The Complete Recordings of Hina Spani
and Giannina Arangi Lombardi Singing Six Verdi Arias

52077-2 (2 CDs)  | $ 36.00


The Complete Recordings of Hina Spani
Hina Spani (1890*–1969) was born Higinia Tuñón in a province of Buenos Aires. She enjoyed a major operatic career centered in Italy during the 1920s and 1930s. Among the great sopranos of her era, Spani shines as brightly as any, yet her celebrity was less well known most likely due to her career being limited mainly to Italy, Spain, and South America, and her only tour to an English-speaking country was in Australia. She made her operatic debut at La Scala in 1915 as Anna in Catalani’s Loreley. She sang at Puccini’s funeral at the Duomo in Milan’s cathedral on 29 November 1924 (and repeated this performance at La Scala a month later) under the baton of Arturo Toscanini, which was a turning point in her career. She created the title role in the world premiere of Respighi’s Maria Egiziaca in 1934 at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires and performed in the world premiere of Alberto Franchetti’s Glauco. Spani’s voice is of first-rate quality and well-trained, with a beautifully warm tone and an even scale. She began as a lirico-spinto but graduated to dramatic parts and had a vibrant, instantly recognizable voice capable of thrilling the listener in opera or song. Although she was a true soprano, she had the fullness associated with mezzo-sopranos: she sang some roles often taken by mezzos, such as Marina in Boris Godunov and Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana, and regretted never having portrayed Eboli in Don Carlos. She excelled in art songs but commanded no fewer than sixty operatic roles. After retiring from the operatic stage, she taught at the Vocal Art Institute of the Teatro Colón, which she directed.

Hina Spani’s entire recorded output can be found on fewer than twenty discs. Her musical conviction and sincerity linked with limited recordings have made Spani a favorite among record collectors. This complete two-CD set includes all of her recordings for Italian Columbia and HMV. The repertoire is almost evenly divided between operatic arias and Italian, Spanish, and Argentinian art songs. The booklet notes are by Michael Aspinall and Tully Potter.

*In true prima donna fashion, Spani took six years off her age and gave her birth year as 1896.

CD 1 (80:39)


UN BALLO IN MASCHERA: Morrò, ma prima in grazia (Verdi)

 1924, Milan; B342 (D 5165)

AIDA: O patria mia (Verdi)

 1924, Milan; B338 (D 5165)

CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA: Tu qui, Santuzza … No, no, Turiddu (Mascagni)

 Paolo Masini, tenor
 1924, Milan; B333 and B334 (D 9455)

MANON LESCAUT: In quelle trine morbide (Puccini)

 1924, Milan; B340 (D 9461)

TOSCA: Vissi d’arte (Puccini)

 1924, Milan; B332 (D 9462)

MADAMA BUTTERFLY: Un bel dì (Puccini)

 1924, Milan; B336 (D 9462)

ANDREA CHÉNIER: La mamma morta (Giordano)

 1924, Milan; B331 (transferred from a unique unpublished test pressing)

GUILLAUME TELL: Sombre forêts (Selva opaca) (Rossini)

 La Scala Orchestra, conducted by Carlo Sabajno
 7 July 1931; 0F168-3 (HMB 138)

LOHENGRIN: Einsam in trüben Tagen (Sola nei miei primi anni) (Wagner)

 with orchestra
 10 April 1928; CF1628-1 (DB 1164)

LOHENGRIN: Euch Lüften, die mein Klagen (Aurette a cui si spesso) (Wagner)

 Conservatorio, Milan; La Scala Orchestra, conducted by Carlo Sabajno
 15 March 1927; CK2016-2 (DB 1164)

FAUST: Il m’aime (Ei m’ama) (Gounod)

 La Scala Opera orchestra, conducted by Carlo Sabajno
 3 April 1928; CF1625-2 (DB 1163)

UN BALLO IN MASCHERA: Ma dall’arido stelo (Verdi)

 La Scala Opera orchestra, conducted by Carlo Sabajno
 11 March 1927; CK2008-3 (DB 1045)

IL TROVATORE: Come d’aurato sogno ... Tacea la notte (Verdi)

 Conservatorio, Milan; La Scala Orchestra, conducted by Carlo Sabajno
 15 March 1927; CK2015-3 (DB 1045)

IL TROVATORE: D’amor sull’ali rosee (Verdi)

 La Scala Opera orchestra, conducted by Carlo Sabajno
 10 April 1928; CF1629-2 (DB 1503)

OTELLO: Quando narravi l’esule tua vita (Verdi)

 Giovanni Zenatello, tenor
La Scala Opera orchestra, conducted by Carlo Sabajno
 3 December and 9 November 1926; CK1918-4 and CK1919-2 (DB 1006)

OTELLO: Piangea cantando nell’erma landa (Verdi)

 La Scala Opera orchestra, conducted by Carlo Sabajno
 3 April 1928; CF1626-2 (HMB 138)

MANON: Allons! il le faut!...Adieu, notre petite table (Ah sì, lo degg’io...Addio, nostro piccolo desco) (Massenet)

 Conservatorio, Milan; orchestra conducted by Carlo Sabajno
 3 May 1929; CM854-1 (DB 1503)

PAGLIACCI: Decidi il mio destin … No, tu non m’ami (Leoncavallo)

 Apollo Granforte, baritone
Conservatorio, Milan; La Scala Opera orchestra, conducted by Carlo Sabajno
 12 March 1927; CK2010-1 and CK2011-2 (DB 1046)

all tracks sung in Italian

CD 2 (80:44)

THE GRAMOPHONE COMPANY, LTD., 1926–1931 (continued)

MANON LESCAUT: In quelle trine morbide (Puccini)

 La Scala Opera orchestra, conducted by Carlo Sabajno
 10 March 1927; BK2005-1 (DA 879)

LA BOHÈME: Donde lieta uscì (Puccini)

 Conservatorio, Milan; La Scala Opera Orchestra, conducted by Carlo Sabajno
 12 March 1927; BK2009-2 (DA 879)

TOSCA: Vissi d’arte (Puccini)

 Conservatorio, Milan; La Scala Opera orchestra conducted by Carlo Sabajno
 3 May 1929; BM851-1 (DA 1060)

MADAMA BUTTERFLY: Tu, tu, piccolo iddio (Puccini)

 Conservatorio, Milan, La Scala Opera orchestra conducted by Carlo Sabajno
 6 May 1929; BM856-2 (DA 1060)

LA WALLY: Ebben ne andro` lontano (Catalani)

 La Scala Opera orchestra conducted by Carlo Sabajno
 3 April 1928; CF1627-1 (DB 1163)

Amarilli (Caccini)

 Conservatorio, Milan; string octet, conducted by Gino Nastrucci
 1 July 1929; BM995-3 (AV 15)

Fanciullina (Ciampi)

 Conservatorio, Milan; string octet, conducted by Gino Nastrucci
 1 July 1929; BM996-2 (AV 32)

Se Florindo è fedele (Scarlatti)

 Conservatorio, Milan; string octet, conducted by Gino Nastrucci
 1 July 1929; BM997-2 (AV 15)

Quel ruscelletto (Paradies)

 Conservatorio, Milan; double quintet conducted by Gino Nastrucci
 14 April 1930; BM1574-2 (AV 23)

Se tu m’ami (authorship unknown; previously attributed to Pergolesi)

 Conservatorio, Milan; double quintet conducted by Gino Nastrucci
 14 April 1930; BM1575-2 (AV 23)

O primavera (Tirindelli)

 La Scala Opera orchestra, conducted by Carlo Sabajno
 14 March 1931; 0F173-2 (DA 1246)

Sandmännchen (Il mago sabbiolino),

 Conservatorio, Milan; double quintet conducted by Gino Nastrucci
 15 April 1930; BM1577-1 (AV 24)

Alte Liebe (Antico amore), Op. 72, No. 1 (Brahms)

 Conservatorio, Milan; double quintet conducted by Gino Nastrucci
 22 April 1930; BM1576-4 (AV 24)

Struna naladeˇna, No. 5 from GYPSY SONGS, Op. 55 (Dvorˇák)

 Conservatorio, Milan; chamber orchestra conducted by Gino Nastrucci
 19 April 1929; BM827-3 (DA 1246)

Dejte klec jestrˇábu, No. 7 from GYPSY SONGS, Op. 55 (Dvorˇák)

 Conservatorio, Milan; chamber orchestra conducted by Gino Nastrucci
 19 April 1929; BM827-3 (DA 1246)

