Giuseppe Anselmi is known to many for his matinee-idol good looks and arresting stage presence. Besides the typically romantic roles in which he excelled, like Des Grieux and Romeo, among his most memorable roles were Almaviva and Don Ottavio. Along with Bonci, Anselmi is considered one of the last of the bel canto tenors. But above all else, Anselmi was a refined and sophisticated musician, known for his ornamentations, elegance, diction, and mastery of recitative. Anselmi is a must-hear singer.
Anselmi’s biography has always been surrounded by a shroud of mystery to which he often contributed, especially concerning his early career and private life, so that much of what has been written about him was simply hearsay and scarcely documented. We pay homage to Anselmi by reissuing all of his Fonotipia and Edison recordings in this five-CD set, which will include numerous rare photos, complete discographic information, and two informative essays: Francisco Segalerva, a frequent contributor to The Record Collector, has written a biographical piece containing original research that sheds light on some of the most unknown episodes of Anselmi’s life and career. William Crutchfield, director of Teatro Nuovo and also a contributor to The Record Collector concentrates on the tenor’s singing and recordings providing insight into Giuseppe Anselmi the musician.
CD 1 (73:51)
|Milan, April–May 1907|
|22 April 1907|
|accompanied by unidentified pianist|
|1.||DON PASQUALE: Ci volea questa mania … Sogno soave e casto (Donizetti)||3:10|
|2.||RIGOLETTO: Questa o quella (Verdi)||2:00|
|3.||PAGLIACCI: Recitar! … Vesti la giubba (Leoncavallo)||2:50|
|4.||FEDORA: Amor ti vieta (Giordano)||2:20|
|25 April 1907 (except where noted)|
|accompanied by unidentified pianist|
|5.||WERTHER: Pourquoi me réveiller? (Ah! non mi ridestar) (Massenet)||2:43|
|transposed down a semitone to F minor|
XPh 2567 (62163)
|6.||MANON: Instant charmant … En fermant les yeux (O dolce incanto … Chiudo gli occhi) (Massenet)||3:02|
|XPh2568-1 (Columbia Fonotipia 62165-2)|
|7.||MANON: Instant charmant … En fermant les yeux (O dolce incanto … Chiudo gli occhi) (Massenet)||3:01|
|8.||LUISA MILLER: Ah! fede negar potessi … Quando le sere al placido (Verdi)||5:56|
|8 November and 25 April 1907; XPh 2836 and XPh 2569 (62159 and 62166)|
|9.||DON GIOVANNI: Il mio tesoro intanto (Mozart)||3:36|
|XPh 2571 (62167)|
|10.||RIGOLETTO: La donna è mobile (Verdi)||2:21|
|XPh 2572 (62149)|
|11.||CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA: O Lola ch’hai di latti la camisa (Mascagni)||2:43|
|29 April 1907|
|accompanied by unidentified pianist|
|12.||MIGNON: Elle ne croyait pas (Ah! non credevi tu) (Thomas)||3:53|
|XPh 2583 (62161)|
|13.||Skazhite ey (Ditele) (Tell her) (Yelizaveta Kochubey))||3:31|
|XPh 2587 (62186)|
|14.||Kakoe schastie (Che felicità) (What happiness) (Karl Davydov))||2:24|
|15.||IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA: Se il mio nome (Rossini)||3:03|
|XPh 2590 (unpublished)|
|6 May 1907|
|accompanied by unidentified pianist|
|16.||TOSCA: Recondita armonia (Puccini)||2:16|
|XPh 2604 (62185)|
|17.||IRIS: Apri la tua finestra (Mascagni)||2:13|
|XPh 2605 (62184)|
|18.||RIGOLETTO: Ella mi fu rapita … Parmi veder le lagrime (Verdi)||4:57|
|XPh 2607 and XPh 2608 (62150 and 62151)|
|10 May 1907|
|accompanied by unidentified pianist|
|XPh 2629 (62182)|
|XPh 2630 (62152)|
|21.||Jeg elsker Dig (Je t’aime), No. 3 from HJERTETS MELODIER, Op. 5 (Grieg))||2:33|
|XPh 2632 (62158)|
|22.||Non m’amate più (Tosti)||2:38|
|XPh 2633 (62154)|
|23.||La mia canzone (Tosti)||2:53|
|XPh 2634 (62155)|
|24.||Occhi turchini (Denza)||3:16|
|XPh 2637 (62153)|
|Languages: All tracks are sung in Italian except track 11 which is sung in Sicilian, tracks 13 and 14 which are sung in Russian, and track 21 which is sung in French.|
CD 2 (75:45)
|Milan, November 1907|
|4 November 1907|
|accompanied by unidentified pianist|
|1.||Seconda Mattinata – Su la villa solitaria (Tosti)||3:28|
|XPh 2817 (62266)|
|2.||IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA: Ecco ridente in Cielo (Rossini)||3:24|
|XPh 2820 (62268)|
|3.||LA GIOCONDA: Cielo e mar (Ponchielli)||4:15|
|XXPh 2821 (74029)|
|4.||LA BOHÈME: Che gelida manina (Puccini)||4:21|
|transposed down a semitone to B|
XXPh 2822 (74032)
|5.||EVGENIY ONEGIN: Kuda, kuda (Lontan, lontan) (Tchaikovsky)||4:07|
|XXPh 2823 (74035)|
|6.||‘O sole mio (Di Capua)||3:06|
|XPh 2825 (62284)|
|XPh 2826 (62285)|
|8 November 1907|
|accompanied by unidentified pianist|
|8.||LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR: Tombe degl’avi miei … Fra poco a me ricovero (Donizetti)||5:44|
|XPh 2837 and XPh 2835 (62286 and 62287)|
|9.||LUCREZIA BORGIA: Di pescatore ignobile (Donizetti)||2:36|
|XPh 2838 (62273)|
|10.||L’ELISIR D’AMORE: Una furtiva lagrima (Donizetti)||3:49|
|XPh 2839 (62272)|
|11.||LES PÊCHEURS DE PERLES: À cette voix … Je crois entendre encore (A quella voce … Mi par d’udir ancora) (Bizet)||5:27|
|Transposed down a full tone to G minor|
XPh 2840 and XPh 2841 (62270 and 62271)
|12.||PAGLIACCI: O Colombina (Leoncavallo)||2:03|
|XPh 2844 (62288)|
|13.||MANRU: Wie im Sonnenscheine (Come al sol cocente) (Paderewski)||2:42|
|XPh 2845 (62289)|
|13 November 1907|
|accompanied by unidentified pianist|
|14.||Su l’oceano (Anselmi)||4:13|
|XXPh 2866 (74038)|
|15.||ROMÉO ET JULIETTE: Amour, amour … Ah! lève-toi soleil! (Amor, amor … Deh, sorgi, o luce in ciel) (Gounod)||3:51|
|XPh 2869 (62267)|
|16.||MIGNON: Adieu, Mignon, courage (Addio, Mignon, fa core!) (Thomas)||2:50|
|XPh 2870 (62279)|
|17.||WERTHER: Mais comme après l’orage (Ma come dopo il nembo) (Massenet)||2:37|
|XPh 2871 (62276)|
|18.||WERTHER: Je ne sais si je veille (Io non so se son desto) (Massenet)||3:25|
|XPh 2872 (62277)|
|25 November 1907|
|accompanied by unidentified pianist|
|19.||MEFISTOFELE: Dai campi, dai prati (Boïto)||2:16|
|XPh 2911 (62282)|
|20.||MARCELLA: O santa libertà (Giordano)||2:11|
|XPh 2912 (62168)|
|21.||MARCELLA: O mia Marcella (Giordano)||2:59|
|XPh 2913-2 (62169)|
|22.||MEFISTOFELE: Giunto sul passo estremo (Boïto)||3:19|
|XPh 2914 (62283)|
|Languages: All tracks are sung in Italian except track 7 which is sung in Neapolitan.|
CD 3 (72:20)
|12 March 1908|
|accompanied by unidentified pianist|
|1.||Pater noster (Anselmi))||3:33|
|with piano, organ, and violin|
XPh 3065 (62274)
|2.||Serenata – Bianca è la notte (Anselmi)||2:50|
|XPh 3066 (62275)|
|3.||LA FAVORITA: Una vergine, un angiol di Dio (Donizetti)||2:28|
|XPh 3068 (62318)|
|4.||LA FAVORITA: Spirto gentil (Donizetti)||3:46|
|transposed down a semitone to B|
XPh 3067 (62319)
|25 April 1908|
|accompanied by unidentified pianist|
|5.||Stornello mesto (Zardo)||2:24|
|XPh 3187 (62320)|
|6.||Voi siete... (Zardo)||2:53|
|XPh 3188 (62321)|
|2 October 1909|
|Vincenzo Bellezza, piano|
|7.||LA BOHÈME: Che gelida manina (Puccini)||4:13|
|transposed down a semitone to B|
XXPh 4053 (74032)
|8.||IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA: Se il mio nome (Rossini)||2:47|
|XPh 4055 (62394)|
|9.||DON GIOVANNI: Dalla sua pace (Mozart)||2:55|
|XPh 4056 (62392)|
|10.||COSÌ FAN TUTTE: Un’aura amorosa (Mozart)||3:24|
|XPh 4057 (62393)|
|11.||MANON LESCAUT: Donna non vidi mai (Puccini)||2:29|
|XPh 4058 (62396)|
|4 October 1909|
|Vincenzo Bellezza, piano|
|12.||MARTHA: Ach, so fromm (M’apparì tutt’amor) (Flotow)||2:57|
|XPh 4059 (62395)|
|13.||IL DUCA D’ALBA: Angelo casto e bel (Salvi)||3:24|
|XPh 4060 (62471)|
|14.||LE MASCHERE: Io sono come nube vaporosa (Mascagni)||2:36|
|XPh 4061 (62398)|
|15.||MANON LESCAUT: Ah! Manon, mi tradisce (Puccini)||2:44|
|XPh 4062 (62397)|
|16.||Comm’ ’o zuccaro (Fonzo)||2:53|
|XPh 4063 (62405)|
|17.||Ammore ’e femmena (Nardella)||2:43|
|XPh 4064 (62404)|
|6 October 1909|
|Vincenzo Bellezza, piano|
|XPh 4073 (62402)|
|19.||Tout doucement (de Fontenailles)||2:54|
|XPh 4074 (62403)|
|20.||La serenata (Tosti)||3:44|
|XPh 4075 (62400)|
|XPh 4076 (62401)|
|22.||CARMEN: La fleur que tu m’avais jetée (Il fior che avevi a me tu dato) (Bizet)||3:03|
|XPh 4077 (62399)|
|23.||La villanella (Anselmi)||3:05|
|XPh 4079 (62406)|
|XPh 4081 (62407)|
|Languages: All tracks are sung in Italian except tracks 16 and 17 which are sung in Neapolitan, and tracks 18 and 19 which are sung in French.|
CD 4 (77:38)
|Milan, December 1909 and January 1910|
|20 December 1909|
|Angelo Bettinelli, piano|
|1.||Tre giorni son che Nina (Ciampi, attrib. Pergolesi and others)||2:20|
|XPh 4234 (62474)|
|2.||Canzuna siciliana (Alagna)||2:13|
|XPh 4235 (62541)|
|3.||Uocchie nire! (Denza)||2:56|
|XPh 4236 (62432)|
|XXPh 4237 (74211)|
|5.||Nouvelle chanson (Anselmi)||3:34|
|XXPh 4238 (74212)|
|XPh 4239 (62433)|
|10 January 1910|
|Angelo Bettinelli, piano|
|7.||Non t’amo più (Tosti)||3:18|
|XPh 4240 (62435)|
|8.||Pourquoi tardez-vous? (Denza)||3:09|
|XPh 4241 (62544)|
|9.||Dormi pure (Scuderi)||2:44|
|XPh 4242 (62434)|
|10.||LA GIOCONDA: Cielo e mar (Ponchielli)||4:04|
|XXPh 4243 (74029)|
|11.||Beatrice – Tanto gentile e tanto onesta pare (Anselmi)||3:41|
|XXPh 4244 (74087)|
|XXPh 4245 (74088)|
|12 January 1910|
|Angelo Bettinelli, piano|
|13.||SERSE: Va godendo, vezzoso e bello (Handel)||2:50|
|XPh 4246 (62473)|
|14.||Consolati e spera (Scarlatti)||3:20|
|XPh 4247 (62475)|
|15.||Minnelied im Mai – Holder klingt der Vogelsang, Op. 8, No. 1 (Canto d’amore) (Mendelssohn))||2:24|
|XPh 4248 (62438)|
|16.||Im Frühling – Ihr frühlingstrunk’nen Blumen, Op. 9, No. 4 (Nella primavera) (Mendelssohn))||2:17|
|XPh 4249 (62439)|
|17.||Romanze – Einmal aus seinen Blicken, Op. 8, No. 10 (Romanza – Un sol volta ancora) (Mendelssohn))||2:29|
|XPh 4250 (62476)|
|18.||Frühlingslied – Jetzt kommt der Frühling, Op. 8, No. 66 (Canto alla Primavera) (Mendelssohn))||2:44|
|XPh 4251 (62477)|
|17 January 1910|
|Angelo Bettinelli, piano|
|19.||Morgen, Op. 27, No. 4 (Domani!) (R. Strauss))||2:52|
|XPh 4253 (62436)|
|20.||Die Nacht, Op. 10, No. 3 (La notte) (R. Strauss))||2:27|
|XPh 4254 (62437)|
|21.||L’AFRICAINE: Pays merveilleux … O Paradis! (Mi batte il cor! … O Paradiso!) (Meyerbeer)||2:50|
|XPh 4256 (62431)|
|22.||LA TRAVIATA: Lunge da lei … De’ miei bollenti spiriti (Verdi)||3:32|
|XPh 4257 (62470)|
|19 January 1910|
|Angelo Bettinelli, piano|
|23.||Carmela (De Curtis)||2:53|
|XPh 4260 (62478)|
|24.||Maria, Marì! (Di Capua)||3:41|
|XPh 4261 (62479)|
|25.||PAGLIACCI: Un tal gioco, credetemi (Leoncavallo)||2:33|
|XPh 4262 (62472)|
|26.||ROMÉO ET JULIETTE: Va! repose en paix (Va! rientra ormai) (Gounod)||2:50|
|XPh 4263 (62430)|
|Languages: All tracks are sung in Italian except track 2 which is sung in Sicilian, tracks 3, 6, 23, and 24 which are sung in Neapolitan, and tracks 4, 5, and 8 which are sung in French.|
CD 5 (71:41)
|Milan, December 1910|
|5 December 1910|
|Angelo Bettinelli, piano (except where otherwise noted)|
|XPh 4434 (62562)|
|2.||AIDA: Celeste Aida (Verdi)||3:47|
|XPh 4435 (62561)|
|3.||Gitana – La tua testina folle (Gramegna)||2:50|
|XPh 4437 (62542)|
|Leopoldo Mugnone, piano|
XPh 4438 (62539)
|5.||Spes, ultima dea (Mugnone)||2:40|
|Leopoldo Mugnone, piano|
XPh 4439 (62540)
|6.||A une femme (Anselmi)||3:36|
XPh 4440 (62543)
|London, January and February 1913|
Ten-inch Diamond Discs
|7.||PAGLIACCI: Recitar! … Vesti la giubba (Leoncavallo)||4:33|
|8.||PAGLIACCI: Recitar! … Vesti la giubba (Leoncavallo)||4:32|
|9.||LA GIOCONDA: Cielo e mar (Ponchielli)||4:34|
|10.||LA GIOCONDA: Cielo e mar (Ponchielli)||4:58|
|11.||LA FAVORITA: Spirto gentil (Donizetti)||4:11|
|transposed down a semitone to B|
|12.||LES PÊCHEURS DE PERLES: Je crois entendre encore (Mi par d’udir ancor) (Bizet)||3:55|
|transposed down a full tone to G minor|
|13.||LES PÊCHEURS DE PERLES: Je crois entendre encore (Mi par d’udir ancor) (Bizet)||3:50|
|transposed down a full tone to G minor|
|14.||L’AFRICAINE: Pays merveilleux … O Paradis! (Mi batte il cor! … O Paradiso!) (Meyerbeer)||3:51|
|15.||L’AFRICAINE: Pays merveilleux … O Paradis! (Mi batte il cor! … O Paradiso!) (Meyerbeer)||3:49|
|16.||LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR: Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali (Donizetti)||5:00|
|transposed down a semitone to D-flat|
|17.||MIGNON: Elle ne croyait pas (Ah! non credevi tu) (Thomas)||4:52|
|18.||MIGNON: Elle ne croyait pas (Ah! non credevi tu) (Thomas)||5:05|
|Languages: All tracks are sung in Italian except track 6 which is sung in French.|
Producers: Ward Marston and Scott Kessler
Audio Conservation: Ward Marston and J. Richard Harris
Photos: Girvice Archer, Gregor Benko, Rudi van den Bulck/Charles Mintzer Archive, Russ Hornbeck, and Francisco Luis Segalerva CabelloBooklet Coordinator: Mark S. Stehle
Booklet Design: Takeshi Takahashi
Booklet Notes: Francisco Luis Segalerva Cabello and William Crutchfield
Marston would like to thank the following for making recordings available for the production of this set: Sergio Alfonsi, Gregor Benko, and Francisco Luis Segalerva Cabello.
