After declining for 150 years, vocal virtuosity is on the upswing. In particular, 25 years ago few tenors sang roulades or high Cs. The number who do is steadily burgeoning, though their singing sometimes lacks personality, passion and charm.
The differences between Nicola Monti on a Melodram recording of a Naples performance of La cenerentola in 1958 and Francisco Araiza on a CBS studio recording of the opera from 1980 are representative of the typical differences among tenors—I’m tempted to say singers—then and now. Monti is sunny and ingratiating, his mezza voce caressing. But he omits the trills, smudges the coloratura at conductor Mario Rossi’s fast clip and sounds uncomfortable upstairs. The technical demands are beyond him and his range is simply too short: had the more difficult and high-flying passages not been cut, he probably would have been unable to sing the part.
“You ask questions that are too difficult. I’m going to spank you!”
And so she does.
Demonstrations: Falstaff, song
Born in Trieste in 1920, Barbieri debuted in Florence, in 1940, toured Germany, Belgium and Holland in 1943, retired because of marriage but reemerged in 1945. She is perhaps best remembered for Azucena but in the 1960s turned increasingly to character parts, notably, Quickly. During a total career of 55 years she appeared in Milan, Verona, Rome, Salzburg, Buenos Aires, London, Paris, Vienna, San Francisco and New York in a repertory of 110 roles, including Cenerentola, Don Carlo, Carmen, Orfeo and Giulio Cesare. She made a great number of recordings, among them Ballo, Favorita, Gioconda, Suor Angelica, Aïda, Forza, Trovatore, Don Sebastiano, Medea, Eracle (Handel) and Linda di Chamounix.
Each one of these great tenors at the apex of tenors, Bergonzi, Pavarotti and Domingo—I don’t think you can find defects. He who doesn’t have one thing has another. They are all worthy of the names that they have.”
The following interviewtook place on “Opera Fanatic,” on WKCR, October 12, 1985. Carlo Bergonzi spoke in Italian (I translated). Also present in the studio were Dr. Umberto Boeri, pediatrician, a close friend of Bergonzi; Robert Connolly, writer, a frequent collaborator on the show; Kenneth Rapp, accompanist; Annamarie Verde, Bergonzi’s New York concert producer; and other friends of Bergonzi. Throughout the evening, we interspersed records of Bergonzi in songs and arias.
SZ: With whom did you study?
CB: I first began to study as a baritone, beginning at the Parma Conservatory with Maestro Ettore Campogalliani.
“Singers should stay motionless when they sing. Otherwise the voice shifts. The singer has to be an actor through gestures, face, arms and hands. Through the voice.“
Born in 1931, Cerquetti first studied violin and sang for her own pleasure. At 16 she performed the Bach-Gounod “Ave Maria” at a friend’s wedding and was persuaded to audition for the Perugia conservatory, where she was accepted. She performed Leonora (Trovatore) at Modena but her official debut was in 1951, as Aïda, at Spoleto. She appeared throughout Italy, France, Switzerland and in Chicago, and she sang Abigaille with Serafin at Verona in 1956. In 1957, in her only New York appearance (at The Town Hall), she sang Paride ed Elena (Gluck). Among her recordings are Gioconda, Oberon, Norma, Forza, Vespri, Tell, Ernani and Abencerages (Cherubini). She retired abruptly. We discussed this:
“If you don’t know how to breathe, you don’t know how to sing....Opera has lost spontaneity, beauty and freedom.”
Born in 1900 in Paris to a well-to-do family, Cigna studied music theory, also piano with Cortot and voice with Calvé. She was a painter and ceramist. In 1927 she debuted under her married name, Ginette Sens, at La Scala, as Freia. After studies with Storchio and Russ and performances in the Italian provinces, she reemerged under her own name at La Scala as Donna Elvira and went on to appear in Florence, Verona, London, Paris, Cologne, Buenos Aires, Berlin, Vienna, Amsterdam, Brussels, Munich, Hanover, Dusseldorf, Berlin, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Toronto. In 1947 on her way to perform Tosca in Vicenza she was in an auto accident. She crawled out the window of the car, arrived at and sang the performance but at some point suffered a heart attack. This caused her retirement.
Her repertoire included 50 roles, from Poppea to Kostelnicka. Her principal parts were Turandot (which she performed 493 times), Norma, Gioconda and Violetta. She also sang a prodigious number of recitals. Her recordings include Norma, Trovatore, Turandot and Aïda.