El majo discreto, No. 6 from TONADILLAS (Granados)

 Conservatorio, Milan; double quintet conducted by Gino Nastrucci
 2 May 1930; BM1600-2 (AV 25)


 Conservatorio, Milan; double quintet conducted by Gino Nastrucci
 2 May 1930; BM1599-2 (AV 25)

Dia de fiesta, No. 2 from BALADAS ARGENTINAS (Floro Melitón Ugarte)

 Conservatorio, Milan; double quintet conducted by Gino Nastrucci
 17 April 1930; BM1584-2 (DA 1226, AV 33)

Canción del carretero (López Buchardo)

 Conservatorio, Milan; double quintet conducted by Gino Nastrucci
 17 April 1930; BM1585-2 (AV 32)

Coplas de curro dolce (Obradors)

 Conservatorio, Milan; double quintet conducted by Gino Nastrucci
 22 April 1930; BM1598-2 (DA 1226, AV 33)
A selection of Verdi arias sung by Giannina Arangi Lombardi1, 1891–1951

IL TROVATORE: D’amor sull’ali rosee (Verdi)

 30 April 1927; WBX 131-1 (D 18028)

LA FORZA DEL DESTINO: La vergine degli angeli (Verdi)

 6 March 1926; WBX 20-2 (D 14658)

UN BALLO IN MASCHERA: Morrò, ma prima in grazia (Verdi)

 7 December 1933; CBX 1323 (GQX 10704)

I LOMBARDI ALLA PRIMA CROCIATA: Te, vergin santa, invoco (Verdi)

 9 December 1933; CBX 1327 (GQX 10702)

I LOMBARDI ALLA PRIMA CROCIATA: Salve, Maria! O madre, dal cielo … Se vano è il pregare (Verdi)

 9 December 1933; CBX 1328 (GQX 10702)

AIDA: Qui Rhadames verrà! … O cieli azzurri (Verdi)

 15 November / 14 November 1928; WBX 403-3/WBX 400-2 (D 14507/D 14508)

tracks 1-13 and 21-26 sung in Italian; tracks 14 and 15 sung in Czech; tracks 16-20 sung in Spanish


Producers: Ward Marston and Scott Kessler

Audio Conservation: Ward Marston, J. Richard Harris, and Christian Zwarg

Photos: Rudi van den Bulck, David Contini, Richard Copeman, Larry Lustig, Nestor H. Masckauchan/Tamino Autographs, Fabian Piscitelli, Paul Steinson, and The Tully Potter Collection

Booklet Coordinator: Mark S. Stehle

Booklet Design: Takeshi Takahashi

Booklet Notes: Michael Aspinall and Tully Potter

Marston would like to thank Dr. Herman Schornstein for sponsoring this project.

Marston would like to thank Marco Contini and David Contini for providing a digital transfer of CD 1, track 7 from their unique test pressing.

Marston would like to thank Christian Zwarg for his help in restoring CD 1, track 7.

Marston would like to thank Carsten Fischer for providing a transfer of CD 2, track 26.

Marston would like to thank David Mason for providing important discographic information on Giannina Arangi Lombardi.

Marston is grateful to the Estate of John Stratton (Stephen Clarke, Executor) for its continuing support.


by Tully Potter, ©2020

Among the great Argentinian singers, the soprano Hina Spani shines as brightly as any, yet she is less well known than she should be—and her HMV records, despite being of the highest quality, are not as widely celebrated as one might expect. This relative obscurity is easily explained. Although Spani commanded some seventy roles and sang with the brightest operatic stars of the interwar years, her career was virtually limited to Italy, Spain, and South America, with rare excursions to France and Switzerland. She never appeared in Germany or Austria, and the only English-speaking country to hear her in the flesh was Australia. Longing to sing in London, she frequently asked HMV to intercede with Covent Garden, to no avail.

Spani began as a lirico-spinto but graduated to dramatic parts and had a vibrant, instantly recognizable voice capable of thrilling the listener in opera or song. Although she was a true soprano, with an excellent high D-flat, her middle and lower registers had the fullness associated with mezzo-sopranos: she sang such mezzo roles as Marina in Boris Godunov and Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana, and regretted never having portrayed Eboli in Don Carlos.

Born Higinia Tuñón on 15 February 1890 at Puán, in the province of Buenos Aires, she was baptized on 22 September at the Immaculada Concepción Church. In true prima donna style, she later took six years off her age and gave her birth year as 1896. The story which has come down to us is that she was learning singing at eight, sponsored by a local landowner. At twelve she gave a recital of Spanish songs at Córdoba, and the composer Alberto Williams recommended that she learn with Amanda Campodónico in Buenos Aires. “At the age of 15 she sang the Gounod Roméo et Juliette, and her teacher kept her in the light soprano literature for some time,” says her last pupil, American contralto Roberta Prada. In 1914 Higinia’s mother took her to Italy for further studies with Vittorio Moratti, a Francesco Lamperti pupil and an accompanist to Frida Leider, Lotte Lehmann, and Elisabeth Schumann. He led her to work on Lieder and other songs as well as opera. Asked later about her favorite roles, she replied: “Art songs … with a song it is possible to command an expressive power, a feeling and an intimacy seldom found in an operatic excerpt.”

On 13 March 1915 Hina Spani, as she now was known, made her debut at La Scala as Anna in Catalani’s Loreley. The conductor was Gino Marinuzzi, who contracted her for his upcoming season at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires, starting on 18 May as Samaritana in Francesca da Rimini with Rosa Raisa, Hipólito Lázaro, and Giuseppe Danise. Then came L’africaine with Raisa, Bernardo De Muro, and Titta Ruffo; Micaëla in Carmen with Geneviève Vix and De Muro; and a benefit concert in which Enrico Caruso participated and she sang an aria from Faust. But colleagues in Pagliacci had the most impact on the young singer. At the Colón on 13 June she sang Nedda in a performance with Caruso and Mario Sammarco, followed by additional performances at the Teatro Rivera Indarte in Córdoba, Teatro Odeon in Tucumán, and Teatro de la Opera in Rosario, with Caruso as Canio and Danise as Tonio. On 4 August she sang Act One with Lázaro and Ruffo at a Colón press gala; on 10 August Act One was performed again in Caruso’s Colón farewell gala with Danise as Tonio; and on 16 August the audience at the Teatro Urquiza, Montevideo, heard the opera with Spani, Caruso, and Ruffo. “Unquestionably Caruso and Ruffo were the greatest,” she recalled. “To have sung with them in the same performance was one of the greatest thrills of my life.”

•     •     •     •     •

During Spani’s three-decade career, classical music came of age in South America, and opera was well advanced before the Great War: the Teatro Colón attracted European singers who could take a leisurely sea voyage and gain rewarding employment, as the winter season coincided with their summer. Colón productions generally toured to other cities such as Montevideo, São Paulo, Córdoba, Tucumán, Rosario, and Rio de Janeiro. The conflict in Europe and dissatisfaction with her technique led Spani to take a three-year sabbatical from the stage after the 1915 season, presenting occasional recitals at Buenos Aires, Córdoba, and Rosario. Her programs ranged from Monteverdi to Wagner.

Re-engaged by the Colón in June 1918, she sang Micaëla in an Italian production of Carmen—with Gabriella Besanzoni, Aureliano Pertile, and Marcel Journet (replaced later by Mariano Stabile); the world premiere of Tucumán by the Argentinian composer Felipe Boero, with Pertile and Stabile; Pagliacci, with Pertile, Luigi Montesanto, and Stabile; and Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, with Montesanto, Raisa, Ninon Vallin, and Charles Hackett. She was that rara avis, an exciting singer who was reliable and a ‘quick study’: Tucumán was typical of many now-forgotten operas that she sang or premiered. Her last assignment at the Colón that season was the Gran Misa by Celerino Pereira, conducted by the composer, in a concert of Chilean music.

She continued studying for another year but in 1919 appeared at the Colón in La damnation de Faust, as Anna in Loreley with Claudio Muzio in the title role, in Gianni Schicchi with Vanni-Marcoux, and as both Margherita and Elena in Mefistofele, taking over from Muzio, with Tullio Serafin conducting. Gigli was her Faust: “His voice was as a sound from heaven,” she recalled.

