CD 1 (77:50)
Gramophone and Typewriter Limited
|1.||FEDORA: O grandi occhi lucenti di fede (Giordano)||2:46|
|(Con570R) G&T 053014|
|2.||MEFISTOFELE: L’altra notte (Boito)||3:39|
|(Con572R) G&T 053017|
|3.||CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA: Voi lo sapete (Mascagni)||3:18|
|(Con574R) G&T 053018|
|4.||LA TRAVIATA: Ah, fors’è lui (Verdi)||3:05|
|(Con577R) G&T 053019 (transposed a semitone down to E)|
|5.||MEFISTOFELE: L’altra notte (Boito)||3:13|
|6.||MIGNON: Non conosci il bel suol (Connais-tu le pays) (Thomas)||2:52|
|7.||CARMEN: É l’amor uno strano augello (L’amour est un oiseau rebelle) [Habanera] (Bizet)||2:43|
|8.||CARMEN: Invan per evitar (En vain pour éviter) [Card song] (Bizet)||2:39|
|9.||LA TRAVIATA: Ah, fors’è lui (Verdi)||3:08|
|(4396) 4396 (transposed a semitone down to E)|
|10.||OTELLO: Ave Maria (Verdi)||2:52|
|11.||LA BOHÈME: Mi chiamano Mimi (Puccini)||2:42|
|12.||FAUST: C’ era un re di Thule (Il était un roi de Thulé) (Gounod)||3:00|
|13.||TOSCA: Vissi d’arte (Puccini)||2:38|
|14.||CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA: Voi lo sapete (Mascagni)||2:38|
Gramophone and Typewriter Limited
|15.||ADRIANA LECOUVREUR: Io son l’umile ancella (Cilea)||2:51|
|16.||MEFISTOFELE: L’altra notte (Boito)||3:56|
|17.||LE NOZZE DI FIGARO: Deh vieni, non tardar (Mozart)||3:18|
|18.||Chanson de florian (Godard)||2:31|
|19.||All’ombra di quel faggio (Taubert)||2:58|
Gramophone and Typewriter Limited
Milan, 11 April 1902
|20.||GERMANIA: All’ardente desio (Franchetti)||3:29|
|21.||CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA: Voi lo sapete (Mascagni)||2:58|
|22.||ERO E LEANDRO: Romanza di Ero (Bottesini)||2:55|
|23.||TOSCA: Vissi d’arte (Puccini)||3:05|
|24.||TOSCA: Vissi d’arte (Puccini)||2:56|
|25.||LA GIOCONDA: Suicidio! (Ponchielli)||3:15|
|26.||MARCELLA: Son tre mesi (Giordano)||2:25|
|3 November 1908; (XPh 3531) unpublished on 78 rpm|
CD 2 (79:37)
|1.||SIBERIA: Non odi là il martir (Giordano)||2:48|
|3 November 1908; (XPh 3570) 92401|
|2.||A la barcillunìsa (Modo di Barcellona, Provincia di Messina) (Sicilian song, arranged by Favara)||2:50|
|1 May 1914; (XPh 5073) 69191|
|3.||’Razioni di San Stansillàu (Leggenda di San Stanislao, Palermo) (Sicilian song, arranged by Favara)||3:06|
|1 May 1914; (XPh 5074) 69192|
Gramophone and Typewriter Limited
Milan, December 1902
|4.||MANON LESCAUT: In quelle trine morbide (Puccini)||2:05|
|5.||MANON LESCAUT: L’ora o Tirsi (Puccini)||1:32|
|6.||LA BOHÈME: Mi chiamano Mimi (Puccini)||2:40|
|7.||LA BOHÈME: Addio senza rancor (Puccini)||2:31|
|8.||MEFISTOFELE: L’altra notte (Boito)||2:14|
|9.||FAUST: Tardi si fa (Il se fait tard) (Gounod)||2:41|
|Giovanni Apostolu, tenor|
Gramophone and Typewriter Limited
|10.||CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA: Voi lo sapete (Mascagni)||3:30|
|11.||IRIS: Un dì era piccina (Mascagni)||3:20|
|12.||LORENZA: Vana bellezza mia (Mascheroni)||3:37|
|13.||LORENZA: Io son bella, tutta bianca (Mascheroni)||4:02|
|Mario Sammarco, baritone|
|14.||TOSCA: Vissi d’arte (Puccini)||3:02|
|15.||TOSCA: Quanto? Il prezzo? (Puccini)||4:04|
|Mario Sammarco, baritone|
|16.||FEDORA: Tutto tramonta [Morte di Fedora] (Giordano)||3:40|
|Elvino Ventura, tenor|
|17.||ANDREA CHÉNIER: La mamma morta (Giordano)||4:06|
|18.||MANON: Ebben, lo degg’io! ... Addio, o nostro picciol desco [Allons, Il le faut! … Adieu, notre petite tabl (Massenet)||4:15|
|Original cast recordings|
Gramophone and Typewriter Limited
|19.||O bella mia [Mattinata]||2:27|
|Giuseppe De Luca, Gaetano Pini-Corsi, Oreste Gennari, and Vittorio Pozzi-Camola|
|20.||No, se un pensier tortura … Nel suo amore rianimata||3:20|
|Rosina Storchio |
|Storchio and De Luca |
|22.||T’incontrai per via!||1:36|
|Giovanni Zenatello |
|23.||Cani ed avari||2:10|
|Antonio Pini-Corsi |
|25.||E’ qui con te il mio destin||3:01|
|Storchio and Zenatello |
|26.||Non odi là il martir||2:41|
|27.||La conobbi quand’era fanciulla||2:24|
|De Luca |
CD 1 and CD 2:
Producer: Michael Aspinall and Ward Marston
Audio Conservation: Ward Marston
Audio Assistance: J. Richard Harris
Booklet notes: Michael Aspinall
Photographs: Girvice Archer, Roger Gross, and Charles Mintzer
Booklet Design: Takeshi Takahashi
The following selections are re-recorded from copies in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Laurence C. Witten II in the Yale Collection of Historical Sound Recordings, Yale University Library:
CD 1: Tracks 4-8, 11-12, 16-19, 20, and 23-24
CD 2: Tracks 2-10 and 15-23
Various selections are re-recorded from copies in the collections of Marco Contini, the Estate of Sir Paul Getty, Harry Glaze, Lawrence F. Holdridge, and John Wolfson.
Marston would like to thank David Contini and Ramona Fasio, for their help in the production of this CD release.
SIX VERISMO SOPRANOS –
SIX STUDIES IN PASSION, TECHNIQUE, AND STYLE
Opera lovers have always looked upon Italy as the birthplace of star singers. Throughout the eighteenth century this was true, but with the coming of the French Revolution and a wave of new ideas there were some curious developments. Rossini lamented that the “French screech” had been imported into Italy, and when Adolphe Nourrit visited him in Milan in 1838, he told the great tenor that “You will see for yourself that there is no singer of talent in Italy. It is now no longer a matter of doing roulades, and the facility of a Rubini would not stand him in good stead today. What is wanted is expression and declamation.” At La Scala around 1900, the socialites who “paid the piper” wanted only modern operas with plenty of “expression and declamation.” Singers were expected to have big and beautiful voices, strongly marked personalities, and to be able to act convincingly. (Dear reader, it is not true that acting in opera began with Maria Callas.)
The sopranos featured in this album were among the leading singers in Italy; significantly, none of them scored successes in either London or New York. Gemma Bellincioni was invited to Covent Garden, where she was admired only for her acting; Amelia Pinto and Rosina Storchio went to America but made no impression in a handful of performances each. Today we are prepared to give them another chance, listening to their pitifully few recordings with an ear attuned to their place in vocal history.
She was born in Monza on 17 August 1864, the daughter of the comic bass Cesare Bellincioni and the contralto Carlotta Soroldoni. At the age of six she appeared on Friday, 6 October 1870, at the Teatro Filodrammatico Milanese in a sketch by Alessandro Salvini, Richelieu a sei anni, in which she sang a song written for her by Luigino Ricci. Gemma and her sister Saffo were taught singing by their mother, Gemma also by the soprano Luigia Ponti Dell’Armi and the baritone Giovanni Corsi. (Saffo, a contralto, enjoyed a long career, singing often with her famous sister, latterly under the name Frigiotti.) According to Rodolfo Celletti’s researches, Gemma made her operatic debut, when not quite 15 years old, in May 1879 at the Teatro della Società Filarmonica, Naples, in Il segreto della Duchessa by Giuseppe Dell’Orefice. The story as related by G. B. Baccioni in Gemma Bellincioni, Biografia aneddotica (Palermo, Casa editrice Salvatore Biondo, 1902) goes differently: her parents had been engaged to sing in Pedrotti’s Tutti in maschera at the Teatro Nuovo, Naples, and when the conductor Camillo De Nardis heard Gemma singing while accompanying rehearsals at the piano, he engaged her for the prima donna’s part. The first performance took place on 10 (?) November 1880, and was followed by Un bagno freddo by De Nardis himself and Ercole III by Alfonso Buonomo. She then sang La campana dell’eremitaggio by Errico Sarria at Foggia, and in the autumn of 1881 Oscar in Un ballo in maschera and Gennariello in Salvator Rosa at Verona. At this time she also sang La figlia del reggimento, Le donne curiose (by Emilio Usiglio), Geloso e la sua vedova (by Nicola De Giosa), and others. She sang Dinorah in Foggia and created Regina e Contadina by Errico Sarria at the Teatro dei Fiorentini, Naples, on 24 June 1882. The first time Bellincioni sang a tragic role was in Maria Tiepolo by Baron Crescimanno.
