; (1443c) 054217
Transposed down a semitone to G
 
3.LA SONNAMBULA: Son geloso del zeffiro (Bellini)3:47
 with Maria Galvany, soprano
May 1908; (1444c) 054215
Transposed down a semitone to E
 
4.LA SONNAMBULA: Ah! perchè non posso odiarti (Bellini)2:21
 May 1908; (11169b) 2-52676
Transposed down a semitone to A
 
5.LUISA MILLER: Quando le sere al placido (Verdi)3:59
 May 1908; (1445c) 052239
Transposed down a semitone to G
 
6.Sulla bocca amorosa (Barthélemy; Di Gennaro)2:40
 21 May 1909; (13331b) 2-52698 
7.Era de maggio (Costa; Di Giacomo)2:48
 21 May 1909; (13332b) 2-52699 
8.Triste ritorno (Barthélemy; Forzati)2:23
 21 May 1909; (13333b) 2-52700 
9.Serenamente (Barthélemy; Marvasi)2:02
 21 May 1909; (13334b) 2-52772 
10.Oilì, oilà (Costa; Di Giacomo)1:46
 21 May 1909; (13335b) 2-52722 
11.‘O sole mio (Di Capua; Capurro)2:19
 21 May 1909; (13336b) 2-52701 
12.Carmela (De Curtis; De Curtis)3:01
 21 May 1909; (13337b) 2-52773 
13.Nun me guardate ‘cchiù (Gambardella; Russo)2:40
 21 May 1909; (13338b) 2-52723 
14.‘A surrentina (E. De Curtis; G De Curtis)2:52
 21 May 1909; (13339b) 2-52774
Sung in A Minor
 
15.Luna, lù! (Ricciardi; Rovito)2:46
 21 May 1909; (13340b) 2-52724 

Appendix

Phonotype

Selected recordings

Naples

16.L’ELISIR D’AMORE: Una furtiva lagrima (Donizetti)3:48
 24 June 1917 M1754-2(3)
Transposed down a semitone to A Minor
 
17.L’ELISIR D’AMORE: Una parola, o Adina … Chiedi al rio (Donizetti)7:19
 with Angela De Angelis, soprano
23 November 1919; M 2223/2224
Transposed down a semitone to D
 
18.LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR: Tombe degli avi miei … Fra poco a me ricovero (Donizetti)7:51
 2 September 1917; M 1813/1814
Transposed down a whole tone to D-flat/C
 
19.LES HUGUENOTS: Ah! quel spectacle … Plus blanche (O qual soave vision … Bianca al par) (Meyerbeer)4:19
 2 September 1917; M 1812
Transposed down a whole tone to A-flat
 
20.LA FAVORITA: Spirto gentil ne’ sogni miei (Donizetti)4:24
 5 August 1917; M 1759/2
Transposed down a whole tone to B-flat
 
21.ERNANI: Mercè, diletti amici … Come rugiada al cespite (Verdi)4:31
 2 September 1917; M 1811
Transposed down a whole tone to B-flat
 
22.MEFISTOFELE: Dai campi, dai prati (Boito)2:37
 24 May 1917; M 1750
Transposed down a semitone to E
 
23.MEFISTOFELE: Ascolta … Colma il tuo cor (Boito)2:49
 18 April 1920; C 2344
Transposed down a whole tone to B-flat
 

CD 4 (78:27)

Phonotype

Selected recordings

Naples

(continued)

1.MEFISTOFELE: Forma ideal purissima (Boito)2:26
 18 April 1920; C 2343
Transposed down a semitone to A
 
2.MEFISTOFELE: Giunto sul passo estremo (Boito)4:17
 3 June 1917; M 1751/2 
3.LA GIOCONDA: Cielo e mar (Ponchielli)3:24
 31 May 1917; M 1756
Transposed down a semitone to D
 
4.MANON: Je suis seul! … Ah! fuyez, douce image (Io son solo … Ah! dispar vision) (Massenet)4:23
 5 August 1917; M 1794
Transposed down a whole tone to D-flat
 
5.CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA: Mamma, quel vino è generoso (Mascagni)4:27
 with unidentified soprano, presumably Angela De Angelis
1 July 1917; M 1774
Transposed down a whole tone to G-flat
 
6.L’AMICO FRITZ: Suzel, buon dì … Tutto tace [Cherry Duet] (Mascagni) (4) 8:13
 with Angela De Angelis, soprano
5 October 1919; M 2153/2154
Side 2 transposed down a semitone to A-flat Minor/Major
 
7.L’AMICO FRITZ: Ed anche Beppe amò … O amore, o bella luce (Mascagni) (4)4:21
 11 November 1917; M 1844
Transposed down a whole tone to E
 
8.PAGLIACCI: Bada, Pagliaccio … Un tal gioco, credetemi (Leoncavallo)4:09
 with unidentified tenor as ‘The Villager’
11 November 1917; M 1843
Transposed down a semitone to E
 
9.PAGLIACCI: Recitar! mentre preso dal delirio … Vesti la giubba (Leoncavallo)4:06
 17 April 1921; C 2560
Transposed down a semitone to E-flat Minor
 
10.PAGLIACCI: O Colombina (Leoncavallo)2:31
 17 April 1921; C 2562
Transposed down a whole tone to G Minor
 
11.PAGLIACCI: No! Pagliaccio non son (Leoncavallo)3:38
 19 August 1917; M 1803
Transposed down a whole tone to C-sharp Minor
 
12.MANON LESCAUT: Donna non vidi mai (Puccini)3:13
 17 April 1921; C 2558
Transposed down a whole tone to A-flat
 
13.MANON LESCAUT: Tra voi belle (Puccini)2:10
 17 April 1921; C 2559
Transposed down a semitone to E-flat
 
14.LA BOHÈME: Che gelida manina (Puccini)4:32
 18 January 1920; M 2234
Transposed down a whole tone to G-flat
 
15.LA BOHÈME: Quest’ è Mimì (Puccini)1:38
 15 August 1920; C 2396
Transposed down a whole tone to D Minor
 
16.ANDREA CHÉNIER: Colpito qui m’avete … Un dì all’azzurro spazio [Improvviso] (Giordano)5:59
 6 February 1921; C 2531/2532
Transposed down a whole tone to A-flat
 
17.IRIS: Apri la tua finestra (Mascagni) (4)2:37
 7 November 1920; C 2452
Transposed down 3 semitones to D
 
18.TOSCA: E lucevan le stelle (Puccini)3:18
 18 January 1920; C 2233
Transposed down a semitone to B-flat Minor
 
19.FEDORA: Amor ti vieta (Giordano)2:38
 29 July 1917; C 1788
Transposed down a whole tone to B-flat
 
20.FEDORA: Mia madre, la mia vecchia madre (Giordano)2:43
 11 November 1917; C 1846 
21.Marechiare (Tosti; Di Giacomo)3:44
 24 September 1922; C 3148 
 

(1) The Gramophone Company recording ledgers prior to 1909 have been lost and consequently, all De Lucia recording dates up to, and including CD 3 Track 5, are based on deduction.

(2) On 17 November 1907, Gramophone & Typewriter, Ltd. became The Gramophone Company, Ltd. Therefore, in our track listing we have given both company names.

(3) The Phonotype record company used the same number for the matrix and catalogue

(4) De Lucia created this role on stage

Language:
All tracks are sung in Italian

Accompaniment:
CD 1: Tracks 1-15: piano, presumed to be Salvatore Cattone, officially credited on Tracks 2 and 5; Tracks 16-21, 24-31 piano, Carlo Sabajno; Tracks 22-23: piano, Francesco Cilea
CD 2: Tracks 1-2, 5-7, 9-12: piano, Carlo Sabajno; Tracks 3-4, 8, 13-17 orchestra, conducted by Carlo Sabajno; Tracks 18-23: unidentified pianist
CD 3: Tracks 1-5: unidentified pianist; Tracks 6-9: small instrumental ensemble; Track 10: violin, piano, and chorus; Track 11: violin, piano, and mandolin; Track 12: violin, piano, mandolin, and chorus; Tracks 13-14: violin and piano; Track 15: violin, piano, mandolin, and chorus; Tracks 16-23: orchestra, conducted by Salvatore Sassano
(The Gramophone Company recording files list piano as one of the accompanying instruments on CD 3, Tracks 10-15. To our ears, there is no piano evident. The instrument sounds like a guitar with the low E string tuned down.)
CD 4: Tracks 1-16, 18-20: orchestra, conducted by Salvatore Sassano; Track 17: piano; Track 21: mandolins, guitars, and chorus conducted by Raffaele Calace

 


Producer: Jeffrey Miller

Audio Conservation: Ward Marston

Audio Assistance: J. Richard Harris

Photographs: Girvice Archer, Harold Bruder, the Estate of Roger Gross, Charles Mintzer, and André Tubeuf

Booklet notes: Michael Aspinall

Booklet Design: Takeshi Takahashi

 

Marston would like to thank the estate of John Stratton, Stephen R. Clarke, Executor, for its continuing support.

Marston would like to thank Jeffrey Miller, whose gift provided the impetus to expand what was to be a three-CD set to a four-CD set.

Marston would like to to thank Gregor Benko, Mark Falcone, Ramona Fasio, and Rudi van den Bulck for their help in the production of this CD set.

The following selections are re-recorded from copies in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Laurence C. Witten II in the Yale Collection of Historical Sound Recordings, Yale University Library: CD 1, Track 20 and CD 2, Track 19

Various selections are re-recorded from copies in the collections of Lawrence F. Holdridge, John Humbley, and John Wolfson.

Marston would like to thank Michael E. Henstock, whose definitive book, Fernando De Lucia, Son of Naples, 1860-1925 (London, Duckworth, 1990) was invaluable in the production of this CD set.