In 1920 her Italian career took off: on 10 January she appeared in Mascagni’s Zanetto at the Teatro Regio in Turin, under the baton of her compatriot Hector Panizza, and a month later she was at the Teatro Regio in Parma for Lohengrin with Serafin. Her success took her to Ravenna to sing Elsa with Pertile, her “ideal” Lohengrin, and Cesare Formichi. Performing the role of Sinaide in Rossini’s Mosè at Bergamo, she so impressed the bass Nazzareno de Angelis that a debut at the Teatro Dal Verme, Milan, was arranged. She stayed until the next year, appearing in Damnation of Faust (with Francesco Maria Bonini and Tancredi Pasero), Tannhäuser, Pagliacci (with Apollo Granforte as Tonio), Mefistofele (with Aristodemo Giorgini as Faust and De Angelis in the title role), Ramuntcho by Stefano Donaudy, and Andrea Chénier. At Cesena in 1921 she sang Mimì for the first time and at the Teatro Carcano, Milan, she appeared as Dea in Arrigo Pedrollo’s L’uomo che ride, based on Victor Hugo’s L’homme qui rit. After a performance of Mefistofele there, the blind tenor Giuseppe Borgatti was led to her dressing room to congratulate her. On 22 December, with Walküre, she began five months at the San Carlo, Naples: Il Giornale d’Italia reported that “Hina Spani in the transcendent role of Sieglinde was also transcendent as a performer.” She appeared in La Wally, Cavalleria rusticana and Bohème.

Naples was the first Italian city to hear a Spani recital when, at the Conservatorio on 15 March 1922, she sang music by Gluck, Schumann, and Brahms. The following day she was Xenia in Boris Godunov at the San Carlo, with the Belarus-born bass-baritone Zygmund Zaleski as the Tsar, and in April the Neapolitans saw her as Pían in the world premiere of Glauco by Alberto Franchetti, with the composer conducting. From there she traveled to Rome for her Teatro Costanzi debut, in Andrea Chénier on 27 April, followed by La Wally and the double bill of Cav and Pag, with Benvenuto Franci as Tonio. In October she introduced herself to Trieste, singing Elsa with Pertile, and at the year’s end she returned to Teatro Dal Verme for more Lohengrins, in which she shared Elsa with Mercedes Llopart, and two Shakespearean encounters, the premiere of Felice Lattuada’s La tempesta and her first Desdemona.

From 1923, for more than a decade, Spani spent the Italian season in that country and steadily built up her South American reputation. She therefore lived in perpetual winter, but the arrangement worked well for her artistically. After four years away from home, that year her Colón performances included the premieres of Boero’s Raquela and twenty-three-year-old Gilardo Gilardi’s Ilse, as well as local premieres of Pizzetti’s Debora e Jaele and Falla’s La vida breve. At Rosario, Tucumán, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Montevideo she sang in Primo Riccitelli’s one-acter I compagnacci. At Rio de Janeiro she added Jupira by the Brazilian composer Francisco Ernani Braga.

In 1924 she took on Un ballo in maschera at the Teatro Ponchielli, Cremona, with Alessandro Bonci, “one of my greatest successes, a nearly perfect performance by all the participants.” Asked by Riccardo Zandonai to learn his Giulietta e Romeo, within sixty days she sang it twenty-four times in four cities, mostly with the composer conducting. Her first Aida, at Prato, was “very well received.”

•     •     •     •     •

On 29 November 1924, Giacomo Puccini died in Brussels. A funeral was held there but another was planned for Milan and Arturo Toscanini successfully appealed to the Vatican for permission to perform Puccini’s music in the Duomo, inviting Spani to be the soloist—apparently Puccini had asked for her on his deathbed. Cardinal Archbishop Eugenio Tosi took the service. With hundreds standing inside and thousands outside, the Maestro conducted the Scala Chorus and Orchestra in the Act Three “Requiem” from Edgar, Spani singing Fidelia’s solo “Addio, addio, mio dolce amor”. The program was repeated at La Scala on 29 December. During that and the following month, Spani sang Margherita in Mefistofele at La Scala. “I remember with the greatest of pleasure the work of Arangi Lombardi, Pertile, and De Angelis in this opera, brilliantly conducted by Toscanini,” she said. “It was of a perfection that I can rarely recall.” In truth, Panizza conducted most performances. On 9 January 1925, at the Teatro del Popolo, Milan, she sang “In quelle trine morbide” from Manon Lescaut in another memorial to Puccini, ending the program with “O soave fanciulla” from La bohème with Pertile. There was no applause after the duet; the audience stood, then left in silence. Her season at La Scala ended with Andrea Chénier, Pertile and Enrico Molinari joining her under Vittorio Gui’s baton. Her Paris debut was made on 30 May at the Gaité Lyrique, as Santuzza, and she gave two recitals at the Circle Artistique. On 7 November came her Spanish debut, she and Giordano’s La cena delle beffe appearing for the first time at the Liceo, Barcelona.

Early in 1926 Spani toured thirty-five Italian cities with a recital program including Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder and music by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Vittorio Gui. At Rome’s Augusteo, the Wagner song cycle was performed with orchestra and conducted by Gui, whose own cantata on a text from Song of songs was sung by Spani, tenor Luigi Pasinati, and the Santa Cecilia Academy Choir. With Miguel Fleta and Giuseppina Zinetti she toured seven Spanish cities in L’africaine, Tosca, and Aida, singing in bullrings and even a sports stadium. At the Liceo, Barcelona, in 1927, Spani took part in the premiere of La espigadora by Facundo de la Viña, with Granforte. In November she presented Brahms evenings in Milan, Verona, Zurich, Lugano, Geneva, and Locarno.

•     •     •     •     •

On 3 March 1928 Spani gave a concert at the Teatro del Popolo. She then sailed for Australia with a troupe assembled by Dame Nellie Melba and the J.C. Williamson firm. They appeared at Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, and Perth from May to October, Spani singing in Madama Butterfly, Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, Faust, Aida, and, at Perth, the opening-night Turandot, in the title role. Her first Butterfly was said to be the Australian premiere. She also gave recitals. Back in Europe, at Barcelona in April 1929 she sang in the premiere of Jaume Pahissa’s Marianela, with the composer conducting. In March 1930 she returned to La Scala, after a five-year absence, for Guglielmo Tell with Lauri-Volpi, Franci, and Pasero. At the Colón she was seen in the local premiere of Jesús de Guridi’s Amaya.

In 1931–1932, she divided her time between opera and recitals. From January to March 1932 she sang in ‘fifty-two Italian cities’. Milan heard her in Pizzetti’s new version of his Sacra Rappresentazione di Abram e d’Isaac, conducted by Gui. In March 1933 Naples was the scene for her first Countess in Le nozze di Figaro. Her only Italian Radio opera performances were broadcast in 1933: Donna Anna at the Rome studios conducted by Riccardo Santarelli, and La Wally at Turin with Ugo Tansini in charge.

On 13 January 1934 she gave a recital at the Sala Bianca of the Palazzo Pitti, Florence, for Amici della Musica with Castelnuovo-Tedesco at the piano. A fortnight later, at Genoa, came her Italian operatic swansong: Boris Godunov with Rossi-Morelli in the title role, conducted by Sergio Failoni. She sang music of Smetana on 23 March at Milan, and in Trieste was heard in Carissimi’s oratorio La figlia di Jephte. In South America she appeared with Alessio De Paolis and Carlo Tagliabue at the Teatro Nacional Cervantes, Buenos Aires, and at Montevideo in concert renditions of Respighi’s Maria Egiziaca under the composer’s direction. Her sole operatic Colón assignment was the premiere of Gilardi’s La leyenda del Urutaú. Amid many recitals, she was soprano soloist in Beethoven’s Ninth conducted by Fritz Busch.

Her farewell to the Italian stages, on 22 March 1935, was an evening of Neapolitan songs at the Teatro del Popolo. She kept her Milan apartment and visited in the late 1930s, without making any appearances. At the Colón she sang with Galeffi in Simon Boccanegra, with Koloman von Pataky as Adorno and Giacomo Vaghi as Fiesco, and Un ballo in maschera, with Gigli as Riccardo. She made her Santiago debut as Maddalena di Coigny with Galeffi. In 1936 the Colón audience saw Spani in four operas new to her repertoire: Gaito’s La sangre de las guitarras (as Margarita), the local premieres of Malipiero’s Giulio Cesare with Fernando Autori, and Rameau’s Castor et Pollux with Martial Singher and Marjorie Lawrence, as well as Il matrimonio segreto, in the mezzo-soprano role of Fidalma. At the Teatro Nacional de Comedia on 4 May she participated in a memorial concert for Respighi who had died on 18 April.

