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A New Golden Age of Forgotten Tenors Active in Italy 1940-1955

The Record Collector is proud to advise all its subscribers that a set of four CDs, issued in a limited edition, is in the course of preparation. It will consist of rare and exciting recordings by fine tenors whose names, with only a couple of exceptions, are rather less well-known than those select few who later managed to achieve international recognition. Most have not been previously transferred either to LP or CD, so that these performances have not been generally available. A few singers may be familiar from their activities in the LP era, but it is surprising to find how many of them had also made 78 rpm recordings that have, for the most part, been extremely difficult to find. Subsequently, in their original form, they are now fetching extremely high prices on international dealers’ lists. A conservative estimate of the likely cost involved for the total number of discs used here would be several thousand pounds.

Either for financial reasons or because of their limited life in the catalogues in the late 20s and early 30s, plus limited distribution during the first great financial depression, many discs issued in Italy at that time and later, in the dying days of 78 rpm recordings, have become extremely hard to find. In some instances they have proved to be of greater rarity than those earlier and now historic recordings made in what has become euphemistically referred to as the ‘Golden Age of Singing’. These are truly ‘collector’s items’.

The Cetra Company, through its association with RAI, also issued some recordings via Parlophone and Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft. Voce del Padrone (Italian HMV) and Columbia, too, secured the services of some excellent tenors who were active not only in the theatre but also on radio, and made wise decisions to record them. Both popular operatic excerpts and those from rather less familiar works were committed to disc.

Tenors to be included in this CD set, covering 78 rpm discs made during this period, are as follows:

Mario Filippeschi was famed for his secure and flashing high notes, that earned for him the soubriquet in Spain of ‘Il tenore di spada’ as his acuti were compared to the sharp cutting edge of a Toledo sword blade. His ringing high B flats in ‘Celeste Aida’ and the ‘Improvviso’ from Andrea Chénier and Pinkerton’s aria from Madama Butterfly, plus the high B natural in ‘La donna è mobile’ will bear testament to this.

Cesare Valletti was an elegant and refined singer whose voice, that of a tenore di grazia, at times resembles in timbre that of his mentor Tito Schipa. We can hear him, early in his career, singing with unusual intensity two of Faust’s arias from Boito’s Mefistofele.

The young Franco Corelli, even here, at the beginning of his distinguished career, displayed one of the most glamorous tenor voices of the 20th century. Surely his romantic singing of the two arias from Adriana Lecouvreur will prove the point.

Mario Binci, a vibrant-voiced, committed lirico spinto tenor, starred at Covent Garden in the San Carlo Opera Company’s visit in 1946 and in December of that year was chosen by Toscannini to open the refurbished La Scala Opera season as Ismaele in Nabucco. He appeared later in the USA. Two of his discs were issued in the UK. His concentrated and effective tone is very apparent in his singing of arias from Puccini’s Turandot, Tosca and La Fanciulla del West, which were issued only in Italy, and which show his voice to great advantage.

Giacinto Prandelli, a fine musician with a repertoire of over 50 roles, was specially noted for his bright timbre, excellent style and remarkably clear enunciation. He is heard singing the aria ‘Piangi, sì, piangi’ from Alfano’s Risurrezione, of which there appears to be only one other 78 rpm recording, made by René Maison in the original French.

Danilo Cestari, an excellent lyric tenor, who exhibits a bright and exciting timbre with telling acuti, enjoyed an excellent career on the Mediterranean circuit, Germany, Holland and Belgium and in virtually all the major and regional houses of Italy. He also appeared at the Verona Arena, where in Aida he shared the role of Radames with Franco Corelli and Richard Tucker. Cestari, on retirement, became a voice teacher of note. An aria from Gomes’s Lo Schiavo, ‘Quando nascesti tu’, so rarely recorded, can be heard together with more popular selections, all of which will surely give pleasure.

Amedeo Berdini, possessor of a voice of real weight, coupled with a warm timbre, was a true lirico spinto, whose mentor, Gigli, opened the way to what seemed destined to be a great career. This tragically was cut short by his early death at the age of 44. Arias from Pietri’s Maristella, Catalani’s Loreley, Gomes’s Salvator Rosa and Lo Schiavo, and a passionate Madama Butterfly love duet with Pina Malgarini are included and will impress by their commitment and highly-compelling interpretations.

Licinio Francardi was another lyric tenor whose career Gigli helped to launch. His technique and spectacular acuti, combined with a sympathetic quality, make a very strong impression, even at first hearing. His versions of ‘A te, o cara’ from I Puritani, complete with a top C sharp as written, the charming ‘Pria che spunti in ciel’ from Cimarosa’s Il Matrimonio Segreto and the two arias ‘Una vergine’ and ‘Spirto gentil from La Favorita, both sung in the original keys, the first including a high C sharp, and the second a famous high C. In addition, the rarely recorded aria from Cilea’s Gloria and the beautiful ‘Ah! ritrovarla’ from Mascagni’s Lodoletta sung in a dramatic style, should satisfy the most demanding listener.