Fernando De Lucia

This great tenor was impelled to make gramophone records in 1902 by a desire to demonstrate what he conceived to be the true bel canto: “He has come to sing for us all the way from his country house near Naples, not for the money we paid him, but because he wants the world to judge between his records and Caruso’s.” This letter, written on 7 December 1902 by Alfred Michaëlis, the Milan representative of the Gramophone & Typewriter Company, to the head office in London, is quoted by Michael Henstock in Chapter eighteen of his monumental biography, Fernando De Lucia, Son of Naples, 1860–1925 (London, Duckworth, 1990). So fascinating are these records, and the others he made subsequently for the Gramophone Company, Fonotipia, and Phonotype, that they still arouse interest in critics and students of singing—an interest so intense, indeed, as to compel Michael Henstock to dedicate a quarter of a century of research to his beloved subject. For the brief resume of De Lucia’s career that follows I am indebted, as all commentators always will be, to Henstock’s indefatigable tenacity in research.

Ferdinando Salvatore De Lucia was born in Naples on 11 October 1860. He entered the institution we know today as the Conservatorio di San Pietro a Maiella at the age of fifteen to study the double-bass, but in 1880 he obtained a scholarship to study singing, nominally with the famous teacher and composer Alfonso Guercia but also with Emanuele De Roxas. After an interruption for military service he returned to the Conservatorio and Guercia, and in 1883 made a first public appearance in one of the many private concerts of which Henstock has uncovered details, before singing in December 1884 in concert performances of Boito’s Mefistofele at the house of Vincenzo Lombardi, with whom he was then studying. How lucky Italian singers were in those days, when great conductors like Lombardi, Mancinelli, and Mugnone were also singing teachers! Lombardi would later help Caruso secure his top notes. The publisher Sonzogno and his agent in Naples, Nicola Daspuro, took an early interest in De Lucia and pushed the young tenor into numerous paid engagements; however, when he made his stage debut at the San Carlo, Naples, in Faust on 9 March 1885 with the famous Virginia Ferni-Germano as Margherita, he sang gratis—as many a debutant was glad to do. He was affectionately received though the critics advised him to continue his studies, particularly to secure the highest notes. It does not seem that De Lucia did, in fact, pursue further formal studies, nor did he obtain his diploma from the Conservatorio, but he was one of those singers—like Mattia Battistini—who studied daily at the piano, obsessively, for the rest of his life, forever trying out new effects.

In October and November 1885 he sang in La traviata with Gemma Bellincioni and Dinorah with Ernestina Bendazzi-Secchi at the Teatro Comunale, Bologna, where the conductor was Luigi Mancinelli. He then sang Mignon, Pinsuti’s Margherita, and Carmen at the Teatro della Pergola, Florence (with some performances at the Teatro Pagliano), where he worked for the first time with Leopoldo Mugnone.

He made his first excursion to South America in 1886, singing in Buenos Aires at the Colón and at the Teatro Politeama Argentino, and at the Teatro Cibils, Montevideo. Augustus Harris heard him in Madrid, where he sang in the 1886–1887 season at the Teatro Real, appearing for the first of many performances with Battistini, and engaged him for his first London season of opera at Drury Lane in June–July 1887 (in which both Battistini and De Lucia were overshadowed by Jean de Reszke). Between October 1887 and March 1889 his only traced performances—a great many, in twenty-two operas!—were in Madrid, where he sang for the first time with Patti, followed by a return to Buenos Aires and Montevideo in May–August 1889. He returned to the San Carlo in January 1890 for I pescatori di perle with Emma Calvé, followed by Carmen, then was back in Buenos Aires in May. He reappeared in Naples in December 1890, and on 14 January 1891 sang the first of a series of twenty-six performances of Cavalleria rusticana with Calvé, his first contact with the exciting new verismo school that was to owe so much to him. De Lucia and Calvé then went to the Costanzi, Rome, in May 1891 for I pescatori di perle and Cavalleria rusticana, returning there in October for the premiere of L’amico Fritz. In May 1892 he sang for the first time at Covent Garden, now managed by Harris, in Cavalleria rusticana and L’amico Fritz, both with Calvé, and such was the interest in the new Mascagni operas that Queen Victoria ordered a special private concert at Windsor Castle on 2 July, at which De Lucia and Calvé sang (and acted) some scenes accompanied at the piano by Tosti. Although London critics and audiences never paid him the adulation to which he was accustomed in Latin countries, his triumph as a singing actor in the first London performances of Pagliacci in 1893 (with Melba and Ancona, conducted by Mancinelli) was so complete that he was asked to return in 1894, 1895, 1896, 1899, and 1900. In 1905 the impresario Henry Russell engaged him for an experimental season at the Waldorf Theatre, London, where he sang twenty-seven performances in four operas. Success at Covent Garden inevitably led to an engagement at the Metropolitan, New York, where De Lucia made his debut on 11 December 1893 in the first performance in America of Pagliacci. He also sang in Cavalleria rusticana, Don Giovanni, Rigoletto, Faust, L’amico Fritz, Il barbiere di Siviglia, Carmen, and La traviata, adding Mignon with Calvé, Nordica, Scalchi, and Plançon on tour. He never returned to the United States. He sang for the first time in Vienna in 1892, Milan (La Scala) and St. Petersburg in 1895–1896, Lisbon in 1899, Paris in 1905, and Monte Carlo and Berlin in 1907.

During the early years his repertoire consisted mainly of lyrical operas such as La traviata, Rigoletto, Il barbiere di Siviglia, Mignon, Don Giovanni, Dinorah, Lucrezia Borgia, L’elisir d’amore, La favorita, Linda di Chamonix, L’étoile du nord, and even Semiramide, in which he was one of the very few tenors to sing both the arias (“La speranza più soave” was generally cut). He kept the first four of these works in his repertoire until the early 1900s. As early as 1886 he added La Gioconda and, from 1891, showed increasing interest in modern dramatic works such as Cavalleria rusticana, L’amico Fritz, I Rantzau, Pagliacci, Lohengrin, Carmen, Silvano, La Navarraise, La bohème, Manon, Werther, Iris, Fedora, Tosca, and Giordano’s Marcella, the last opera he added to his repertoire, at the Teatro Lirico, Milan in 1907.

Long intervals between engagements became typical after 1897. It is thought that the twenty performances of Iris in Rome and Milan increased vocal wear, to which Henstock has found repeated references: downward transposition in performance is mentioned as early as 1893. His last operatic appearances were in Fedora at the San Carlo in January–February 1914 (alternating with Tito Schipa; was Schipa forced to sing in De Lucia’s keys, one wonders?), in La bohème at La Scala in February 1916, in Fedora at the Teatro Adriano, Rome in May 1916, and—touchingly—nine performances of L’amico Fritz at the San Carlo in February–March 1917.

Despite all the “baroque” features of his singing (Italian music critics tend to use the adjective “baroque” in a pejorative sense), the leading verismo composers constantly sought him to create their works: he was, after all, capable of performing all the degrees of p, pp, ppp or f, ff and fff shading they inserted into their scores, and he was a striking actor. (The Neapolitans, who love to dismantle the idols that they themselves have set up, used to say that when he stamped his feet and tore his hair out onstage in a tenor tantrum, the carefully preserved hairs that he proudly showed off to his friends next day probably came from some theatrical wig.) Sonzogno made considerable use of him, but Ricordi was reluctant to pay his high fees, otherwise the list of his “creations” might have been longer: as it is he appeared in the first performances of L’amico Fritz, I Rantzau, Il profeta velato (Daniele Napoletano), Silvano, Iris, Vita brettone (Mugnone), and Marcella. An amusing series of letters and anecdotes quoted by Henstock shows Mascagni’s increasing frustration as he came to realize, during the rehearsals of Iris, that the composer/conductor was going to be reduced to the function of mere accompanist to a bravura performance by the divo, and the same thing would happen to Toscanini at the subsequent La Scala performances.

In his last years De Lucia taught singing—from 1915 at the Conservatorio where he himself had studied. His private pupils included Maria Nemeth, Gianna Pederzini, Peter Raitscheff, Gennaro Barra Caracciolo, Angelo Notariello, and Georges Thill. In a letter to Michael Henstock, Maria Nemeth described her lessons in 1924–1925: “Sig. De Lucia sang the pianissimi to me himself, with the most varied nuances. He always explained to me exactly how I must master the pianissimo, and I do not exaggerate if I say that we sometimes practised one note perhaps a hundred times before he was satisfied with it ….” (Henstock, p. 391–392.)

On 4 August 1921 De Lucia sang “Pietà, Signore” (a bogus nineteenth-century pastiche of Stradella, attributed at various times to Rossini and to Niedermeyer, and now thought to be by Fétis) at the funeral of Enrico Caruso at the church of San Francesco di Paola, Naples, deeply moving the vast gathering. How impossible it would have seemed to him, as he journeyed to Milan in 1902 to record educational examples of true bel canto singing to offset the discs of the young upstart Caruso, that he would be called upon to furnish a last example of his unique art at the obsequies of his friendly rival, thirteen years his junior!

He died in Naples on 21 February 1925.

THE VOICE, TECHNIQUE,
AND STYLE OF
FERNANDO DE LUCIA

In a well-known Chalon print of Rubini in I puritani, we see the great tenor apparently listening to his own voice, rapt in ecstasy. De Lucia’s records often give us this same impression. Like Battistini, De Lucia was not a typical singer of his generation. Both singers cultivated the refinements of bel canto as they understood it, and carried elements of the singing styles of c. 1870 into the twentieth century, but while Battistini found little to interest him in contemporary opera—apart from Andrea Chénier and Tosca—De Lucia revelled in the dramatic opportunities offered by Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Giordano, and Puccini. Into these modern works De Lucia introduced many ancient graces of virtuoso singing, not always to the delight of their composers. Audiences—especially in Spain, Portugal, and South America—loved his unique mixture of technical mastery and dramatic fire, as they later loved Anselmi and Schipa, who continued something of the old school of Italian tenor virtuosity. The four hundred records that De Lucia has left us are a museum of the vocal effects achieved after long study by the divi of yesteryear, effects which they used not merely to catch applause but to illuminate the music they were singing. How excitingly alive the opera house must have been in the days when a critic could scold the audience for having waited for the end of the aria to applaud, when they should also have interrupted the music with a salvo of applause as De Lucia rounded off the first stanza of “Cielo e mar”! (see Henstock, pp. 243–244.)