Marston would like to thank David Seubert, Curator, Performing Arts Collection, University of California, Santa Barbara, for providing digital transfers of some of the Edison Diamond Disc recordings.
Marston would like to thank Gerald Fabris, curator of the Thomas Edison National Historic Park Museum, for providing digital transfers of some of the Edison Diamond Disc recordings.
Marston would like to thank Christian Zwarg for providing digital restorations of CD 2, tracks 3 and 4.
Marston would like to thank the Ministry of Culture and Sport of the Kingdom of Spain for its permission to reproduce the image found on the back cover from the collection of Theatre Museum in Almagro (Spain).
Marston is grateful to the Estate of John Stratton (Stephen Clarke, Executor) for its continuing support.
GIUSEPPE ANSELMI (1876–1929):
LIFE AND CAREER
by Francisco Luis Segalerva Cabello, ©2022
“What do I love most about life?
Women and music; these are the two poles of all my feelings…
it is for music and women that I cry, laugh, sing and live”.
A.G. Anselmi (1916)
Giuseppe Anselmi has remained over the years a source of mystery. A much-loved singer in his time wherever he sang and a favorite of record collectors worldwide ever since, his reputation seems not to have merited a proper biographical approach with the exception of the article written in 1987 by Clifford Williams and Larry Lustig in The Record Collector (Vol. 32, Nos. 3–5, pp. 51–109). That article, which still remains the touchstone work for anyone interested in the life and career of the tenor, belongs to a time where there was no widespread access to internet. As a result of such limitation many sources of information were not available at the time and many questions remained unanswered despite the dedication of the authors.
These lines follow closely that article but also, in the same vein as the purpose of its authors, try to correct inaccuracies stemming from hearsay since the early years of Anselmi’s career and which have been repeated time and again until they took on a semblance of fact. The aim of this article is to help the reader form a more complete and accurate image of the life and career of the singer and to include many details hitherto unknown which have surfaced during the last thirty-five years.
As stated in his birth certificate, Antonino Giuseppe Anselmi was born in the town of Nicolosi, near Catania, on the island of Sicily, on 6 November 1876. Nicolosi is known as the “gateway to Etna”. The town is strategically situated on the outskirts of the famous volcano at the crossroads leading to its summit. He was the son of Luigi Anselmi and Venera Carrara, who belonged to two of the most illustrious acting families in Sicily, the Anselmis and the Carraras. Being born in such an artistic home it is not surprising that the young Anselmi was destined for a stage career. In an interview for the Spanish magazine “La Esfera” in March 1916, Anselmi recalls his childhood as a “most happy one, like being in heaven”. As far as it has been possible to research, he only had a sister, Giovannina, who was single and went to live with him in Zoagli after he retired. An impeccably dressed cute little boy with blue-green eyes and pleasant manners, during his infancy we can picture him as being more of the “little Lord Fauntleroy” type than a street urchin like Caruso. In that 1916 interview he then added that his father was a nobleman (Marquis) and had worked as an actor and his mother had been a famous actress of serious drama. He also recalled that, aged six, he built for himself a small flute by making holes into a piece of cane and he would play all day long any tune which took his fancy. Soon afterwards, his parents, who appreciated the musical leanings of their son, bought him a violin and the little boy started to show his talent with this instrument by the time he was ten.
Two years later, Anselmi was admitted to the Conservatorium of San Pietro a Majella in Naples. The boy was eager to learn and studied not only violin, with Angelo Ferni, but also piano with Florestano Rossomandi and composition with Pietro Platania (a fellow Catanian). His musical education was complemented with language coaching (he was fluent in French and had a basic knowledge of the English language) as well as readings of the classics and also Italian and French authors. These readings made him familiar with their works, some of which he would use later on in several of his compositions, especially the poems of Dante, Leopardi, and Victor Hugo. Aged thirteen, he is reported as having given a violin concert in Catania to show the progress he had been making at San Pietro a Majella. One year later he made his formal debut as a violinist in Tunis, followed by concerts in Athens and in Southern Italy. In that same interview in March 1916 he recalled that after the end of his formal studies in Naples he played solo violin concerts for several years, until he was about twenty years old. He had in the meanwhile become financially independent from his parents. However, in spite of his love of the violin, an instrument to which he dedicated some of his compositions, what he really wanted was to sing. In his own words: “The violin is the basis of my singing. I wanted to sing just like my violin did. It was my teacher; that is why I love the violin so much…the violin is at the heart of my art, the larynx is just a physical organ…I never had a singing teacher. As Aristotle said: knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”. However, despite this bold statement of self-sufficiency by the singer, the truth is that Anselmi seems to have received vocal tuition for some time from Maestro (Vittorio) Ricci. According to Eugenio Gara in Celletti’s “Le Grandi Voci”, the young singer was heard by Giulio Ricordi, who referred Anselmi to Luigi Mancinelli for advice. Mancinelli advised the young tenor to receive some formal vocal training (for which the services of Ricci were apparently used, as stated in contemporary publications) before embarking on a stage career. The fact that Anselmi was a gifted musician with plenty of theoretical background acquired during his years in the Naples Conservatorium and the impulse of youth made things much easier.
THE OPERATIC DEBUTS
It has been often repeated that, at sixteen, Anselmi joined a touring operetta company as a chorister and that, soon after, he made his stage debut in Cavalleria rusticana at the Athens Royal Opera in 1896, aged twenty. However, no evidence thereof beyond Eugenio Gara’s statement has ever been found, the only approximate reference being a notice in the English magazine “The Sphere” in June 1901, where it was said that “at eighteen he discovered he had a voice and made his début two years later at Athens as Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana with such success that he was invited to Court and received a diploma from the King”. As this text was meant to be the introduction of the newcomer tenor to the Covent Garden audience, one can imagine that it was “embellished” with the reference to King George I of Greece and Athens as the place of his debut rather than some obscure provincial town in Greece. Also, the intention is clearly to show a much longer “proper” career than the mere eight months which had lapsed from his Italian debut to his arrival at Covent Garden. The truth is that he had indeed sung in Athens and most likely in the presence of King George I, but, it seems, at a somewhat later date than 1896. In fact, he sang and played the violin in early May 1898 for the King and Queen of Greece as is proven by a letter from the Queen’s Chamberlain, the Count of Massala, to the singer praising him on behalf of the royal couple for his beautiful voice, his musical talent and prowess as a violinist. So, rather than a career as a touring chorister, it would rather appear that from age sixteen until he was twenty he was still mainly playing the violin in Southern Italy and also in places of the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans. When he was eighteen, he decided that he wanted to try a singing career as he found he had a voice and felt that the voice allowed him to express himself even better than the violin; then, part self-taught, part briefly vocally trained, he developed as a singer between 1894 and 1897. Anselmi always referred to his Italian debut in Genova (1900) in Rigoletto as the start of his singing career; however, in an interview in the Spanish newspaper El Regional (5 May 1918) he admitted that his actual debut on an operatic stage had taken place in the town of Patras (Greece), singing excerpts from La traviata. Though no exact date for that debut has been established, it must have happened at some point in time between the autumn of 1897 and the spring of 1898. That the place of his debut was to be Patras, of all places, should come as no surprise. Anselmi was already acquainted with the Eastern Mediterranean circuit from his days as a violinist. Patras was the first port of call for most Italian ships sailing eastwards and the place where the foreign touring opera companies which at the time serviced the Greek stages started their tournées. These tournées took them to the main Greek cities and some Middle East towns where a large enough expatriate colony made viable the performance of opera. So, after that first stage experience in Patras and his concert appearance in Athens before the Greek Royalty, Anselmi is reported as a leading tenor in the Gonzalez touring opera company, singing from December 1898 (his first documented performances) at the Sporting Club Theatre of Smyrna and other venues in Alexandria, Cairo, and Athens, among other places, a repertoire which comprised Traviata, Rigoletto, Cavalleria rusticana, Il barbiere di Siviglia, Bohème, Manon, Mignon, Manon Lescaut, Ballo in Maschera, Pagliacci, Favorita, Gioconda, Lucia di Lammermoor, Sonnambula, etc.
The González opera company, in which Señor González was both impresario and conductor, also included in its repertoire operettas like Falchi’s “Il Trillo del Diavolo” in which Anselmi sang the role of the baroque composer Giuseppe Tartini—and, quite aptly, surely had to play the violin on stage as well. This fact may have created the impression that Anselmi at some early point of his career had joined a touring “operetta company”, another fact of which no evidence has been found. These “galley” years, though heavy-going, provided the young singer with a most welcome wealth of experience in a short time. He was able to sing a quite varied repertoire of leading tenor roles on an almost daily basis, often as many as five performances per week. Besides, the theaters where he sang in 1898–1900 until his Italian debut were small houses with fewer than 800 seats and in some cases even below 500. The accompaniment would also be invariably provided by the small orchestra of the touring company or a reduced number of local players hired for the occasion. All this meant that in order to be heard he had no need to force his voice, which never was a large one, and could concentrate on vocal expression and embellishing his singing rather than striving for a large volume. This sort of experience as well as the training received made Anselmi ready for the singing career which, according to Eugenio Gara’s article, Ricordi and Mancinelli had envisaged. Likewise, this contact with Mancinelli surely provided Anselmi with a valuable coach as far as repertoire was concerned and the chance to have direct access to the main Italian theaters, making possible a stage debut in his homeland before long.
And that Italian debut finally took place at the Politeama Theatre in Genova on 1 October 1900 when he sang the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto together with a star soprano like Fanny Torresella as Gilda and Edoardo Camera as the jester. During his stay in Genova he also sang Rodolfo in La bohème, alternating in the role with Amedeo Bassi and partenered by Lina Pasini-Vitale as Mimì. Later in the season, he sang Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor, again with Fanny Torresella in the title role.
THE CAREER (1900–1918)
The success in Genova as reported by the local press bode well for his next assignment, at the San Carlo Theatre of the town of his adolescence, Naples. There, he sang for the first time on 29 December 1900 as Elvino in La sonnambula, with Regina Pacini as Amina and Constantino Thos as Count Rodolfo. That he was well liked there is no doubt as, a few days later, he was urgently requested to join the cast for the premiere of Mascagni’s Le Maschere when the tenor originally hired withdrew on short notice. This caused the premiere, scheduled for 17 January 1901 in seven different Italian cities, to be delayed for two days in Naples, so that he could learn the part of Florindo at full speed. As is well known, the opera flopped in six of the seven premieres, the one in Rome conducted by Mascagni himself being the only one that secured a long run of performances. Anselmi’s work, though, was acknowledged in the reviews of the Neapolitan premiere on 19 January 1901 together with that of his colleagues in the cast (Angelica Pandolfini, Rina Giachetti, and Piero Schiavazzi). Some years later he would leave for posterity a creator record of that occasion, singing the aria “Io sono come nube…”. After closing his Neapolitan appearances with Rigoletto (15 February) and the Verdi Commemoration Concert in which he sang the tenor aria from Luisa Miller, he left for his native Sicily. There at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo he sang in March–April 1901 in Lucia, Tosca, Rigoletto, and Barbiere with such seasoned singers as Regina Pinkert, Eugenio Giraldoni and a baritone newcomer called Titta Ruffo. From Palermo he left for his first assignment at a major international opera house, London’s Covent Garden, surely under the impulse of Luigi Mancinelli, who was one of the most prestigious conductors in that theater at the time.