In 1882 she visited Vigo, Malaga, Cadiz, and Granada with the great tenor Enrico Tamberlick, singing in Rigoletto, I puritani, Faust, Otello (Rossini), Mignon, Ernani, Linda di Chamonix, Il barbiere di Siviglia, and Dinorah. In 1883 she went to Lisbon with a contract for what she calls “Queen roles” in Roberto il diavolo, Gli Ugonotti, L’Africana, and Il profeta (also Philine in Mignon), which offered little scope for dramatic interpretation; her debut role, Isabella in Roberto il diavolo, she describes as “a pathetic, weepy Princess as damp as November rain”. In San Sebastian in 1884 she triumphed in Lucia di Lammermoor, La sonnambula, I Capuleti ed i Montecchi, and La traviata. In November 1884 she sang Dejanice, Guglielmo Tell, and a concert with Tamagno in Turin, then inaugurated the newly restored Teatro Comunale, Trieste, with L’Etoile du nord, La traviata, and Antonio Smareglia’s Bianca da Cervia. In 1885 her sensational Violetta was heard in Turin, Rome, Florence, and Bologna. Her one Violetta at La Scala, on 30 March 1886, was a flop; the audience was not ready for such a “modern” interpretation. In this, her only season at La Scala, Bellincioni also sang 22 performances of her hated role of Isabella and three of Salammbò in Nicolò Massa’s new opera.
In May 1885 she proceeded to the Teatro Costanzi, Rome, where she sang La traviata and, with Cotogni, Linda di Chamonix and Il barbiere di Siviglia (with Juliette’s Waltz song “Je veux vivre” in the Lesson Scene). Gemma sang at La Fenice in July 1885 in Linda di Chamonix, returning only in 1904 for La traviata and in 1909 for Salomé. In 1886-1887 she sang in Barcelona in Hamlet and La traviata (with Angelo Masini), and in Rossini’s Otello in Budapest. In 1889 she sang Carmen and Lucrezia Borgia in Bucharest, and returned to Barcelona to sing Lohengrin with Gayarre.
On board ship for Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and La Plata in 1886 she fell in love with the great tenor Roberto Stagno (1840-1897). Flattered by the adulation of the pretty young girl who deliberately prolonged her seasickness to appear pale and interesting, the 45 year old divo dutifully returned her love. They sang together in Robert le diable, Rigoletto, Mefistofele, La Gioconda, Faust, Il barbiere, and Lohengrin. They were inseparable until his death, although they never married. In 1887 they returned to La Plata and Buenos Aires and sang in Roméo et Juliette, La Juive, Les Huguenots, La Gioconda, Der fliegende Holländer, and the last act of Rossini’s Otello. Their daughter, Bianca Bellincioni Stagno, who enjoyed a considerable career both as an opera singer and a film actress, was born in Budapest in January 1888.
In 1890 the happy couple appeared at the Teatro Real, Madrid, in La traviata and Cavalleria rusticana; Stagno also sang some performances of Il barbiere di Siviglia, but so did Gemma, in two special all-female performances with Bellincioni (Figaro), Eva Tetrazzini (Almaviva), and Regina Pacini (Rosina.) She added Sélika in L’Africana, and sang with Stagno in Robert le diable. She returned to Madrid in 1907 for Tosca, La traviata, and a double bill of both Nedda and Santuzza; in 1910 she performed in Salomé. In the 1889-1890 season, Bellincioni and Stagno were heard at the San Carlo, Naples, in Gli Ugonotti and Il barbiere di Siviglia; in December 1891 in L’amico Fritz; in 1892 they repeated L’amico Fritz and also sang Cavalleria rusticana, La traviata, and Mala vita, as well as taking part in an all-star performance of Rossini’s Stabat Mater conducted by Vincenzo Lombardi.
Eighteen hundred ninety was Bellincioni’s crucial year. Edoardo Sonzogno invited her and Stagno to sing, at the Teatro Costanzi, the leading roles in the three prize-winning one-act operas from his competition. Both singers, with the conductor Leopoldo Mugnone, plunged enthusiastically into a study of the words and music of Cavalleria rusticana. The duet, the Easter Hymn, and “Voi lo sapete” were originally a semitone higher than in the printed score. The order of events was: Labilia (Nicola Spinelli), first of three performances, 8 May; Cavalleria rusticana, 17 May (7 performances); Rudello (Vincenzo Ferroni), 28 May (3 performances). In Cavalleria the entire Prelude and Siciliana were encored, as were—inevitably—the Intermezzo and Turiddu’s bel canto “Brindisi”. The pair returned to Rome in October 1890 for a further 13 performances of Cavalleria, to which Gemma added Bizet’s Djamileh.
Now the couple set off on a long series of performances of verismo operas at home and abroad:
- L’amico Fritz, San Carlo, Naples, in December 1891
- Mala vita by Umberto Giordano at the Teatro Argentina, Rome, on 21 February 1892 (creation)
- A Santa Lucia by Baron Pierantonio Tasca at the Kroll Theater, Berlin, on 16 September 1892 (creation)
- Cavalleria rusticana and Mala vita, Vienna, in a Sonzogno season
- La martire by Spiros Samara, inaugurating the Teatro Lirico, Milan, in 1894, repeated at the Teatro Mercadante, Naples (creation)
- Nozze istriane by Antonio Smareglia, Trieste, on 28 March 1895 (creation)
- Mara by Ferdinand Hummel, Teatro Pagliano, Florence, on 24 April 1895 (Italian premiere)
- Eros by Nicolò Massa, Teatro Pagliano, in 1895, the subject suggested to the librettist Enrico Golisciani by Bellincioni herself
- Silvano by Mascagni, Livorno, 1895
- La sorella di Mark by Giacomo Setaccioli, Teatro Costanzi, Rome, 6 May 1896 (creation). This was another opera of which Bellincioni had formulated the story then elaborated by the librettist Golisciani. (Stagno did not appear in this opera.)
- Zanetto by Mascagni, Theater an der Wien, 1896. (There is no tenor part in this opera.)
During her 11 years with Stagno, Gemma added several other roles to her repertoire, including Alice in Robert le diable, Massenet’s Manon, and Charlotte in Werther. Other operas in which she is stated to have appeared include Crispino e la Comare, Don Pasquale, Aida, and Messaline.
In Vienna, Stagno had begun to feel the first symptoms of the heart and kidney weakness that was to cause his death on 26 April 1897, and Gemma went on alone to sing in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Odessa, Karkhov, and Lemberg. She created Moïna by Isidore De Lara (Monte Carlo, 1897) and on 14 April 1898 she introduced Massenet’s Sapho to Italy at the Lirico, Milan, repeating the role in Lisbon and in Buenos Aires, with Caruso. She sang La bohème for the first time in Graz in 1898 and on 17 November 1898 created Fedora at the Teatro Lirico. In 1899 she sang Mignon in Dresden and Florence, and Pagliacci in Zurich. In 1900 she was quick to add Tosca and in 1901 she created Mascheroni’s Lorenza in Rome with Amedeo Bassi and, in 1902, in Naples with Francisco Viñas. In April 1903, after singing one last performance of Mefistofele at the Costanzi with Caruso, she added six of Hänsel in Hänsel und Gretel! In 1904 at the Teatro Lirico she created Manuel Menendez by Lorenzo Filiasi (15 May) and La Cabrera by Gabriel Dupont (16 May), one-act operas, winners of another Sonzogno competition. She repeated La Cabrera with Edmond Clément at the Opéra-Comique in 1905, singing in French. In Naples in 1905 she sang Adriana Lecouvreur and the world premiere of Vita brettone by Leopoldo Mugnone, and in Alexandria the first performance of La dogaressa by Sinadino. Her last creation was Giordano’s Marcella (Teatro Lirico, 9 November 1907, with Fernando De Lucia); her last new roles were Salomé, Zazà (Genoa, 1908), and, incredibly, she was the first Madama Butterfly in Warsaw, in 1908. In 1907 she sang with Mattia Battistini and Giuseppe Anselmi in St. Petersburg in La traviata and Tosca, and Battistini joined her at the Teatro Costanzi in Werther and Thaïs. She closed her long association with the Costanzi in 1908 with 15 performances of Salomé.
Strauss came to Turin to conduct the first Italian performances of Salomé (23 December 1906) and found Bellincioni on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He ordered her to bed and sang the title role himself at the dress rehearsal, while Bellincioni induced sleep with the best part of a bottle of fine old port. She had an amazing triumph, and kept the role in her repertoire until 1911, singing it over a hundred times.