On page 185 of his biography Michael Henstock quotes an analysis of De Lucia’s art as recalled in 1941 by the baritone Emilio de Gogorza:

“At that period Italian tenors were ‘anathema’ to critics and public. Jean de Reszke was King and as he sang in perfect style with a voice of decided barytone quality the Italian voice was sissyfied in comparison and this style, approved and demanded in Italian opera houses, was frowned upon by both British and American critics. De Lucia sang in Italy, Spain, and Portugal with phenomenal success, for the Masini mannerisms which he had acquired in lyrical roles, and his astonishing vocal security, graceful acting and musicianship captured his exacting publics. In Madrid, where he followed Gayarre, he was idolized and carried in triumph. When ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ and ‘Pagliacci’ were produced, De Lucia changed his style and became a dramatic artist. He imbued Turiddu and Canio with a real peasant atmosphere and tore passion to tatters, adapting his voice to the characters he was impersonating. His Canio was never approached because he lived the part and understood the effects demanded as well as the orchestration, which means that he gave where he could be heard and never attempted the impossible. There were difficulties in the De Lucia voice and vowels had to be changed to effectively focus the very highest notes, viz in Tosca you will see that Puccini has changed ‘Mi costasse la vita’ in the first act to ‘La vita mi costasse!’ This was one example and it was done for De Lucia. As a voice pure and simple this tenor did not possess a velvety organ. As I said before he resorted to mannerisms of the period in his early career—smorzandi, sudden crescendi, tremendous long breaths and the vibrato that more than pleased his European audiences. In Carmen he was hardly French, either from atavism or style, for Carmen is not Spanish. He was Italian pure and simple; the flavour of the music was lost, while the little man ranted, cried and really felt that it was happening. Rigoletto was a masterpiece, for his impersonation of the Duke had distinction and he sang it in the approved Italian tradition and not in the metronomic style of today. Signor Mancinelli, precursor of Toscanini, raved about the subject we are discussing, so there was at least one authority who was competent to judge—but then he was an Italian who wanted his music sung with the flavour of the language and not covered up with barytone tints so as not to offend Anglo Saxon ears.”

[Note: de Gogorza has confused the Tosca anecdote. The score at this point reads: “La vita mi costasse, vi salverò!”, with the “a” of “costasse” on the high B-natural. Above the vocal line, as an alternative (oppure), Puccini gives “Ne andasse della vita, vi salverò!” where the B falls on the vowel “i”: these are the words found in the original published libretto (which contains many phrases not found in the vocal score). Puccini has certainly changed the words to “La vita mi costasse”, but it is unlikely that this was done for De Lucia, who would have preferred to sing a high B (if at all) on the “i” vowel.]

In 1921 Mattia Battistini advised the young tenor Georges Thill to go to Naples to study with De Lucia: “It is not a great voice, but he is a skilful singer and endowed with uncommon vocal intelligence …. A singing musician, intelligent, and certainly an excellent teacher.” (Henstock, pp. 388–389.) During the course of his lessons, De Lucia told Thill: “I had originally a baritone voice, limited at the top, and of unsympathetic timbre, with a disagreeable vibrato. Only daily exercise and permanent practice of solfeggi have given me what you admire: mastery of nuance, breath control, and power. Thus, I have been able to sing, without obvious difficulty, Donizetti and Bellini, but equally the verismo composers and even Lohengrin!”

We need not be surprised, therefore, if the voice we hear on the De Lucia records does not have the golden, rounded sound of a Caruso or a Gigli—its vibrato makes it rather more akin to a Pavarotti type of voice. Today—post Pavarotti—it is not so much the voice that sounds strange, as rather De Lucia’s personal, highly emotional but at the same time thoroughly mannered style of bel canto—for him bel canto meant elasticity of tempo and infinite gradations of vocal color, lovingly and hedonistically applied. In his day singers were frequently called upon to sing salon songs, which no doubt taught them to modulate and color their tones.

Early reviews speak of a voice of wide range though not of great volume, with a baritonal tendency in the medium tones but beautiful, ringing high notes. His three great models, whom he heard at the San Carlo in his student years, were the tenors Julián Gayarre, Angelo Masini, and Roberto Stagno, none of whom recorded. De Lucia sings for us the repertoire of the old tenore di mezzo carattere, from Il barbiere to La Gioconda, prudently stopping short of Gli Ugonotti, L’africana, and Otello (excerpts from all of which, however, he recorded when nearly sixty). When he returned to the San Carlo, Naples, in 1890 as Nadir in I pescatori di perle with Emma Calvé, the critic Michele Uda wrote: “The voice has been extended and strengthened, has acquired timbre and colour and, while the exquisite art of the singer remains, the cold virtuosity of the concert has already become sentiment and, almost, passion. One could not believe one’s own ears, hearing those warm, baritonal tones contrasting with the ringing top notes and the tender sighs of the medium register. De Lucia has finesse and with it the attack, the warmth that penetrates, and the charm that invades. At times he is a little too studied, affected, and mannered, like a momentary reminder of the schoolroom, the artistic personality still incomplete.” (Il pungolo, 16–17 January 1890, quoted by Henstock, pp. 88–89).

THE CRITICS

As Michael Henstock often complains, music critics in Latin countries tended to be flowery in their language (almost to the point of unintelligibility)—and, indeed, still are so today. However, from his mountains of cullings from reviews of performances throughout De Lucia’s career, some gems of real information may be excavated. In 1890 the journal Capitan Fracassa wrote: “… he has returned to Naples the complete artist, having robbed Gayarre, Masini and Stagno of almost all the secrets of their art, cleverly managing the voice, always striving to obtain all the effects that he demands of his vocal organ.” The critics constantly harped on this debt to the three star tenors of his youth. In 1885, Nicola Daspuro wrote of Angelo Masini in Rigoletto: “In mezza voce, he performs trills, [feats of] agility, picchiettati, like a light soprano, like Patti, and without using falsetti or any other device. He feels that he excels in this type of singing, and perhaps he shades a little too much, and perhaps he executes too many trills; perhaps, for whatever reason, he has lost something of his full voice in the high register. In full voice, in fact, if he reaches B-natural, he has to reach it and to leave it immediately—he cannot hold it. Another point that the purists might note is that he changes the tempi to his own liking and follows his own taste entirely, paying no attention to the composer’s writing. Therefore, the effects attained in each piece are new, original, they surprise and, because they are well contrived, they delight.” In 1897 the Neapolitan newspaper Fortunio compared De Lucia with Gayarre (who had died in 1889): “But because the memory still lives of that cantore paradisiaco one can say that the legitimate heir to his enchantment is now our De Lucia, the only one who, in his clear, velvety, responsive, supple voice, in his sweetness, in the spell cast by his sentiment, can create an echo [of Gayarre], can recall him for us, through the softness of a melodious illusion, abounding with passion and tenderness.” In 1890, the newspaper Roma described him as “an artistic bee, who collects the honey from so many different flowers. Perhaps the artist from whom he drew most was Stagno …. This year he is more exquisite in the mezza voce, [which] merges better with the other registers.” In 1895, the critic of the South American Standard thought that “De Lucia is Stagno’s pupil: not that his voice is the same, but his school and his acting are identical. Stagno was about the most finished actor that ever appeared on the stage, and De Lucia is certainly worthy of being his successor.” For after all, as the critic of Nación had declared in 1889, “More than criticizing him for a tendency to imitate Stagno, we applaud him, since whoever wants to shape himself ought to have great models…but without debasing himself.”

In his first Argentinian season in 1886 he had an interesting accident in Faust: after a successful performance of “Salve! dimora” (with ornaments), he essayed an encore. “… the unfortunate C-natural which … had come out well the first time, suffered a lamentable lapse …. The voice [is] of good timbre in spite of a tendency to be a little throaty and white, a defect noted above all in the smorzando.” So we learn (there are several other references) that he once possessed a high C, a note long vanished by 1902. In Florence in 1890 the critic of Occhialetto praised him as Don José with words that contain a sinister presage: “He is a conscientious artist because he gives the audience all he possesses, and to the detriment of his vocal organ.” Occhialetto also commented on La Gioconda at the San Carlo in December 1890: “De Lucia… has truly astounded the public…through the vocal power that he has acquired, and which he demonstrated with so many high notes, always full and ringing, among which were not a few B-flats. But these B-flats, delivered in quantity, do not impress us, always lovers of the bel canto of which De Lucia is a master, and we admonish him, for [the sake of] the future, not to be estranged from it. One can always find someone to produce a B-flat but one less easily finds someone who produces voce mista as does the young divo.”

Towards the end of the great career some critics, the Neapolitans in particular, would harp on the “baritonal” quality of the voice: “Fernando De Lucia who, in his dramatic art, becomes ever more insuperable, still obstinately wants to sing as a tenor …. The drama and the action very much help the ex-divo in his prodigious art but, despite his efforts, not a limpid, sonorous note comes to illuminate the beautiful music of Fedora.” (Sud, 30 March 1902.) Monsignor Perrelli, a newspaper that loved teasing him, said after a performance of Mignon in 1906: “Another artist, for example a tenor, would have been able to sing the part as it is written …” When Anselmi followed De Lucia in Fedora at the San Carlo in 1904, Monsignor Perrelli asked: “Why was he allowed to sing his music at score pitch … ?” In a letter to Puccini, who was in London for the first performances of Tosca at Covent Garden, Giulio Ricordi wrote: “And how is the Commendatore De Lucia performing the part? … where does he go down? … where does he go up … ?” Some critics complained about transposition, with details: when he sang Il barbiere at La Scala in 1905 the critic of La Perseveranza thought that “The two first-act arias, lowered by a semitone, lost their liveliness of color … ”

THE VOICE ON THESE RECORDS

Is it a beautiful voice? His Latin audiences certainly thought so. Most Anglo-Saxon listeners, perhaps, need a little time to get used to what might at first seem a puzzling alternation of beautifully floating soft sounds with, at times, fiercely driven, vibrato-racked loud singing. Certain it is that none of the three hundred or so records that we have listened to could be described as boring.