The 1937 Colón open-air summer season, at the showground of La Sociedad Rural, featured her in Pagliacci, Cavalleria rusticana, and La Sangre de las Guitarras. On 6 July she and other artists appeared at the Palacio de Correos y Telégrafos in the inaugural concert of the radio station LRA Estación de Radiodifusión del Estado (now LRA Radio Nacional). In the winter season at the theater, she was featured as Silvia and La Musica in two July performances of Monteverdi’s Orfeo arranged by Benvenuti and conducted by Serafin, with Galeffi in the title role and Gregorio Melnik as Caronte, preceded two days earlier by a lecture on the opera in the Salon Blanco with the leading singers and Serafin at the piano.

For the 1938 Colón open-air summer season Spani gave four renditions of Tosca. In the theater that August, she was Ottavia in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea, conducted by Serafin. At the Teatro Argentino in La Plata in September, she sang Madama Butterfly. She began 1939 at the Teatro Municipal de Verano de Parque Rivera in Montevideo with Suor Angelica. Then at the Buenos Aires open-air auditorium she had two performances of Boero’s Siripo and three of Butterfly. In June she tackled Verdi’s Lady Macbeth, with Sándor Sved in the title role; both had a triumph, and in the sleep-walking scene Spani still commanded a superb high D-flat. Having returned to Santiago for Cavalleria rusticana and Carlos Melo Cruz’s Mauricio, she last sang at the Colón itself in November 1939, as Leonora in the Buenos Aires premiere of Verdi’s Oberto; however, early in 1940 she appeared at the open-air auditorium in six performances of Aida, and she sang her final operatic performance on 12 March as Leonora in Il trovatore.

•     •     •     •     •

On 26 July 1941, Spani took part in an orchestral concert at the SODRE Auditorium in Montevideo. At the Teatro Nacional Cervantes in Buenos Aires she presented a program of Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and gave a series of recitals at this venue every year until 1946. “She had a heart condition and her doctor told her she had to stop singing,” says Roberta Prada. Coincidentally, in 1946 Argentina suffered a cataclysmic political upheaval with which Spani may not have been in sympathy. In 1948 she served on the jury for the international competition at Scheveningen, Netherlands. Having taught since 1936, Spani held several important pedagogical posts in later years, especially at the Institute Superior de Arte del Teatro Colón, and was much honored until her death in Buenos Aires on 11 July 1969.

Spani’s extraordinary voice was produced from a diminutive frame. Ms. Prada says:

She was maybe 5ft 2in. Her build was squarish, and she wore elegant, classic clothes. She had a stunning navy blue wool balmacaan coat and navy fedora that she wore with a silk scarf and low-heeled pumps. When I knew her, her hair was white and she wore it cut short. Her nails were polished, and she wore earrings, always classic, nothing flashy. She carried herself regally and had such charisma that she looked taller than her diminutive height. When she entered a room she was a commanding presence. However she was not a narcissist, she served her art. She detested fakery, and loved sincerity and simplicity in people.

Hina Spani thought she had sung seventy roles (more than sixty have been confirmed, but she told Ms. Prada she had sung at least one work by Gomes, and others may have escaped the net):

Cio Cio San is my favorite. I have always considered it to be a lyric role, not a dramatic one. When sung by a large voice, it is often shouted and it distorts not only the music but the character. After Cio Cio San, Wally is the role I love most.

She said of some colleagues:

Claudia Muzio I consider to be unequalled, especially as an actress. As a pure singer, there is no one like Lotte Lehmann. Other magnificent singers among the women are Giannina Arangi Lombardi and Toti dal Monte, whose vocalism is a lesson in perfection. Then there was Conchita Supervia who sang with an authority that I have never seen equalled. I was no less impressed by Rosa Ponselle, whose Vestale I saw in Florence. Among the men, I have great admiration for Pertile, Georges Thill, a magnificent Lohengrin, Gigli and Schipa. I have wonderful memories of Apollo Granforte, an ideal Tonio and Iago, and of Renato Zanelli, a superb Otello. De Angelis as Mosè was a miracle.

Among younger sopranos, she especially mentioned Victoria de los Angeles. Roberta Prada adds: “Another singer Hina admired was Ninon Vallin, for her seamless legato.”

How to sum up Spani’s career? It seems she was too nice to employ sharp elbows in gaining the attention of impresarios, as was necessary in Italy, and she admired many colleagues too much to do them down. That she never sang in Britain or North America is our loss rather than hers. In South America she could work with the greatest, most congenial collaborators and do her best to advance opera in that vast sub-continent. For me she is one of the essential singers.

A longer version of this article, with many more details of Spani’s career, appeared in The Record Collector (March 2020, Vol. 65, No. 1).


by Michael Aspinall, ©2021

Hina Spani told the late William Moran that it was Amanda Campodónico, her first teacher in Argentina, who introduced her to the world of art songs, in which she was to shine particularly brightly, rather setting her apart from her Italian soprano contemporaries. No doubt this passion of hers for songs (in many languages) was responsible for the refinements that she brought to operatic music on record in a period when many Italian sopranos did not think of such things. When the Italian branch of the Gramophone Company—La Voce del Padrone (VDP)—invited her to record for them in 1926, they probably regarded her as a reliable and not too expensive soprano mainstay for a long list of opera recordings using the recently introduced electrical process. They must soon have realized that they had discovered, as well, a versatile artist available for a wide repertoire, including, when she had proved her worth in record sales, a fairly adventurous choice of “art songs”, many of which, alas, will never be heard as they were rejected for publication and have never surfaced as test pressings.

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1924 was a turning point in Spani’s interesting and busy career, for after she had sung under Toscanini’s baton at Puccini’s funeral he invited her back to La Scala, where she had not sung since making her operatic debut there in 1915. Her acoustic Columbia records, made in 1924, show a voice of purer and lighter and of a more unmistakably soprano quality than the richer and warmer tones of her electrical recordings. This only slightly younger Hina Spani on Columbia, with her vowels noticeably open, is much more of a verismo singer than the one we know from VDP records. In Cavalleria rusticana and Madama Butterfly she is distinctly visceral in her manner of attacking music and drama, and in the unpublished “La mamma morta” from Andrea Chénier—which we are grateful to hear nearly a hundred years after Madame Spani rejected it—she tears passion to tatters in an extremely vivid recounting of poor Maddalena’s nightmarish experiences, culminating in a wild shriek on the high B-natural. “In quelle trine morbide” makes an interesting contrast with her own electrical recording of only three years later. A hint of the Hina Spani to come is heard in her beautifully soft singing of the opening phrase, although she makes a “false start”—the voice cracks after the pianissimo attack on E-flat (“In”)—and she quickly re-attacks the note. Here, too, her interpretation is more impulsive, more in the verismo manner than it would be in 1927, and she does not offer very long phrases. On the very last note, D-flat fourth line, she makes a crescendo and diminuendo not very ambitious in scope but quite lovely. By 1927 Spani has, apparently, worked hard on her technique and completely re-thought her style: she has arrived at the sincere expression she was apparently seeking in 1924 by focusing on accuracy of musical execution and clear enunciation of the text, and in all her VDP records she scrupulously avoids any exaggeration. She has renounced rant, and has mastered true eloquence.

When electrical recording came in, the Columbia Graphophone Company engaged Giannina Arangi Lombardi, a wonderful dramatic soprano who recorded four complete operas and many other records for them, but did not record any songs (although she made a speciality of Tosti’s songs in concerts). To build up their catalogue, La Voce del Padrone really needed a dramatic soprano to replace Celestina Boninsegna, whose acoustic records had sold so well; Spani was a robust lirico spinto, and Maestro Sabajno, who planned and conducted most of her operatic records, led her from one success to another. After several tries, her first published recordings were two sides dedicated to the Otello duet with Giovanni Zenatello, a great start indeed. She was by no means in the same celebrity class as Zenatello, one of the leading tenors of the world, although now in his decline. As early as 1910 the dean of New York critics, W.J. Henderson, had written:

Mr. Zenatello’s method of tone production is not that of an artist. Instead of permitting his throat to be open and his tones to float freely through it, he squeezes it violently together and then drives out his tones by sheer muscular force. The natural result is that he can sing only at the top of his lungs. His efforts to sing softly are almost invariably unsuccessful and sometimes are actually disastrous. In the beautiful duet of the first act [of Otello] his attempts to sing sentiment with grace and fervor were most unsatisfactory, for the inelegance, not to say downright rudeness, of his style made it impossible. [From the article, “Where the singers really stand”, in The Ladies’ Home Journal, January 1910.]