This third part of her career wound down with tours in which she appeared as Violetta, Carmen, Tosca but particularly Salomé in Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Poland, Russia, Bohemia, Austria, and South America. She finally retired after singing Salomé at the Paris Opéra in November 1911. Her failure to set the Thames on fire at Covent Garden in 1895 (Carmen and Cavalleria rusticana) probably explains why she was never invited to the United States.
She was successful as a teacher, in Berlin, Rome, Vienna, Siena, and Naples. Her vocal method, Scuola di Canto / Gesangschule, published by Adolph Fürstner in Berlin in 1912 and dedicated to Richard Strauss, is one of the best sets of graduated exercises that I know. She also published some songs for voice and piano. During the war she sang in numerous concerts. At a grand concert at the Augusteo, Rome, in honor of Italian and allied soldiers on 25 January 1916, conducted by Bernardino Molinari and Sir Thomas Beecham, Bellincioni sang “Son pochi fiori” and two songs by Tosti. Sir Thomas said that “although the freshness and purity of the voice were no longer there, she sang with charm and understanding and was still a very handsome woman.”
In 1918 she founded her own film company, Gemma Film, re-named Biancagemma Film when her daughter joined her in 1921. Full details of her film career will be found in the Enciclopedia dello Spettacolo, Vol. II, page 202.
There was a curious postlude to her singing career: in 1924 Bellincioni toured the Netherlands, appearing in Rotterdam, The Hague, and Amsterdam as Santuzza, Tosca, and Carmen. In The Record Collector, Vol. 38 No. 2, Arthur Carton describes how his mother, a retired opera singer, discovered excitedly one winter’s night in Scheveningen that Bellincioni was singing Carmen that evening, but alas! “We sat through two acts of Carmen. I remember an old woman with a rough and ragged voice.”
She died in Naples on 23 April 1950.
A controversial singer
In 1908 Amelia Pinto, longing to sing Salomé but threatened with losing her fiancé if she did so, wrote a wheedling letter to him from Naples: “Salomé should be a young girl of 14 or 15 years of age, practically innocent, and certainly not such a woman as Bellincioni portrays, for, not having any voice, she exaggerates and completely alters the character.” Herman Klein, in his Great Women-Singers of my Time (George Routledge, London, 1931), declares that she “acted much better than she sang.” The baritone David Bispham, who was her Alfio at Covent Garden, describes her thus: “I have rarely been more affected by anyone with whom I have acted than by Bellincioni, who apparently did not think of herself as a singer, indeed her voice was not of the best quality and at the time it was in its decline; yet she possessed that indefinable personality and magnetism which excited the deepest emotion in the minds of her auditors.” (A Quaker Singer’s Recollections, Macmillan, New York, 1920.) In 1895 Bellincioni was only 31 years old, but serious damage had already been done to her voice by her determination to turn a light, agile voice into a dramatic soprano, to transform Dinorah into Santuzza. Henry Russell, in The Passing Show (Thornton Butterworth Limited, London, 1926) explains: “the one thing that the English public will not support is a tremolo, and although Bellincioni is a great artist, she will never be liked by them.”
When the English record collector Ronald Phillips met Bellincioni in Naples at the end of the Second World War she told him that she hated her Pathé records so much when she heard them that she went back to Paris to try to return her fee to the company and stop publication! She denied ever having recorded for G & T (“L’angelo”), and when Mr. Phillips showed her a copy of her red label Mefistofele record (which he had found in the window of a second-hand bicycle shop in Naples, hanging from a clothes-line by means of a clothes pin) she said it must be someone else!
In her autobiography Bellincioni declares that the function of the conductor once upon a time was “to blend the interpretation of each single artist into that of the company as a whole, leaving, however, to the solo artist full liberty of expression.” What she meant is admirably demonstrated in the two arias that she had created; her freedom with the time, so far from interfering with the music, raises Giordano and Mascagni’s groundwork into something like a blazing improvisation. Fortunately the G & T discs are forwardly recorded and may be fairly faithful echoes of her art, which would never have been at its most compelling in a concert environment. The timbre of the voice is somewhat thin, fluttery, and incapable of much expansion, sometimes sounding worn in the medium register, but of an attractively bright and silvery quality. There are moments of uncertainty, for Bellincioni’s preoccupation with incisive diction and intensity of vocal coloring may well have undermined the solid support of the voice on the breath. The strangest feature to modern listeners will be the “goaty” vibrato (Italians call it vibrato pecorino—sheeplike), also typical of Conchita Supervia, Magda Olivero, and such other verismo sopranos as Maria Farneti and Rosina Storchio; it is rare in sopranos today. She deliberately copied this vibrato from Roberto Stagno, who had the narrow vibrato first introduced into violin playing by Paganini and into singing by Rubini. Bellincioni’s vibrato is particularly noticeable on the vowels E and I; her tone is rounder and more secure on A and O; she tends to pronounce U in the French manner. Her diction is mannered: she says “il mio binebo” instead of “il mio bimbo”, and for “de’ suoi colori occulti” substitutes “occulati”. This mannerism is not classical: Italians call it birignao and Claudia Muzio did it too. Her voice has preserved a wide range, with plenty of head resonance, and the registers are expertly blended, so that in a phrase like “Una nuova vita” in Fedora, on the last syllable she is able to pass smoothly from the chest to the medium register in her diminuendo. The most noticeable flaws are her tendency to break phrases to snatch a breath, the occasional throaty attack and cracks in sustained tones. Whenever she has to hold the E, fourth space, it tends to splinter, especially if the vowel is an E or an I, as, for example, on the last words, “in me”, in the Fedora aria, where the pitch flattens. But how eloquent Bellincioni is! Despite her quivering tone and snatched breaths she can still suggest the legato line of the melody in “L’effluvio qui respiro”. She does not fail on the high A, well sustained and crescendo, and she brings controlled intensity to the phrase “O riso ammaliator”.
In “Voi lo sapete, O Mamma” (“Voi lo sapete, Mamma” she sings, omitting “O”) the original Santuzza takes it upon herself to “correct” the score to make the strong musical accents fall upon the strong syllables. In the last phrase, “io piango”, she keeps the tone in the chest register by omitting the rise to A. Many Santuzzas have followed her lead, without however being able to reproduce such exquisite details as her diminuendo on the upper G of “rapita”. After holding a long, brightly shimmering F-sharp on the word “fiamma” she then rushes ahead in the following phrase, “che gli bruciava il core”. This is a classic example of the definition of rubato as a kind of “give and take”.
Although Mefistofele was in her repertoire, she is not as accurate as might be in “l’altra notte”; rubato is all very well, but she does not appear to count correctly at “come il passero del bosco” nor does she get all the words right. However, this is a great record. Her phrasing is conceived in wide arching sweeps, which her snatched breaths do not seem to undermine. In the cadenzas she stresses the madness of Margherita by elaborating the passages representing the flight of her soul and singing them very quickly indeed. Her rapid coloratura suggests Fernando De Lucia—can we doubt that here we have an echo of Stagno?
She transposes “Ah, fors’è lui” a semitone down, a precedent established by Patti. In the opening bars she sings through the rests between the notes; in 1903 this omission of the rests was universal practice, as were the frequent tempo changes, holds, and interpolated ornaments, all sanctified by Patti and therefore approved of by Verdi. In her cadenza (a variant of Patti’s) Bellincioni sails lightly up to a beautiful, sustained soft high B, and concludes with a long, neatly articulated trill.
The Pathé discs are more distantly recorded than the G & Ts and suffer from surface noise. The sides are shorter in playing time and the diva sometimes appears less involved with the music than on her Milan records. Mignon’s aria “Connais-tu le pays,“ transposed a tone up into E-flat, the “regular” soprano key, is quietly and beautifully sung, with a nice diminuendo on the D-flat below the stave. In the “Habanera” from Carmen she speaks one line in the second strophe, a typical verismo effect. (Surely it was Bellincioni who taught Rosa Ponselle to interpolate shouted protests in the purse scene of La traviata.) In “Mi chiamano Mimì” she gets a nice smile into her voice and says the final lines of recitative winningly. The “Vissi d’arte” is disappointing from so famous a Tosca, but the hurry is not her fault. Her way of ending the aria is quite her own. She sings the Ballad of the King of Thulé slowly and with warm and wistful tone, but does not differentiate between Margherita’s artless singing of the old song and her coy asides. The “Ave Maria” from Otello is a disaster: the shortness of breath is fatal, she gets the words wrong, and there is a musical mistake at “Misero anch’esso”. Fortunately the card song from Carmen, sung in the original key, is an effective and well-sung performance.