In the 1902 recordings De Lucia is not, apparently, at the top of his form, but things go much better in 1904–1905, and in 1906 we find him, possibly, in his very best voice. (Kenneth Muir, in a letter from the Milan offices of G & T to the home office in London dated 27 December 1905, reports that “De Lucia is in remarkably good voice at present. In fact, people in Naples say his voice is now improving again rather than going off.”) In the Phonotype records made between the ages of fifty-six and sixty-one the voice sounds more mature, a little darker throughout, but there are no signs of age other than the little bit more effort needed to reach the highest notes, and a little bit more shortness of breath. One might even say that, after his retirement from opera, daily practice and longer periods of rest made the voice more homogeneous in scale while he retained almost unimpaired the flexibility of the head voice and all his beloved “lacreme” (tears—his own name for his beautifully expressive diminuendo). The vibrato is less aggressive in these late records; a similar smoothing-out of the vocal emission occurred with Giacomo Lauri-Volpi as he matured. The tone frequently strikes us as more beautiful than in the earlier records.

Uda’s review, quoted above, suggests a marked contrast between the lower and upper registers in 1890, when De Lucia had probably arrived at the high point of his vocal mastery, and had not yet plunged into a series of vocally taxing verismo parts. He had “constructed” his voice on the time-honored Italian plan: he had learned to blend the chest voice with the head voice by mastering the passaggio di registro. (Enthusiasts who read Italian will find a thorough explanation of this technique, with ample quotation of sources, in Chapter 6 of Il Canto by Rodolfo Celletti, Garzanti Editore, 1989.) The lower, or chest register of De Lucia’s voice, which seems to descend as far as C, though “baritonal”, is mellifluous in quality and not at all throaty; every note in his voice is placed in the mask and perfectly supported on the breath. It is when he reaches C-sharp or D (fourth line) that De Lucia begins to blend the registers by slightly darkening the color of the voice—this helps the larynx to adjust itself naturally into the position required for ascending higher up the scale. De Lucia is able to sing softly in a mixed voice or in a pure head voice from D as high as B-flat. He can perform a spectacular diminuendo even as high as A-natural, preferring the vowels “e” or “a” for this. (His crescendo effects are rarer.) In comparison, when he sings in full voice in the upper range the going is heavier, and to concentrate and focus the tone he tends to exaggerate the “e” and “i” vowels, sometimes making them unpleasantly shrill, with a marked increase in the vibrato. Garcia, in his Traité Complet de l’Art du Chant, recommends the use of the French or German vowel “ü” (rather than “i”) to help tenors blend the registers and reach the high notes easily. In his records De Lucia often avoids singing fortissimo if it is possible to charm our ears with a pianissimo; like his frequent recourse to downward transposition, this might well mean that in his declining years he was trying, wherever possible, to prevent further strain to a mechanism that had sustained considerable wear in the 1890s.

If we listen to two of the very few recordings in which everyone agrees that he is singing the music in the original key, the Pescatori di perle duet with Josefina Huguet (1906) and “Giunto sul passo estremo” from Mefistofele (1917), we can make some observations about the voice and its condition. The duet opens with a beautiful attack on the upper F, “Non hai compreso …”, marked piano in the score, and the haunting sound of De Lucia’s piano and pianissimo is a great feature of this lovely record. As so often, he lavishes love on music that shows him off to advantage. To achieve a brilliant high A-flat he changes the word “estasiata” into “inebriata”, with a piercing “e” vowel and then concludes his solo with an interpolated high B-flat sung pianissimo—again on the “e” of “compreso”. This is one of the most beautiful notes ever recorded by a tenor. He graces his opening solo with numerous mordents and gruppetti, but it is the pulling about of the time that is the most archaic feature of his singing here. In the concluding section of the duet he allows Huguet to take the high B-flat alone, possibly because after singing this note pianissimo, and so ravishingly, in the first stanza, he does not want to risk spoiling the effect with a possibly strident forte.

De Lucia chooses to sing the aria “Giunto sul passo estremo” from Mefistofele in the original key of A-flat. I suspect that his choice of keys may partially have depended on the particular notes on which he could most conveniently display his diminuendo effects—his —as well as a desire to avoid notes above A. Probably no other tenor has rivaled De Lucia’s beautifully musing and evocative expression of the old philosopher’s reflections. He molds the phrases with exquisite feeling for both the words and the musical line, and, as always, uses the portamento—of which embellishment he is a master—sparingly but to great effect. The first ascent to the high A-flat on the words “in un sogno supremo” is marred by one of his needling “e” vowels on the upper G, but the second time round, on “voglio che questo sogno”, he gets a better A-flat even though there is no “e” to help him above the stave. At the end tenorial vanity impels him to change the cadence and venture a third loud high A-flat, not at all pleasant, on the interpolated word “ahimè!”. (John McCormack also makes this vulgar alteration, but more delicately.)

STYLE – TEMPO AND RHYTHM

Like Tamagno, Celestina Boninsegna, and the young Callas, De Lucia chooses to sing slowly. He recorded very few pieces of quick music, and when he did, he usually employed his mezza voce, in which he could sing either quick patter or agility passages with such stimulating accuracy and brio that one does not miss the full voice. Examples of this include “Marechiare”, “Oilì, oilà”, “Numero quindici”, and “Obbligato, obbligato”. His loving lingering over individual phrases can be exasperating, for sometimes rhythm is completely abandoned and the song becomes a series of beautifully rounded but disjointed phrases. This rhythmic sluggishness slightly clogs his ravishing duet from I pescatori di perle. Maestro Sabajno has no choice but to accompany the tenor in his languishing statement of the first strophe, but then he whips up the tempo impatiently when Huguet comes in: she is made to sing in time, but when the divo re-enters the orchestra is pulled back suddenly to the linger-longer of the first part. This is the style of La Gioconda (created by Gayarre) and, though charming—indeed, irresistibile—I do not believe that such excessive dallying and pulling about of the tempo is authentic performance practice in French music.

There is plenty of evidence that tempi were slower and more sedate in the early and middle-nineteenth century. Pasta sang slowly and deliberately (for example, in “Di tanti palpiti”), aiming at an impressive grandeur, and both Jenny Lind and John Ruskin complained that Patti sang Zerlina’s music more quickly than Malibran. Henstock tells the story (p. 54) of a peppery aristocratic London opera subscriber who used to time the duration of arias: apparently, he considered that ‘Spirto gentil’ in La favorita should take no more than a maximum of five minutes ten seconds, whereas Gayarre dragged it out to nearly seven minutes. (Caruso’s wonderful 1906 recording lasts three minutes fifty-one seconds.) According to Herman Klein, it was Luigi Mancinelli who first began to hurry things along at Covent Garden, introducing faster tempi, although Mapleson cylinders of Mancinelli conducting opera live at the Metropolitan in 1903, for example in Ernani, Aida, and Tosca, show tempi that are slower, on the whole, than we are accustomed to hear today, with plenty of rubato.

Had the critic Henry Fothergill Chorley (1808–1872) been alive when De Lucia was singing, he would have disapproved not only of the vibrato but also the tendency to drag the time and dwell at length on particular notes (or corone). In an interesting review of the London debut of the tenor Napoleone Moriani he writes: “The feeling of the rhythm seems never to have been properly cultivated in him, and, possibly, its extinction is one feature of the declamatory school, where pauses, and sforzandi, and long-drawn sighs, the only means of effect, can only be obtained at the expense of the tempo and the musician’s thoughts. The young Italians bid fair to become as guiltless of measure as the Old English singers of Handel’s slow songs.” (The Athenaeum, N° 872, 13 July 1844.)

THE VIBRATO

Robert Donington (in A Performer’s Guide to Baroque Music, London, Faber & Faber, 1973, p. 87) usefully distinguishes between two types of vibrato: (1) a conspicuous vibrato, regarded as an ornament and to be used with discretion; (2) an inconspicuous vibrato, “a natural enlivening of string tone, of vocal tone, and to some extent of wind tone”—variable in extent but never completely absent. When Michael Praetorius (1619) admired Italian singers because their voices were “trembling” (“zittern und bebende”), surely he had in mind something gentle and unobtrusive, like Marietta Alboni’s voice as described by Chorley: “… with that tremulous quality which reminds fanciful spectators of the quiver in the air of the calm, blazing, summer’s noon.” Chorley’s weekly column of musical criticism in The Athenaeum, from c.1835 to c. 1868, supplies a lot of information about the history of vibrato and other features of style. In his review of an early performance by the celebrated cellist Alfredo Carlo Piatti (1822–1901) we read: “Without an excessive adoption of that tremulous singing tone, which Paganini introduced by way of variety, and Rubini perpetuated for convenience sake, and certain French and Belgian players have pushed into exaggeration, still it is obvious that he has formed his cantabile style on the singers of his own country.” (The Athenaeum, N° 869, 22 June 1844.) Chorley had already blamed Rubini when castigating Mlle. Meerti, in issue N° 711, 12 June 1841, for having “… a slight tendency towards the tremulous—the fault of the modern school, which has sprung largely from imitation of the defect of Rubini’s worn voice.” Of the more famous Rosina Penco we read that she “illustrates the school of Italian vocal decadence. Her voice too often vibrates….” (N° 1701, 2 June 1860.) After a visit to the Opéra-Comique he reports: “Mdlle. Baretti … has a fair soprano voice, the success of which is impaired by the too fashionable modern vice of vibration .…” (N° 1828, 8 November 1862.)