Leonida Bellon was a tenor with a fluid and intense vocal quality who enjoyed a career that began in Italy in the mid 30s. He made his first recordings in the 40s. He was heard in the major opera houses and many regional theatres, in demanding roles such as Andrea Chénier, Piccolo Marat and as Calaf in Turandot. As a very elderly gentleman he was featured in the TV programme Tosca’s Kiss, which was about the ‘Casa Verdi’, the home for retired musicians.

Rafael Lagares hailed from the Argentine and had a successful career at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, as well as establishing a reputation in Italy. He possessed a large, dark-hued and plangent tenore di forza that was very satisfying, as can be heard from arias from Cavalleria Rusticana, Fedora, Norma and the duet ‘Parle-moi de ma mère’ from Bizet’s Carmen with Rosetta Papagni.

Gianni Poggi was hailed in the late 40s as the ‘great white hope’ of Italian tenors and the then logical successor to Gigli. His early recordings display excellent, well-informed phrasing that was allied to a brilliant voice of great potency and stunning high notes, as demonstrated in arias from Faust and Tosca. That he was to be surpassed, after only a few years, by Giuseppe di Stefano is now operatic history.

Paolo (Pablo) Civil was a distinguished Spanish tenor who, after commencing his career in Spain, had great success in Italy during the 30s and 40s. He made several 78 rpm recordings, first for Columbia and later for Cetra, and was still recording into the LP era. Here we can hear him singing the taxing aria ‘Mai salvato’ from Catalani’s La Wally, which apparently had never previously been recorded during the 78 rpm era.

Ermanno Lorenzi was destined to succeed whilst still a very young tenor. Early successes saw appearances at the Vienna State Opera, La Scala and other major Italian houses and also at the Metropolitan, New York. However, his star waned, and he ended his career singing comprimario roles. In his prime he surely would have given pleasure, as he displays a bright tenor voice and a good sense of style in arias from Lucia di Lammermoor, Luisa Miller, La Gioconda and Martha.

Roberto Turrini was a dramatic tenore di forza with a voice of burnished and penetrating tone that took him to many major international operatic centres. He was heard at London’s Drury Lane Theatre in Aida, underlining his reputation as a singer who could thrill by the sheer power of his voice. Dynamic versions of arias from Turandot, Ernani and Norma are noteworthy here.

José Soler, the Spanish lirico spinto tenor, enjoyed a fine career in both his own country, Italy and South America, thrilling his audiences in dramatic roles with a voice of quality and easy acuti that displayed real squillo.

Antonio Salvarezza, who one eminent critic thought possessed the most beautiful voice of the five distinguished tenors taking part in the famous Callas performance of Rossini’s Armida in the early 50’s, will most certainly thrill here, with two fabulous ringing top B flats in ‘Ch’ella mi creda’ from Fanciulla del West.

Salvatore Puma, a Sicilian dramatic tenor, gained prominence for his thrilling timbre and committed interpretations of demanding roles. Today there seems to be a shortage of this type of tenore di forza, who can do justice to the demanding role of Verdi’s Otello, from which we can hear him sing ‘Ora e per sempre’ and ‘Niun mi tema’. He manages true pathos in Canio’s much recorded arioso ‘Vesti la giubba’ from Pagliacci, and he is sensationally effective indeed in the aria ‘Mio bianco amor’ from Catalani’s Dejanice, of which there seems to be only one other recording on 78s, an acoustic disc by Nino Piccaluga.

Alberto Lotti-Camici was often heard on RAI in a wide-ranging number of lyric roles. His singing of the rarely recorded aria ‘Se spento il sol’ from Mascagni’s Silvano and a lyrical ‘Ecco ridente il cielo’ from Il Barbiere di Sivigila will surely please, with their attractive timbre and excellent cantilena.

Amerigo Gentilini, a bright voiced lyric tenor, was heard frequently on RAI broadcasts in the early 40s. He commanded those excellent acuti that enabled him to sing the young Fisherman in Guglielmo Tell at the Rome opera, Fernando in La Favorita at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, and Arturo in I Puritani at La Scala. He also appeared at a number of the most prestigious regional houses. His singing of ‘Addio, fiorito asil’ from Madama Butterfly and ‘Recondita armonia’ from Tosca shows both a very well-schooled and more dramatic technique, together with an excellent timbre.

