Sunday, October 24, 2010
The Legendary Giacomo Lauri Volpi, Featured In Some Of His Rare Recordings
There is no question that Giacomo Lauri Volpi (1892-1979) was one of the greatest tenors of all time. Trained in the classic bel canto technique, he quickly became one of its greatest exemplars, possessing a voice of extraordinary range and clarity. In a career extending over 40 years, he was everywhere known and applauded, and became a legend in his own lifetime. His biography is so well known, and so easy to consult, that I wish, in this special edition of Great Opera Singers, to dwell on Lauri Volpi as seen in four of his rarest recordings, provided by Dr. Gian Paolo Nardoianni, to whom I am most grateful. These recordings, most of them in live performance, speak volumes.
I had the singular good fortune, several weeks ago, to make the acquaintance of Dr. Nardoianni, who was a personal acquaintance of Lauri Volpi and who possesses an uncommonly good musical library of the great tenor's recordings. This is quite important, because Lauri Volpi in fact did not like to record. Like Giuseppe Giacomini, he was more a creature of the theater, where his extraordinary voice could be heard in all its glory. Any Lauri Volpi recording, therefore, is valuable, and if they are rare, they are even more so.
Because Dr. Nardoianni knew Lauri Volpi personally, his observations on the tenor's life and work are privileged, and I am pleased to be able to reproduce them as a prelude. Characterizing in general the personality of Lauri Volpi, Dr. Nardoianni wrote that:
"Lauri Volpi was a highly cultivated, deeply religious man. He studied law at the University of Rome and took part in World War One, fighting bravely. He shunned publicity in every form and—unfortunately for us—hated making records. He was fundamentally a timid man, but had to be aggressive in order to survive in the cynical operatic environment. On stage, but only when pushed, he could be diffident, touchy, even unruly. In his private life he was sensitive, refined, courteous and chivalrous. His generosity towards the needy was legendary and he had a very happy married life."
Let us go now to the first recording to be featured, and this is a unique live recording made in Barcelona in 1972:
An absolutely thrilling performance! The audience is simply beside itself. It is very hard, verging on impossible, to believe that the great tenor was only a few months short of his 80th birthday when this was recorded! Dr. Nardoianni added this historical comment:
"Lauri Volpi and Maria Jeritza premiered Turandot at the Met on 16th November 1926. On the opening night, Lauri-Volpi noticed that the public remained unresponsive to the aria "Nessun Dorma," such as Puccini had written it; that is, without the "corona" on the final high B. So, after getting Serafin's approval, the night of the second performance, Lauri-Volpi, for the first time in the history of Turandot, topped off the aria with a sustained high B which [made] the audience delirious. He can rightly be called the creator of the "Nessun Dorma" such as it is sung today."
Now, here is a real rarity that I did not know existed, and yet it is a beautiful bit of singing that shows Lauri Volpi as a young man in full control of his extraordinary gifts:
On this recording, Dr. Nardoianni added:
"Sparkling top notes produced with stunning ease and exquisite "piani." Lauri-Volpi's singing was always wonderfully nuanced." I absolutely concur!
It was in Milan, in 1954, that the following recording was made, and Lauri Volpi, now 62 years of age, sings with all the clarity, beauty of sound, stylistic excellence, and immaculate pronunciation that characterized his singing from the beginning to the end of his career. The words are so clear that it sometimes seems that it would not even be necessary to understand Italian in order to understand him! Here is "Donna non vidi mai," from Puccini's Manon Lescaut.
An absolutely beautiful rendition of a very well known aria. This is singing that cannot be faulted in any way; a true master at work!
Finally, another rarity: Lauri Volpi sings Werther's "O nature, pleine du grace!" Dr. Nardoianni has a fascinating piece of historical information on Lauri Volpi and this particular opera:
After Lauri-Volpi had sung Werther [ in French] in 1935 at the Opéra Comique in Paris, Massenet's daughter was so enthusiastic about [his] conception of the character that she presented him with a portrait of her father Jules, on which she had written that Lauri-Volpi was an admirable Werther. Lauri-Volpi was a man of great learning and his Werther was in perfect keeping with Goethe's character. In this [example, we see his Werther as] a lusty young man brimming with life, who feels exhilarated, almost intoxicated by the beauty of the nature which surrounds him. He sings with radiant voice his hymn of love to Nature as if Nature were his beloved mother and, at the same time, his lover. In Lauri-Volpi's singing, there is almost a Panic feeling which makes his rendition of this aria truly unique:
And on that lovely note, we bring our special issue to its conclusion. I do hope you have enjoyed this presentation of rare recordings of the nonpareil Giacomo Larui Volpi, a monumental artist whose greatness will only become more remarkable and more commented upon with the passage of time. Most importantly, I here express my most sincere gratitude to Dr. Gian Paolo Nardoianni for the treasures he has made available to us. I am happy to say that all these recordings, and several more, can be heard on my channel, where I invite you to drop by and hear even more of these historical testaments to one of the greatest tenors of all time.
at 10:13 AM