Below are just some of the greatest of Italian Opera singers who made the Gramophone what it became.
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Pride of place must of-course go to the greatest of tenors,
ENRICO CARUSO (1873-1921)
Before Caruso, the great soprano ADELINA PATTI (1843-1919) was the best known name in Opera. Born in Spain to Italian-singer parents, much of her career was spent in the USA and London. Her agreement to record at the end of her career in 1905 was regarded as a huge coup for the infant Gramophone.
PASQUALE AMATO (1878-1942), the huge-voiced baritone, as Scarpia. Creator of several roles including Rance in Puccini’s LA FANCIULLA DEL WEST, he recorded for both Fonotipia and Victor.
The urbane Jewish-Italian baritone MARIO ANCONA (1860-1931) created Silvio in Leoncavallo’s PAGLIACCI and recorded for Victor.
MATTIA BATTISTINI (1856-1928) was as renowned in Russia as in his native Italy and is seen here in Tchaikowsky’s PIQUE DAME. He recorded prolifically from 1902 until 1924 for HMV. A genuine bel-canto singer, he was known as the king of baritones.
In this Russian postcard, here he is again, this time in RIGOLETTO, a role not usually associated with him.
As these pictures show, his bel-canto technique helped sustain a long career for the fine baritone GIUSEPPE DE LUCA (1876-1950). For Puccini he created Sharpless in MADAMA BUTTERFLY and the title role in GIANNI SCHICCHI. He recorded for Fonotipia and Victor and was still singing after World War Two.
EUGENIO GIRALDONI (1871-1924) was born in Marseilles. He was the creator of Scarpia in Puccini’s LA TOSCA.
The baritone GIUSEPPE KASCHMANN (1850-1925) sang at The Metropolitan’s first season. He was also among the first to record. His Red G&Ts are prized possessions indeed!
The long-lived TANCREDI PASERO (1892-1983) enjoyed a 40 year international career as one of the greatest Italian basses of them all. His records are usually found on the Cetra-Odeon labels.
Pasero’s main rival was the dashing EZIO PINZA (1892-1957), here seen as one of his greatest roles, DON GIOVANNI. He recorded for HMV, Victor and Columbia and later appeared in musicals on Broadway and in Hollywood films.
Three studies of one of the greatest singers of the century, the awesome baritone TITTA RUFFO (né Ruffo Titta 1877-1953). Known for his ‘lion-like’ voice, he recorded for Pathé, HMV and Victor. His 1914 recording of Si Pel Ciel with Caruso is surely one of the great recordings of all time.
MARIO SAMMARCO (1873-1938), here as Scarpia, was a baritone known as much for his acting as for his voice per se. Among the roles he created was Gérard in Giordano’s ANDREA CHENIER.
The fine actor-baritone ANTONIO SCOTTI (1866-1936) reigned at The Metropolitan for over 30 years and was close friends with fellow-Neapolitan Caruso recording several memorable duets alongside the great tenor. Here he is seen out of costume as well as in the roles of Don Giovanni and Iago.
RICCARDO STRACCIARI (1875-1955) was one of the greatest of baritones, particularly renowned in IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA and RIGOLETTO. He recorded for Fonotipia and Columbia and enjoyed a long career. During the early 40s he taught a young bass called Boris Christoff…Today he is strangely underrated. His records are more than well worth acquiring!
If today, the voice of FLORA PERINI (1887-1975) is known only through her single Victor recording in 1917, alongside Caruso and Galli-Curci in the RIGOLETTO quartet, in her own time she was highly in demand, especially in Argentina and the USA. She created the role of Principessa in Puccini’s SUOR ANGELICA, alongside Geraldine Farrar and Pepa in Granados’s GOYESCAS. Why she never recorded again is a mystery.
Some voices inspire awe even among other singers. One such was that of the great mezzo EBE STIGNANI (1904-????), here seen as Santuzza in CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA.
The fine soprano ADELINA AGOSTINELLI (1882-1954) was admired in Italy, South America, Russia and the USA, singing alongside the very best artists. However, her voice is little known today because she only recorded for Pathé, Edison and Fonografia-Nazionale.
GEMMA BELLINCIONI (1864-1950),was one of the first great verismo sopranos, creating Santuzza in Mascagni’s CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA and the title role in Giordano’s FEDORA.
The great dramamtic soprano CELESTINA BONINSEGNA (1877-1947) did not perhaps enjoy the career her talents deserved. However her immortality on record is assured. Whether on Pathé, HMV or Columbia, her records are truly superb.
Known as much for her looks as for her singing, the soprano LINA CAVALIERI (1874-1944) nevertheless had a substantial operatic career.
Perhaps the greatest coloratura soprano of them all, AMELITA GALLI-CURCI (1882-1963) began as a pianist until a family friend, Mascagni, discovered her voice. Sadly, a benign growth in her throat put an end to her career around 1930, but nor before she’d made many definitive recordings for Victor.