Anselmi’s London debut took place on 16 May 1901 singing the Duke in Rigoletto with Suzanne Adams’s Gilda and Paul Seveilhac in the title role. The critic of The Times (20 May 1901) referred to the newcomer as follows:
The tenor is a young Italian who has sung with great success at Naples and Palermo; he has a lovely voice of pure quality, a lithe and graceful figure, and considerable powers of acting. These last might with advantage be a little kept in check, and, if he be wise, the young singer will seek the advice of some competent voice trainer, as he already has a slight tendency to force the tone, a tendency which is certain to grow if it is not cured early. Signor Anselmi’s success was quite decided, however, and he had to repeat “La donna è mobile”, the same compliment also bestowed on the quartet.
During that London season he also sang Turiddu in Cavalleria rusticana (alternating with Fernando Valero), Rodolfo in Bohème with Melba, Scotti and Gilibert, where the critics also insisted that “he forces his voice more than occasionally so as to produce the particularly disagreeable “bleating” tone that is characteristic of Italian tenors” and warned that “if he goes on as he is at present, a very few seasons will turn him from one of the most promising of the younger singers into the owner of a voice permanently ruined”. Anselmi also had time to take part in the Verdi Memorial Concert at the Queen’s Hall (8 June 1901), where the Requiem Mass was performed, with Mancinelli at the podium and in the illustrious company of Sobrino (who replaced an ailing Johanna Gadski), Brema, and Pol Plançon.
At the end of that year, on 2 December 1901, he married in Milan the Neapolitan dancer Amalia Nora Sciacca (1871–1943), with whom he shared his life until late 1916. That marriage, with a woman five years older than he, was strongly opposed by Anselmi’s father who considered that Giuseppe was too inexperienced and had fallen under the “spell” (malefizio was the actual Italian word he used) of a cunning lady. After the wedding, Anselmi left for Lisbon, where he remained for three months and sang at the Teatro São Carlos in Tosca from 18 December, Barbiere di Siviglia, Cavalleria Rusticana, Sonnambula, Lucia di Lammermoor, Don Giovanni, Fedora, and Ero e Leandro, plus one performance of Verdi’s Requiem on 16 February, where he displayed his ability to trill and the “Hostias et preces” section of the work had to be encored. The company was full of star singers. Besides Emma Carelli, on the soprano front there were Gemma Bellincioni, Regina Pacini and Adelina Stehle; on the tenor front, the young tenor had to compete with Bonci, Borgatti, Garbin, and Zenatello. Though he was well received by the critics, at the end of the season, the critic of Lisbon’s A Arte Musical complained that he abused too much of mezza voce effects, which gave an impression of blandness to his singing. When the season was over, Anselmi had spent all the money earned in Lisbon and had to wire back home to receive funds to pay for his return ticket to Italy. His wife then made the decision to take charge of money matters and accompany him on all his trips in the future. She then became his secretary, his press agent, his shadow and his watchdog, given the naivety of the young singer.
At the end of May 1902, Anselmi made his debut in South America. As a member of the “Gran Compañía Lírica Italiana” he sang with Hariclea Darclée, Edoardo Garbin, Adele Stehle, Alice Cucini, and Mario Ancona at the Teatro de la Ópera in Buenos Aires. His repertoire consisted of Rigoletto, Manon (with Darclée), Werther (which he had just heard in Lisbon sung by Edmond Clément, impressing him enough to include it in his repertoire as soon as he could) with Stehle, Favorita, Iris, and Don Giovanni. From Buenos Aires the company left for Montevideo and at the Teatro Solis Anselmi sang Manon, Don Giovanni, and Iris before heading back to Europe.
His success in Buenos Aires and Montevideo was to be dwarfed by the reaction of the Polish public on Anselmi’s first visit to the Teatr Wielki in Warsaw (October–December 1902) with Bellincioni, Pinkert, Magini-Coletti, Battistini, Ancona, and Didur. There, in just two months, he sang in twelve different operas, adding to his repertoire of the previous months Bohème, Gioconda, Traviata, and Eugene Onegin. A visit to Odessa from December 1902 to February 1903 in the company of singers like Boronat and Sammarco was also a resounding success. The rest of 1903 found him in Europe, with no summer trip to South America. In the autumn he joined the season in Warsaw, where he was by now idolized for his good looks and sweet and nuanced singing. The highlights of the season were the local premieres of Tosca on 7 November 1903 with Bellincioni and Magini-Coletti and of Adriana Lecouvreur on 30 November with Bellincioni and Borisoff. The critic of the Kurier Warszawski (A. Polinski), on 8 November 1903, praised Bellincioni’s dramatic powers despite the evident wear and tear of her voice, changed his mind favorably about Magini-Coletti’s value as a singer—the baritone had had a dull season until he took on Scarpia—and of the tenor, he said: “Mr. Anselmi sang the role of Caravadossi. He sang both arias in act one and act three masterfully shaded (both encored on demand) and the whole role was played excellently”. Of his Maurice of Saxony in Adriana, Polinski wrote that “he sang exquisitely a beautiful role” but that his acting was “too sweet for such a military hero as Maurice, winner of Fontenay and many other battles”.
On 7 January 1904, Anselmi made his debut at Milan’s La Scala singing nine performances of Rigoletto out of a long run of sixteen with Wermez as Gilda, Didur as Sparafucile, and another debutant in that theater, Titta Ruffo, in the title role. The reviews were good in general but he was better received and appreciated by the audience than by the severe Milanese critics, who found his style too free despite the nobility of his bearing and the sweetness of his voice and ability to modulate it at will.
Immediately afterwards, Anselmi left for Russia, where he made his debut at Saint Petersburg, one of the cities, together with Warsaw, Buenos Aires, and Madrid, where he was idolized. There he sang, from 5 March 1904, at the Grand Hall of the Conservatorium Theatre, Lucia with Boronat, Navarini and Kaschmann, Manon with Cavalieri, Kaschmann and Navarini, Traviata with Cavalieri as Violetta and Kaschmann, Werther with Sigrid Arnoldson, and Rigoletto with Boronat and Kaschmann. The public went into raptures, especially at the sight of the couple Cavalieri-Anselmi, probably the best-looking couple possible on stage at the time. After his return from Russia, he sang at the San Carlo in Naples in late April–May. The relationship with his father had improved and, as the old man had settled in Naples, Anselmi would take the chance to return there every year with or without artistic engagements and visit him. However, his “home” since the time of his marriage was in Milan, even though he only spent there a few weeks every year.
With the San Carlo Opera Company he made his second London appearance at Covent Garden in October–November 1904, when he sang Cavaradossi, an “excellent” Turiddu (on 2 November, when the “admirable” Canio in the I Pagliacci given that same evening was Caruso), Maurizio (in the London premiere of Adriana Lecouvreur, 8 November 1904: “Signor Anselmi looked well and sang admirably”—The Times) and the Duke of Mantua.
From late November 1904 to January 1905 Anselmi sang in Warsaw, where he added Nadir in Pescatori di Perle, Roméo in Gounod’s opera, and Nemorino to his repertoire. January to April 1905 were spent in Odessa and Saint Petersburg (this time with Battistini and Cavalieri as his main partners), while the time arrived for a new visit to Buenos Aires and Montevideo which took place from June until September of that year in the company of Russ, Storchio, Giachetti, Giraldoni, and Didur, adding to his repertoire Giorgio in Mascagni’s Amica, Walter in Catalani’s Loreley, and Ernesto in Don Pasquale. The highlight of the season was on 24 July when a concert of Puccini’s music was given honoring the composer’s stay in Buenos Aires in which—together with Anselmi—Zenatello, Giachetti, Storchio, and Russ also took part. The unrest of late 1905 in Russia prevented his taking part in the autumn–winter season in Warsaw and there is no evidence of further activity until after Christmas, when he visited his father in Naples, and sang at the San Carlo in January 1906, Rigoletto with Battistini and Regina Pacini, in one of her last performances, and Cavalleria rusticana with the great dramatic soprano Elena Bianchini-Cappelli.
Once the political situation stabilized in Russia he returned to Saint Petersburg to sing in the Small Hall of the Conservatorium Theatre, Mignon, Roméo, Barbiere, Manon, Traviata, and Pescatori di Perle with Arnoldson, Boronat, Cavalieri, Battistini, and Navarini. By this time, he was the well-established “heir” of the former favorite of the Russian public, Angelo Masini, who had retired in 1905. Anselmi’s star status in Russia was now indisputed and he was admired and fêted by the Russian nobility and royalty, who bestowed upon him impressive presents which he kept all his life as souvenirs of those halcyon days.
At the end of May 1906 Anselmi was again in Buenos Aires, with Storchio, De Luca, Clasenti, Talexis, Didur, and Toscanini conducting. This time, besides his usual warhorses, Anselmi sang Boito’s Mefistofele where he was less liked than customary and was found to be “uneven, especially in the epilogue” and Mozart’s Don Giovanni, where his Don Ottavio was a success. By this time, the critics could not fail to notice the growing affinity of Anselmi with certain roles, like Des Grieux, of which he made a creation and which the audiences never tired of hearing sung by him (“he displayed a splendid mezza voce in the Dream and surprising passion and vigorous sonority in the St. Sulpice scene”—La Prensa, 19 June 1906). After his return from Montevideo in September 1906, the only recorded activity is a short season in Kiev at the Solovtsov Theatre in late December 1906 and the early days of January 1907 singing Werther, Roméo, and Cavaradossi.
In the life of many artists, one finds an event, when, regardless of all the previous effort and progress, there comes what amounts to a watershed moment from whence nothing will be the same again. For Caruso it was his Met debut as the Duke in Rigoletto, for Flagstad her Sieglinde at the same theater; for Anselmi it came on 27 January 1907, singing Des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon at the Teatro Real in Madrid. Unlike the case of other recent presentations in Madrid, impresario Arana had been cautious about giving too much publicity to Anselmi’s debut. He was merely expected as a renowned tenor making his debut in Madrid, a novelty more than anything else. However, the moment could not have been better chosen: the Madrid public was a divo-loving audience, crazy about tenors and which hugely missed its former idols. Tamberlick, Gayarre and Stagno had long been dead, Masini and Marconi had retired, and all the other tenors who had passed by Madrid since the mid 1890s (some of them very prestigious names like De Lucia, Bonci, Viñas, Constantino, etc.) had been more or less successful but none of them was considered by the public as entirely worthy of the mantle of those five illustrious predecessors.
That first night was on a Sunday, normally not the most auspicious day for a debut, as many a ticket holder might refrain from attending the performance. Also it meant that the critics might not attend or that the review would appear on the Tuesday edition of the papers at best. However, Anselmi’s debut in Madrid was a hit and it showed in the first-page treatment with an article of 500-plus words with which La Correspondencia de España opened its edition of 29 January 1907:
Teatro Real—MANON—Debut of tenor Anselmi: […] The sensation of the night was the debut of the tenor Anselmi, announced as the divo of this season and whose merit was heralded by his fame. Upon his entrance in the first act, the impression was most favourable. His distinguished bearing, the ease on stage, the fine and delicate diction were extremely liked in the duet of the encounter with Manon, which was quite applauded. But then, the second act came and its penultimate scene. Des Grieux sat by the “little table” to which Manon had just bade farewell and the tenor was ready to tell his beloved of his dream of happiness. Singing a fior di labbro the tenor began Chiudo gli occhi e il mio pensier allor..., then on the phrase Cantan inni cogli angeli, he inserted an ideal fioritura, thus the singing of the birds, which provoked gaps of admiration; then came the last sentence Se tu lo vuoi, Manon with a puntatura which allowed Anselmi to thread out a top A of incomparable beauty…and an ovation did burst, overwhelming, thunderous; the aria had to be encored among triumphant cries of: “Well sung!”, “Better impossible!” and Anselmi was proclaimed the favourite divo of the public in Madrid. Anselmi has a delicate voice, not large but wide-ranging, with a wonderful flexibility and a charming sweetness; his school of singing is most perfect, his style of an irreproachable musical correctness as befits to a singer who is also a remarkable violinist; he sings with true sacred fire, he is an elegant actor and dresses with admirable taste. If I tried to describe his performance as Des Grieux from the Dream aria onwards, I would need whole columns of this newspaper, as something would have to be remarked upon from each one of his phrases. The way he sang Ah! Dispar vision, remembering the unfaithful lover! All the details in the duo of seduction and the gambling scene Manon sfinge fatal; and then the deeply felt closing duo. His reputation was true; Anselmi is currently the first and only Des Grieux on the lyric stage and his triumph at the Teatro Real has been one of those which mark an era in the history of a theatre and the life of an artist […].
The second Manon, two days later (again with Pasini-Vitale, Vidal and Cabello, conducted by Mascheroni) was an even greater success. The same happened with Tosca on 3 February, with Bellincioni and Blanchard and where “E lucevan le stelle” had to be encored, Il barbiere di Siviglia (13 and 17 February) and Cavalleria rusticana with Bellincioni again, for his farewell (23 February). An extra Manon had to be included in the afternoon series (20 February) to please the audience. Anselmi never liked to sing afternoon performances, always preferring to sing at night. In fact, he would normally avoid the afternoon series when planning his appearances in any town though, to please the public, he would finally yield and give one or two afternoon performances during which, as was his habit—a kind of superstition he had—, he would put his watch forward by at least two hours to have the feeling that he was singing after dark. For this 1907 season in Madrid he received 31,991 pesetas (almost $7,000), a fortune at the time, not including his fees for concert work elsewhere and the presents he had also received from the audience. In just four weeks he had become the darling of the public of Madrid and of the Spanish royalty and nobility, for whom he would often sing in private concerts at their palaces. The press was unanimous in his praise and only wished he had included more operatic titles in his presentation. The young tenor, barely thirty, became the toast of the town, he was described as “the vincitor of our great theatre”, “the revelation of this season”, “the wonderful singer who has resuscitated the old traditions, when the tenor was the absolute king of opera”. There was no doubt that Anselmi would return for the following season when the public roared “Come back soon!” at the end of his final Cavalleria rusticana.