Earlier in 1926 Zenatello was recorded in scenes from Otello live from Covent Garden and the microphone caught glimpses of greatness, but in this duet record with Spani, his tone is consistently “fixed” and mostly forcibly squeezed out. He is nearer the microphone than his Desdemona, who nonetheless makes some lovely effects, carefully following the score. Verdi has composed some beautiful melodies for her, and Spani does full justice to them, wooing the music with enthusiasm and a grateful richness and warmth of tone.

There was a serious technical problem: the entire duet was actually recorded on three sides, but sadly, side one, matrix CK 1917, which comprised the first two and one-half minutes of the duet, was damaged during processing. Therefore the published record begins at Desdemona’s line “Quando narravi”. There was also another difficulty: Spani’s was a voluminous voice, offering a challenge to the technicians responsible for operating the newly-developed recording system, and for her operatic recordings of 1926 and 1927, she had to be far enough from the microphone so as not to cause over driving of the recording equipment. In the nineteen-fifties Mr. Charles Blyton, who had been a recording engineer for the Gramophone Company during the nineteen-twenties, would tell record collectors of the problems he encountered in recording Hina Spani and other famous singers in Milan.

As can clearly be heard on the recording of the Pagliacci duet, to avoid blasting on the higher notes, Hina Spani had to stand several paces behind Apollo Granforte, so presumably, in their hushed billing and cooing finale, she was murmuring her sweet “t’amo” to the back of his head, while aiming at the microphone. The large number of unpublished Spani records is probably a result of this difficulty with the early electrical recording system in catching such a large voice. Their performance of the duet is deservedly famous: Granforte is another of those baritones who modeled themselves on Titta Ruffo, but unlike some others he had considerable skill in modulating his tones, beautiful if slightly nasal at times, with a nicely flowing legato and easy high notes. Poor Spani, distantly audible, may have been recalling her great moment when she sang Nedda in Montevideo with Caruso and Ruffo. She, too, ennobles Leoncavallo’s music with fine legato singing, phrasing with very long breaths where she wants to bring out the melody. This performance is particularly memorable for the wonderful conducting of Carlo Sabajno, who very rarely lets us down: here he reveals all the inherent melodic charm of the music by truly dramatic conducting, combining careful observation of the composer’s instructions with an electric temperament and an elasticity of rhythm inherited from nineteenth-century tradition. He has a marked and truly Italian sense of rhythm, and brings to brimming life whatever he conducts.

Spani’s voice is of first-rate quality, obviously well-trained, though by no means in its first freshness. The better recordings show off a beautifully warm tone and an even scale: she has a properly developed chest register and the upper register has been carefully trained so that she can take all the notes in her passaggio, say from C or C-sharp (third space) to G and A-flat above the stave, either in a full, mixed register or more softly, in a predominantly head register. This head register is beautiful and inherently expressive, and however softly she sings, the tone is brilliant enough to have carried in the theater. From the high A-natural to the D-flat the notes seem only to be available forte, but we shall not complain when they are so thrilling. Although, as Herman Klein remarked the first time he reviewed a record of hers, her tone is not always steady, the vibrato not ideally regular, there is no other evidence of imperfect control; when she sails above the stave the sound is usually easily produced and always in focus. We may rely on her to maintain an excellent legato and clear enunciation of the words for her vowels are properly equalized and her crisp and limpid consonants do not disturb the vocal line. These skills, together with her command of vocal shading and contrast, make her a compelling Puccini singer. Spani greatly admired Claudia Muzio, and perhaps occasionally we catch a fleeting glimpse of a “Muzio effect” in Spani’s records, in particular a strange vowel from time to time. Although she was not a classical beauty, her photographs reveal a pleasant and intelligent face with a charming smile, and this charm is communicated to us today through her best recordings.

A good introduction to her singing would be her first solo electrical, “In quelle trine morbide” from Manon Lescaut. The recording is not perfect, but at least it cannot mar the peculiar charm and effectiveness of her rendering. She opens—and concludes—the aria with the most exquisite piano singing. She chooses to demonstrate her breath control by taking several unusually long phrases all in one breath—in fact, she makes rather a point of surprising us with long phrases in this aria, taking only twelve breaths throughout. Spani understands the value of contrasts and color—making her an ideal recording artist—and we cannot but admire her beautifully calculated construction of this aria, building up from the hushed piano of the opening to the impressive high B-flat forte. This climax is followed by the lovely phrase “O mia dimora umile”, to be sung piano, all set on D-flat, a beautiful note in the voice of this properly trained singer, and then Puccini carries Manon up to another B-flat only to leave her, with little orchestral support, to finish the aria with a difficult piano phrase. Spani’s is still a legendary performance, treasured by collectors. On the other side of the original 78 rpm record was a touching rendering of “Donde lieta uscì” from La bohème. It is true that the “a” vowel on “bada” is naggingly open, and the ascent to the high B-flat, together with the A-flat, on “ricordo d’amor”, is somewhat laborious, but she makes us forget this with her magical pianissimo singing of the final phrase, with its lovely sustained F. Reviewing these two arias in Gramophone in 1928, Herman Klein wrote that the disc was “of surpassing excellence. It would be difficult to imagine a more delicate and refined rendering either of the Addio di Mimì or the charming page, In quelle trine morbide, from Manon Lescaut. This singer offers a lesson in naturalness, sweetness, and steadiness of tone to many English sopranos I could name….” This “naturalness” distinguishes her singing from that of many of her Italian contemporaries. However spontaneous and lovely her tones, listeners should notice such skillful technical feats as the lovely diminuendo on the sustained E-flat of “finti fior”.

Despite a rather lazy attack on the very first note of Tosca’s “Vissi d’arte”, her opening phrases are suitably introspective, realizing Puccini’s instructions dolcissimo con grande sentimento, so when Spani attacks the high A-flat forte on “quante miserie” (marked con anima) she is able to make an effective contrast, emitting finely concentrated tone without any forcing. She phrases the big tune, “Sempre con fè sincera”, with very long breath spans—and Maestro Sabajno is taking it rather slowly. She manages the climax grandly, with something of the traditional diminuendo and a simple but touching delivery of the last phrase of all. She disappoints us only with her clumsy execution of the acciaccature that are such a feature of Puccini’s soprano melodies—she is almost guilty of the intrusive “H”.

Spani was still singing Madama Butterfly (not to mention Aida, Il trovatore, and Macbeth) in 1939–1940, when she was about fifty, and perhaps her singing had by then acquired more security, whereas her 1929 record of Butterfly’s final scene seems to expose the limits of her range. The music is not considerately written for the voice, for the poor soprano, at the final climax of a particularly long and trying role, has to declaim three pages of music set entirely on the upper passaggio, between C-sharp (third space) and A above the stave. This taxes Spani, for she has no opportunity to use her more delicate head notes, but must, perforce, sustain loud singing for bar after bar. Puccini wants her to sing con esaltazione, but Spani is unable to achieve the desired soaring effect.

Massenet’s Manon was an opera that “Italian” singers treated as if it were indeed an Italian opera, and in this context Spani’s “Addio, nostro piccolo desco” is a telling performance. She declaims the recitative as if it were by Puccini, with overwhelming impact, and then indulges us with some heart-breaking soft singing in the aria. Spani had sung Catalani’s La Wally several times and was familiar with the performing traditions of the work, including a tasteful use of portamento. The aria begins with quiet musing, sung with limpid tone, as Wally decides to leave her home, and then the voice gradually increases in intensity, always perfectly focused, as it rises to the upper F-sharp and G. Here, and throughout the aria, Spani is careful to observe the composer’s markings, which helps to make her performance so striking. Catalani has set the words “O della madre mia” on some of her best notes, from C to F, so she is able to indulge in some ravishing soft singing before building up to a triumphant conclusion with a magnificent high B.

The same day the engineers captured her voice successfully in two other fine recordings: “Ei m’ama” from Faust and the “Canzone del salice” [“Willow song”] from Otello. Marguerite’s rapturous invocation of nature, the finale to the garden scene, had been recorded by Sabajno in 1909 with Celestina Boninsegna, and now he was able to re-make the scene with electrical recording, resulting in one of Spani’s very best records. Her fiery conductor follows her through all her modulations from piano to forte until the glorious climax, where Spani inserts un unwritten but traditional high C (Suzanne Adams, who studied Faust with Gounod, can be heard interpolating this C on a Mapleson cylinder). Spani’s Marguerite sounds more “properly brought up” than Boninsegna’s less restrained and decidedly more buxom village lass, but she conveys, none the less, with her warm tone and pellucid diction, all the inner fire beneath the maidenly surface. Her limited legacy of Verdi recordings reflects only a tiny portion of her theatrical experience in his operas. The “Willow song” from Otello is partly spoilt by the studio’s decision to attempt an uncut version on one twelve-inch side. At first one can only notice that the aria is rushed, but repeated listening reveals some very fine singing, particularly the beauty of Spani’s piano. It is only in her failure to neatly articulate the notes of the rising triplet figure so typical of Desdemona’s song (“Piangea cantando”) that Spani fails to pass into the top class.