To speak only of tenors, Marconi and Caruso enjoyed successes in London because their voices were steady, golden, and rounded, and their vibrati were inconspicuous. De Lucia was not the only singer to brandish a conspicuously impassioned vibrato: we can hear a similarly throbbing emission of tone in the records of Anselmi, Bonci, Magini-Coletti, and ladies such as Bellincioni (who consciously imitated Stagno), Storchio, or Farneti. Josefina Huguet, at the same time that she recorded “È il sol dell’anima” with De Lucia, made a cheap, black-label disc of the same duet with the utilité tenor Carmelo Lanzirotti, whose vibrato is even more insistently prominent than De Lucia’s, without any of the latter’s compensating skills in modulation and color. In recordings made before the First World War, when there still existed national schools of singing, the English, Americans, Germans, Austrians, and Russians almost never sang with an obtrusive vibrato, hence De Lucia’s lack of success in bel canto roles in London and New York, where Patti was still around to demonstrate what ideal Italian voice production should sound like. De Lucia was mainly admired in modern operas in his seven seasons at Covent Garden, where his only competitors among star tenors were Jean de Reszke and Viñas, who did not share either his wide repertory or his vibrato.

I myself am puzzled about one aspect of De Lucia’s vibrato: was it deliberate or was it an accident? In my experience as a teacher, whenever I have found a voice with this kind of vibrato—the rapid reiteration of a note, as distinct from a wobble, which is the slow alternation of two notes—I have found the vibrato to be caused by an incorrect breathing method and accompanied by a quivering of the ribs during singing. When the pupil changed to the old Italian inter-costal breathing practiced by so many great singers (Melba, Battistini, Plançon, Callas, Kraus … ), the ribs would return smoothly inwards during expiration and the voice would become steady, floating on the breath. It does not seem to me that De Lucia was ignorant of this old-established Italian method of breathing, for his voice—sometimes, perhaps, forced in loud singing, never in soft—always seems to float on the breath and he phrases like a string player with full control of his means. Did the fact that he began his studies on a stringed instrument influence his choice of a vibrant, rather than a steady emission? Or was he simply imitating Gayarre and Stagno?

STYLE – ORNAMENTS AND CHANGES

When Liszt played in London in 1840, Chorley had to remind his fellow critics that: “From the time of Bach’s adagios and pauses downwards, a knowledge of gracing and improvising cadences with intelligence and discretion has always been conceived [by critics] as essential to a first-rate executive artist, be he vocalist or instrumentalist,—a Farinelli or a John Cramer.” (The Athenaeum, N° 659, 13 June 1840.) “Gracing”—what a perfect word to describe the way that De Lucia treats his music! Too bad that Mascagni did not want it or like it in Iris—once he had signed up the divo he was going to get his music graced. Giordano, on the other hand, seems to have relished De Lucia’s ways, and although he never sang Adriana Lecouvreur in the theater, Cilea was willing enough to accompany De Lucia on records.

From Charles E. Pearce’s biography of the great English tenor Sims Reeves, a pupil of Bordogni and Mazzucato who sang with success at La Scala in 1846, we learn that he sang ‘La donna è mobile’ gloriously, “though … his reading was different from Mario’s.” Today, the very conception of two different “readings” of a Verdi aria may puzzle those who have been taught to believe that “performance” means a literal execution of only the notes printed in the score. Old recordings show that late nineteenth-century singers and instrumentalists still knew how and when to interpolate such graces as ornaments, cadenzas, portamento, and tempo rubato, which composers did not or could not write down, but expected to be supplied automatically by sensitive performers.

De Lucia’s recordings of “La donna è mobile” will demonstrate what a “reading” is, but more satisfying is his remarkably vivid, original reading of Alfredo’s usually rather ordinary aria “De’ miei bollenti spiriti”. Both will come as a shock to the uninitiated. De Lucia’s rhythmic idiosyncrasies remind us that “La donna è mobile” is, after all, a song—it is a moment in the opera when the character is actually called upon by the libretto to sing. It is an invitation to “show off”. De Lucia’s re-distribution of the dotted notes represents a daring variation on Verdi’s rhythm, but he is playing with the melody, slyly and delightfully. If we listen to Caruso’s record immediately afterwards, we may note, with some surprise, that this far more modern tenor also smooths over quite a lot of dotted notes and sings even more ornaments! Both tenors phrase in a typically nineteenth-century manner: a loud phrase will be followed by a softer one, almost an “echo effect”, and the tempo will slow down for the softer phrase. (This simple way of gracing the music with slight alterations in tempo and dynamics is typical of nineteenth-century singing, and not only in Italy: the Dresden soprano Irene Abendroth employs this kind of embellishment in her 1902 recording of Brahms’s “Vergebliches Ständchen”.) Caruso suggests a toying with the sustained G-sharp on the word “accento” without actually being able to perform the traditional diminuendo; De Lucia makes a great feature of the gradual fining down of the tone on this note (G-natural in his version).

De Lucia frequently changes words in the libretto to ensure that possibly awkward high notes fall on a convenient vowel, or even to allow him to take an extra breath in the medium range without disturbing the sense of the text. This sort of change was out-of-date by 1900, but from the pages of Garcia’s monumental treatise we learn that such practices are perfectly legitimate in the music of Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini. A bad example of this, often quoted by Italian critics, comes at the end of “Recondita armonia”, where instead of “Tosca, sei tu!” he sings the absurdly ungrammatical “Tosca, sei te!” (acceptable, perhaps, as a colloquialism in the South).

A FEW SELECTED HIGHLIGHTS

Fedora

Changes in the words can be clearly heard in the two solos from Fedora recorded in 1904, but here De Lucia is modernizing the text, not merely providing himself with a more comfortable vowel: “e lunge volle l’incantatrice” becomes “e volle lontano l’incantatrice”. Loris was a role he sang often when he had reached his artistic maturity, and Giordano was so enthusiastic that he personally arranged the necessary transpositions for De Lucia. They also worked together on a “De Lucia edition” of Andrea Chénier, which De Lucia unfortunately never had occasion to sing in the theater, though he made some nice records of the transposed arias for Phonotype. A modern composer would be very surprised to hear De Lucia’s “reading” of contemporary music, apparently beamed upon by its author. To cite but one example: the words “Ma la mia buona madre” become “Ma la mia vecchia madre”—perhaps because Loris did not think of his mother as particularly “good” at the time when she was trying to prevent his marriage!—and where Giordano has written più mosso (more quickly) De Lucia not only slows down but makes a corona, holding the word “Ma”, followed by a breath, even though the accompanist is trying to play a tune here. As usual in these verismo operas De Lucia is absolutely convincing—the power of the parola scenica (the dramatically used word) allied to urgent melody is what this kind of opera is all about. All the same, following the 1917 Phonotype record of “Amor ti vieta” with the score, one cannot help noticing that the orchestral accompaniment has to be chopped and changed to accommodate some of De Lucia’s more spectacular lingerings. When I played this record to my singing teacher, Vincenzo D’Alessandro (1876–1968), who was a pupil of Felice Coen, the teacher of Alessandro Bonci and Umberto Macnez, he said that it reproduced exactly how De Lucia had sung the aria at the Teatro Adriano, Rome, in 1916. It is quite possible that Giordano himself made the necessary adjustments to the orchestral score for the “De Lucia edition”.

“Mia madre, la mia vecchia madre” might have seemed an odd choice for an expensive red label, single-sided record in 1904, but we can hear why he chose it and we are grateful for the insight it offers into his art. He treats the whole number as recitativo, very free with time and note values, following instinctively the sense of the words, and telling a story in song. Giordano has marked the opening bars con naturalezza senza sdolcinare (naturally, without sentimentality), which De Lucia observes until he comes to the words “nel suo castel lontan”, where he introduces a long, unwritten ritardando and one of his lovely acciaccaturas on the last word. He revels in the opportunity to show off the most ravishing pianissimo on the F-sharps of “l’amai beato”. At the triumphal conclusion of the piece, when Loris describes how he proclaimed the humbly born Wanda his bride at the altar, De Lucia sings a spectacular diminuendo on the “i” of the last word, “Dio”, not mere exhibitionism, but the vivid vocal evocation of a soul in ecstasy. (Does De Lucia cheat just a little bit by moving nearer to the recording horn as the sound diminishes?)

He is very loose rhythmically in the opening page of “Vedi, io piango”, then when the music changes into common time at “Non sarò nella mia casa” he marks the rhythm more strongly. At “A mia madre penso” his voice fills with unshed tears and anguish in the most marvellously imaginative manner, but the sobbing is only suggested where the average Italian tenor would blubber unashamedly.

“Amor ti vieta” is one of De Lucia’s vignette masterpieces. We believe that in 1902 he chose the key of B major, one semitone down from the original. He has clearly worked very hard on his conception, based on a solid legato and a cunning use of portamento, which is always present but never obtrusive, with absolute control of rhythmic flux and dynamic shading. He begins to woo Fedora tenderly, in hushed, intimate, persuasive tones, lingering on the F-sharp of “non amar”, which he diminishes lovingly. Gradually he begins to increase the tempo, the excitement, and the volume: his Loris is aristocratic, but a young hothead who achieves a thrilling crescendo on the sustained upper G-sharp of “T’amo!”. He ends the song as Giordano demands, with strongly accented notes, opening the tone to almost a snarl. The Phonotype recording of 1917, now a full tone down in B-flat, is similar, although he takes some extra breaths. He is singing more slowly, but still almost whispering to Fedora in the opening lines and still gradually building up to a stunning climax. Although fifteen years have passed since his earlier recording, he is now in better voice and introduces a melting diminuendo on the second syllable of “Non t’amerò!”. This kind of carefully planned, artistically shaped, varied and interesting interpretation is what nineteenth-century critics meant when they described a singer’s performance as “finished”.

Manon and Werther

For G & T-HMV, De Lucia recorded two versions of the “Dream” song “Chiudo gli occhi” from Manon, both apparently sung in the original key, and there is a later version in D-flat (one semitone down), together with recitative, on a 12" Phonotype, which label also preserved for posterity his thrilling singing of “Ah! dispar vision”. The 1902 version of the “Dream” song is attractive enough, with some lovely touches, but the diminuendo on the high A betrays a lack of complete control. In the 1907 version this effect is more securely achieved, the diction—especially at the opening—is of bewitching limpidity, and now De Lucia’s vowels are more perfectly equalized than in 1902, helping him to sustain a more mellow legato. This is a lovely record, which he spoils somewhat by opting for a theatrically loud ending in place of Massenet’s piano, which he could have realized so perfectly had he chosen.