Much buoyed by this huge success in Madrid, he left for Saint Petersburg, where, in the Grand Hall of the Conservatorium Theatre and until early April, he sang Roméo, Cavaradossi, Wilhelm Meister, Des Grieux, Nadir and Rodolfo. Again he was partnered by Battistini, Cavalieri, Bellincioni, Anderson and Navarini in casts which make mouthwatering reading. Soon afterwards La Scala was waiting for him for just two performances of Cavalleria rusticana, conducted by Toscanini and with Burzio and Romboli (17 and 18 April), which concluded the 1906–1907 season of the theater. These were his final performances there. The reviews were good but his performing “liberties”, which drove audiences wild wherever he sang, failed to be appreciated by the Milanese critics. Immediately after these performances, he visited for the first time the studios of the Società Italiana di Fonotipia, which had managed to convince the singer to record for them. As his “home” was in Milan during those years, the recording sessions with Fonotipia amounted to a welcome rest from the touring life he had endured till then and which every now and again took its toll on the singer’s health, which never was too resilient.
From 22 April to 10 May, he recorded forty titles, of which twenty-three would be eventually published. Then, on 25 May he was in Paris for a private performance of Il barbiere di Siviglia at Jean De Reszke’s home at the Rue de la Faisanderie in the fashionable 16th district. That performance was going to mark the last appearance ever of Adelina Patti in an opera. In The Record Collector article on Anselmi (1987), a full account of the performance by the tenor himself was reproduced. Besides Patti as Rosina and Anselmi as Almaviva, the rest of the cast were Ancona as Figaro, Edouard De Reszke as Basilio and Antonio Pini-Corsi as Bartolo…a memorable occasion indeed. Apart from this performance, no other appearances of Anselmi in Paris have been traced. Then, the summer and the early autumn of 1907 were spent quietly at home as shows the execution of his agreement (dated 18 June 1907 in Milan) to sing in Barcelona the following winter. The correspondence and photographs sent to his new friends in Madrid from “Milano-casa” (Home in Milan) indicate that he remained in that city during September and October 1907. A second visit to the Fonotipia studio in November 1907, with sessions from 4 to 25 November, produced thirty-two more recordings of which twenty-five were published. In December, the time came to go back to Spain. First to Barcelona, where he was scheduled to make his debut at the famous Gran Teatre del Liceu from 4 to 26 December. There he sang in Manon (with Caprile and Astillero), Tosca (with Pasini-Vitale and Kaschmann) and Werther (with Ferraris, Verger, and Astillero). His presentation before the Barcelona public was also a triumph, though the city was at the time one of the strongholds of Wagnerism as opposed to the more “belcantist” Madrid. His Des Grieux and Cavaradossi created a furore. However, where the audience had the chance of enjoying the artist at his finest was as Werther, as the critic of La Vanguardia (December 19) made clear:
It will not be said of Mr Anselmi that last night he wanted to brag about being a “divo”, but to introduce us to a full-length character, providing him with dramatic interest in all the moments of the action in which he intervenes. And though there are bright pieces in the score, such as Werther’s entrance and the first duet with Charlotte, his monologue in the second act, the great scene of the third act and the moments of the suicide and death, the audience was able to appreciate the whole of his work and the finished and well resolved way in which he gave stage life to the title role. At the moment of exaltation in the second act, when the lover seems to mesmerize himself with the self-suggestion of his tragic end, Mr. Anselmi’s performance was of the highest standard through the sobriety with which he expressed the unease of that spirit, troubled by the obsessive idea of his fatal death. The reading of Ossian’s verses was another source of delight for the auditorium and another success for the distinguished artist. Enthusiastic applause led him to repeat it. In the scene of the agony, Mr. Anselmi conveyed deep emotion, inspired by his most sober resources as singer and actor. Overall, the interpretation that the celebrated tenor gave to the title role seemed excellent to us.
His return to Madrid, in January 1908, was another huge success. He sang Manon (with Baldasarre), Rigoletto (with Pareto and Ruffo), Tosca (with Ruffo and Bianchini-Capelli) and Werther (with Iksó). In his book La mia parabola, Ruffo, who also became a favorite of the Madrid public, left a vivid recollection of Anselmi’s consolidated star status in Madrid at the time of Ruffo’s debut in the Spanish capital (for the record, Ruffo wrongly refers to the year as 1907). From Madrid, Anselmi left for Montecarlo, where his debut at the Opéra took place on 4 February, in La Gioconda (with Litvinne, Ruffo, and Nivette), Tosca (with Giachetti and Renaud) and Rigoletto (with Kurz, Renaud, and Nivette). A further visit to Fonotopia on 12 March produced four more titles and from Milan he left for Saint Petersburg’s Little Hall of the Conservatorium Theatre (March and early April) and returned to Milan for two further records of songs by Zardo (25 April) and some rest before he embarked from Genova for Buenos Aires, where he was expected at the Teatro de la Ópera. That was his final season there, as from 1910 until 1913 he would sing at the newly inaugurated Teatro Colón. From there he went to Montevideo. He spent from late May till late August in Argentina and Uruguay and added to his usual repertoire the title role of Gounod’s Faust with a company which included a young Frances Alda as well as Elena Ruszkowska, Giuseppe De Luca, Adamo Didur, and Andrés Perelló de Segurola.
In the autumn of 1908 he was reported in the Spanish press as singing—probably concerts—in Germany (Berlin and Dresden) and Austria (Vienna) though no evidence of those appearances could be found. The year 1909 started very much like 1908. He sang in February at the Teatro Real Manon (with Storchio, a huge triumph for both) and Tosca (with Labia and Cigada). Anselmi also took part, as had become his custom, in charity concerts and the Press Gala, which endeared him to the local press as he never requested any fees, unlike other artists who took part in this kind of events. That year 1909 also saw him, already a Cavaliere and on his way to become an Uffiziale in 1910 and later a Commendatore of the Order of the Crown of Italy, decorated with the Great Cross of the Civil Order of Alphonse XII, one of the most prestigious honors granted at the time by the Spanish Crown. The sculptor Mariano Benlliure (husband of the mezzosoprano Lucrecia Arana), a close friend of the tenor and who had sculpted Gayarre’s bust and mausoleum, also made a bronze sculpture of the tenor’s bust which Anselmi took back home. Dark clouds seemed to loom on the horizon for his love affair with Madrid, though: when asked about his intention to return in 1910, Anselmi said that he would love to but only if his forthcoming engagements in the United States allowed it. There were rumours of a four-million-francs contract to sing in the United States forty performances at 10,000 francs each for ten years. Against that sort of money there was nothing that European theaters could do to retain their best talent. The public of Madrid feared that their favorite singer might soon be gone forever.
Newly in Montecarlo for a short season in March 1909 Anselmi sang again Enzo in La Gioconda (with Litvinne and Ruffo), Roméo to the Juliette of Ainó Ackté, Cavaradossi, and finally Osaka in Iris, with Emma Carelli and Pini-Corsi. The customary visit to Saint Petersburg (this time at the Grand Hall of the Conservatorium Theatre) took place during April and he added a new role to his repertoire, that of Fra Diavolo in Auber’s opera of the same title, with Arnoldson as Zerlina. From Russia he left for London, where his final season at Covent Garden took place in May–July 1909. There he sang five different roles (“a charming and graceful” Almaviva, Cavaradossi, “an ideally excellent” Rodolfo, the Duke of Mantua, and Edgardo) in the illustrious company of Tetrazzini, Destinn, Kouznetsova, Sammarco, Scotti, Gilibert, and Vanni-Marcoux, with Campanini and Panizza conducting. After his summer rest, he spent most of the autumn in Milan, with new visits to the Fonotipia studios during October, which produced twenty-four sides (nineteen published) plus six more sides in December (all published). During these weeks without engagements he would spend his time reading (he was an avid reader of authors like D’Annunzio and Papini), composing music, and even teaching pupils who would visit him in Milan. The only registered activity during those months was a charity concert in Rome at the Augusteo Theatre on 27 December. The year 1910 started just as 1909 had ended. Anselmi spent most of January at the Fonotipia studios and recorded twenty-four more sides (twenty published) including some of his own compositions as well as lieder by Richard Strauss and Mendelssohn in Italian, which proves that his musical culture was far superior to that of most of his contemporary singers and that while he had to comply with the commercial considerations of Fonotipia, he also managed to include in his recording output some repertoire which he considered had to be made available to the audiences.
A relieved Madrid public enjoyed one more year their idol, who sang, in February 1910, Cavaradossi and three other roles which were new to his Madrid admirers: Edgardo, Rodolfo, and Roméo. At the time, he could do no wrong. Even if the Donizetti and Gounod works were regarded by the critics as old-fashioned and nonsensical (Wagnerism was slowly gaining ground in Madrid as well), the presence of Anselmi in those works was enough to grant them a new lease of life and justify their revivals. From Madrid he left for Russia and there he sang at Moscow and Saint Petersburg before embarking for South America where he stayed for a long season at the Teatro Colón (end of May to early September) singing a wide selection of his repertoire. Argentina celebrated the 100th anniversary of its independence and spared no expense to make the opera season an unforgettable experience. During a performance of Manon on 26 June, while Storchio and Anselmi were singing at the beginning of Act Two, a bomb exploded in the fourteenth row of the stalls. There was one fatal casualty and several people injured, the performance had to be suspended but the press reported the brave behavior of the tenor, who climbed down from the stage onto the stalls and helped people who had been injured. However, for the first time in his Buenos Aires appearances, he started to receive unfavorable reviews. The auditorium of the Colón was far larger than that of the old Teatro de la Ópera, which required a bigger effort from him to be heard and impaired the sweetness of his delivery. Besides, his fragile vocal instrument was affected by a persistent cold during the season which was noticed by the critics in several performances. Some criticisms were objective and fair, but others were simply dictated by pure cruelty (knowing that the singer would be quite sensitive to that kind of damning judgement). Once again, the autumn was spent in Milan and a final visit to the Fonotipia studios took place on 5 December 1910 (seven titles, six published). The year ended with a concert at Rome’s Augusteo Theatre before King Vittorio Emmanuele III and Queen Elena on 12 December, where he sang a selection of arias and songs and the duet of Barbiere with Giuseppe De Luca.
In January 1911, just as he had arrived in Madrid for his appearances at the Teatro Real, the news arrived that his father, Luigi Anselmi, had passed away in Naples. Despite the difficult personal circumstances, he did not cancel his engagements and went on to sing in Tosca, Manon, and Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. The critics said he was in better voice than in the previous year and that his interpretation of Cavaradossi and Roméo had reached new heights. While in a car ride at the outskirts of Madrid, he and his wife had a minor accident in which she received some light injuries. That same night he sang his second Tosca of the season without anyone noticing what had happened a few hours earlier. He then left for Brussels, where he appeared in three performances of Tosca at La Monnaie Theatre in early March and arrived finally in Rome for the Exhibition celebrating the fifty years of Italian Unity. Among the festivities, a major opera season was held at the Costanzi Theatre to which Anselmi contributed with four performances of Elvino in La Sonnambula with Rosina Storchio as Amina (26 and 30 March, and 1 and 4 April).
The critic of Il Messaggero praised his artistry and underlined the impression he caused in the audience with his doleful tone in the phrase “Voglia il cielo che il duol ch’io sento tu provar non debba mai” in the ensemble D’un pensiero as the highlight of his performance. For the remainder of 1911 there is no activity registered although it was reported during the following months that he was negotiating again a contract to sing in the United States and that the Edison company was trying to obtain his services as a singer as well as those of Alessandro Bonci, both the main tenors in Fonotipia’s roster, as a way to compete with Victor who had Caruso as its main tenor star. He also gave lessons in Milan to the Ukranian tenor, Arnoldo Georgevski, who had travelled all the way from Russia in order to study for a few weeks with the prestigious tenor before making his debut in Italy.
In the end, Edison succeeded and Anselmi left Fonotipia to make new records for the American company. It was agreed that in late 1912 eight titles would be recorded (the recordings actually took place in February 1913 owing to some adjustments that Edison made to the recording apparatus). In the meanwhile, Anselmi, who was to appear in Barcelona in December 1911 for the second time, had to cancel all his performances after he arrived in town and started the rehearsals owing to a persistent aphony which worsened and made the Madrid public fear for the scheduled performances there in January 1912. However, even though with some delay to allow the singer to fully recover, Anselmi finally arrived in Madrid and sang there Tosca and Werther in late January and early February. The reviews were still exceedingly good but it was regretted that he had just sung a handful performances and one of them was Werther, an opera which, though he was sublime as the troubled lover, was not appreciated by the public.
A season in Russia (Odessa) in the spring was followed by a long season at the Colón in Buenos Aires from June to the end of August where he sang with a young and promising soprano, Lucrezia Bori: Manon, Don Pasquale, La bohème, Rigoletto, and Roméo. The conductor of that season was Arturo Toscanini, who knew well Anselmi from prior experiences in Milan and other cities. Until then, the relationship between conductor and singer had been quite correct. However, during the rehearsals of Manon, a discrepancy over the diminuendo that Anselmi liked to insert in the phrase “io rivedrò mio padre” led to a serious row. Toscanini insisted that the phrase be sung as written in the score. Anselmi refused to forsake one of those “magical effects” which brought audiences to his feet. Toscanini then walked out of the performances and left Bernardino Molinari to conduct that opera. Eventually, Bori managed to establish a truce between conductor and tenor. During the season the reviews were mixed. In the lighter roles he continued to be regarded as unassailable but heavier roles were proving too taxing for the singer and that led to rumors about his health again.
The end of 1912 was spent in Milan, preparing for his new commitment with Edison and resting his voice. The Edison recordings were made in London in late January or early February 1913. That meant that he was not announced to appear in Madrid for the 1912–1913 season. All hell broke loose. Rumors started to spread in town as no news reached Madrid of these recording sessions in London which could have explained the matter quite clearly. The lack of taste of a new impresario who did not appreciate Anselmi’s artistry was pointed out as the reason for his absence, other rumors blamed that same impresario for preferring Ruffo to Anselmi and for not being willing to pay for both artists. Then, the great Spanish writer Emilia (Countess of) Pardo-Bazán (1851–1921) in her fortnightly column in La Ilustración Artística in March 1913, dropped a bomb:
The most saddening news are being spread about the sovereigns of our stage: Titta Ruffo and Anselmi. [For the record: of Ruffo it was said that he was going deaf and would retire within that year] Of the delicate Des Grieux, of the fascinating Cavalier Cavaradossi it is whispered that he has been stricken by the most poetic but not the least cruel of all ailments; that he suffers from consumption. It cannot be true! I do hope that the many resources available to science today which defend the life of a rich man, who can change climates and follow medical plans, do overcome the insidious disease. We would not want to be condemned never to hear again the magical Oh, Manon in which tears seemed to overflow within the sweetest expression issued from a human throat. There are so many gentlemen around who only manage to bore the public, there are so many “belters” on stage that well could the bug spare Anselmi and strike instead any of the enemies of our happiness […].