In “Tacea la notte placida” from Il trovatore she enjoys the great advantage of having Carlo Sabajno on the podium, for theirs is perhaps the best conducted performance on 78s. Although Spani’s singing of the recitative “Come d’aurato sogno” lacks precision and is not even particularly “dream-like”, from the first notes of the cavatina proper she establishes the moonlit atmosphere of the scene she is vividly recalling. Her long breath-span and her control of dynamics enable her to realize perfectly the crescendo and diminuendo effect—“dolci s’udiro e flebili…”—and she ends each strophe with a ravishing pianissimo, disdaining the interpolation of any high notes, although she does sing the high C in the cadenza, written in by Verdi, but often omitted in those 78 days by lazy sopranos. I wish I could be equally enthusiastic about Spani’s “D’amor sull’ali rosee”, in my boyhood a record most eagerly sought-after by Manchester Verdi enthusiasts, but even then, alas, I had heard better. Eva Turner’s record, for example, shows not only a much more impressive voice and technique (no D-flat, however) but a precision of execution that Spani could not rival. Later I was to admire records by Margarethe Siems, Ada Adini, Teresa Arkel, Rosa Raisa, Giannina Arangi Lombardi, Vera Amerghi Rutili, and Rosa Ponselle who were all superior—and then along came Callas, Sutherland, and Caballé! So what gripped those old friends of mine in Hina Spani’s record, and why did Toscanini praise it to members of the orchestra of La Scala? (One wonders under what circumstances this improbable incident could have taken place.) Well, the recitative “Timor di me?” begins the record promisingly, “said” with firm dramatic emphasis and catching the atmosphere (Gothic horror) without any exaggeration. Leonora then remains alone onstage, and her tones are more subdued, suffused with sadness as she draws to the end of the recitative in a haunting pianissimo. In the aria her intentions are of the noblest, but she is handicapped by her inability either to trill or to take high notes softly, though neither of these failings would have bothered anyone at La Scala in 1928. The aria as conceived by Verdi rather suggests a sublime lullaby (ninna-nanna) for the imprisoned Manrico and the soprano has to begin pp and should not really get very loud until the high C appears on the horizon. Spani’s phrasing of the opening bars is splendid, the tone darkened and floating in a kind of operatic whisper or sigh, the portamenti written in by Verdi elegantly executed. Twice Verdi gives Leonora the opportunity to linger on an “echo effect” on the words “improvvido, le pene” and Maestro Sabajno is willing to wait while Spani lingers, but she is only able to achieve the desired dolce sound on G and A-flat, not on higher notes. Her boldly attacked and sustained high D-flat, rarely attempted in this aria, does not really compensate for the lack of any real trill. Sometimes she substitutes an alternation of two slow notes (what a get-out!) and sometimes she tries to trill, but the only one that nearly works is the long-held trill on “le pene” just before the cadenza. This final cadenza is phrased with the flair of a real musician, just as earlier on she had executed with musical feeling the downward scale from the high A-flat on the word “conforta”. (Over on Columbia records, Arangi Lombardi sings all the trills, proffers a piano B-flat and a crescendo on C, and, although she does not take the high D-flat where written, she surprises us by interpolating this note brilliantly into the cadenza. However, she does not possess Spani’s admirably long breath-span, nor can she resist rising to the high A-flat on the very last note, whereas Spani scores heavily by singing the final phrase as written, with one of her lovely diminuendi on the penultimate note, the dominant E-flat.) It may be that the inclusion of the recitative forced Sabajno to adopt a rather more rapid tempo than was comfortable for Spani, for some of the florid execution is bumpy. It is nice to note that on the repeated “ai sogni, ai sogni…” singer and conductor effectively dot the central note of the triplet figure, a performance practice (undocumented in textbooks) to be found on Mancinelli’s Mapleson cylinder of “O sommo Carlo” from Ernani and even in Toscanini’s Traviata. (It is fascinating to note that Lorenzo Molajoli, who conducts for Arangi Lombardi, and Sir Thomas Beecham, with Eva Turner, also know about sustaining the middle note of a triplet.)

In contrast to the only partial success of “D’amor sull’ali rosee” we come to a triumphant realization of Amelia’s “Ma dall’arido stelo divulsa”. We can only be thankful for such a blazing collaboration between soprano and conductor—if only VDP had allowed them two sides, to fit in the recitative as well! As usual, Spani follows Verdi’s instructions faithfully and the result is stunning. She takes fewer breaths than most Italian sopranos, achieving very satisfactory arching phrases with all the marked swellings and diminishings of volume. She shows us how to interpret Verdi’s markings on the triplets of “come avrò di mia mano quell’erba”, in which he dots each note in the triplet and then places a tie over them; she lightly stresses each note while maintaining the legato. She is clean and precise in the dramatic exclamations in the middle section, without any exaggeration, and after managing a satisfactory low A, gathers herself together and soars upwards to a splendid high C. Her cadenza, tastefully phrased, finishes with a traditional rise to the F an octave above the written note, to interpolated, unintelligible words—but the sound is ravishing.

Maestro Sabajno also supports her with wonderful conducting in what may be her most beautiful record, and also one of the rarest. Two pages from Lohengrin reveal a perfect Wagner singer, despite her rather earthy type of vocal timbre, warm and ripe—a southern voice, more a Santuzza than an Elsa, perhaps, not at all like the silvery sound of such famous Elsas as Destinn, Gadski, or Rethberg. She had an early start with Wagner, singing excerpts from his operas in Argentina, and in Italy sang Lohengrin and Tannhäuser frequently and Siglinda in La Walkiria once, but also often programmed the Wesendonck Lieder, naturally in Boito’s beautiful translation… Wagner longed to hear his operas sung in the Italian manner, and this Spani can provide, as well as very long phrases without having to snatch breaths. She may not have the pure, virginal timbre that might be thought appropriate to a royal lady of Brabant, but she has other weapons: a voice floating securely on the breath, clear diction, a true musician’s command of rhythm and the dreamy piano and pianissimo that this music demands but rarely gets. She scrupulously observes all Wagner’s expression marks and is able to call forth all that he demands of her. She begins “Sola ne’miei prim’anni” piano on one of her favorite notes—E-flat—and her phrasing of this opening is quite beautiful. When she descends to the E-flat an octave lower (first line) on the words “dovetti ognor” she is careful to produce a fruity chest resonance without singing any louder. Wagner, who in these arias at least has been extraordinarily kind to the soprano voice, demanding much in sustained singing but also offering opportunities to display technical proficiency, now makes Elsa show her mettle as she describes how her prayer rose to the Creator, and Spani is thrilling in her steady and unforced rising scale, fearless in her attack on the high A-flat. Then Elsa returns to her usual placid demeanor: “Ma tregua al lungo pianto” and here Spani makes the octave leap, with Wagner’s prescribed portamento, from the lower to the upper E-flat with an effortless elegance that proves her technical skill. Now, like Lotte Lehmann in her vivid recording, Spani’s Elsa “wakes up” as she describes the knight in shining armor who is to be her champion, and she sweeps us along in her “expression of joy and ecstasy”, marking the rhythm firmly but without any jerking. Typical of Spani, when she comes to “Con dolci accenti allora ei confortata m’ha” [“Then he comforted me with soft words”], she is able to maintain the rhythmic impetus while singing more softly and sweetly. Even lovelier, perhaps, is Elsa’s song to the breezes from the balcony scene in Act Two. How lucky Italian sopranos were to be able to sing Lohengrin in Salvatore Marchesi’s mellifluous Italian translation; Elsa’s first words are: “Aurette, a cui sì spesso”, where the poor German soprano would have to sing “Euch Lüften, die mein Klagen”! Spani opens perfectly on the grateful phrase that Wagner has so cleverly conceived, beginning piano on D—another of her best notes—and floating up to F, finishing on the F, first space, which Spani murmurs beguilingly in a soft mixed voice. Every crescendo and diminuendo is carefully executed. Again, in her exquisite finale, Spani’s Elsa sings—dolcissimo—“d’amore” rather than “die Liebe”. Her Elsa is an interesting creation: her sensitive singing expresses both the purity of the Brabantian duchessina (as the Italians would call a Duke’s daughter) and the underlying, veiled sensuality so frequently present in Wagner’s heroines.