Angelica, one of two singing children of the baritone Francesco Pandolfini, was born in Spoleto in 1871. She went to Paris to complete her piano studies but switched to singing, studying with Jules Massart. She made her debut at Modena in 1894 as Margherita in Faust, then she was heard in Malta in Cavalleria rusticana, Pagliacci, and Manon Lescaut. She sang Puccini’s Mimì at the Teatro Argentina, Rome (with Storchio, Giovanni Apostolu, and Maurizio Bensaude), the Teatro Pagliano, Florence, the Teatro Sociale, Como, the Teatro Comunale, Bologna, and the Teatro Rossini, Venice. De Lucia was her Rodolfo at La Scala in 1897 and in 1898 at the San Carlo, Naples, where he also joined her in La traviata, to which she added three performances of a revised version of La Camargo by Enrico De Leva. Her other roles at La Scala were Eva in I Maestri cantori di Norimberga, Alice in Falstaff, and Mila in the premiere of Franchetti’s La figlia di Jorio.
She first sang Tosca at the Politeama Genovese in April 1900, then opened the 1900-1901 season at the San Carlo with 16 performances of the opera with De Lucia. They sang together also in La bohème and Fedora, and she appeared in the Naples premiere of Le maschere, with Anselmi, Schiavazzi, and Rina Giacchetti. In November 1902, with Caruso and De Luca, she created Adriana Lecouvreur at the Teatro Lirico, Milan, repeating the role in Lisbon, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Trieste, and Venice. In 1904 she sang Madama Butterfly at Alexandria and Cairo, and in 1905 at the Teatro Dal Verme, Milano. In 1907 she sang five performances of La traviata with Krismer and Magini-Coletti at the Costanzi, Rome. In Madrid in 1908 she sang Mefistofele with Sobinov and Navarini, and Otello. The last additions to her repertoire were Giordano’s Marcella and Cilea’s Gloria, which she sang at the Politeama Genovese in 1908. Among her other roles were Siglinda in La Walchiria, Anna in Le Villi, Charlotte in Werther, Iris, and Massenet’s Sapho. In 1909 she married and retired from the stage.
The five Pandolfini records are among the most highly sought after rarities because the singer herself did not like them and they were withdrawn soon after publication. Now that we can hear them all together for the first time, they seem remarkably beautiful and well recorded for their date, so maybe she heard them played back at too fast a speed—this happened to Marcella Sembrich and Ellen Terry. The voice is an ample, golden-hued soprano lirico fully developed in all three registers, and her tone is warm and beautifully focussed. Her technique and style are free from the cruder aspects of verismo, though occasionally we hear mannerisms—in the Mefistofele aria she sings “addormenatata” instead of “addormentata” and, like Bellincioni, she turns “il mio bimbo” into something rather odd. This performance is thrilling and moving—especially at the words “l’aura è fredda e il carcer fosco”. She varies the rhythm and the weight and color of tone in a highly individual manner.
“Deh vieni, non tardar” is disappointing as she sings solidly but without much imagination, indulging in a few intrusive h’s, and she does not include any appoggiaturas. She gives a sensitive performance of “Io son l’umile ancella”— naturally, in its original version. It is interesting to hear her downward portamento on the last syllable of “Ecco, respiro appena”, and to note how, in the concluding phrases, she avoids the first (optional) upward portamento on “novo”; she executes the second portamento but changes the words to avoid having to carry the I vowel up to G. All the upper notes are beautifully sustained in this performance— perhaps not the most detailed one that we know, but satisfying none the less. Taubert’s song “All’ombra di quel faggio” (In the shade of that beech-tree) is a most lovely piece of singing, especially in the haunting vocalized refrain, and she brings to Godard’s “Chanson de Florian” an impassioned climax in each strophe, without ever forcing her ravishingly beautiful tone.
The life and career of Amelia Pinto are well documented thanks to the researches of Dr. Nino Insinga, whose biography of the singer was published in The Record Collector, Vol. 45 No. 3, September 2000. She was born in Palermo on 21 January 1876, the daughter of a fencing master. In 1898 she went to the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome, to study singing with Zaira Cortini Falchi and acting with Virginia Marini. She made a successful debut as La Gioconda in Brescia on 26 December 1899, followed by Il trillo del diavolo by Stanislao Falchi, her teacher’s husband. On 3 September 1900 she sang Tosca at the Teatro del Giglio, Lucca, which was illuminated by electricity for the first time on that occasion. Puccini signed a photograph for Amelia praising her “efficient and intelligent” Tosca. On 29 December 1900 she opened the Scala season as Isolde in the first performances in Milano of Tristano e Isotta, with Giuseppe Borgatti and Toscanini conducting. She was to repeat the role in Ravenna; the Teatro de la Opera, Buenos Aires; Rome; Trieste; Bologna (conducted by Luigi Mancinelli); Naples (conducted by Giuseppe Martucci); the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires; La Scala again (March, 1914); Genoa; and Madrid. Her other Wagnerian roles were Brunilde in La Walkiria and Sigfrido, and Elisabetta in Tannhäuser. Toscanini engaged her for four other operas at La Scala between 1901 and 1902: La Regina di Saba (Goldmark), Mefistofele, La Walkiria, and the world premiere of Franchetti’s Germania (1 March 1902) with Caruso and Mario Sammarco. She also took part in Toscanini’s famous Verdi commemoration concert at La Scala on 1 February 1901, singing “La vergine degli angeli” with Oreste Luppi.
At the Teatro de la Opera, Buenos Aires, in 1901 she sang with Caruso again in La Regina di Saba and also appeared in Otello, Tannhäuser, and Medioevo Latino by Panizza, as well as repeating her Isolde with Borgatti and Toscanini. In 1902 Pinto made her only visit to the United States, as a member of the Mascagni Opera Company, a doomed venture. She was billed to sing Maria in Guglielmo Ratcliff at the Metropolitan and in Boston, but it was never performed. At the company’s Farewell Concert at the Metropolitan on 19 October, she eschewed Mascagni’s music and sang her favorite aria from Bottesini’s Ero e Leandro!
December 1902 saw her in Lisbon for La Gioconda, Tannhäuser, Germania, L’Africaine, and La Juive, and then on 3 May 1903 she sang Desdemona in Tamagno’s last performance of Otello at the Teatro Argentina, Rome. In October 1903 she went to Warsaw for Cavalleria rusticana and La Gioconda with Anselmi and La Juive with Mario Gilion. After singing Isolde and Gioconda (with Francesco Marconi) in Rome, she made her first appearances in her native city in La Gioconda, La dannazione di Faust, and Tannhäuser. She then went to Egypt, where she sang in La Cabrera, Mefistofele, and Siberia, which she also sang at the Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt, Paris, with Titta Ruffo. After appearing in Madrid in L’Africaine and La Gioconda, she returned to the Teatro Costanzi in January 1906 for La dannazione di Faust with De Luca, La Juive, and Siberia. In May 1906 she sang in Santiago, Chile, in La Gioconda, Otello, Il trovatore, Tosca, Mefistofele, Chopin, and La dannazione di Faust. In December 1906 came her Isotta in Trieste, followed by the title role in Hérodiade, then Tosca in Catania, and Isotta in Bologna. She triumphed again as Isotta at the San Carlo, Naples, in December 1907, adding La Gioconda and Tosca. At the Colón, in May 1908, she sang Tristano e Isotta, Tosca, La Gioconda, Donna Anna in Don Giovanni with Ruffo and Chaliapin, and Brunilde in Sigfrido with Borgatti. She then retired from the stage to marry her patient and long-suffering fiancé.
She reappeared as Isotta at La Scala on 12 March 1914, repeating the role in Genoa in December. In January 1916 she accepted an engagement in Madrid, singing La Gioconda, Tristano e Isotta, and La Walkiria. Soon after these performances her father and her daughter Rosa Isotta died, and Amelia Pinto never sang in the theater again.
The 1902 Milan G & Ts reveal an important voice, an Isolde voice indeed: rich and voluminous in tone, with splendid high notes, a solid medium register, and a properly developed chest register. There is a slight, fluttery vibrato that would develop into a shrill wobble on her last recordings. Whereas she correctly covers the tone as she passes from the medium register to the head, she is not so skillful in joining the medium to the chest register. The F, first space, is often weak and she is never happy with E, first line.
The opening phrases of “Vissi d’arte” are oddly staccato, but this is an individual performance, sung slowly and intensely. She does not indulge in long phrases. In both takes she rushes the climax, but Puccini enjoyed her performance. In “Suicidio!” she also breaks phrases to take a breath, but there is no doubt about the power and glory of the tone, and there is a great deal of dramatic intensity. She sings Bottesini’s aria with grace and charm, making a nice effect with a soft but ringing G-flat above the stave. Her version of Santuzza’s aria is not particularly memorable, except for her audacious transposition of the final phrase an octave higher! Her most interesting record, and very well sung, is the excerpt from Act One of Germania, page 221 of the vocal score, beginning at the words “All’ardente desio”. She is singing a version, obviously specially arranged for her by Franchetti, that differs from the printed score. The original key is F Minor, but Pinto is singing in G-sharp Minor, with a beautiful high G-sharp pianissimo at “Era il passato oblio”, and on page 223 the music is radically changed from “Io gridavo: Ah, vivo alfine!” to the end of page 224, where there is a key change: the original score modulates into C Major here, Pinto’s version into B, a semitone lower. Her later records for Fonotipia include some interesting titles, especially the hitherto unpublished record of an aria from Giordano’s Marcella, which we are able to include through the kindness of Marco Contini. Alas, she is now vocally past her best. The lower voice sounds lugubrious, the lower middle weak, and the top rather hectic. In the closer recordings we hear that the quality and volume are still impressive, but in the “Morte di Isotta” the tremulous tones are forced, rather than floated on the breath, and the final F-sharp is too loud. We have chosen to include her very last recordings, two Sicilian songs from Alberto Favara’s “Canti della terra e del mare di Sicilia”, which she sings beautifully, with deeply passionate feeling, rising to a splendid high B-flat in “A la barcillunisa”.