Despite the unsubstantiated rumors of a serious illness, by 1913, Anselmi, as the contemporary photos show, had put on some weight and, if anything, had changed his handsome looks of former times for a flabbier and blander appearance also reflected in a somewhat sugary and mannered demeanor on stage. This was also mentioned in contemporary reviews and in the memoirs of the Russian baritone Sergei Y. Levik, who sang with Anselmi and heard him often in Russia. However, the Edison records of 1913 do not show any sign of marked vocal decline and, in fact, in some ways represent an improvement on the Fonotipias of 1907–1910 as far as the sound of his recorded voice goes. After the recording sessions for Edison, Anselmi left for Saint Petersburg, where he even added a new opera to his repertoire, Ivanov’s Zabava Putyatishna (Principessa Zabawa in Italian) as a token of his affection for the Russian public. In May he was in Buenos Aires for the 1913 season, which was going to be his last at the Colón. The company included such illustrious names as Maria Barrientos, Riccardo Stracciari and Luigi Montesanto. The main conductor was now Mancinelli, so this time he would not have to put up with Toscanini’s foibles. A new tenor was now sharing some of his roles: his name, Tito Schipa. Again the autumn of 1913 was spent resting in Milan, where he could enjoy the recently inaugurated Museo Teatrale at La Scala to which he had financially contributed, while his eagerly anticipated return to Madrid finally materialized in late December and early January with Rigoletto, Manon, and Tosca. Galli Curci sang with him in the earlier and Rosina Storchio in the latter two. The reviews were again excellent and he left for Moscow where in March and early April he sang at the Zimina Theatre Manon, Rigoletto, Pescatori di Perle, Roméo, and Werther, in all but the last one partnered by Giuseppina Finzi-Magrini.
After the Moscow season he was due to travel to London, probably to fulfill recording commitments with Edison as no trace of scheduled performances or concerts has been found. He still had one record to remake from his previous contract and had signed a new contract to record in the next four years ten records per year, a total of forty new records, which were never to be made. Instead, he left for Milan, where he took time off to rest his voice and supervise the works of his luxurious new residence at via G. Bocaccio, 18, in a fashionable district close to Cadorna Station. The house was “the envy of a prince” as reported in the July 1914 issue of Il Corriere del Teatro. One can speculate that his not going to London in the spring of 1914 as scheduled, and later the start of First World War, made it impossible for him to fulfill his agreement with Edison, which explains Edison’s resentment with the singer a few years later.
From the summer of 1914 until January 1916 there are no activities reported, as though he had vanished. Probably he felt quite comfortable in his new house; the start of the war also meant that in most countries operatic activity came to a halt, though not in Spain, which remained neutral. News about his health started to circulate as well as rumors of a botched operation on his throat which only worsened his vocal condition. Italy entered the war in May 1915 and Anselmi was mobilized. At thirty-eight years of age, he was no candidate for the trenches and in fact was sent to the Supply and Staff Section of the Italian Army, based in Milan. Nevertheless, in January 1916 he was granted a temporary license of three months to fulfill some engagements in Spain. He appeared at Valencia’s Teatro Principal in January and at his beloved Teatro Real in February and March 1916. There he sang Manon with Geneviève Vix, Pescatori di Perle with Mercedes Farri and the debutant baritone Luis Almodovar, and Tosca, with Maria Llácer in the title role and the Spoletta of a very young Antonio Cortis. For the first time not all reviews were favorable, some of them indicating stage fright at the beginning of performances until he had warmed up, difficulty with top notes and over-cautiousness in the most trying excerpts. He was even heckled during the second Manon of the season (19 February) when a solitary whistle from the high amphitheater after he cracked on a note was joined by many in the audience, something unimaginable just two years earlier. Again Emilia Pardo Bazán referred to Anselmi in her column in La Ilustración Artística (March 1916) in the following terms:
Anselmi, while I am writing these lines, may be singing at the Real his swan song, because, according to some reports, he suffers from an illness which has impaired his once prodigious faculties, and the effort he has to make to sing forth those magical notes which electrified the audience, is now visible and harmful for the illness itself. If this awful news (not so new anymore) is confirmed, maybe Anselmi’s farewell performance this season may be his true farewell from us. May God forbid it! In Tosca and Manon Anselmi has given us many gratifying moments. He is still young, and surely he would have many triumphant years ahead left!
After his return to Italy, even though Amalia travelled to Madrid as always and both tried to give the customary image of a happy couple in interviews and photographs, his marriage with her broke up. He was almost forty and had wanted to be a father for some time. His wife, now forty-five, had never wanted to oblige and preferred instead to follow him everywhere; now, his career seemed to be ending and she no longer felt she had to tie herself to a singer whose career seemed to be in the doldrums. Eventually, they separated at the end of 1916 (there was no divorce in Italy at the time) but not on friendly terms. She obtained a large alimony and would keep on demanding money from him until 1924. In the meanwhile, Anselmi was back in the Army and early in 1917 circulated a photograph wearing the uniform and smoking a cigarette, so that his Spanish admirers knew of his whereabouts, and no one dared to spread malicious rumors about the cause of his absence from the stage. At the end of 1917, in an effort to bolster the country’s cultural prestige and as a means to receive foreign currency remittances, the Italian military authorities granted temporary licenses to singers like Anselmi and De Muro (who was serving in the Red Cross) so that they could travel abroad and sing. Anselmi returned to the Teatro Real on 26 January 1918 in Pescatori di Perle with Farri and Crabbé, Tosca with Gall and Ofelia Nieto alternating and Journet as Scarpia, and Manon with Ninon Vallin and Crabbé. He also sang at Schipa’s Benefit, in several concerts, and his final appearance in an opera in Madrid was to be as Canio in a benefit performance of I Pagliacci on 5 March with Vallin and Crabbé. At this time, though his voice was clearly on the wane, there was still talk of future appearances in the 1919 season. De Muro had been the toast of the season but still Anselmi retained the love and affection of most of his admirers. At the end of February, he received the news that his military license had been made indefinite to the delight of the public. Now he could remain in Spain for as long as he wished.
He then made plans to join a touring opera company, led by soprano impresario Blanca Drymma and in which Tito Schipa also took part as leading tenor, so that his art could be appreciated throughout Spain. He was also invited to sing in Barcelona and, now that he travelled on his own after his separation, he occupied most of his spare time in March 1918 socializing with his Spanish friends and enjoying Madrid’s cultural life: he was reported attending several violin and orchestral concerts and also the Madrid premiere of Usandizaga’s posthumous work La Llama on which he expressed a favorable opinion. The tour, which was not advertised as a farewell Anselmi tour, started on 1 April in Seville. Afterwards, he left the company for a few weeks and headed for Barcelona where he sang at the Liceu three performances of Tosca with Mazzoleni and Rossi-Morelli. The reviews were quite negative. The critic of Barcelona’s La Vanguardia, where ten years earlier he had been hailed as a wonder, wrote:
Anselmi is no longer what he was, and he was never a marvel. He had, of course, a delicious half-voice, which he has not got anymore. Even as the other night he was hailed by his stalwarts for the way he sang Tosca’s third act aria. A tenor of arias and very short repertoire, Anselmi made his career with only two or three operas. He is the genuinely operatic artist of the childish behaviour, of the ridiculous attitudes, which are only tolerated when the virtuosity of the singer makes one forget the flaws of the actor. The audience observed this time that the singer was in decline and that the actor, more mannered than ever by the eagerness to compensate with gestures the shortcomings of the voice, had an exaggerated and shocking stage mobility. In the first and second acts, the discontented audience protested with strong hisses and some furiously hostile roar was heard. Anselmi had sung badly in the first act romanza and in the duet with Tosca; then, in the second act, he also failed to satisfy the public. But the third act came, and with it the easy aria that so many triumphs has earned him in his career. He got a standing ovation, timely provoked by the claque. He encored it, and it was no longer so effusively applauded. (17 April 1918)
The tour was resumed in Andalucía and during May and June he sang in Cádiz, Málaga, and Granada. As the tour was scheduled to continue after the summer in the northern provinces, he travelled to La Coruña where in the fresh and rainy Galician weather he spent the month of July. In August and September he sang in Santander, Bilbao, Oviedo, and San Sebastián, his performances being attended often by the Spanish Royal Family. The King and Queen had always esteemed the tenor and the whole family, accompanied by the Court, spent the summer months in several cities in Northern Spain, fleeing the heat of Madrid. The operas he sang during the tour were just Manon and Tosca, though in Santander he also added a final Bohème. A fair appraisal of his vocal state at the time can be found in the reviews of Tosca in San Sebastián where we can read that:
After act one, an icy silence invaded the auditorium. Had Anselmi sung badly? No. It just was that those who heard him before his throat operation still remembered the star tenor of the Real in the early 1910s and those who only knew him from the press found an Anselmi who sings exquisitely but with few faculties left. That is the truth, simple and fair. (La Voz de Guipuzcoa, 17 September 1918)
But the voice we heard last night, is it the voice of ten years ago? No, it isn’t, but then it is not another voice either. It is the melodious and sweet echo, but an echo after all, of that voice which ten years ago delighted us as if descending from heaven. (La Información, 17 September 1918)
In October, the influenza epidemic cut short the tour and he returned to Madrid for two final concerts at the Teatro del Centro (now Teatro Calderón), which took place on 18 and 20 November 1918. He shared the stage with the Madrid Philharmonic Orchestra, soprano Maria Llácer and a young promising pianist, who had been taking lessons from Anselmi, Miss Santiberia. Both concerts were great successes and the programs offered make interesting reading. The first one was devoted to the Classics and Lied. Anselmi sang Mozart’s “Un’aura amorosa”, Carissimi’s “Piangete o aure”, Schumann’s “Canzone della sera” (from Dante, Op. 85), Mozart’s “Il mio tesoro”, Schumann’s “Alla primavera” (Op. 79, No. 4), D. Scarlatti’s “Siciliana” (Consolati e spera), Pergolesi’s “Nina”, and Beethoven’s “Adelaide”. In the second concert, devoted to Opera and Songs, the pieces sung by Anselmi were: “Quando le sere al placido” from Luisa Miller, “Come al sol cocente” from Paderewski’s Manru, Fountenaille’s “Doucement”, Denza’s “Pourquoi tardez vous?”, Tchaikovsky’s “Ad Olga” (most likely one of Lensky’s arias from Eugene Onegin), Handel’s “Ruscello” (“Va godendo” from Serse), Grieg’s “Je t’aime”, and Donizetti’s barcarola “Or che in cielo”. With these two concerts ended the career of Giuseppe Anselmi as a singer. At the time no one knew it, probably, not even himself. On that same day, the 1918–1919 season of Teatro Real was announced and Anselmi’s name was not on the roster.
During the tournée and after the failure of his marriage, he toyed with the idea of settling in Madrid, where he was surrounded by friends and admirers and eventually starting an academy there when he retired. However, he found the Madrid winters too cold and, once the war was finally over and it was clear that he was not going to take part in the next season of the Teatro Real, he returned to Italy, earlier than expected, in December 1918. There, looking for rest and trying to escape the flu epidemic in Milan he spent several months at Lake Garda reflecting on whether he wanted to continue with his singing career or change course. Even though Anselmi had found a repertoire where he could still shine and the concert formula he had tried in Madrid proved quite successful, he decided that he no longer was in good enough vocal and health condition to continue a successful career in opera. The wizard had lost his magic and could no longer dazzle the public as he used to without resorting to cheap tricks unworthy of his musical standards. Song and aria concerts were a poor substitute for the thrill of a performance and, being a sensitive person, he felt terribly mortified by the cruel behavior of some critics and members of the public. In the end, he decided he could no longer endure the tension of being continuously in a state of anxiety, dreading that his voice might falter unexpectedly at any time. At forty-two, and despite the alimony paid to his wife, he had enough savings to sustain himself comfortably. He also had many interests in life beyond singing, some of which could also be a source of future income. So, looking for a place with mild winters, close to the sea and to a major transport hub like Genova, he found Villa La Paccianella, which he bought to be his new residence. There, among olive and pine trees, overlooking the coastline, he settled, away from Amalia and Milan’s insalubrious climate, and started a new career and a new life.
A NEW CAREER AND FINAL YEARS
With the help of his trusted friend and solicitor, Alfredo Foligno, Anselmi bought the villa at Zoagli, near Rapallo and set up there the “Istituto Giuseppe Anselmi”, an international academy for pupils of singing, violin and piano. Foligno also acted as investment advisor and made sure that Anselmi had a stable flow of income during his retirement. In late 1919 or early 1920, the tenor-turned-teacher started to receive his first pupils, mostly from countries where he had been a famous singer (Poland, Russia, Argentina, and Spain), attracted by the fame of the master. It was at this time that he met an eighteen-year-old beauty, Emilia Bandelloni (1901–1975), with whom he fell in love (“good and generous, the purest flower that I have owned in my life”, in Anselmi’s own words). Meanwhile, the former Signora Anselmi made news in Milan in February 1921 when her luxurious apartment was burgled and a staggering 200,000 lire in valuables disappeared. Emilia, on the other hand, would soon make Anselmi’s wish to be a father a reality.