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Enthusiastically reviewing a song recording by Spani for Gramophone, Herman Klein thought that “the voice is, truly speaking, more of a mezzo-soprano than a soprano; hence the richer quality of the medium notes. Anyhow we have here a charming singer, with a style peculiarly her own and an art that is unimpeachable in its essentially Iberian nationality and depth of sentiment.” We can hear what Klein meant, but he could not have known that Spani regularly sang Leonora, Amelia, and Aida, and would continue to do so until she was fifty! The record he was praising was “El majo discreto” by Granados. To tell the truth, here she does sound rather like a mezzo-soprano; in fact, she sounds like Azucena in a rare jolly mood entertaining the gypsies with a naughty song. In her enthusiasm Spani’s tone is at first blowsy, but she soon pulls herself together, and in her rather daring rallentandi she gets her voice back into focus. She certainly leaves her personal imprint on this delicious song, which she sings in the original key of A, whereas Conchita Supervia transposes it a tone down and is much more restrained in her rubato. We are left wondering, what is the secret that the singer’s ugly gentleman friend is so good at keeping, and why is the fact that he comes from Lavapies so significant? She does some lovely sustained singing in “Montañesa”, and “Coplas de curro dulce” introduces some typical flamenco flourishes. “Canción del carretero” is one of her most admired records, and displays a great deal of charm.

Brahms in Italian? Whyever not, if the songs are to be sung so memorably. “Il mago sabbiolino” is breathtakingly beautiful, Spani’s assumption of a childlike voice being completely successful. “Antico amore” is also well sung, though I am surprised that Spani is not using the lovely Italian translation by the verismo composer Pietro Floridia. In her record of two of Dvořák’s Gypsy songs her intense and shimmering tone is particularly impressive in “Give a hawk a cage”, whereas her over-enthusiastic whooping in “The string is tuned” would have been more effective in the concert hall than it is on the gramophone.

The remaining songs belong to Spani’s period. Few singers today would venture to offer “arie antiche” in Parisotti’s Victorian arrangements, though singing teachers find all three volumes indispensable. Spani sings three from Parisotti plus two other ancient treasures, all arranged for string octet accompaniment; the result is pleasing, however unauthentic. In “Se tu m’ami” Spani begins by aspirating the intervals, but gradually she gets on her good behavior and starts to execute the intervals more neatly. Though not by Pergolesi and possibly by Parisotti himself, this song usually proves foolproof as a vocal warm-up; for some reason it is almost impossible to sing it badly. It lends itself to insinuations of naughtiness, and this has not escaped Spani’s notice. On the other side of the record, “Quel ruscelletto” by Paradies, she is more imaginative in her shadings. Caccini’s “Amarilli” has some beautifully limpid attacks, especially on the repeated “Credilo pur”, but in this record she is having trouble with the “I” vowel, which is throaty. She is back on form again for “Se Florindo è fedele”, with some beguiling soft singing.

I suppose few people today share my wry enthusiasm for the songs of Pier Adolfo Tirindelli, who was a celebrated violinist and teacher of violin to Queen Margherita of Italy. From 1895 to 1922 he taught violin and conducted the orchestra at the Cincinnati Conservatory, and from 1900 to 1905 was first violin at Covent Garden. His multitude of songs, in Italian, English, and French, were familiar to the greatest singers of his day, but, most importantly, they were prized by the dilettante singers and by the audiences of the musical salon. “O primavera” (1907) was dedicated to Enrico Caruso, and published with his photograph on the front cover. It gives Spani an opportunity to show off the richness of her middle register, and we are not surprised that it turned out to be a bestseller.


by Michael Aspinall, ©2022

Giovannina Rosalia Maria Lombardi was born in Marigliano, near Naples, on 20 June 1891. Her parents were able to send her to the Conservatorio of San Pietro a Majella in Naples to study piano, but she decided that she would join the singing class of Beniamino Carelli, gaining her diploma in 1911. In 1912 she married Lorenzo Arangi, a bureaucrat like her father; they went to live in Palermo, where their daughter Vittoria was born in 1919. Giannina occupied herself with teaching piano and singing. After the 1914–1918 war, her husband encouraged her theatrical aspirations and took charge of organizing her career.

Beniamino Carelli had trained her as a mezzo-soprano and his daughter Emma Carelli engaged Arangi Lombardi for the theater she managed, the Costanzi, Rome, where Giannina made her debut as Lola in Cavalleria rusticana on 25 September 1920, and for a few years she sang mezzo roles including Amneris, Adalgisa, and Brangania in important theaters such as the Massimo, Palermo, the Dal Verme, Milan, the Regio, Parma, and La Fenice, Venice. She seems to have spent 1922 restudying as a soprano with Adelina Stehle and Tina Poli Randaccio, and may have tried out La Gioconda and Leonora in La forza del destino at Messina in January 1923. For a while she alternated soprano and mezzo-soprano roles—for example, in December 1923 at the Costanzi she sang both the Gran Vestale (mezzo) in La vestale and Elena (soprano) in Mefistofele. After singing Don Carlo, L’africana, and Tannhäuser in Cairo in February 1924, she felt ready for her first Aida at Riccione in July, a role she introduced to La Scala in March the following year. She sang her first Norma at Reggio Emilia in October 1925, and in December she was at Torino for the first Italian performances of Arianna a Nasso, which were rehearsed by Richard Strauss.

For the next ten years she would be very busy with a basic repertoire of Aida, Il trovatore>, Un ballo in maschera, La forza del destino, Cavalleria rusticana, Mefistofele, La Gioconda, and Norma in the leading Italian theaters, her artistry gaining her the admiration of such conductors as Gui, Vitale, Panizza, Failoni, Guarnieri, Toscanini, Mascagni, Walter, and Marinuzzi, who once stopped a rehearsal to ask her, with feigned irritation: “But can’t you please sing out of tune at least once?”

Her chronology of performances includes: La favorita with Lauri Volpi, Montesanto and Pinza at the Teatro Comunale, Bologna (1924); Boito’s Nerone at the Colón, Buenos Aires in 1926, with Pertile (Argentina and Brazil also heard her in Il trovatore, Cavalleria rusticana, and La Gioconda); Guglielmo Tell in Rome with Lauri Volpi (1930) and in Pesaro with Francesco Merli (1934); the Dannazione di Faust of Berlioz; Mancinelli’s Paolo e Francesca; Mascagni’s Le maschere in Rome (1931); Lucrezia Borgia in Florence and Rome with Gigli and Pederzini (1933); Ponchielli’s Il figliuol prodigo at Cremona (1934); Bellini’s Beatrice di Tenda at Catania (1935); and Rossini’s Mosè in Florence and Rome (1935), with Tancredi Pasero. She sang occasional performances of Don Giovanni and Le nozze di Figaro—her Donna Anna was heard at the Salzburg Festival in 1935. Tosca and Andrea Chénier she rarely attempted, and Turandot she sang only on tour in Australia with Merli, in 1928. In 1929 she sang Il trovatore and Aida during the Scala’s visit to Berlin, and returned with the same operas in 1933. Among modern works she seems to have enjoyed appearing in La Baronessa di Carini by Giuseppe Mulè, which she sang at the San Carlo (1933) and twice in radio broadcasts; she also sang his Dafni. Her farewell to the stage was made at the Teatro Massimo, Palermo in March 1937, on which occasion she added the role of Elena in I vespri siciliani to her repertoire.

Her voice was last heard on 20 January 1939, in a radio performance from Turin of Rossini’s Petite messe solennelle. She taught for ten years at the Milan Conservatorio, then in 1947 was invited by the Turkish government to teach in Ankara, where Leyla Gencer studied with her. She died in Milan on 9 July 1951.