Cesira Ferrani (née Zanazzio) was born on 8 May 1863 in Turin, where she studied with the soprano Antonietta Fricci, one of Mathilde Marchesi’s Vienna pupils. In 1887 Ferrani made her debut at the Teatro Regio, Turin, as Micaëla in Carmen, after which she sang Marguerite in Faust, then, at the Teatro Carignano, Gilda in Rigoletto. In 1889 she sang Elsa in Lohengrin at Ferrara, Trento, in Brescia with Viñas (1891), in São Paolo (1893), in Lisbon in 1897 (with Marconi) and 1900 (with Garulli), in Trieste (1901), and Oporto (1904). In 1892 she sang Ernani in Catania, and in Genoa Simon Boccanegra, Catalani’s Loreley, conducted by Toscanini, and her first verismo role, Suzel in L’amico Fritz. She sang Mefistofele in São Paolo (1893), Lisbon (1896), Montevideo (1897), and Barcelona (1902). She sang in the first performances of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut (1893) and La bohème (1896) at the Regio, Turin. She and her Des Grieux, the tenor Giuseppe Cremonini, repeated Manon Lescaut at the Costanzi, Rome, in November 1893 and together created Franchetti’s Fior d’Alpe at La Scala in March 1894. In 1893 she sang in the first Italian performances of Messager’s La Basoche in Turin. In 1894 she returned to Genoa to create Theora by Edoardo Trucco, while in 1895 she created Consuelo by Giacomo Orefice at the Teatro Comunale, Bologna, and sang Suzel in Monte Carlo. She repeated Mimì in many theaters in Italy, Russia, Spain, and Portugual, as well as Alexandria and Cairo, where she also sang Roméo et Juliette and Massenet’s Sapho (1899). In 1901 she created Mascagni’s Le maschere in its unsuccessful Genoa premiere. Her two last creations were heard at the Teatro Lirico, Milan: Chopin by Giacomo Orefice in 1901, and Una storia d’amore by Spiros Samara in 1903. Her repertoire included Tannhäuser, Die Meistersinger, Werther, and Otello. Her career ended with one last triumph, the first Italian production of Pelléas et Mélisande, conducted by Toscanini, at La Scala in 1908, followed by just one unfortunate performance of the same work at the Costanzi on 28 March 1909. She died on 6 May 1943.
On records we hear a likeable, well-trained singer, her voice forward, the tone fresh, the diction limpid. She “speaks” her lines with a nice variety of inflexions, and we can hear why audiences warmed to her. She does not always manage to support the voice, so her portamenti are sometimes sloppy and the upper notes tremulous, especially in crescendo. In “L’ora, O Tirsi” Puccini’s first Manon is quite winning, displaying clear and brilliant runs and an excellent trill. What a lovely soft upper G she has! She also knows exactly where to slow down and where to speed up. She avoids the optional high C at the end and attempts another trill, but this overtaxes her support. Though her “In quelle trine morbide” lacks a magical pianissimo, she introduces some interesting “old school” phrasing (for example, joining “Ed io che m’ero avvezza” onto the preceding phrase with a portamento followed by a breath after “Ed”). Her Mimì is a spirited little thing; in “Mi chiamano Mimì” she makes a lovely effect by anticipating the high A on “il profumo d’un fior”, and throughout she holds our attention. In “Donde lieta uscì” she sounds over-parted, but offers a moving and accomplished version of Margherita’s “Lullaby” from Mefistofele. The love duet from Faust is noteworthy for her sustained, impassioned, and intensely lyrical singing—a very Italian Gretchen. Her tenor, Giovanni Apostolu, sings with the open, rather “white” tone so popular in those days; he decorates his music tastefully in the style of De Lucia. He died young, but in a ten-year Italian career sang at La Scala in I Medici, Patrie, and Andrea Chénier, and at the San Carlo, Naples, in I Medici, La dannazione di Faust, Werther, Mefistofele, Lohengrin, Lucia di Lammermoor, and Maria di Rohan.
This important soprano was born in Naples on 12 May 1877, the daughter of Beniamino Carelli, one of the last great singing teachers of the Neapolitan school, himself a pupil of Alessandro Busti, a legendary teacher. Having studied with her father, Emma made her debut on 17 September 1895 in Mercadante’s La vestale for the inauguration of the Teatro Mercadante, Altamura, celebrating the centenary of the composer’s birth. She created Stella by Camillo De Nardis at Chieti, the composer’s birthplace; she was to repeat this opera at the Teatro Lirico, Milan, in 1898. At the Teatro Mercadante, Naples, she sang Romeo in Bellini’s I Capuleti ed i Montecchi with Caruso as Tebaldo, apparently the first attempt to revive the opera with Bellini’s own last act instead of Vaccaj’s. Two further creations followed: Collana di Pasqua by Gustavo Luporini (Teatro Mercadante, Naples, 1 November 1896) and Smareglia’s La Falena (Teatro Rossini, Venice, 4 September 1897). She appeared as the Infanta in Le Cid at the Teatro Lirico, Milan, and as Massenet’s Manon in Rovereto, the Teatro Mercadante, Naples, and elsewhere. Her first triumphs in Fedora took place in Mantua and Bologna in 1898. She made her first appearance at the Teatro Costanzi, Rome, on 7 May 1899, creating La Colonia libera by Pietro Floridia, followed by Iris; in November she sang La Wally and, with Caruso, Iris and Mefistofele. In December 1899 she began seven performances of Desdemona in Otello with Tamagno at La Scala, followed by Lohengrin, the first performances of Anton by Cesare Galeotti, three performances only as Tatiana in Eugenio Oneghin but ten in La bohème with Caruso—then a mere three of Le maschere, also with Caruso, but together they chalked up nine of Mefistofele. In May they appeared together in Buenos Aires, in Mefistofele, Iris, La bohème, and Cavalleria rusticana, and she sang her first Tosca with Emilio De Marchi. She would return frequently to South America. She sang Madama Butterfly in Buenos Aires, in 1907. In 1901 she sang Fedora and Zazà in Genoa. She appeared in Lisbon in 1902, 1905, 1907, and 1908. In her first Madrid season in 1902-1903 she sang La bohème with Bonci, Lohengrin with Constantino, and Cavalleria rusticana, returning in 1903-1904 for Tosca, La bohème, and Mefistofele, all with Bassi. She sang in Barcelona in 1905, 1906, 1908, and 1909, in St. Petersburg in 1906, and in Bucarest in 1907. In March 1909 she sang two performances of Iris at Monte Carlo with Anselmi and Pini-Corsi. Other operas in her repertoire included Il Maestro di Cappella (Paer), Mignon, La Gioconda, Andrea Chénier, Adriana Lecouvreur, Gloria, Sapho (Massenet), Krysée (by the Italo-Argentinian composer Arturo Berutti, at the Politeama Argentino, Buenos Aires, 21 June 1902), Lorenza, Mademoiselle de Belle Isle (Samara), and Fadette (Dario de’ Rossi). She created Virgilio’s Jana (Teatro Adriano, Rome, 1906), Editha by Anton Francesco Carbonieri (Teatro Lirico, 1906), and Fasma by Pasquale La Rotella (Teatro Dal Verme, Milan, 1908).
In 1898 she married Walter Mocchi, a self-made millionaire and later one of the founders of the Italian Communist Party, whose role in organizing the general strike in 1904 led to Carelli’s being banned from many theaters; frustrated by the cancellation of her contract at the Teatro Lirico, she took poison but was saved. In 1906 Mocchi began to try his hand as an impresario and gradually worked himself into a powerful position, dominating many Italian and South American theaters. In 1911 he persuaded his wife to undertake the direction of the Teatro Costanzi, which she did triumphantly until 1926. In her first season she sang Elektra; on the afternoon of the first performance the theater caught fire and she had to deal with smoke, water, and stress. However, she went on as Elettra that night and had an enormous success. “Emma Carelli realised the character…. In all her rabid, bestial fury, in the passion for vengeance that guides her actions, that illuminates every word of hers with eloquence….” (Nicola D’Atri, Il Giornale d’Italia, 8 February 1912.) Carelli gave up the idea of creating Pizzetti’s Fedra, but she did reappear briefly at the Teatro Coliseo, Buenos Aires, in Cavalleria rusticana in 1913, and in one performance each of Iris and Cavalleria rusticana at the Costanzi in 1914. At “her” theater her roles had also included Tosca, the first performances of Leoncavallo’s Majà, and Carmela in Giordano’s Mese Mariano. Elsewhere her creations included Editha by Anton Francesco Carbonieri (Teatro Lirico, 1906), Jana by Roberto Virgilio (Teatro Adriano, Rome, 1906), and Fasma by Pasquale La Rotella (Teatro Dal Verme, Milan, 1908). Giacomo Lauri-Volpi relates that while she was teaching him Manon, when they came to the climax of the Saint-Sulpice duet she was unable to restrain herself and burst into song. The young tenor felt that never would he hear anyone reach such an exalted level of expression. Other singers who owed much to her included Tito Schipa, Carlo Galeffi, Luigi Montesanto, Rosa Raisa, and Bidú Sayão.