On 16 June 1921, Emilia gave birth to a baby boy, who was named Mario Alfredo Luigi after Mario Cavaradossi (his favorite role), Alfredo (after his friend Alfredo Foligno), and Luigi, after Anselmi’s father. Family life and his teaching and composing kept Anselmi occupied during the following years. In 1923 on the advice of Foligno, he asked Edison to remake the pending record from the 1913 session, which would imply he had some voice left, or settle on an amount for the termination of the agreement. Anselmi was still owed $2,000 if he remade the record. Edison did not even bother to reply to Anselmi’s courteous letter and wrote the famous “No reply, treated me dirty” instruction at the margin. At the end of 1924 and worried about the future of his young wife and little son, Anselmi, again acting on Foligno’s advice, tried to arrive to a settlement with his first wife whereby she received a final payment of 120,000 lire to disappear from his life—she would die in San Remo in June 1943. Once Amalia Sciacca was out of the picture—though she continued to be his lawful wife in Italy until her death—Anselmi married Emilia in a church ceremony in early 1925—a “conscience marriage” as it had no legal validity in Italy at the time—and wrote his will taking care of Emilia and the child, something quite prudent and understandable given his personal circumstances but which could also indicate that he may not have been in the best of health by then. Soon afterwards, his friend Luis París (former stage manager of the Teatro Real, then head of the new Museo del Teatro Real inaugurated in 1924), wrote to Anselmi asking for a souvenir of his for the collection of the museum. Anselmi answered at once. Upon his death his heart would be sent to Spain and exhibited at the Museum next to the bust of the divine Gayarre. He modified his will in June 1925 and added a codicil specifically addressing this question so that there were no doubts on how to proceed. He had previously indicated that his body be cremated and therefore the heart had to be removed beforehand to give full satisfaction to his wishes.
In 1926, upon the request of the Associazione dei Combattenti, Anselmi organized a charity concert at the Teatro Reale of Rapallo to raise funds for the former soldiers and serve as the showcase of the talent of the pupils of his academy. A contemporary photograph shows a somewhat aged Anselmi in his living room holding his violin and surrounded by souvenirs of his career. The program, consisting mainly of operatic arias and songs, was announced. Anselmi would accompany his pupils at the piano—in this case Polish soprano Anna Sinkowa, Austrian baritone Hans Till, and Spanish tenor Pio Ulecia. Anselmi also took part as a soloist choosing instead to play the violin. This was done in all likelihood to avoid the expectation that his singing might arise and to avoid upstaging his pupils.
The concert took place on 20 February 1926 and the review, which appeared in the local journal Il Mare on 27 February, remarked the success of the whole concert and, namely of the teacher, both through the voice and artistry of his pupils but also as a violinist in works like Bach’s Air on the G string, Saint-Saëns’s Rondo Capriccioso, Sgambati’s Andante Cantabile, a melody by Tchaikovski, and Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen. A few weeks later, the tenor Roberto d’Alessio spent some time at Anselmi’s institute to receive some coaching for his forthcoming debut at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, one of the stages which had witnessed Anselmi’s greatest triumphs. Despite his gifts as a musician, none of Anselmi’s known pupils, with the exception of Roberto D’Alessio and Arnoldo Georgevski, seems to have had a relevant musical career.
Life continued to flow quietly at Zoagli with music and family being his main interests, but in May 1929 he fell seriously ill. A bout of pneumonia in the left lung was diagnosed and, as stated in his death certificate, on 27 May 1929, at 11 pm, Commendatore Giuseppe Anselmi, music teacher, aged fifty-two and husband of Amalia Sciacca, died. The news of his death was reported in the press in the following days, especially in countries where he had been quite famous, like Spain, and the story of the donation of his heart to the Teatro Real Museum was made widely known.
After his death, the heart was removed, preserved in a jar containing alcohol and handed in Genova to the envoy of the King of Spain, the Marquis of Villaviciosa, who took charge of the relic and which was sent to Spain in the custody of one of Anselmi’s pupils, the Spanish tenor José Riera. Anselmi’s body could not be cremated as directed in his will, probably owing to the lack of proper facilities and to the prevalent sentiment at the time in a Catholic country like Italy. Instead, he was buried at the Central cemetery in Rapallo, where he remains to this day, together with his beloved Emilia, and not in Catania’s Cathedral as is often wrongly quoted. Emilia and little Mario left Zoagli in 1932 and moved to Genova, where the boy could attend higher education as had been his parents’ wish. In the meanwhile, Anselmi’s heart, after almost two years of custody at the Anthropology Museum in Madrid, where it was properly desiccated by the reputed Dr. Cortezo, was finally handed to Luis París in 1931 after many bureaucratic hurdles. By then, the Teatro Real was closed and threatening ruin as its foundations had been weakened by underground water streams and the works of Line 2 of the Madrid Underground.
Luis París left the jar in the theater waiting for better times and died in 1936. He was succeeded by Fernando José de Larra as Head of the Museum. The Teatro Real was used as an ammunition deposit during the Spanish Civil War and soon after the end of the war (1939), an explosion further damaged the building. Fernando José de Larra then tried to save what he could from the debris. During his search he managed to find the broken jar and not far from there a shrunken organ still recognizable from the aorta as a heart. The heart was taken then to the newly established Museo del Teatro and kept, according to expert advice, in a dry state in a gilded silver and blue enamel little coffer, next to the bust of the divine Gayarre but far from the Teatro Real, which would have to wait until 1966 to open its doors as a concert hall and then until 1997 to be again an opera house. Anselmi’s heart followed the successive changes of location of the Museum through the years 1951 to the late 1980s when finally, the collection was sent to the Museo Nacional del Teatro de Almagro, created in 1989, and housed at the impressive Palaces of the Masters of Calatrava, where it was displayed with the full honors that historic circumstances had prevented until then.
In April 1994, a deeply moved Mario Bandelloni-Anselmi (1921–2002), the tenor’s son, was able to visit the Museum and see his father’s heart almost sixty-five years after his demise. There, some 200 kilometers south of Madrid, in the town of Almagro, one of the historical cradles of Spanish theater and where a prestigious summer classical theater festival is held every year in a beautifully preserved seventeenth-century theater, the “Corral de Comedias”, next to a copy of Anselmi’s bust made by Mariano Benlliure, lies now that heart on which the words “Spain, Faith, Gratitude and Love” are etched, as Anselmi wrote to his friend Luis París.
The figure of Anselmi is nowadays still mainly remembered by record collectors all over the world, though in his native Sicily the Town Council of his birthplace, Nicolosi, dedicated a street and a local park to him and, in nearby Catania, the Società Catanese Amici della Musica currently honors their illustrious countryman with the International Prize for high artistic merits ‘’Giuseppe Anselmi—Una vita per la musica’’.
LETTER OF ANSELMI TO LUIS PARÍS DONATING HIS HEART
GIUSEPPE ANSELMI AS COMPOSER. HIS WORKS.
Thanks to the invaluable help of the tenor’s grandson, Sig. Giuseppe Bandelloni, it has been possible to list almost all of Anselmi’s published or known compositions, some of which (songs) he recorded for Fonotipia in 1908–1910. Though Anselmi often boasted about having “more than one hundred compositions to my name” (his words), the number would appear to be smaller, arriving at Op. 22, but nevertheless quite impressive for a non-professional composer. Anselmi’s compositions include a variety of forms, vocal, instrumental and orchestral and from the limited exposure that we have had to his music, they show a composer with a remarkable technical knowledge of music, a well-trained musician specially as regards the playing of the violin and piano. The compositions themselves may not be of outstanding inspiration but they are worthy examples of the Italian style and music at the start of the twentieth century. Of special interest, beyond the vocal pieces reproduced in this set, are the violin compositions, which show his famous virtuosity on the instrument as well as his prowess as piano player in the accompaniment provided thereto. Compositions recorded by the tenor are marked with an asterisk after the Op. number. The published scores were printed in Kiev by Tchokoloff just before World War I.
-Op. 1. La Primavera (Romanza per tenore). Words by G. Anselmi. Dated 1898.
-Op. 2. No. 1* Pater Noster. Words by G. Anselmi.
-Op. 2. No. 2* Serenata. Words by G. Anselmi.
-Op. 3. Sonata Drammatica: Part 1 Adagio melanconico. Part 2 Allegro di concerto.
-Op. 4. Impromptu per violino (with piano accompaniment).
-Op. 5. Polonaise de Concert.
-Op. 6. Suite Fantastica (Poema Sinfonico Orchestrale) No. 1 Ruscelletto, No. 2 Racconto della nonna (minuetto), No. 3 Farfallette amorose, No. 4 Gioia Satanica.
-Op. 8.* Su l’Oceano (Serenata). Words by F. Corradetti.
-Op. 9. Nerone (Poema Romantico Orchestrale).
-Op. 12. No. 1 Autunno (Poema Sinfonico Orchestrale).
-Op. 12. No. 2 Inverno (Poema Sinfonico Orchestrale).
-Op. 13. No. 1 Marcia funebre orientale (Scherzo per grande orchestra).
-Op. 15. Notturno amoroso per violino e pianoforte.
-Op. 17. No. 1* La Villanella. Words by G. Anselmi
-Op. 18. No. 1* L’Infinito. Words by G. Leopardi
-Op. 18. No. 2* Beatrice. Words by D. Alighieri
-Op. 19. La Leggenda degli amanti (Poemetto intimo).
-Op. 20. Gran Quartetto d’archi – Adagio (String Quartet).
-Op. 21. No. 1* Nouvelle Chanson. Words by V. Hugo
-Op. 21. No. 3* Contemplation. Words by V. Hugo
-Op. 21. No. 4* A une femme. Words by V. Hugo
-Op. 22. Le Parfum de Mayolette (petite histoire amoreuse).
Besides Giuseppe Bandelloni, the following persons are thanked for their collaboration. Without their assistance it would not have been possible to discover many details regarding the life and career of the singer hitherto unknown: Sig. Carmelo Neri (Motta Santa Anastasia, Sicily), Sig. Marco Raso (Zoagli), Avv. Maurizio Pozzi and Dott. Sara Soulou (Milan) and Dª. Maria Teresa del Pozo Arroyo (Spain’s Ministry of Culture and Sports). Likewise, this article would not have been possible without the original work by Clifford Williams and Larry Lustig in The Record Collector (Vol. 32, Nos. 3–5, 1987) to which the author of these pages, then still a teenager, was a modest contributor.
ANSELMI ON RECORDS
by William Crutchfield, ©2022
Few recording virgins have announced their merits so quickly and excitingly as Giuseppe Anselmi did in the Milan studios of Fonotipia on an April day in 1907. The very first note he committed to wax was a high A-flat of ravishing quality, full but sweet, on a pure yet non-strident Italian “i”—the kind of note that sails out into the theater and creates instant delight.
The phrase is “Ci volea questa mania / i miei piani a rovesciar,” Ernesto’s outburst after Don Pasquale declares him disinherited [CD 1/1]. A rough translation is “just the craziness I needed to wreck my plans,” and it forms the bridge from the lively argument between uncle and nephew to the poor lad’s lament for his lost dream of marriage to Norina. Donizetti was a master of economy; all it takes is the sudden minor chord, the plaintive cry of the tenor’s high-register attack, a slow walk down the scale and part way back, an answering sigh from violas and cellos, and we are in the privacy of Ernesto’s heart for the beautiful cantabile that follows. But, of course, the composer was counting on the singer—he knew he could—to sense what was latent in these simple devices and render it with beauty and feeling. This Anselmi does with the kind of art that makes the memorable stand out among the satisfactory.
Some of the ways he accomplishes it will be the steady companions of anyone taking the journey through the tenor’s long list of records, as this Marston edition makes possible for the first time. Start with the descending scale: it is written in plain eighth-notes, but for Anselmi the plain eighth-note barely exists. The old idea of notes inégales, usually long-short pairs, is associated in modern musicians’ minds with the baroque era, but it was still fully alive in 1907—not just for this singer, and not just for singers. Anselmi shows how it can give a simple series truly infinite varieties of pace and shape. (Later he sometimes shows how equal lengths can serve their own expressive purpose—but as an exception, never the default.)
The landing-point is a melancholy shading on the word “mania”—not (or no longer) protesting the craziness, but instead yielding to the disappointment it has forced. Just before that comes a tiny spontaneous ornament, in this case an acciaccatura, the Italian term for the short decorations English-speakers call “grace notes.” Incidental ornamentation is something we will hear in practically every Anselmi record—in greater or lesser amounts according to the nature of the material, and always his own ornaments, not rote repetitions of someone else’s.
The line then tries to rise again but resigns itself into a falling curve, and the singer delivers this with a beautiful diminuendo over the course of eleven notes. Not a mechanically exact one, just a dramatic idea carried out through modulation of volume and coherently sustained through a long line. This is rarer than one might think. Many singers of those days could make a stunning diminuendo on a single note, and Anselmi at his best is right up there with the communal best—but many of the others can be somewhat careless about how they bring it home (i.e. sometimes with a bump on the next note that undermines what they have just done), and few have the combination of imagination and capacity to distribute such a gesture so naturally over so long a span.
Indeed this whole opening, this simple pair of versi ottonari, is felt as character action; if one wants a visual analogy, all the energy and frustration of the previous argument are balled up into the high attack as into a fist, but as Ernesto concedes to himself that his uncle holds the power and may truly have ruined the plan, the hand softens, opens, and is lowered. Anselmi had his problems—we will get to those—but he never fails to think in phrases, and never fails to inhabit a character in a situation. Those two things give his music-making uncommon appeal and set him apart even in a generation well-versed in his other skills.
So far we have described the first twenty-seven seconds of his first record. He made well over a hundred (119 sides have survived to be included in this edition), all within a six-year period that corresponds roughly to the middle third of his short operatic career. That career is detailed in the biographical note by Francisco Segalerva, bringing to light many hitherto unreported facts and previously untranslated accounts. What I will try to describe is why Anselmi is a must-hear singer for so many devotees of historical records, why it is rewarding to hear him in toto and not just in a few highlights, and why at the same time he has never quite become the “point of reference” that several tenor compatriots recording in the same years (Caruso, De Lucia, Zenatello, Bonci) have been in their different ways.
His early admirers certainly experienced him as one. As Mr. Segalerva’s article makes clear, Anselmi created a sort of delirium wherever he sang in the first years of his career, and the Fonotipia records make it easy to understand why. Already within that first disc we began to describe most of the details that add up to make him so appealing can be heard. The way he can use the turn or gruppetto (“that noblest among ornaments” said the composer Alberto Mazzucato in 1842) either as a quick flicker enlivening the line (just before the cadenza and again during it) or as a spacious adornment clothing a larger limb of the melody (at “solo per te, ben mio,” followed by a perfect diminuendo). The utterly natural way of arriving at certain notes before the beat (“caduto in basso stato”), which lets the music flow forward without having to be driven or pressed. The chiseled elegance of his pronunciation, which is a joy in itself with its limpid voiced consonants and the sheer relish he seems to feel for reciting verse (Anselmi recorded many Italian texts I have never seen on a page, but not one in which I have trouble understanding his every word). And then there is pure magic in the way he can slow down an approach, making the arrival more delicious with each millisecond it is delayed, as when he comes to the last sustained high utterance of “cara” (about two-and-a-quarter minutes into the record—but it would have come near the two-minute mark without Anselmi’s boldly expert postponement).