The 1902 recording of the first stanza only of “Ah! non mi ridestar” from Werther is inferior to the Phonotype of 1917; in both versions he has transposed the aria a tone down into E Minor. In the last phrase he would, perhaps, have been better advised to breathe where indicated in the score - i.e. after “soffio”—but the main feature of his interpretation is the long diminuendo on the D-sharp of the first syllable of “aprile”, which is shaky in 1902 but spectacularly successful in 1917 (although here he goes sharp). In 1917, when he interpolates “Ahimè!” to reach a rather forced G-sharp, he loses contact with the orchestra, which can be heard floundering about behind the divo’s back, trying to catch up with him.

Faust

John McCormack’s record of “Salve! dimora” will be well-known to collectors; like De Lucia, he sings it a semitone down and in the Italian style. Faust was always performed in Italian at Covent Garden and the Metropolitan until the days of the de Reszkes, when Melba and Jean and Edouard would sing in French, while the chorus continued to sing in Italian until after the First World War. De Lucia sings one strophe of “Salve! dimora”, caressingly, at the slow speed we have come to expect of him (the score is marked larghetto, after all) and his interpretation is particularly rich in contrasting colors. He alternates a warm lower register with head and mixed notes of different weight but all of great beauty. The last four bars should be compulsory study for all tenors and baritones. After changing the word order to obtain an “e” vowel for his high B (“Che a me riveli la fanciulla” becomes “Che la fanciulla a me rivela”) he arrives at this high note by “kicking off” by means of an acciaccatura from the D to the high B, achieving a beautifully shimmering head note, which he then fines off when he is ready to descend to the G. In the next phrase, “che al guardo, al guardo mio”, each note is lovingly placed in a different mixture of registers, a tour de force. In the final phrase we notice that, in order to sustain a long fermata on the penultimate note (a D), he breaks the phrase with a breath and repeats the last word (“si cela / cela”). The first “cela” is pronounced on G, second line, quite naturally: when he repeats the word, attacking “ce –” on D, fourth line, the “e” is now that rather pinched vowel verging on “ee” that does not please everyone.

The love duet from Faust was, in De Lucia’s day, one of the most popular of all operatic duets, which is no doubt why it was chosen as the first duet he would record. He is heard seductively murmuring, rising thrillingly to the passionate outburst of his crescendo on the sustained high A, an effect unanticipated by Gounod in the score. Boninsegna is out of her element in this music, the “yodel” effect marring her phrasing, her vowels too open, suggesting a heavyweight market woman. It is in the broad phrases of Verdi, in the upper medium and high registers, that she comes into her own. Josefina Huguet, with a smaller though crystalline voice, is much more charming in the 1907 repeat, in which De Lucia himself rises to even greater heights than before.

La traviata

De Lucia often sang Alfredo in La traviata with authoritative conductors such as Mancinelli, Bevignani, and Vitale, and was admired by Patti. The 1906 record of “De’ miei bollenti spiriti” sets off at a more sedate speed than we are accustomed to, to the enormous gain of the music: after all, it is marked andante and was meant to contrast with the brilliant allegro of the cabaletta (in those days always cut in performance). Much of the aria is marked piano, so De Lucia’s tone is beguilingly youthful and dreamy—although Verdi might not have liked it when at the words “sorriso dell’amor”, marked stentato (loud and strongly accented) he continues to whisper alluringly, so that he cannot achieve the desired contrast with Verdi’s ppp on the repetition of “dell’amor!” Then, perhaps, Verdi might have grumbled when the crescendo marked on “dell’universo immemore” is replaced by a diminuendo, but so exquisite is the effect, especially the second time, that both the dramatic and the musical impact of the piece are enhanced. Though he plays with the time to an audacious degree, the underlying urgency of the rhythm is somehow kept going: even the stolen breath between “universo” and “immemore”, with his inimitable stress on the third syllable of “universo”, adds impetus. Maestro Sabajno has some interesting rhythmic variants of his own in an accompaniment that is delightfully at one with the singer. After this spectacular display of honeyed and ecstatic soft singing, De Lucia adds a brilliant high A to the cadenza. This marvellous record never fails to both astonish and delight the few conductors I have dared to play it to, but truth to tell it is really too eccentric for modern singers to use as a model. However, together with his other records from La traviata (especially the entrancing “Un dì, felice, eterea”) it gives us a tantalizing glimpse into a vanished era.

Luisa Miller

Although De Lucia never sang Luisa Miller in the theater, his 1908 recording of “Quando le sere al placido” is one of his best. Though he is less eccentric than in the Traviata aria, there is the same tendency to turn Verdi’s crescendo into a diminuendo. But how eloquent his singing is, how perfectly he realizes, by purely vocal means, Rodolfo’s anguish in recalling happier days! Verdi has not been liberal with performance markings in this aria, simply writing piano at the beginning of each stanza. De Lucia maintains soft singing for most of the aria, making the forte doubly impressive when it comes. In 1917 he recorded the aria again for Phonotype, this time a full tone down with some necessary changes when the vocal line sinks below the stave. Now he has completely re-studied the aria, adds a few telling ornaments, and is moving indeed where Verdi has written con espressione.

Lohengrin

Although he sang Lohengrin in only one production, at the San Carlo in 1893, his records from the opera are among his most detailed and polished performances, and we shall not find such imaginative phrasing or such eloquence in this music elsewhere. Francisco Viñas, with a much more beautiful voice, both limpid and heroic, sings in something like De Lucia’s leisurely and grandly distinguished style, but cannot offer so varied a palette of contrasting colors. De Lucia follows Wagner’s score quite faithfully, though he alters the notes in a couple of places and changes Salvatore Marchesi’s text whenever he needs a more comfortable vowel. The combination of intense feeling, a beautiful line, and clear diction, the words lovingly declaimed, make these records uniquely impressive (despite the occasional flutter and debility of tone in the 1902 “cigno gentil”). Wagner wanted a bel canto treatment of his vocal music; would he have liked this, I wonder? The music is certainly made to sound both more beautiful and more meaningful by this affectionate treatment.

Don Giovanni

Although the critics in London and New York did not warm to his Don Ottavio, the record of “Dalla sua pace” is a good performance, with some grandiose portamenti. If only they had allowed him a 12" side for “Il mio tesoro intanto”, which he sings in the original key, he might have left us one of the best versions. He differentiates between the slow, soothing opening and the faster, fiery conclusion of what is, after all, a vengeance aria.

Unfortunately about half the aria is cut and at one point he seems to forget to come in. I am surprised that he does not sing the appoggiaturas, whereas he always does so in Il barbiere—and elsewhere. Here his florid singing is accurate, brilliant, and in full voice, a rare example from him of agilità di forza.

Il barbiere di Siviglia

These are the records for which De Lucia is best known. Even today our Rossini tenors of the younger generation, for whom high C-sharps and Ds present no problem and who sing the most complicated coloratura passages with aplomb, can never get into their efficient singing the variety and charm that make these records unique. Garcia warns the student against too languid an interpretation of “Ecco ridente in cielo”, which De Lucia sings almost all the way through in a dreamily meandering mezza voce. Henstock quotes the Corriere della Sera of 6 April 1905: “Today, his singing is obliged to make almost continuous use of mezza voce, and his grace smacks of mannerism.” This criticism seems rather unfair if applied to the two serenades, for the Count would not want to yell his love songs under Rosina’s window at dawn! The 1904 recording of “Ecco ridente” is one of the most famous discs of its period, but in many ways the very rare version of 1908 is even better. Here De Lucia is in smoother voice, the tone is warmer and more secure in both the loud and the haunting soft passages, the execution of the florid music even neater and more brilliant. The variations are slightly different, so we shall always want to hear both versions! Garcia also gives an example of tempo rubato, a complex document, as employed by his father in “All’idea di quel metallo”; in comparison, all De Lucia does is speed up and slow down. So these wonderful records may not be considered absolutely “authentic” in style, though they bring us vivid flashes of a vanished kind of virtuosity: even, at times, of agilità di forza—full-voiced florid singing. Either soft or loud, De Lucia’s Rossini singing is always eloquent as well as reasonably accurate, and in his recordings of “Ah! qual colpo inaspettato” he touches the sublime in his ravishing, softly sparkling execution of “Or di sorpresa”. It will be noticed that in the concluding passage of bravura on the words “Son vicino a delirar”, which De Lucia is obliged to deliver forte, the sound is more laborious and much less lovely.

Songs

The Neapolitan and other songs recorded in Naples in 1909 are among De Lucia’s most typically affectionate performances. I frequently use “O sole mio” as a demonstration of the finest legato singing; how tenderly he caresses the vocal line, and how beautiful is the mezza voce attack on the upper G at “Ma n’atu sole”. The ending, a delicate fading away on the D, eschewing any vulgar loud high notes, puts to shame any other version of this song. How great he could be in a love song is further demonstrated in “ ’a surrentina”. Among the earlier records, Costa’s “Napulitanata”, a magnificent song by an unduly neglected composer, is particularly noteworthy for the artistic reining-in of unbridled passion—how beautifully, then, he softens the tone as he leads into the last lines of the song. (The recording is rather muddy, but fortunately De Lucia would record the song again, in a longer version, for both Fonotipia and Phonotype.) The amorous waltz-song “A suon di baci” was written for Masini by his colleague, the basso buffo Antonio Baldelli. The song calls for considerable virtuosity, as well as kissing noises, and became a favourite showpiece of Masini and De Lucia, who made four records of it. Cilea’s song “Lontananza” was just one in an ill-fated series of songs specially commissioned by Alfred Michaelis of the Gramophone and Typewriter Company from leading Italian composers. The idea was for G & T to publish the songs and engage star singers to record them, when possible with the composer at the piano. Leoncavallo and Caruso hit the jackpot with “Mattinata”, which since 1904 has sold thousands of copies, and Giordano’s dreary “Crepuscolo triste”, beautifully sung by Ninì Frascani, also sold well. The other records in the series are very rare, as are copies of the sheet music. Only the most fervid De Lucia fan would have wanted to pay the princely sum demanded for a celebrity recording of “Lontananza”, a weak song, even when accompanied by the composer. De Lucia has studied it carefully and made a few alterations: whilst Cilea has marked the words “Se è ver” dolcemente, De Lucia sings them forte, making all the more effect with the next phrase, “Che lontananza”, which he sings in a haunting piano. Despite the flimsy substance of the music, this record and the accompanying aria from Adriana Lecouvreur show a prestigious composer at the piano, carefully following a star singer in all his slowings down and speedings up—important evidence as to one particular authentic style of performance of music c. 1900.