Petite and attractive, she became famous for her violent reactions to any kind of arrogance from those in authority: she cursed Edoardo Sonzogno in Italian and French when he would not allow Cilea to star her in the premiere of L’Arlesiana. She famously declared: “In my life I have had three passions: Walter Mocchi, the Teatro Costanzi, and this cursed car which some time or another is going to crush me”—which it did, on 17 August 1928.
In his biography Emma Carelli, Trent’anni di Vita del Teatro Lirico (Rome, Maglione, 1932) Augusto Carelli tells us that his sister began by imitating her elder sister, Bice, who had the better voice, “Meanwhile she was fighting an arduous battle with her own voice. How often I have seen references to ‘Emma Carelli’s magnificent voice’ in superficial articles. No, magnificent it was not. It was a nice voice with a warm timbre, irresistibly attractive in the medium notes, easy and rich in the lowest. And, needless to say, it is in the medium register that one sings: but Emma’s voice was naturally short. My father’s skill all went towards developing the high register which was so necessary to her to throw herself into the ‘soprano assoluto’ roles, as they were called.”
On her records we hear a well-trained voice of considerable charm too often indulging in hysterical, neurotic performances. She can execute all the crescendo and diminuendo effects called for by her scores, float beautiful soft high notes, and, as we hear in Mefistofele, she could trill. However, not for nothing were Carelli, Eugenia Burzio, and others of the realist school referred to as “le disperate” (the desperate ones)! For Carelli the words were very important, and to get them across she will sometimes emit a very open and shrill E or I even above the stave, while her O—particularly in the final syllable of a word—is often almost as closed as the U.
The extraordinarily rare G & Ts of 1904, on sale for only a few months, include some gems. Maddalena’s aria “La mamma morta” from Andrea Chénier is a magnificent performance. She is telling the story eloquently, slowing down and singing more softly in the pathetic passages, especially where she is unhampered by the accompaniment, and bridging over tellingly into the big tunes. In the finale she does not get over-excited: she leaves out a phrase or two to save breath for the high B, a splendid note, and her last phrase is more effective than Giordano’s original. “Vissi d’arte”, both on G & T and Fonotipia, is a deeply felt performance. She is heard at her worst in the duet with Scarpia from Act Two, ranting grotesquely, while Sammarco introduces peals of mocking laughter. However! The record sounds almost like a live performance on stage. Here we have two famous singing actors practically adlibbing their parts in a manner that could never be guessed at merely from reading the score. Despite his rough timbre, Sammarco declaims magnificently. In Mascheroni’s Lorenza, Carelli had a dream role. Lorenza is a strolling player who is engaged to entrap the bandit Carmine with her wiles. Asked to demonstrate her prowess, she improvises the biblical story of the chaste Susanna, surprised while bathing in the river by two old men. Sammarco plays her protector, Gerace, applauding her performance with cries of “Meraviglia!”. The imaginary water is cold, and “Susanna” laughs aloud—then she notices that she is being observed, and that the water is transparent! “O shame!” Carelli is certainly acting like mad, though her raucous laughter is not perhaps felicitous. She is at her best in the rather attractive arioso from Act Three of Lorenza, in which the heroine, having inadvertently fallen in love with her intended victim, expresses her longing to save him. In the death of Fedora she is noble and distinguished, maintaining an intensely charged legato and finding an effective, sinister tone quality in chest voice to express the last gasps of the poisoned lady. Ventura rings out brilliantly in his one phrase: his sustaining of the high B-flat is traditional. This is another record that brings into our homes the vivid atmosphere of the theater. In Manon’s farewell to her table Carelli opens the recitative in her wild and woolly style, but in the aria proper she is able to show off her warm and attractive timbre, delicate attacks, and touching use of rubato, lingering perhaps more than a French soprano would, but to great effect. We plan to include Carelli’s Fonotipia recordings and the best of her Pathés in the next volume of this series.
The baritone Delfino Menotti asked Emma why she turned Margherita into “a frenzied fury, a woman with dishevelled hair and a shattered body, taking up postures that gentle souls might find repugnant?” And Emma replied, “… before I begin to sing, or rather to talk, the audience must have the sensation of finding itself in the presence of the ruined shell of an anguished life, see stretched out on the floor a poor broken creature with straws in her hair, her eyes fixed and glazed like a true madwoman, so her aria is in fact her raving, and instead of coming down to the prompter’s box as they always do, she should sing it lying on the ground with her mouth in the dust … Dear Menotti, from now on Margherita will always be played the way I do it and not the way the others did it, and the whole art of interpretation will incline towards real life and not towards the fictitious life of your times!”
THE SIBERIA RECORDS
Story of the Opera
Act One. Vassili (tenor), a young soldier, meets and falls in love with the mysterious Stephana (soprano). After a rendezvous with her that has protracted itself all through the night, he goes to visit his aunt, Nikona, at the house where she is a lady’s maid, and discovers that Stephana is the mistress of the house. Walitzin, the rich officer who keeps Stephana in luxury, is playing cards in the next room, but when he suddenly comes in and asks who the young man is, Stephana boldly replies that he is her lover. Both men draw their swords and Walitzin’s friends send for the police; in the street below Vassili’s regiment is marching off to war against the Turks, but he realizes that his military career is over.
Act Two. At a halting place on the route that the exiled convicts must take on their long walk to Siberia, Stephana arrives in a carriage; she has given all her riches, the wages of sin, to the poor so that she may accompany Vassili to Siberia.
Act Three. It is Easter Saturday. Vassili is undergoing forced labor in the mines, and the scene is laid in the fortified camp where the prisoners live. One of them offers Stephana an escape route: they can get away through a disused well while everyone is distracted by the sacred drama that is going to be acted that night. Stephana refuses; she will not leave Vassili. Among the prisoners is Stephana’s old acquaintance, Gleby. The new governor now appears: it is Walitzin. He is kind to Stephana and tries to persuade her to return to his house, but in vain. Gleby taunts Vassili with Stephana’s past but when she reveals that Gleby had been her first lover and had then sold her to Walitzin, the other prisoners mock him. Stephana and Vassili are now eager to escape, but Gleby overhears their plans and betrays them to the Governor. Walitzin tries to force Stephana to leave, but in despair at the idea of being separated from Vassili she stabs herself. As she dies, a human chain of new prisoners arrives. “The sad and passionate drama of Stephana is over; the great and terrible drama of Siberia goes on.”
Whilst writing Andrea Chénier in Milan, Umberto Giordano, having lost the interest and financial support of the publisher Sonzogno, was forced to sleep in a funeral parlor; this may well have furnished him with melancholy atmospheric feelings enough to prepare him for setting to music Luigi Illica’s feeble libretto for Siberia. Although Siberia failed to repeat the success of Andrea Chénier and Fedora, the opera was, for a while, widely performed and even entered the repertory of the Paris Opéra, the leading roles pleasing Lucien Muratore and Lina Cavalieri.
To record nine selections from a new opera with the original cast, accompanied by Maestro Raffaele Delli Ponti, who had arranged the vocal score of the opera, was a daring venture for G & T and might have led to more efforts of a similar nature if they had only chosen a better opera! The fabulous rarity of the original records indicates that very few opera lovers bought them.
Our first selection is the serenade, the “Mattinata” improvised by Gleby (De Luca) outside Stephana’s bedroom door, with an accompaniment by Alexis (tenor), the banker Miskinsky (baritone), and Walitzin (bass). A mystery: the record label gives the singers backing up De Luca as G. Pini-Corsi, Oreste Gennari, and Vittorio Pozzi Camola, so if G. Pini-Corsi is to be identified as Gaetano Pini-Corsi, brother of the baritone Antonio, what we have here is tenor-tenor-baritone, instead of tenor-baritone-baritone as in the score. The baritone singing Miskinsky—he does not sound like a tenor, nor does he sound like Antonio Pini-Corsi—offers a fine trill. We shall probably never be able to find out who is singing what, or why! The piece is charming, and sung by De Luca with all the elegance we expect from him. Maestro Delli Ponti plays the introductory arpeggi in the original key, then in his first phrase “O bella mia” De Luca skillfully modulates a semitone down, singing in D-flat instead of the original key of D Major. Whoever sings the baritone part (il banchiere) offers an excellent trill. The serenade has ironic overtones, since Gleby believes that Stephana has not yet returned home from her nocturnal adventures.