The basso buffo tradition began in Naples in the early 18th century with the Casaccia family, who dominated buffo singing there for four generations, generally performing in dialect. Some members went in for broad comedy. Stendahl had this to say of Carlo Casaccia in connection with his appearance at the city’s Teatro dei Fiorentini in Pietro Carlo Guglielmi’s Paolo e Virginia in 1817:
“The first act of Butterfly should be sung very sweetly but not with the voce infantile [a childlike or white voice suggestive of innocence and virginity]. Butterfly has renounced her family and changed her religion—the actions of a mature woman.”
Adami Corradetti was born in 1903. Her father, Ferruccio Corradetti, was among the most important baritones from the late 19th century into the 1930s as well as an actor and critic. Her mother, Bice Adami, created the leading soprano part in Mascagni’s Le maschere. Both parents made many recordings. Adami Corradetti began as a concert pianist. Toscanini attended a party at which she not only played but sang. He engaged her for La Scala, where she made her debut in 1927, as the Page in Wolf Ferrari’s Sly. For several years she mostly sang comprimaria parts. She appeared under Toscanini’s baton and those of every other famous Italian conductor of the period as well as of Blech, Mascagni, Zandonai and Strauss. Adami Corradetti performed nearly 100 parts in operas by composers from Carissimi to Menotti, creating roles in 35 operas, including many by more than 20 now-obscure composers favored by the fascist regime. Famous for Zandonai’s Francesca, at La Scala from 1938 she “owned” Butterfly. In 1946 she married and, to please her husband, retired—a decision she came to regret.
“Throughout the first act of Butterfly I used the voce infantile.”
Demonstrations: Butterfly, Fanciulla and Tosca
Frazzoni demonstrates her Butterfly in Opera Fanatic
Born in 1927, she debuted in Bologna, as Mimì, in 1948, and appeared in Rome, Venice, Turin, Palermo, Parma, Verona, Munich, Stuttgart, Wiesbaden, Zurich, Geneva, Bordeaux, Cairo, Dublin and Vienna. She made her Scala debut in 1955, replacing Callas in Chénier. There she also sang Cavalleria, Fanciulla, Butterfly and Pagliacci. Her recordings include Tosca, Fanciulla and the world premiere, at La Scala, of I dialoghi delle Carmelitane. Her Minnie was filmed.
An uneven singer with an ample, round, dark sound, at her best she had a warm vocal personality—tender, endearing, adorable, sensuous, feminine, passionate, cuddly. She was a Minnie who laughed, loved, raged, suffered and exulted—electrifying. She was wild at “Vieni fuori! Vieni fuori!” in Act II. She sometimes sang slightly flat. She was insecure on high B and C.
Cimarosa feared and admired him. Rossini thought him the last word in a buffo style
Valentino Fioravanti was born in Rome, September 11, 1764. After studying literature and art, he took voice lessons from Toscanelli, a singer at St. Peter’s, and counterpoint from Jannacconi. He studied composition with Sala in Naples, 1779-81, where he was counseled by Fenaroli, Insanguine and Tritto, who later was one of Mercadante’s and Bellini’s teachers. From 1781 he conducted in various Roman theaters, composing the intermezzo Le avventure di Bertoldino in ’83 or ’84, followed by other comedies. Gl’inganni fortunati, Naples, 1788, established his success. During the next ten years he composed a spate of operas, mostly well received, for Rome, Naples, Venice, Florence and Milan.
SZ: Cerquetti, Adami Corradetti, Barbieri, Simionato, Pobbe and Olivero are all opposed to the use of chest resonance.
CG: Chest resonance is indispensable. They are ignorant! They don’t know anything! Olivero used a lot of chest voice. Did she ever, in order to become successful. Even to a vulgar degree!
Demonstrations: Traviata, Tosca
Gavazzi was born in 1913, in Bergamo, to a prosperous, artistic and educated family. She was sent to boarding schools in Switzerland and France, where she studied violin as well as French and German. She debuted, as Mimì, in 1940. Her career, interrupted by war, marriage and the birth of a son, resumed in 1946. Her repertoire included modern and chamber music as well as Semiramide, Pamina in Flauto magico, Faust, Liù in Turandot, Margherita in Mefistofele, Manon, Manon Lescaut, Otello, Micaëla in Carmen, Margherita da Cortona (Refice), L’incantesimo (Montemezzi), La favola del figlio cambiato (Malipiero), Mathis der Maler, La campana sommersa (Respighi), Cyrano de Bergerac and Risurrezione (both by Alfano). Alfano chose her for the world premiere of his song cycle based on the poetry of Tagore. Gavazzi sang at Florence, Milan, Parma, Brescia, Trieste, Bologna, Verona, Rome, Naples, Palermo, Barcelona and Lisbon. She recorded Elvira in Giovanni, Adriana, Fanciulla and Pagliacci and filmed Cavalleria.