Vasco Campagnano was born in Alexandria (Egypt) to a Jewish/Italian family and commenced his singing career as a baritone. He restudied and emerged as an important tenore di forza. He was noted for his very intense interpretations. He also made some liturgical recordings in the Sephardi mode. He is known for his assumption of Des Grieux in a complete recording of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, but his dramatic singing of Andrea Chénier’s ‘Improvviso’ will surely impress with its declamatory delivery.

Gino Mattera surely had one of the most mellifluous lyric tenor voices of any in this period. He sang regularly on RAI, as well as appearing in opera and recitals. He was very good-looking and starred in a rather unusual film entitled Faust and the Devil. This included music by both Gounod and Boito, with the voice of Onelia Fineschi as Margherita, mimed by Nelly Corradi on screen, and Italo Tajo as Mefisto. Mattera was also featured in a 1956 Italian romantic comedy Mi Permette Babbo, together with Rosanna Carteri, Giulio Neri, Afro Poli and Amalia Pini. Certainly his sensitive and controlled singing of Federico’s lament ‘È la solita storia’ from Cilea’s L’Arlesiana ranks more than favourably with many a famous version, and his ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ and ‘La donna è mobile’ are likewise most winning.

Giovanni Signorini displays a lyrical and honeyed tone, with high B flats of some impact, that can be heard in his singing of ‘Addio, fiorito asil’ from Madama Butterfly and ‘Recondita armonia’ from Tosca. He must have made a very good impression when he appeared in Rome, as he was brought to the notice of Cetra and subsequently was chosen to make these recordings, with the prestigious Orchestra Sinfonia de Radio Italiana under the baton of Arturo Basile.

Giovanni Breviario, a tenore di forza, became known to most collectors for his principal tenor role contributions to the complete recordings of Cavalleria Rusticana made for HMV and Norma issued by Parlophone. That doyen of critics Hermann Klein thought the timbre of Breviario’s voice reminded him of that of the great Catalan tenor Francisco Viñas. Certainly his forthright singing of Otello’s ‘Niun mi tema’ and ‘Vesti la giubba’ from Pagliacci will testify to the very compelling, forceful and yet still extremely attractive quality of his voice.

Costanzo Gero, a lyric tenor with an attractive tone that at times resembles that of Tagliavini. He was very active at the Teatro San Carlo Naples singing among other roles Alfredo in Traviata, the Duke in Rigoletto, and Almaviva in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. He appeared along-side some of the most established singers of that generation, including a number of emerging artists who were to achieve international fame after World War II'

Alessandro Ziliani, a fine lirico-spinto tenor, was already well known in the 30s and, for a while, was married to the charming soprano Mafalda Favero. He enjoyed a career that lasted into the mid 50s and, on his retirement, became a singers’ agent. He was instrumental in getting Pavarotti’s career off the ground, when he heard him in a La Bohème in Modena, although he had originally gone there to scout the talent of the writer Vladimir Nabokov’s son, who was singing Colline.

Nicola Monti made his theatrical début in 1941. His attractive lyric tenor earned him a special place on the international scene in the post World War II era, with a career that really burgeoned after his San Carlo, Naples, début in 1950, singing in La Sonnambula with Margherita Carosio.

Transfers of many early recordings by the established Galliano Masini, Giovanni Malipiero, Giuseppe Lugo, Ferruccio Tagliavini, Mario del Monaco, Giuseppe di Stefano and Cesare Valletti have all, in the past, been given individual coverage by various companies. One or two discs only, showing the art of a few of the tenors included here, have been transferred before. However, none of the recordings being made available on this collection, will in any way duplicate the contents on a Pearl CD set devoted entirely to those tenors who recorded for Cetra up until 1950. Therefore, you will have the opportunity to hear not only a number of less-familiar singers, or indeed voices that are completely new to you, but will be able to compare versions of arias that, by virtue of their popularity alone, are inevitably repeated in this collection.

Without doubt, these CDs should make a welcome addition to the collections of anyone interested in the vocal standards of ‘recorded vocal art’ in the middle of the 20th century and, in particular, to lovers of the tenor voice.

The discs assembled fit perfectly on to four CDs. So, the intention is to issue them as two 2-CD sets. The first will be available in late summer or autumn 2010. An order form is included with this issue of The Record Collector. Each CD set will have a booklet giving biographical details where available and full discographical information.

Should the response warrant it, we plan to issue the second 2-CD set a few months later, but it will depend entirely on the number of enquiries or orders initially received. This issue contains an order form for your attention.

All these transfers will have been engineered by one of the most experienced experts in the field. Great care has been taken to preserve the studio ambience, clarity and immediacy of the original 78 rpm recordings.

Alan Bilgora