We now hear Stephana’s recitative “No! Se un pensier tortura la mia mente”, perfectly declaimed by Storchio all on E-flat, first line (surely Giordano was thinking of Desdemona’s “Ave Maria”). Her aria “Nel suo amore rianimata” is one of the most beautiful lyrical inspirations in all verismo opera, and Storchio sings it ravishingly. The expert ear can detect future trouble in her inability always to control D, fourth line, a passage note that every soprano needs to establish properly. However, Storchio molds her phrases with elegance and charm and with some true virtuoso effects, like the exquisite soft upper G at “l’esistenza rinnovata”. She changes the order of the words at “Chi son io non sappia mai” to avoid having to sing the high A on the I vowel of “vita”; now it comes on the A of “mai”, and on this high A she executes a suono ribattuto, delicately striking the note a second time—a classical bel canto ornament applied to a brand new verismo opera! She tries an ambitious bridge-over with a portamento leading into the reprise of the melody, but here the recording is not clear enough for us to be sure whether her voice has cracked or not. She omits the final phrase (“fiori e amor”) which would, in fact, have been an anti-climax after her delicious pianissimo conclusion. A truly lovely record, confirming her star quality.
This scene continues with the duet between Stephana and Gleby. Storchio misses a few cues, but when De Luca enters with “Quest’orgoglio non a noi nati” we realize that this is going to be his record, and in fact he sings at his best throughout. Gleby begins by teasing Stephana with her humble origins, and the music requires the rapid, elegant patter deriving from the buffo stlye, of which De Luca was a master; he compares her mockingly to Mary Magdalene (“a popish fable”) and then the music grows more threatening as he warns her that she is still in his power. De Luca, without having an enormous voice, dominates in a satisfactorily intimidating manner. The dramatic situation is quite strong and fairly original, but the music is weak.
“T’incontrai per via” comes at the end of Act One: Vassili impulsively describes how when he first met Stephana in the street, an inner voice told him that she was his destiny, and that he must love her. After a rather flurried start Zenatello offers us a thrilling page of declamation. The voice is young and fresh, without any of the wooden timbre and suspect intonation of some of his later records. His diction throughout is clear and biting, he sings without any hint of strain and rises triumphantly to a sustained high B-flat.
At the frontier to “the hungry steppe” we meet, at the beginning of Act Two, the great buffo bass-baritone Antonio Pini-Corsi, who makes a delightful thing out of his brief appearance as Lo Starosta, a village official, here depicted as a clerical parasite collecting for “charity”. After hastily devouring a big slice of bread and swallowing from his hip-flask, he turns on the merchants—“Cani ed avari” (miserly dogs)—and invites them to offer up contributions to the cult of St. Miloutin. Pini-Corsi’s voice, by 1904, was no longer in the freshest condition after years of buffo singing, but he is, as always, vivid and lovable, and though the high F is rather hard, he can still manage a good trill! This scene was often cut out in later performances.
Also from Act Two comes Vassili’s outburst “Orride steppe!”, which Zenatello appears to have transposed a semitone down. He is not able to command all the variety of dynamics that Giordano asks for, but again declaims urgently with thrillingly clear and brilliant tones, especially in the final imprecation, “Siberia...a sad coffin for fell skeletons, cursed by Heaven!”. This aria is immediately followed by the duet “E’ qui con te il mio destin”, an example of the best kind of verismo singing; both Storchio and Zenatello sing with intense passion, clarity of enunciation, and warm, forward tone without any unnecessary exaggeration or vulgarity. The vocal line is rather awkward, aiming at repeating the impact of the final duet in Andrea Chénier but missing the bullseye. Both of them make a gallant assault upon the high C , bringing down the curtain on Act Two.
From Act Three we hear Stephana’s second aria, “Non odi là il martir”. From offstage come the sounds of Vassili and the other convicts lamenting their life of endless blood, tears, and sweat. Proudly, Stephana declares her love for Siberia, a mother who has taught her how to love. Without boasting the opulent tones of Amelia Pinto or the wide tonal palette of Emma Carelli, Storchio gives an excellent performance, full of interest, closely following the dynamic markings in the score and indulging in little pauses on her favorite G, piano.
The last selection is a solo for Gleby, “La conobbi quand’era fanciulla”, marked in the score “con elasticità di tempo”—elastic in tempo. As we have heard in all these verismo records, the music gains from a proper conception of elastic phrasing, and the complicity of Maestro Delli Ponti in following the singers’ rubato proves the authenticity of what today might seem undue liberty in tempo variations. Like Baron Scarpia, Gleby likes to express himself musically by recourse to pastiche of eighteenth-century operatic clichés (he is a social climber anxious to appear at home with the aristocracy), and this scene begins with a winningly insinuating De Luca describing the charms of the 15 year old Stephana. He modestly claims to have taught her a thing or two. Then, in waltz time, he describes her sensational success as a demi-mondaine. De Luca sings in a masterly fashion throughout, rising to a finely supported climactic high G.
SHORT BIOGRAPHIES OF SIBERIA CREATORS
Rosina Storchio was born in Venice on 19 May 1876, and died in Milan on 24 July 1945. She studied at the Conservatorio di Milano, and later with Alberto Giovannini and Giuseppe Fatuo, and according to some sources also had some lessons from Melchiorre Vidal. She made her debut at the Teatro Dal Verme, Milan, as Micaëla in Carmen in October 1892, followed by La traviata. After some appearances as Nedda in Pagliacci in Padova, Verona, Trieste, Livorno, and Milan she arrived at La Scala, not yet 20 years old, in March 1895, singing Sophie in Werther with Ada Adini and Fernando Valero. She was soon in demand for the creation of new operas of the verismo school, which benefitted from her combination of a small but fresh and brilliant voice with a vivacious acting style: Mimì in Leoncavallo’s La bohème (La Fenice, Venice, 6 May 1897) and his Zazà (Teatro Lirico, Milan, 10 November 1900), Giordano’s Il voto (Teatro Lirico, 10 November 1897), La saga di Valaperta by Filippo Brunetto (Teatro Lirico, 9 May 1895), and Fadette by Dario de’ Rossi (Teatro Nazionale, Rome, 28 January 1896). At La Scala she starred in the first performance of Siberia on 19 December 1903, closely followed by the disastrous premiere of Madama Butterfly on 17 February 1904. Her last creation was Mascagni’s Lodoletta at the Teatro Costanzi, Rome, on 30 April 1917. At La Scala she also appeared in Linda di Chamonix, Hänsel e Gretel, Euryanthe, Faust, Don Pasquale, La Wally, Le nozze di Figaro, Fra Diavolo, La traviata, La sonnambula, La bohème (Puccini), Manon, and Mignon. Other operas in her repertoire included Le prophète, Falstaff, Massenet’s Sapho, Iris, Il barbiere di Siviglia, Mefistofele, Roméo et Juliette, and even, in Madrid in 1914, Tosca with Giuseppe Anselmi. Among the cities where she enjoyed triumphs were Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon, Naples, Rome, Florence, Genoa, Monte Carlo, Paris, Berlin, and Moscow, despite the early appearance of vocal problems. Her visit to Chicago and New York in 1921 came too late, and she took farewell of the stage with a last Manon in Barcelona.