One of the true legends, LUISA TETRAZZINI (1871-1940) had a deceptively big voice for a soprano with a top F and an amazing coloratura technique. She could sing anything from Gilda to Aida. Perhaps only she, in those days of musical snobbery would have been happy to be photographed at a recording session of music-hall star George Formby Senior, obviously enjoying herself.
Glamorous and talented, a generation or so later and perhaps CLAUDIA MUZIO (1889-1936) would have been an Italian film-star. As it was, she was probably the greatest singing-actress of her day, preceding and certainly outsinging a certain Greek singer called Maria Callas. She covered much of the Italian repertoire and was superb in Puccini. She is seen here out of costume and then as TOSCA and Giorgetta in Puccini’s IL TABARRO, a role which she created. Muzio recorded for HMV, Pathe, Edison and finally Columbia. Any serious operatic collector should aim to have at least some of her records.
GIANNINA ARANGI-LOMBARDI (1891-1951) was trained as a mezzo and there was always something of that richness in her wonderful dramatic soprano voice. As a rival to the formidable Muzio, she had different qualities, especially a certain tragic nobility which set her apart. She was therefore particularly suited to the operas of the older school such as Donizetti and Bellini but also Verdi. She recorded prolifically for Columbia, including some superb complete operas made in the 1920s.
MAFALDA FAVERO (1903-1981) was one of a number of fine Italian lyric sopranos of international reputation active during the inter-war years. She looks very glamorous in this autographed picture, but it is as the innocent and fresh-voiced youthful partner to Tito Schipa in the recording of Cherry Duet from Mascagni’s L’Amico Fritz that she is known to most record-collectors. A truly classic performance.
MAGDA OLIVEIRO (b.1912). although this soprano was always of the highest quality both as singer and actress with an intensity of performance that was spine-tingling, it is perhaps her legendary performances of LA TOSCA at the Metropolitan at the age of 60 for which she will best be remembered.
The tenor, ALESSANDRO BONCI (1870-1940) was one of Caruso’s early rivals, though his singing-style is really that of an earlier school. He recorded over a very long period even into the electric era on Fonotipia and Columbia. He was also a judge at a 1910 competition for young tenors. His choice? Beniamino Gigli.
The great Neapolitan tenor FERNANDO DE LUCIA (1860-1925) was, in his own time, one of the first verismo singers, yet on record, (HMV, Victor and Phonotype) he is for us fascinating as the last of the bel canto tenors, enabling us to time-travel back to the 19th century. He recorded well past his retirement from the stage (if in transposed keys) and taught several of the best singers of the next generation. His importance was recognized when he was invited to sing at Caruso’s funeral. He was chosen to create the title role in Mascagni’s L’AMICO FRITZ and Osaka in IRIS, yet he was also a superb Rossini singer.
Here seen in a later photograph, BENIAMINO GIGLI (1890-1957) became the tenor who perhaps more than any other took over Caruso’s mantle as the world’s greatest tenor. He recorded prolifically for HMV and Victor. His mezza-voce was quite astonishingly beautiful. His career lasted 40 years.
Here out of costume and as Rodolfo in LA BOHEME, we see the fine tenor ARISTODEMO GIORGINI (1879-1937) who recorded early on for Fonotipia but was still available to take part in a complete electric recording of LA BOHEME in the late 1920s.
The great tenor, GIACOMO LAURI-VOLPI (1892-????) was one of Gigli’s main rivals. Somewhat of an intellectual, he recorded over a long period for various labels but some of his late 20s HMV electrics are quite phenomenal. Although the voice dried out over time, he was still able to sing Nessun Dorma into his 80s as at least one wildly enthusiastic Spanish audience discovered.
One of the most important artists on record was the great lyric-tenor TITO SCHIPA (1889-1965). His singing was all charm whilst his musicianship and technique allowed him to sing on into his 70s. Thus his recordings begin with acoustic Pathés, continue with HMVs and Victors and end in the LP era.
One of the genuinely astounding voices was that of the tenore di forza of FRANCESCO TAMAGNO (1850-1905). He lived just long enough to leave posterity a hint of what he must have been like on stage…truly a phenomenon! He created Verdi’s OTELLO (seen above) in 1883 and was among the first to spot the supremacy of a new young tenor in his earliest years, Enrico Caruso.
GIOVANNI ZENATELLO (1876-1949), began as a baritone but soon developed into one of the very greatest of dramatic tenors. He could well have been pre-eminent in his time but for Caruso. However, he did become world-famous for one role that Caruso never performed, Verdi’s OTELLO, which became his calling card. Many regarded him as Tamagno’s successor. He recorded acoustically on Fonotipia and Columbia, before his final electrics for HMV. all reveal him as an artist of the highest calibre. Married to the Spanish mezzo, Maria Gay, they were both important in the launch of the career of a young soprano called Maria Callas.Zenatello and Gay’s 1930 version of the Finale from CARMEN must surely be one of the most exciting of all time.