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Although this great soprano drammatico never sang at Covent Garden or the Metropolitan, her electrical recordings for Columbia have always kept her name before opera lovers, especially because of her incomparable performances in the complete Aida and La Gioconda. She might be thought of as Italy’s counterpart to Rosa Ponselle, whose voice was often compared to pure gold, while Arangi Lombardi’s is more akin to silver tempered with steel. As a young girl Ponselle was taken to hear Melba and Calvé sing, an advantage denied to Arangi Lombardi, who may well have been exposed to more violently passionate methods of singing in her student days in Naples. Her voice has a more obvious vibrato than Ponselle’s, but this did not prevent Italian critics from praising her as the successor to Giannina Russ in the bel canto repertory. Both Arangi Lombardi and Ponselle had powerful voices that easily filled great theaters, and Arangi Lombardi was quite at home in the Verona Arena. The weight of Arangi Lombardi’s voice, like Ponselle’s, lay in the lower and medium registers. In the acoustic recordings of Arangi Lombardi singing mezzo-soprano roles, the voice is immediately recognizable, but the distinguished artist, the outstanding musician among Italian sopranos, is not yet present. The high notes were added by diligent study, after which she could take the high C pianissimo and then execute a perfect crescendo and diminuendo on that beautifully floating sound. The addition of a brilliant head register to her voice and the consequent change to the soprano repertoire seem to have robbed her of some power in the chest register, but there is no sign of weakness in the rich medium register. Throughout all her wide range the voice is perfectly focused and penetrating (even when she is singing softly), probably causing headaches to the recording technicians. She is usually careful not to make the mistake of singing F, first space, in chest voice, though occasionally Verdi leaves her little option, as in “Ritorna vincitor” from Aida, where her emotional involvement in the music leads her to sing all the phrase “da più crudeli angoscie un core affranto!” in an unattractive, nasal chest voice. A weakness in her technique is exposed when she has to sing quickly, losing nobility of tone (for example, in the Trovatore Duet with Carlo Galeffi). Ponselle was much more accurate in florid execution, though she, too, was not at her best in rapid tempi. If we compare them in “Casta diva” from Norma, Arangi Lombardi cannot articulate the florid melody or the roulades in the middle section with the clarity and precision of Ponselle, but she is more secure in her ascents to the high B-flat, and includes a high C and a fine trill in her cadenza.

We know from her pupil Leyla Gencer’s descriptions of her teaching that Arangi Lombardi valued highly “a firm contact with the earth, with the voice freely flowing forth like a stream”. Like Maria Callas, she had learned the old Italian intercostal method of breathing that can give perfect control of the vocal emission. She does not feel any necessity to show off exceptionally long phrases, unless Verdi demands it of her. As she rises up the scale, Arangi Lombardi seems to exult in the way her tone blossoms into those shimmering head notes, but she is careful to let us hear that she can command any degree of forte or piano on any note in her range. Her diction is clear, her enunciation of Italian almost aristocratic, though, like many of her contemporaries her “O” can sometimes sound too open, resembling an “A”. In compensation she has completely mastered the art of pronouncing “E” and “I” with warm, rounded tone even on the upper notes. In “La vergine degli angeli” from La forza del destino, a lovely performance in which she hardly ever raises her voice above a mezzo-forte and emits even the loudest notes quite effortlessly, she begins her attack on the very first word with a delicately limpid “L” which would be beyond the grasp of all but the most skilled singers. The note is D, fourth line, and clever Arangi Lombardi has learned to begin her passaggio di registro on the C or C-sharp, so she is able to produce a ravishing sound on D in a hushed, pearly head tone. She must have recognized that Verdi had designed this second act finale especially to feature this limpid, floating kind of singing.

Arangi Lombardi was one of the few singers who expressed delight in working with Toscanini, though she confessed that he had made her cry for a whole year before she began to grasp what exactly he wanted from her! She certainly learned from someone the value of careful observance of the composer’s markings—rarely does she ignore a crescendo or a diminuendo sign, a p, or a ppp. Her singing is never metronomical, while her rhythmic elasticity is always governed by impeccable taste. Each of her records show her deep feeling for the music, and, in particular, “D’amor sull’ali rosee” from Il trovatore is a classic performance. This difficult aria presents no obstacles to this polished technician: all the trills are clearly articulated, she observes the implied increase of intensity as the aria progresses, she adjusts the awkward setting of the words in masterly fashion, and takes the highest notes softly; in her cadenza she rises to a thrilling high D-flat. This record alone would seal her quality as one of the most musical singers of her time, and a truly great Verdi soprano. Her masterly delivery of “Morrò, ma prima in grazia” from Un ballo in maschera will also reward study: with what care she judges her breaths, and even a little touch like the almost inaudible light gasp before she attacks “Non rifiutarlo ai prieghi” contributes to the profound effect of the performance. It may surprise listeners that she omits the part of the final cadenza that begins on high C—she, who could play with high C like Tetrazzini!—but the cut had become traditional. Even though she interpolates a verismo sob on the last notes, she proves her quality by executing Verdi’s requested diminuendo on the final, sustained E-flat. This performance also benefits from sensitive conducting that preserves much of nineteenth-century rhythmic flexibility, and how beautifully the cellist plays and imaginatively phrases his opening solo!

From the complete recording of Aida we have chosen Arangi Lombardi’s historic performance of “O cieli azzurri”, Aida’s lovely aria in the Nile Scene. Generations of critics have marveled over the technical control and musical feeling demonstrated in her ascent to the pianissimo high C, gradually reinforced. Hers is a voice that lends itself spontaneously to the expression of pain, longing, nostalgia—qualities that she finds again, most nobly, in two excerpts from Verdi’s I lombardi alla prima crociata, an opera that she apparently never sang in the theater but which she had obviously studied as no detail in the score is overlooked.

My teacher, Vincenzo D’Alessandro, once went to a concert given by Arangi Lombardi and Lauri Volpi at the Augusteo in Rome. The tenor won a rousing reception with a barrage of high notes in his encores, but then Arangi Lombardi cunningly sang Tosti’s “Sogno” in all possible shades from p to pppp, and the audience awarded her the ovation of the evening. Lauri Volpi would never sing a concert with her again.

It is touching to learn that she regretted never having recorded for His Master’s Voice, but when that exalted company approached her with a contract she turned them down, saying “But I would have to compete with myself!”

HINA SPANI: The Complete Recordings [pdf]

This superb compilation by Ward Marston shines a light on an undervalued spinto soprano from the first half of the 20th century, the Argentinian Hina Spani (1890–1969)... Marston’s transfers are as good as can be found anywhere today, and the documentation is thorough. I should also point out that most of Spani’s electrical recordings are very well conducted by Carlo Sabajno. There is some very beautiful singing contained on these two discs.

—Henry Fogel, Fanfare, July 2022

The Complete Recordings of Hina Spani [pdf]

The Argentine soprano Hina Spani (1890-1969) had a great career in Italy during the 1920s and 1930s. Between 1915 and 1934 she sang regularly in the Scala of Milan, toured Australia in 1928 with the ensemble of Nellie Melba and performed at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires between 1915 and 1939. Hina Spani sang over 70 roles and recorded 38 records for the Italian Columbia and Gramophone labels between 1924 and 1931.

OperaNederland, August 2022

The Voice of Argentina: The Complete Recordings of Hina Spani [pdf]

The voice, which sports aprominent vibrato and has a considerable range, falls some way between the sweetness of Victoria de los Angeles and the sensual vibrancy of Conchita Supervia, its deployment seamless in the manner of the finest instrumentalists... Transfers are superb throughout and the annotations are both highly readable and consistently informative.

—Rob Cowan, Gramophone, December 2022

The Complete Recordings Of Hina Spani [pdf]

This very welcome release includes all of the Argentinian soprano’s surviving recordings—persuasively transferred by Ward Marston—and six of the finest discs by her Italian contemporary (born in 1891, just a year after Spani) Giannina Arangi Lombardi.

—Stephen Hastings, The Record Collector, December, 2022

Hina Spani: The Complete Recordings [pdf]

Argentinian spinto soprano Hina Spani (1890-1969*) was not especially active in the recording studio and her entire recorded legacy of thirty- eight tracks has been collected and remastered here by Ward Marston on his own label... As a bonus, we ae given six tracks by another of the greatest sopranos of that era, her spinto contemporary Giannina Arangi Lombardi.

—Ralph Moore, MusicWeb, January, 2023

Hina Spani: The Complete Recordings [pdf]

Her popular 1931 recording of Tirindelli's "O primavera," with the La Scala Opera Orchestra under Carlo Sabajno, will take your breath away. Her high D-flat toward the end of her 1928 recording of "D'amor sull'ali rosee" from Verdi's Il trovatore is justly famous—I've spent decades trying to parse all the emotion in that unforgettable sound.

—Jason Victor Serinus, Stereophile, January, 2023