TRANSPOSITION - SPEEDS AND KEYS

The reader turning to the meticulously compiled index in Dr. Henstock’s book will find nine references to “transpositions”. De Lucia’s surviving vocal scores sometimes include penciled-in references to downward transposition, and Henstock quotes several criticisms of performances in which not only arias but also duets were transposed down, inconveniencing his colleagues. This could be described as common practice in the nineteenth century, but of course not every singer was powerful enough to get his own way. No problem for Patti, who was transposing “Ah! non credea mirarti” a semitone down as early as 1879, and equally none for Battistini, who on records transposes “Era la notte” (and other arias) a semitone up, and in concert transposed a whole tone up arias from Rubinstein’s The Demon and Wagner’s Flying Dutchman and La Walkiria! In his book Sharps and Flats (American Musician Publishing Co., New York, 1890, Dover reprint 1968), the impresario Max Maretzek has an amusing anecdote the point of which is that in 1847 at Covent Garden or Her Majesty’s Theatre the orchestra was expected to transpose at sight practically every evening!

Early gramophone records, now referred to as “78s”, rarely play at exactly 78 revolutions per minute. It may well be that, with their primitive recording apparatus, engineers had no way of fixing a regular speed for the turntable, though they seem to have aimed at 78. De Lucia made his first records in Milan at a period when the G & T engineers recorded Cesira Ferrani at 64 r.p.m., Maria Galvany at 61 r.p.m., and Enrico Caruso at 73 r.p.m. (first series) and 68 r.p.m. (second series). Michael Henstock has established that De Lucia had been suffering from ill-health before going to Milan to make the records, and had not sung in opera for six months. The recorded repertoire includes arias from Werther, Il barbiere di Siviglia, and Fedora which he is known to have transposed down in the theatre, and “La donna è mobile” would be another obvious candidate. The usual problems attending any decision as to what key De Lucia is using are here compounded by the fact that he is not in very good voice. At whatever speed these 1902 records are played, the effect is of a rather grunty lower register contrasting markedly with a pinched, shrill, and over-emphatic—even hysterical—upper register, for example in the Werther aria. In the records made between 1904 and 1909 the contrast between the lower and upper registers is less marked. Ward Marston, taking into consideration contemporary references to his “baritonal” voice, has decided what seem to him to be the most plausible keys, and I find—after long pondering and playing the records over and over again at two different speeds—that I agree with him in every case. The person who has devoted most time to this thorny problem is Michael Henstock, whose conclusions, however, are different from ours. Our speeds for the November 1902 records bring the “Dream” aria from Manon out in its original key of D and, assuming that the other nine records from the session all play at the same speed (which is not always the case), “Ah! non mi ridestar” and “Se il mio nome” both emerge with a full tone transposition, whereas “La donna è mobile”, “Amor ti vieta”, and “Recondita armonia” are each a semitone down. In the second session, on about 3 December 1902, we find the arias from Cavalleria rusticana and Carmen each transposed a semitone down. There is a gap of four matrix numbers before the entrance of Lohengrin, “Cigno gentil”, which at a slightly higher speed comes out in A-flat, one semitone down from score pitch.

To guide us we rely mostly on the sound of the vowels: when the records are played at too low a speed the vowels become hooty and lugubrious, and at too high a speed they are excessively open and shrill. It is clear from letters printed by Henstock that De Lucia loved making records: he also loved playing them to guests, and if anyone dared to talk he would angrily lift off the needle and close the lid of the gramophone—a beautiful 1911 model by Fonotipia. Perhaps, like Melba, on listening to his records he heard faults that he could then work at correcting, and this might explain why, in the records made from 1904, the upper register is toned down somewhat—a piercing quality might be more effective on the stage than on the gramophone.

De Lucia was a great duet singer, knowing how to listen to his partner and blend his voice with hers (or his). The duet records would seem to offer an ideal way of deciding speeds and keys, for all his partners made plenty of solo and other duet records, and the timbre of their voices is familiar to us. When comparing the 1904 duet “Tardi si fa” from with the adjacent matrices 212m, 215m, and 216m, all featuring Boninsegna, we came to the conclusion that she and De Lucia are singing in the original key of F. It is not so easy to decide on speeds for buffo singers like Badini and the great Pini-Corsi, as they are making some of the “funny noises” that the Italian was heir to, however we believe that in “Obbligato, obbligato” and “Numero quindici” each of the singers sounds best in the original keys, whereas “All’idea di quel metallo” comes out better a semitone down. Although it is dangerous to speculate thus, I would suggest that De Lucia found “Numero quindici” comfortable in G because he could vocalize the agility passages in half-voice, whereas in “All’idea” there are some difficult florid passages that he has to sing .

To everyone’s delight, matrix 621c “Non hai compreso un cor fedel” turns out to have been sung in the original key of B-flat Minor, at about 75 r.p.m giving us a kind of Rosetta Stone with which to judge the other recordings in this matrix group. De Lucia’s aria from , “De’ miei bollenti spiriti”, played at 75.5, sounds correct in D, a semitone below score pitch. We know from studying the solo recordings of Huguet and Pini-Corsi made on nearly adjacent numbers in the same matrix series that, in general, the recording machine was revolving at 76.5 r.p.m., at which speed “Ah! qual colpo”, “Parigi, o cara”, and “È il sol dell’anima” sound best, each transposed a semitone down from score pitch.

A group of nine records from 1907 includes five duets, all of which, we believe, were sung in their original keys, as were the arias from and , whereas the flower song from was transposed a semitone down. We have reproduced these records at a nominal speed of 76.5 r.p.m, a speed consistent with other known recording in this matrix series. We note, however, that the speed gradually decreases to about 75 r.p.m by the end of each record.

The 1908 series all play at a nominal speed of 75 r.p.m with a slight decrease in speed toward the end of each record. De Lucia sings “Il mio tesoro intanto” in the original key and transposes “Dalla sua pace” a semitone down. The other arias and duets in this series are all transposed a semitone down, in which keys Galvany’s voice sounds right, except “Ah! qual colpo”, which is sung in the original key of F, and “Se il mio nome”, which is, as in 1902, transposed a whole tone down.

A special, but not unique, problem arises with the delightful group of ten songs recorded by De Lucia in Naples in 1909. We believe that after the first five songs (which Ward Marston has transferred at 70 r.p.m.) the turntable speed rises by about four and a half revolutions (more or less a semitone) for the remaining five songs. I suspect tenor and musicians repaired to the bar for a coffee, and the engineer seized the opportunity to oil the motor of the recording machine!

In conclusion, it seems that Ward Marston and I generally agree with Michael Henstock about the speeds and keys of the Phonotype records.

APPENDIX - THE PHONOTYPE RECORDS.

It was in the nineteen-thirties that record collectors first discovered that De Lucia had made more than three hundred records for ‘Phonotype Record’, an organization well-known in Naples but practically unheard-of elsewhere. Phonotype is still, happily, producing De Lucia records today, though, of course, transferred to CD! Michael Henstock, with the co-operation of members of the Esposito family, who founded and still run the business, has uncovered full details of the tenor’s happy collaboration with this enterprising record company. Choosing a selection has not been easy. Marston Records hope to be able to reproduce more of this long list of titles in the future, and especially the complete recordings of Il barbiere di Siviglia and Rigoletto.

The technical standard of the Phonotype recordings is, fortunately, very high, with the voice well to the fore. The majority of the metal masters still survive in usable condition, despite having been buried in a bunker for many years to avoid appropriation as scrap metal by the government during the Second World War. De Lucia recorded a host of arias and duets—often from operas that he had never sung on stage—as well as many attractive songs. Downward transposition in no way diminishes the sensational effect of such masterpieces of finished bel canto phrasing as his idiosyncratic performance of the Rigoletto quartet, or the aria from Les Huguenots. It is amusing to report that the baritone Benvenuto Franci, who in 1920 recorded the duet from La Gioconda with De Lucia, many years later complained to the Neapolitan record collector Francesco Salvo that he had been forced to sing it a full tone down!

It is surely extraordinary that at nearly fifty-seven years of age De Lucia should have been able to turn out such a polished performance of “Bianca al par di neve alpina” from Meyerbeer’s Gli Ugonotti, an opera which he must have seen many times in his younger years but never sang. The voice seems to have been in flawless condition on 2 September 1917, perfectly responsive to every modulation brought to the music by De Lucia, who is in a romantic mood right from the beginning of the recitative, delivered in a dreamy manner that perfectly sets the scene and whets the listener’s appetite for the feast of marvellously expressive singing that the artist is about to unfold. How eloquently he shapes the line, coloring his tones and making the most of Meyerbeer’s invitation to sing “dolcissimo a mezza voce” (very sweetly in half-voice)! We may notice that when singing softly—and oh, how winningly—De Lucia can still offer some long breath spans. By re-arranging words he is able to snatch breaths in the loud, high phrases without seeming to break the line. He is singing the aria in A-flat, a tone down from the Ricordi score, but he rises to an excellent high B-flat in the cadenza.