Zenatello was born in Verona on 22 February 1876 and died in New York on 11 February 1949. He studied with Zannoni in Verona and, later, with Moretti in Milan, and made his debut, as a baritone, as Silvio in Pagliacci and Alfio in Cavalleria rusticana at the Teatro Sociale, Bassano (according to Celletti—others give Belluno), in April 1898. We next hear of him in 1899 at the Teatro Mercadante, Naples, where he is said to have sung in Mignon as well as Cav and Pag; one night in March the tenor singing Canio was taken ill so Zenatello took his place, passing from the baritone to the tenor tessitura in one jump, and never looking back. His next roles were Gounod’s Faust and Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor at the Teatro Bellini, Naples. Busy years followed, and by 1901-1902 he was appearing in Malta, Trieste, Lisbon, Palermo, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paolo, and made his La Scala debut as Berlioz’s Faust on 22 December 1902, followed by the world premiere of Oceana by Antonio Smareglia and Un ballo in maschera. At La Scala he also created the tenor roles in Siberia, Madama Butterfly (which he repeated in the successful second version in Brescia), La Figlia di Jorio by Franchetti, and Cilea’s Gloria. He appeared regularly at La Scala until 1913, singing also in Germania, Faust, Loreley, The Queen of Spades, Carmen, La Gioconda, and Aida. He began to sing more abroad than in Italy, though he appeared at the Costanzi, Rome, in 1904 and 1926, and he founded the summer opera seasons at the Verona arena with a series of performances of Aida in 1913, with Ester Mazzoleni, Maria Gay, and Giuseppe Danise. He was a frequent visitor to Brazil and Argentina, and also visited Cuba and Mexico; he did a couple of seasons in Madrid and Barcelona. He made his Covent Garden debut in 1905 and returned regularly until 1909; it was in London that he sang his first Otello, on 1 July 1908, with Melba and Scotti, and he would return on the historic occasion in June 1926 when excerpts from his greatest role were recorded live from the Covent Garden stage by HMV. He was engaged by Hammerstein for the Manhattan Opera House to replace Bonci, and made his New York debut on 4 November 1907 as Enzo to the Gioconda of Nordica. After three seasons with Hammerstein he sang several seasons with the Boston and Chicago companies. He sang a few performances at the Metropolitan in 1909, when Hammerstein made the lordly gesture of “lending” his star tenor to the competition while Caruso was ill. After the First World War he sang rather infrequently, but in 1924 he visited Vienna, Berlin, Moscow, and Leningrad. As a young man his repertoire was very varied, including Il trovatore, Rigoletto, La traviata, I pescatori di perle, La bohème, Edgar, Manon Lescaut, Tosca, Andrea Chénier, Iris, Mefistofele, Adriana Lecouvreur, and such modern works as Il falconiere (Frontini—première), Il violinaro di Cremona (Giovanni Giannetti), La Cabrera, Manuel Menendez, La fanciulla del West, L’amore dei tre re, and I gioielli della Madonna. After meeting and falling in love with Maria Gay in their first Carmen together at La Scala in 1906, he tended to want to sing with her, so his repertoire became dominated by such works as Sansone e Dalila, Aida, Il trovatore, and Carmen, but he took Gli Ugonotti into his repertoire at the same time as Otello and also liked to appear in his first success, Pagliacci. (For Zenatello’s career, see the exhaustive articles in The Record Collector: biography of Zenatello by Tom Hutchinson and Clifford Williams, Vol. XIV Nos. 5 & 6; biography of Maria Gay by Jim McPherson, Vol. 42 Nos. 1, and addenda—including correct dates of births and marriages!—by Jim McPherson, Vol. 43 No. 3.)
GIUSEPPE DE LUCA
Like Zenatello, Giuseppe De Luca was born into a poor family, in Rome, on Christmas Day 1876, and died, loved, and indeed revered, in New York on 26 August 1950. He studied with Battistini’s teacher, Venceslao Persichini, at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia. He made his debut on the 6 November 1897 as Valentino in Faust at the Teatro Politeama, Piacenza, where he also sang Germont in La traviata. He then proceeded to the Carlo Felice, Genoa, where he sang in Le Cid, La bohème (Leoncavallo), I pescatori di perle, and Andrea Chénier with young, budding stars such as Febea Strakosch, Rosina Storchio, Regina Pinkert, and Enrico Caruso, who would become a lifelong friend and colleague. For the next 20 years De Luca, who had not been blessed with the golden voice of a Battistini nor the magnificent roar of a Ruffo, made a solid reputation as an artist who could be relied upon for any baritone part, whether in the new dramatic operas of Giordano or Puccini, or in the comic masterpieces of the past (in which he was superb). After his first break-through in 1899-1900 at the Sâo Carlos, Lisbon, in 1902 he sang in Parma, Palermo, and at the Lirico, Milan. He arrived at the São Carlos, Naples, in 1903 then made his first trip to Buenos Aires and Montevideo with Caruso. His first appearance at La Scala in the 1903-1904 season was as Alberich in L’oro del Reno, closely followed by the world premieres of Siberia and Madama Butterfly, after which he sang in Faust, Dinorah, and Massenet’s Grisélidis. Apart from frequent reappearances at La Scala, the Costanzi, and the San Carlo, he was busy in Bologna, Torino, Trieste, Santiago del Chile, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Bucharest, Barcelona, Odessa, Kiev, Vienna (Tosca with Gemma Bellincioni and Alessandro Bonci, 26 October 1909), and Havana. He created Michonnet in Adriana Lecouvreur (with Pandolfini and Caruso, Teatro Lirico, Milan, 6 November 1902). His incredibly wide repertoire took in such differing operas as Le nozze di Figaro, Massenet’s Manon, Sapho and Werther, Hamlet, Sansone e Dalila, La favorita, Lucia di Lammermoor, Linda di Chamonix, I puritani, Gli Ugonotti, L’Africana, Aida, Ernani, Un ballo in maschera, Il trovatore, Don Carlo, Otello, La Gioconda, Zazà, Iris, Fedora, Carmen, Pagliacci, Cavalleria rusticana, La bohème, Tosca, and Germania. His “specialities” were Il barbiere di Siviglia, Don Pasquale, Don Giovanni, L’elisir d’amore, La dannazione di Faust, Rigoletto, and La traviata. His Wagner roles included Beckmesser, Wolfram, Telramund, and Amfortas. There were also occasional forays into Leroux’s Théodora, Paladilhe’s Patrie, The bartered bride, Donaudy’s Sperduti nel buio, Bizet’s Don Procopio, Pacchierotti’s Eidelberga mia!, Humperdinck’s Figli di Re, and he also sang in the first performances of Franchetti’s Notte di leggenda, Granados’s Goyescas, and Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. On 25 November 1915 De Luca made his Metropolitan debut as Rossini’s Figaro, and from then until 1935 he performed almost exclusively in America. No longer obliged to pit himself against the beefy-voiced Italian baritones of his day, he restricted himself to a range of parts in which he was hailed as a savior of bel canto. Operas he added to his repertoire in America included: Marta, Marouf, Lakmé, Lodoletta, La forza del destino, L’Italiana in Algeri, Eugene Onegin, Così fan tutte, Roméo et Juliette, Le Roi de Lahore, L’amico Fritz, Les Contes d’Hoffmann, La vestale, Don Quichotte, Turandot, La campana sommersa, Luisa Miller, and Il Signor Bruschino. Between 1935 and 1939 he made a leisurely, royal progress across Europe, singing mainly Il barbiere, La traviata, Rigoletto, Don Pasquale, and L’elisir d’amore—but also Madama Butterfly, Il Signor Bruschino, and La dannazione di Faust in London, Stockholm, Naples, Turin, Genova, Milan, Rome, Monte Carlo, Bologna, and San Remo, before returning to New York for a series of guest appearances at the Metropolitan. Trapped in Italy during the War, where he would occasionally sing, he returned to America in 1946 and sang once more at the Metropolitan in Don Pasquale and in a number of concerts in which all the old charm, most of the technique, and quite a lot of the voice were still there to be admired.
Once again we are all indebted to Jim McPherson and The Record Collector—Volume 48 No. 4—for full biographical details of Antonio Pini-Corsi, the greatest and the most loved basso-baritono-buffo on records. When Marston Records are able to realize our plan of issuing a CD of this delightful artist, we could do no better than reprinting this article. He was born, an ardent Italian nationalist, in Austrian Zadar (Zara) on 12 June 1859 and died in Milan on 22 April 1918, a short time before his hometown was finally—though temporarily—restored to Italy. He came from a family of singers, and studied with his uncle, Achille Corsi, father of the soprano Emilia Corsi. He made his debut in Cremona in 1878 as Dandini in La Cenerentola and continued singing comic roles until his first Rigoletto, at Novara in 1884, a role he loved and occasionally managed to sing, including an appearance with Melba at La Scala in 1893. Among the serious operas in which he sang bass or baritone parts (some of them, of course, comic, like Monostatos or the sacristan in Tosca) were La traviata, Lakmé, Lohengrin, Manon Lescaut, La navarraise, Phryné, Lucia di Lammermoor, Cavalleria rusticana, I maestri cantori di Norimberga (Beckmesser), La sonnambula, and Werther. His unrivalled comic creations, to which he brought unending wit and invention as well as a solidly founded virtuoso florid technique, were to be relished in Don Giovanni; Usiglio’s Le donne curiose and Le educande di Sorrento; Paer’s Il maestro di cappella; Rossini’s Il barbiere, La Cenerentola, L’Italiana in Algeri, and Il Signor Bruschino; Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, Il campanello, and L’elisir d’amore; and even Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor. It is not surprising that so resourceful an artist should have appeared in so many world premieres, the most important of which was Verdi’s Falstaff. Verdi loved and trusted Pini-Corsi, going to hear him night after night in Genoa in La forza del destino; his records of Fra Melitone’s music illustrate exactly how much improvisation Verdi expected and approved in such a traditional buffo role. For “a raving mad role like Ford,“ Verdi thought that “...nobody else could do this part, which is of the first importance!” and so successful was Pini-Corsi that, after the first night, he often had to encore Ford’s aria. Other premieres in which the chubby little chap took part included Franchetti’s Cristoforo Colombo, La bohème, Madama Butterfly, La fanciulla del West, Königskinder, Cyrano de Bergerac by Walter Damrosch, and Madeleine by Victor Herbert. In Siberia he had three small parts. His career took him all over the world and he sang with all the greatest singers—with Patti at Covent Garden in 1895 and in her final Paris Barbiere in 1907. Falstaff took him to Vienna, Berlin, Madrid, London, and on tour through the British Isles, and he sang his Don Pasquale and Don Bartolo (both extensively recorded), with other roles, at the Metropolitan, at Monte Carlo, and practically everywhere.
© Michael Aspinall, 2010