We also hear that he will not be scrupulous about legato; several lines that would have sounded better with smooth connections are interrupted instead with little aspirations or quasi-aspirated accents. And in the upper range the tone is not unfailingly pure; sometimes a slight scratchiness intrudes, and we are reminded that we heard him quietly trying to clear his throat during the instrumental music before “Sogno soave.” But overall the solo is both musically and vocally beautiful, and so perfectly expressive of Ernesto’s feelings that if we know the story we are drawn into it anew and with complete sympathy. If you love opera, you have to love a singer who can do that for you in a familiar piece.
The second record shows how he announced himself in one of his most frequent and appreciated roles, the Duke of Mantua [CD 1/2]. Nothing very hard to sing in “Questa o quella”—any respectable tenor can get through it, and probably catch something of its brio—but Anselmi moves “brio” to a higher plane, teasing the public with his sunny tone and lingering shadings, shooting his little turns and grace notes like Cupid’s arrows, using his non-metronomic rhythms and his verve as a reciter to make us actually attend to the verses (for me, just the way he says “detestiamo” is worth the whole record). There are some more scratchy high notes—all of them, actually—but fans settling in for a performance of Rigoletto would be congratulating themselves, knowing that they would spend the evening with a real personality in the role of the charismatic, rapacious anti-hero.
The third side is a surprise from a tenor remembered as a jeune premier and perhaps a bit of a dandy. It is a slow-firing but eventually red-hot “Vesti la giubba,” remarkably independent of the traditions already formed around this then fifteen-year-old scena [CD 1/3]. He seems actually to be asking the question, not presupposing its answer, in the recitative: how will it feel to go out there and perform when he is too confused to know what he’s saying or doing? When he says “and if Harlequin carries off your Columbine,” he’s past the usual bitter or sarcastic inflections; the way he pronounces her name sounds as though he loves her. It’s also impressive vocally: the long F-sharp on “dolor” deepens as it crescendos; the climactic A-naturals are taken securely and excitingly in a single breath. The breaths, when they come, are grabbed rapidly and the succeeding phrases attacked precipitously. Again, local details are at the service of shaping in long spans: once he starts a buildup, he keeps building until it’s done. When it is done, the final lines are expertly softened without loss of intensity. (A similarly thrilling buildup from a depressed, almost passive start will be found later in “Ah, Manon, mi tradisce il tuo folle pensier”).
One could go on like this about nearly all the 119 sides. The sixth and seventh, two takes of Des Grieux’s dream aria with which Anselmi regularly stopped the show, have some of the most gorgeous pronunciation you will ever hear before he even leaves the middle A on which the first sentence is intoned, and if the full-voiced high A is again a little uncomfortable, the soft one he adds near the end makes one understand why audiences could never let it go without hearing the aria at least once more [CD 1/6–7]. The eighth, probably his most celebrated record, is an account of “Quando le sere al placido” from Luisa Miller with one of those heart-stopping delays in the first cadence [CD 1/8].
The ninth record, Don Ottavio’s “Il mio tesoro,” takes some getting used to for listeners accustomed to Mozart without ritards and accelerations, but it has another demonstration of how expressive and various the addition of gruppetti might be, and the tempo inflections are persuasive enough at least to provoke some questions (exactly what is our basis for supposing that Mozart wouldn’t have done this sort of thing himself?) [CD 1/9]. The aria also discloses for the first time Anselmi’s nearly unmatched fluency in coloratura. This doesn’t feature in most summaries of his work, because he didn’t feature it all that often himself; agility was going out of style. But he commanded the real thing: his runs are quicker than almost anyone’s, yet completely unruffled and unlabored, utterly distinct as each note flits past, free from any suspicion of a “lightened” or compromised tonal quality. John McCormack’s famous record surpasses Anselmi’s in breath control and elegance of attack and release, but not in virtuosity.
A little farther along in the list, Anselmi added the super-intense recitative to go along with the Luisa Miller aria (the two sides were coupled on their double-sided issue, and are presented together on CD One here) [CD 1/8]. I am glad Anselmi recorded so many recitatives, and only wish he had done still more, because he was a master of recitar cantando. Alfredo’s scena has another of those beautifully graded, long-scale dynamic shapes in the lines from “qui presso a lei” to the end [CD 4/22]; Nadir’s from Les pêcheurs de perles is an unusually intense retracing of the emotional compulsion that has led him to the betrayal—he already names and feels it as one—that he is about to commit [CD 2/11].
The same gift informs any number of familiar arias whose conversational passages Anselmi makes fresh. One we have all heard so often that its emotional progressions can seem automatic is Rodolfo’s Narrative from La bohème [CD 2/4 and CD 3/7]. The transitional verses are worth a look here:
Chi son? Sono un poeta.
Who am I? A poet.
The first tercet is set over mostly block chords, and is usually given with matter-of-fact declaration, perhaps a touch of bravado. Then the orchestra steals in with what will blossom into a love-theme, and the lines about Rodolfo’s easy poverty are bound into the melodic continuum that takes us on to the climax of the aria. Perfectly sensible interpretation! But Anselmi does the opposite (especially in the rare early take reissued here for the first time). “E come vivo” is a question full of beguiling mystery. How does he live? Ah…the answer will be a murmur, beckoning into his dream-world with hints of luxury, lassitude and eros…he lives. Then the next phrase brings us back to earth with hearty jocularity, so that we have more terrain to cross before romantic passion surges forth. Is one interpretation better than another? Not the point; the point is that Anselmi feels for himself and finds his own way. We, like Mimì, are meeting someone new and fascinating.
We are still in 1907 here. Most of this first series (there would be ten sessions in all before the new year) present the kind of repertory an Italian tenor was expected to record—popular arias and Italian/Neapolitan songs—but already there are hints of an unusual musical curiosity that will take center stage later. The fourth session features two salon romances sung in their original Russian [CD 1/13–14]. I don’t know the language well enough to judge his delivery (“Ditele,” or “ ,” features the oddity of a first verse sung twice instead of proceeding to the second), but musically he seems as free and confident as on his home ground. Arias from Russian and Polish opera appear soon afterward, these in Italian translation. Lenski’s soliloquy is beautifully imagined at the start, though later manifestly rushed to finish within the time limit [CD 2/5]. The romanza from Paderewski’s Manru is a real gem, with bold rubato worthy of the pianist-composer himself (different in each of the two strophes), and the most seductive vocal inflections (plus a couple of intonation lapses that make one wish for a re-take) [CD 2/13]. Most unexpected of all, in the penultimate session of 1907, is an ambitious composition by the tenor himself; more on this later, as he would eventually record nine of them [CD 2/14].
Anselmi was a divo and not shy about defining his terms; this was generally known in relation to his high fees, but it’s also apparent he was worth enough to Fonotipia for the company to let him write his own exceptions to its policies. One is that he insisted on piano accompaniment, even though orchestral recordings had become the norm (the only exception being a trio of organ, piano, and violin, sounding rather impressive together in Anselmi’s own “Pater noster”) [CD 3/1]. Who knows why? Maybe he felt it would be more convenient to get a pianist to follow his rubatos than an unfamiliar band; maybe—having been a professional instrumentalist—he had a low opinion of the “orchestral” accompaniments he had heard thus far on other records. He also, alone among the firm’s artists at the time, recorded exclusively solos; there is no example of Anselmi sharing a disc with any other voice. But the most striking thing is the repertory, especially from 1908 onward. One need only consult the rest of the Fonotipia catalogue to realize that it was the tenor, not his employers, who wanted to bring out Lieder of Strauss and Mendelssohn; arias by Handel and Scarlatti; Italian songs in an aspirationally modern idiom by Mugnone and Mancinelli; Mozart beyond Don Giovanni; multiple songs in French.
Many of these rarities are vocally appealing. Anselmi shows in Così fan tutte that he was the only early Italian tenor besides Caruso able and willing to sing a good trill [CD 3/10]. Among his out-of-the-way arias is the “Pavana” from Mascagni’s Le maschere, with what may be the most virtuosic and charismatically shaped roulade ever recorded by an Italian tenor, De Lucia himself not excluded [CD 3/14]. It’s also an elegant piece of music that could well bear revival. So is a haunting song by Mugnone, “Spes, ultima dea,” that begins with a kind of monotone chant in the most appealing part of the tenor’s range, breaks eventually into a slow, mournful melody, and concludes with a startling moment of aggression on top A followed by the most exquisitely shaded cadence in long-sustained pianissimo notes [CD 5/5].
All four Mendelssohn songs are affectionately shaped. One of them (“Einmal aus seinen Blicken,” apparently a deleted number from Mendelssohn’s youthful Singspiel on an episode from Cervantes) gives a further example of Anselmi’s winningly liquid coloratura, and shows how it could function just as well at moderate as at high speed (something not to be taken for granted) [CD 4/17]. For another taste of the high-speed version and the fine sense of direction within it, there is Handel’s lively “Va godendo” from Serse [CD 4/13]. Gramegna’s “Gitana,” a somewhat overripe ode to a Roma girl’s attributes that we would now have to call egregious exoticization of “the other,” has in compensation some of Anselmi’s most secure and enthusiastic vocalism, exulting in its high-register declamatory freedom [CD 5/3]. (There is also a reminder of the sheer novelty of the recording process in its earliest years when he instructs the pianist aloud to play “largamente” at the end of the prelude.) Mancinelli’s “Desiderio” has another erotic poem I don’t especially need to hear again, but it is musically a very appealing souvenir of a conductor and composer whose role in his generation was important, and it ends with one of the tenor’s best B-flats [CD 4/12].
One of the best overall performances is Redento Zardo’s “Stornello mesto” [CD 3/5]. Has anyone seen a score? The text as recorded is the second half only of a poem in folk style by Saverio Nurisio (an aide and confidant to the kings of newly united Italy, Vittorio Emmanuele and Umberto). The whole poem was recorded by De Lucia in Augusto Rotoli’s setting as “Amor fa morire.” Zardo’s is of a more melancholy cast, and Anselmi sings it as though hypnotized, in a preternaturally even sostenuto of unbroken beauty.
Almost all these records were giving the consumer of 1907–1910 access to items simply unfindable elsewhere. The more conventional or familiar songs, though, should by no means be overlooked. My favorite for demonstrating the way Anselmi’s rhythmic flexibility could achieve melodic lift-off is Tosti’s “Malia” [CD 3/21]. The written line risks considerable monotony; there are 190 vocal notes, of which 166 are crotchets. It’s not just that Anselmi rarely gives any two of these the same length; it’s also that he reaches the downbeat together with his pianist only about twenty-five times out of sixty when the score seems to say they should coincide there. Anselmi would surely have laughed to imagine such crude arithmetical analysis of a style that seems as natural as breathing. But after this Fonotipia, the Philips recording by José Carreras—who could be a singer of some charm—sounds like a workhorse plodding along the track; by hitting his marks he misses the song.
The same composer’s “Seconda mattinata” was recorded quite appealingly by Bice Millilotti, Laura Mellerio, Maria Labia, and Emilio Renzi, but none of them approaches Anselmi’s sheer padronanza of the melody—the way, for instance, the little triplet figure is pure brilliance in the opening minor-key statement, but when the tempo broadens for the refrain in the major, the triplet itself broadens even more [CD 2/1]. Of course, “touches” don’t make a song; they are icing on the cake. But if the cake is already tasty the icing can be the element that makes it scrumptious.
Some of the more popular-sounding or folkloric songs bring out the tenor’s best touches. At the start of “Occhi turchini,” one might miss the middle-voice warmth and substance that Gigli or Pavarotti could supply more generously, but the sense of sheer love for the music and the fantasy in the wordless vocalized part of the refrain are inimitable in Anselmi’s record [CD 1/24]. “Scetate,” if one is at all drawn to wild-sounding Neapolitanisms (all those the raised fourths and lowered seconds), is another gem [CD 2/7]. I wish he had decided to sing along with the instrumental scales in the coda, as De Lucia did; Anselmi could have done that just as brilliantly, but still, his way with the tune is addictive.
I also wish he had not sprinkled the song with unnecessary “h” sounds where he could so easily have sung a smooth line. The recourse to aspirations should not be minimized. It represents not just an incidental generational style shift, but a substantive change in basic technique, in the way breath interacts with phonation. The classic ideal is for both to be under the minutest possible control and to adjust in tandem. For the voice to change pitch and dynamic at the singer’s will, while connecting notes smoothly or separating them in just the way and degree the imagination conceives, both the muscles of phonation and those controlling airflow must carry out their actions with well-practiced precision and with the kind of coordination that lets two expert partners dance as though guided by a single mind. The introduction of aspirates means the intrusion of puffs of breath that are not coordinated to the phonation but instead interruptive of it, leaving the actual emission of tone to take place at a grosser level of control.
An alternate manifestation of the same shift is a tendency for individual syllables to arrive with a little punch instead of being bound to one another in a line governed by evenly supplied breath pressure. Anselmi did this only occasionally, but in the following generation, with Gigli, Pertile, and several of their peers, it became just as habitual as the aspirates. In many of their records, the ordinary legato of Italian tradition has basically disappeared, replaced by an alternation between punchy/aspirated delivery and a syrupy exaggeration of “applied” legato that began to give portamento the bad name it still has in some musical circles. A natural complement of this was the deterioration of dynamic shading into an alternation between full forte and an under-supported, crooning piano. The forte might be thrilling and the crooning might be pretty, but musical phrasing and dynamics in the traditional sense are not well-served.
Gigli carried all this to the point of mannerism, especially in his later years; Ferruccio Tagliavini imitated him to a certain degree, and since then the manner has been in remission. But the classic, noble legato line has not really been restored in the realm of Italian tenorizing. Both Carlo Bergonzi and the younger Pavarotti are sometimes discussed as though they had done so, but this is valid only if the frame of reference goes no farther back than Gigli himself.