The same day he made a memorable record of Ernani’s aria “Come rugiada al cespite”. The truth and appeal of De Lucia’s recitative is immediately arresting, while the aria is sung slowly and savored to the full. There is a lot of imaginative shading and the ornaments are beautifully applied. The recitative “Tombe degli avi miei” and aria “Fra poco a me ricovero” from Lucia di Lammermoor, also recorded on 2 September 1917, make an interesting comparison with the versions recorded in 1908 by Francesco Marconi. Although Marconi was seven years older than De Lucia, his interpretation—although including many old-fashioned features—is more “modern” in some ways than De Lucia’s. Marconi, who had not nursed his golden voice so carefully over the years as De Lucia, indulges in a few verismo mannerisms in his highly dramatic and thrilling performance; De Lucia’s style, vivid in diction though it be, harks back to the elegance of the 1870s and 80s. Another particularly successful record in De Lucia’s contemplative manner is “Cielo e mar” from La Gioconda, an opera he sang often between 1886 and 1897. Fernando’s aria “Spirto gentil” from La favorita, an opera he had last sung at the San Carlo in 1893 with Battistini, seems to call for just the sadly nostalgic tones and sustained legato that De Lucia can still provide nearly a quarter of a century later. We notice that in the medium range his vowels are now properly equalized, though he still relies on a rather squeezed and shrill “ee” or “i” to get into the upper regions. There is a heavenly moment as he sings the bridge passage into the repeat with one of his pianissimi, suspended in the air. His high B-flat is stunning.

In four selections from Mefistofele De Lucia returns to the role of his operatic debut with some remarkably eloquent singing, decidedly in the manner of 1884! In “Colma il tuo cor” he even inserts appoggiaturas, as if the music were by Donizetti. (On Mapleson cylinders we hear Antonio Scotti inserting appoggiaturas into Scarpia’s music in Act Two of Tosca.) In a duet from L’elisir d’amore, a fine record, De Lucia sings his strophe more slowly than his soprano, Angela De Angelis, sings hers. He is particularly winning in the recitative, she does better in the duet proper. He inserts all the appoggiaturas, she does so only in the recitative.

It was for Phonotype that he recorded most of the verismo pieces in his discography. The regrettable band that accompanies De Lucia in this studio sometimes includes strings, audible in Turiddu’s farewell from Cavalleria rusticana but not often elsewhere. This is an unusual performance, surprisingly effective. There is no ranting; De Lucia is thoughtful rather than ebullient, and the slow tempo is suggested by the score. “Vesti la giubba” and his other recordings from Pagliacci explain his success as Canio: the combination of a strong legato style and biting diction makes the dramatic passages doubly effective, even frightening. In contrast, how lovely is his playful conception of “Tra voi belle” from Manon Lescaut! Although he is now over sixty years old, the voice is still fresh and brilliant, with lovely warm tone in the medium range, perfectly caught by Signor Esposito. Puccini has peppered the score with instructions like ritenuto (held back), molto rall. and molto rit., of all of which our divo takes the fullest advantage—and the various little added mordents and turns seem to truly embellish this delightful music. A gem! Similar in its charming effect is the fragment from Act Two of La bohème, “Quest’è Mimì”, a page of which only De Lucia seems ever to have realized all the possibilities. (I have just read—in Le Cronache Musicali, 10 January 1901—that Caruso was encored in this same passage at La Scala, “having emitted an extraordinary high A”.) “Che gelida manina”, of which we have preferred the later, 12" version, is full of charming touches. Here unfortunately the recording does not quite catch the full beauty of the medium range, and De Lucia—again, over sixty and transposing a full tone down—has set himself a hard task, but surely nobody has ever sung “Talor del mio forziere” with such breath-taking piano tone and floating line. More touches of this lovely soft singing would have been welcome.

The creator recordings from L’amico Fritz and Iris are valuable. The Cherry Duet from the former is a joy; even the mediocre soprano catches the authentic verismo style, though there are many on records who do it better (and no doubt Calvé was much more elegant). The first part is sung, without any difficulty, in the original key, whereas on side two of the record they have slithered slyly a semitone down, a fact that would have passed unnoticed when the purchasers of original copies had to turn the record over and wind up the phonograph in order to hear the second part. De Lucia sings beautifully, changing a few words and adding a few embellishments. In the aria “O amore, o bella luce”—marked Larghissimo e molto sostenuto (very slowly and very sustained)—De Lucia is on home ground, for this, we feel, is how he would always like to sing! This successful performance blends eloquence of expression, a speaking urgency of diction and some admirably sustained singing, both loud and soft. There are several changes to the notation and little ornaments that might have displeased Mascagni. The “Serenata” from Iris, another late but lovely record, is faithful to the spirit of the score, although De Lucia slows down the tempo and caresses individual notes rather more than the composer might have had in mind (there is also a ravishing lacrema). He brings the same elegant style to the Serenata “O Colombina” from Pagliacci, a piece he often sang in stage performances.

From Andrea Chénier Phonotype preserved the Giordano-approved modification of the “Improvviso”. I confess that, before the end of the record, I tire of the idiosyncratically slow tempo, but the interpretation is probably the most truly poetic on record, without bluster, and the tone is particularly lovely. He makes the final phrases effective without any interpolation of either high notes or sobs.

De Lucia’s singing fills the heart with joy; how wonderful that singers and opera enthusiasts should be able to hear these records today—they were made a century ago, and they were old-fashioned even then.

©Michael Aspinall, 2013

Postscript: On 22 May 1991 Michael Henstock introduced his biography of De Lucia and a choice selection of records to Neapolitan music lovers in the august surroundings of the British Council in Palazzo D’Avalos, Naples. The assisting speakers included Francesco Canessa, the Sovrintendente of the San Carlo Opera House, and myself. To everyone’s delight, De Lucia’s two surviving children, his daughters Rosa and Giuseppina, were sitting in the front row, Rosa—a music teacher—humming all the tunes, muttering the words, and “conducting” Maestro Sabajno’s orchestra. When we listened to the Symposium re-pressing of “A suon di baci” (“To the sound of kisses”) I mentioned that De Lucia was a great seducer, hastily adding—as his family was present—that I was referring to his prowess as a charmer in salon songs and not as a seducer in the boudoir. Donna Rosa could not let that pass: bursting with pride and sparkling with Neapolitan good humor, she shouted out: “Oh, but he was that, too!”

The producers wish to thank Michael Henstock for his generous permission to quote extensively from his biography of Fernando De Lucia.

In 1979, the English label Rubini Records issued a four-LP set containing all of Fernando De Lucia’s G&T/Gramophone Company recordings. It was a fine set, and like many other music lovers I spent hours listening, enthralled by this fascinating tenor, who sounded as no one I had ever heard, either on records or in the flesh. I was astonished at the number of transposed arias, wondering if these records had been transferred at the proper speeds. I began collecting the original discs to determine for myself whether or not the Rubini LPs were accurate representations of De Lucia’s voice. After years of intense listening, I concluded that the pitches on the Rubini LPs are essentially correct. With the advantage of digital restoration techniques and the help of collectors who have generously loaned their precious discs in unworn condition, we now release these important recordings on CD in new transfers, as well as a selection of arias that De Lucia recorded for the Phonotype label after his retirement from the operatic stage.

De Lucia’s first recordings probably sold rather well since none of them is extremely rare, but unworn copies are not commonly found. Not as well-recorded as other G&T discs from the period, they tend to be noisy. Careful choice of stylus size and the judicious use of digital de-noising attenuates the noise to some extent, but too much noise reduction can adversely affect De Lucia’s vocal nuances.

The task of determining the correct speeds for the G&T recordings was relatively straightforward and involved a logical process for our production team. Coincidentally, the matrix numbers of De Lucia’s first recording session immediately precede those of Caruso’s second G&T session of 30 November 1902. Since the speed of the Caruso recordings is undisputed, it seemed logical to begin by playing the De Lucia discs at the same speed as Caruso’s, 68 r.p.m. This speed yielded pitches that were slightly flat, but increasing the speed by only 1.3 revolutions brought the De Lucia recordings solidly into key with his voice sounding absolutely natural and the transpositions quite plausible. Listening attentively to each of De Lucia’s subsequent recordings through 1908, we found that they all play at predictable speeds consistent with G&T recordings made by other singers. The session on 21 May 1909, during which ten songs were recorded, is problematic because there is an obvious change in De Lucia’s voice after the fifth song. Played at 70 r.p.m., an unusually slow speed for that time, he sounds correct in the first five songs, with plausible keys of B-flat, C minor, C major, F, and G. Raising the speed to 74.5 starting with the sixth song gives his voice the same timbre and yields keys of G, A Minor, and E, which are easily played by mandolin, violin, and guitar. Why the turntable speed would have changed during the session is unknown.

Establishing pitches that we feel are correct for De Lucia’s Phonotype recordings is far more daunting than for any of his other records. By the time he was making these records, the timbre of his voice had darkened somewhat, but he by no means sounded old and he could still create those magic pianissimi for which he was renowned. Michael Henstock’s thorough discographic research gives us a complete chronological list of these recordings, session by session, enabling us to establish patterns of speed consistency within each recording date.

The Phonotype recordings speeds vary widely from 69 r.p.m. to at least 83 r.p.m. and perhaps as high as 88! By this time, De Lucia was transposing almost everything down to one degree or another, so determining correct pitches for these recordings comes down to choosing a playback speed that produces the most convincing vocal timbre. Among all of De Lucia’s Phonotypes, there are three recordings that sound absolutely convincing at score pitch – “Giunto sul passo estremo” from Mefistofele (70.6 r.p.m.), “Mia madre” from Fedora (73 r.p.m.), and the first side of the Cherry Duet from L’amico Fritz (80 r.p.m.) Playing any of these discs below score pitch produces a ridiculous sound that no singer could possibly emit. The voice quality on these records can, therefore, be used as a kind of Rosetta Stone to help assess the correct pitches for other De Lucia Phonotypes.

Jeffrey Miller, Michael Aspinall, and I have spent countless hours listening intently to the Phonotype recordings we have included in this reissue. Sharing our thoughts and opinions as to the correct pitching of these controversial records, we discovered that in the end, we were in complete accord. As life-long musicians, our ears have been our primary guide, while our knowledge of old recordings has also informed our decisions. We know that everyone will not agree with our choices of repertoire nor our decisions on pitch, and that disagreements about the correct pitches for De Lucia’s recordings will continue, but we hope that our efforts will help keep De Lucia’s art alive and kindle new interest in this inimitable tenor.