So from the standpoint of bel canto, Anselmi’s aspirates have to be counted a serious fault, and the fault occurs constantly. One has to make up one’s mind to overlook it to the extent possible. His poetic phrasing and active imagination make this easy much of the time, as Gigli’s glorious tone and lively expression would do in their turn—but it remains a blemish.
Another factor considered a blemish by some, but not by me, is a lack of musical accuracy in the sense understood by modern practitioners. Anselmi shares this with most Italians of his time and presents a particularly interesting example of it in light of his background. Here was a professionally employable violinist, a capable pianist, a more-than-competent composer, who sang like an “orecchiante” (the Italian word for people who pick up music by ear, perhaps or perhaps not with the right notes according to the page).
Sometimes this manifests itself in extreme freedom of rhythm, and at least some observers today are able to understand it as a valuable clue to “period performance practice.” Such an understanding is accurate: our Western system of musical notation specifies proportions in ratios of two or three, but this arithmetical reduction of sounds to symbols was never more than an approximation. The ear can locate events along an infinite spectrum between what we call an eighth note and a quarter note, and the idea that composers wished to put these intermediate locations out of bounds is absurd. (Another delightful example among many is the opening of Wilhelm Meister’s “Elle ne croyait pas,” where Anselmi’s reading of the familiar translation “Ah, non credevi tu” has all three syllables of “credevi” somewhere “in the cracks”) [CD 1/12].
But sometimes this singing “by ear” goes farther and includes outright wrong words and pitches. I admit to finding it occasionally irritating. Why, in “Cielo e mar,” did Anselmi unlearn the phrase “splende come un santo altar,” changing the fourth note from F to E-flat, between 1910 and 1913 [CD 4/10 and CD 5/9–10]? And yet, in the long view, it may have been wise for the operatic world of that era to tolerate such things in view of the benefits. I would rather hear the musical poetry of Anselmi than the dull sameness I am likely to encounter the next time I hear the aria in live performance, and if I could inspire some gifted young tenor to find a poetry of his own in “Cielo e mar,” that would be a more valuable contribution than correcting his errors of solfège.
Sometimes the irritants are errors not of solfège but of taste. It is hard to understand how an Italian could be sufficiently curious about German music to be drawn to Strauss’s Lieder, and at the same time so provincial as to consider “Morgen” faulty for want of a final high note [CD 4/19]. (The added note is beautiful, but did he really not grasp the beauty of the composer’s inconclusive conclusion?)
In the end, however, it is probably not flawed legato or musical waywardness that keep Anselmi somewhere to the side of center stage when we enumerate the exemplary artists of the past. A more fundamental problem is that we cannot quite trust his voice to do what he seems to intend. The sound I called “scratchy” in Ernesto’s solo is present in more of the Fonotipias than not, and sometimes more prominently. Italians often call such a sound “sporco” (dirty), which is harsh but fair: it has something extraneous on the surface that we would like to brush off to clean it, just as one wants to cough to clear away phlegm from the vocal tract. Anselmi can be heard doing this constantly during piano preludes and interludes. But phlegm, though it interferes with sound, is nature’s lubricant, produced by the body when it senses inflammation or a deficit of natural moisture, to prevent painful friction. If the throat is afflicted by phlegm as often as Anselmi’s seems to be, something is off-kilter. Being empathetic creatures, we tend to feel anxiety when we see or hear each other off-kilter, and that makes it hard to relax and enjoy during many of Anselmi’s records.
One can’t say for certain from recordings alone, but such persistent disturbances in the phonation usually mean that there is something physically wrong with the vocal equipment—something that prevents the vocal folds or “cords” from meeting one another freely and firmly along the whole length of the aperture through which air presses to create sound. This may be damage due to improper use, such as the generic “forcing” some early reviewers thought they detected in Anselmi—but that is not the only possible cause. Human larynxes, like human faces and limbs, are basically symmetrical, yet not every model comes off the assembly line with perfect proportions. Some native irregularities may be unproblematic (one “cord” or the other may have to go a little too far to the left or right), while some can give trouble, either in certain parts of the pitch range or over time.1
No need to go further into specifics here; this is just to give context to an estimation of Anselmi’s vocal difficulties. We cannot hear him in 1901 when the Times critic warned of a “tendency to force the tone.” What I hear in the 1907 recordings, though, is not so much a voice being improperly forced as one that, for whatever reason, cannot handle appropriate degrees of force. This is especially true in the notes just above the “passaggio.” G-natural is the most severely affected; A-flat is often in trouble too. They sometimes come forth “clean” or nearly so, like that very first note in 1907, but sooner or later, in more records than not, one of them will be “dirty,” sometimes distressingly so.
The problem is quite localized; it may sometimes edge up to A-natural or B-flat, but these are more often successful, and the B-natural that topped the tenor’s range is almost always free. It crept downward only occasionally to F-sharp, and practically never to the F that so many tenors find difficult; in fact F often seems to have been the most perfectly-managed note in Anselmi’s range. Just sample, for instance, the Siciliana from Cavalleria rusticana, whose conclusion is so often awkward or strained in other renditions [CD 1/11]. Anselmi’s is ideal—even though the series of A-flats earlier in the piece is anything but.
Besides this there is another purely vocal problem that, to my ear, strengthens the suggestion of some physical impairment or imperfection. Fairly often, Anselmi’s voice will “slip” in tuning—changing pitch unintentionally on a note that had begun perfectly well (twice within the first line of “Ecco ridente in cielo,” for instance) [CD 2/2]. This is less dramatically disconcerting than the scratchy notes, but it still adds to the faint anxiety one feels listening through a record, even the ones in which all or nearly all goes well. “So far so good” is not quite a sufficient state of confidence for the fullest enjoyment.
A particularly rough example is “Di pescatore ignobile,” Gennaro’s narrative from the prologue of Lucrezia Borgia [CD 2/9]. It begins with what we by now know to expect, or at least to fear: aristocratic diction and rhythm; a beautiful voice that can’t be counted on to stay centered in pitch; blatant aspirates; scratchy and uneven tone here and there. The upper G on “mi diè cavalli ed armi” is close to breakdown. But just as one is about to say “his worst record,” there arrives the turning point of the story, where Gennaro realizes that the mysterious letter is from his unknown and unhappy mother: “era mia madre—ahi! misera!”—which is given the most personal, beautiful, and sympathetic utterance ever heard. This is why one really needs an edition of all Anselmi’s records. No, “Di pescatore” is not a success, but…that one line! I would not want for anything to have missed it.
The rumors of an unsuccessful surgery recounted by Mr. Segalerva are rather strongly supported by the complete gap in performances between summer 1914 and January 1916, and by the unmistakable consensus that the tenor’s voice was significantly impaired in the brief period (to November 1918) in which he attempted to continue singing. But again, we cannot hear this presumably post-operative voice. What we can hear is the final series of recordings made for Edison in February 1913, and their contribution to the story is most interesting [CD 5/7–18].
Eight titles were recorded in two takes each. All but one (“Tu che a dio spiegasti l’ali” from Lucia di Lammermoor) were repeats from Anselmi’s Fonotipia repertory. Six of the eight were published, and a seventh (Nadir’s romance from Les pêcheurs de perles) survives at the Edison Historical Site and is included here. On the whole the records are strikingly successful. A contract for forty more over four years, however, was left unfulfilled by the singer.
The first thing to be observed is that in the whole series (I have so far been able to hear twelve of the fourteen surviving takes) there is not a single “dirty” high note; even the perilous G-naturals stay collected. Anselmi has also distinctly improved his legato. The annoying aspirates are still in the mix, but there are fewer of them in every aria we can compare directly to a Fonotipia version, and there are many unmarred, beautifully sculpted lines. Also reduced though not eliminated are the little slippages of pitch. Anselmi has not become a perfect vocalist, but the short Edison series shows us a singer capable both of disciplined self-criticism and of artistic growth. And it is a tremendous improvement not to have to worry whether the next note will splinter.
But if these are in some ways his best records, why the (reputed) surgery, abandoned contract, and aborted career? What one eventually realizes is that the price of his improvements has been a fairly strict limitation on any attempt to sing forte. All seven arias are given the most lyrical possible treatment. The tenor’s eloquence and superb phrasing make this work in the Lucia cabaletta; his complete dramatic commitment makes it work in Pagliacci. We associate the latter with a kind of high-intensity emotional breakdown, and the Fonotipia recording gives us one, but on Edison Anselmi makes it a slow journey into the heart of sadness [CD 1/3 and CD 5/7–8]. It’s worth noting that between 1907 and 1913 he has eliminated the outright weeping at the end; the only later tenor I can recall omitting this is Jon Vickers.
Full-voiced forte, though, cannot be avoided entirely in complete roles. It is not entirely avoided even here—there are acceptably solid climaxes in Cielo e mar and O paradiso; Tu che a dio (transposed down, as it often was) has an intensely focused, well-sustained B-double-flat at the final cadence [CD 5/16]. But circumspection is apparent, and there is some loss involved in the relative lack of abandon. It is entirely possible that the more-careful Anselmi of 1913 could give beautiful individual examples of recorded singing while at the same time encountering insurmountable problems in the theater. The reviews begin to suggest something of the kind by around this time, and those written after Anselmi’s eighteen-month hiatus make it clear that his operatic career was not destined to continue.
My guess is that Anselmi’s was a compromised voice from the start. The typical punishments for bad vocal behavior are dulling of timbral sheen, widening of vibrato, reduction of range, loss of fine motor control—none of which we hear in Anselmi—and sometimes diminishment of power, which we may or may not be hearing. Maybe he actually lost some, maybe he was just singing more carefully to avoid triggering something else, and in any case it is almost impossible to judge changes in available volume from recordings.
I can well believe that whatever was the matter was getting worse from constant use and the approach of middle age, but I fail to hear what exactly he is doing “wrong” to incur the particular problems he has. Who knows whether the critics who thought he “forced” were referring to prodigal expenditure of effort or were simply hearing the same kind of crackly disturbance so often present on records made at the peak of his success? But if Anselmi cannot serve as a paragon or a model, he can certainly offer a permanent example of the way a creative spirit and a beautiful voice might combine to make something unique, something of the sort that makes the music-loving life worth living.
1In this connection I think it is important to correct a bit of misinformation in the single most-quoted account of Anselmi’s singing, that of the baritone Sergei Levik, who heard him often in Russia and shared the stage with him on at least a few occasions, and who described him in books written half a century later. Levik was a knowledgeable and perceptive critic, but he was neither the first nor the last chronicler whose memory could produce unfactual facts in support of a narrative he was sure to be right. He places Anselmi into a familiar one, that of a lyrical voice strained by undertaking heroic roles. Radames and Manrico are named, but there is no evidence the tenor attempted either one. The Russian and Ukrainian seasons in which Levik could have heard Anselmi are well-documented, and the roles are the same ones he had been singing since the start of his career; the only operas he seems to have added in Russia are Auber’s Fra Diavolo and Ivanov’s Zabava Putyatishna (from which Smirnov and Boronat, but not Anselmi, recorded arias). This matters, because the idea Levik propounds is ubiquitous in operatic folklore yet scantily supported in observable cases, and certainly not in Anselmi’s.
POSTSCRIPT: ANSELMI’S COMPOSITIONS
Anselmi is not the only opera singer to record his own songs; Adelina Patti, Richard Tauber, and Tito Schipa, among others, did so as well. What they composed were well-shaped essays in popular styles with which they were familiar: Patti’s could have passed for Guy d’Hardelot, Tauber’s for Lehar, Schipa’s for Tosti (or maybe Bixio). Anselmi was attempting something else altogether. No composer of standard salon romances would write a one-minute piano solo in the middle of a four-minute song, as he did in “Su l’oceano” [CD 2/14]. The trouble is that the interlude sounds a bit like the late-night rambling of a pianist—one with a certain facility for arpeggios and left-hand scales (violin-playing pianists are automatically good at those)—improvising with vigor but without any particular notion of where to go harmonically or when to consider the purpose achieved.
That impression returns to some extent in the other eight songs, though some of them have appealing aspects and successful passages. There is often a sense of a loosely pictorial piano fantasia over which a vocal line has been draped. It was the Achilles heel of progressive Italian composers in Anselmi’s day: a vague “melodiousness” without actual melody; an ambition to emulate the harmonic excursions of German and French music without the knack for clinching the musical argument as Wolf, Fauré, Debussy, or Strauss could do. The same criticisms could be made, to one degree or another, of many or most scores by Franchetti, Casella, Respighi, Zandonai. But it is impressive that Anselmi wanted to compose real “art songs” in the broader European sense.
The best of them, to my ears, are the “Pater Noster” mentioned above, which has a certain calm grandeur (and features some of Anselmi’s best and firmest sustained singing), and the “Nouvelle chanson,” which has some nice melodic ideas and a lighter touch than the others, especially at the beginning of each strophe (it is the only one in conventional strophic form) [CD 3/1 and CD 4/5]. In all of them the piano parts are highly developed and require a level of skill rarely called upon by Tosti and his peers (“La villanella,” for instance, has quick passages in thirds for both hands) [CD 3/23].
In the recorded interpretations, the ensemble between singer and pianist (probably the young conductor Vincenzo Bellezza; the Fonotipia ledgers give only the surname) sounds both natural and “tight”—carefully worked out in the modern way, in contrast to the delightful freedoms Anselmi brought to music of a simpler melody-and-accompaniment texture. That is interesting in itself, refuting any notion that the liberties elsewhere were careless or inattentive. Notwithstanding the “orecchiante” inaccuracies mentioned above, the tenor was clearly a sophisticated musician who perceived a difference between older (or older-style) works and the modern currents of the moment. If his compositional reach exceeds his grasp, it is still rewarding to hear him reaching.
CD OF THE MONTH: July 2023 - The Complete Recordings Of Giuseppe Anselmi [pdf]
Another brilliant release from Marston with recordings of a special singer. Also included is an 80- page deluxe CD booklet with dozens of unique photographs of Anselmi, a fine overview of his career and life by Francisco Luis Segalerva Cabello (writer for The Record Collector) and expert commentary on Anselmi’s recordings and vocals by William Crutchfield (also a writer for The Record Collector and director of the Teatro Nuovo in New York).
—Mark Duijntsee, OperaNederland, July, 2023