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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.


JD Hobbes said...

Your blog just keeps getting better.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you very much--pian piano, si va lontano:-)

corax said...

lauri-volpi -- che gran tenore!
st austell -- che gran autore!

Edmund St. Austell said...

Amice! Cedo maiori!

F. Martini said...

Wow! I am a great Lauri Volpi fan, but I have never heard a single one of these recordings before! They are great! Thanks so much to you, Edmund, and especially to Mr. Nardoianni, for sharing his magnificent collection with you! Wonderful!!

Anonymous said...

Great! What a tenor!


Anonymous said...

Wow, what an opportunity to hear these selections. Many thanks to Dr. Nardoianni and to you for making them available!!

I sometimes wonder how many great recordings are stashed away in attics or personal collections. This blog makes it possible for us all to hear them. Please share our thanks with the good Dr. Nardoianni.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you both for your comments. Yes, it is rather a special collection, without doubt!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article and many thanks to Dr. Nardoianni for these extraordinary recordings and rare information on Lauri-Volpi. Usually it’s hard to find anything new on famous singers, and this collection is a treasure.
He had a truly golden voice, and perhaps was a perfect tenor – extraordinary high notes, power, beauty of the timbre. What surprises is that not only his voice sounds very young, but his intonations are young too. Only a great artist can sing at his 80’s with such freshness of feelings.
As I understood, he was an intellectual too, his book was very well written.


Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you, my dear friend, for your comments, astute as always! Yes, his voice, as nearly as I can tell, was always the same. Perhaps there is a touch of age in some of the songs he sang when he was in fact old, but that is only to be expected. There was no great deterioration of the voice, because it was so perfectly produced. And yes, he was quite a scholar! He wrote 8 books, actually! And an astonishing 800 articles, on a wide variety of subjects. People like that--a true Renaissance man--do not come along very often. Thanks for your comment, I'm so glad you enjoyed these special recordings!

Anonymous said...

I will be eternally grateful to you for breaking up -for the first time- the shameful plot of silence which has been surrounding Lauri-Volpi's name and artistry in English-speaking countries. A giant of singing such as Lauri-Volpi was not even mentioned DVDs which dealt exclusively with great tenors of the 78 era !
You are a noble human being, in the highest meaning of the word.

Edmund St. Austell said...

You are very kind, and I thank you. I intend to do all I can in this regard. I'm sure we are both aware of what the problem is, but as I have banned politics from my blog--including my own opinions--I can say no more. Let us just say that artists walk a tightrope. As Elizabeth Schwartzkopf discovered, it matters who you sing for, as Salieri discovered, it matter if young prodigies who could be seen as a threat to your pre-eminence die young, and as Toscanini discovered, I'm sure to his great pleasure, it matters if you expatriate. And as some others discovered, it matters if you don't.

I appreciate your comment. We understand each other.

Anonymous said...

I will not beat about the bush : to me, Lauri Volpi is not ONE OF the all time greatest tenors, he is THE greatest. He has always been an inspiration and the ultimate model to follow in my vocal studies. Even if at 18 my knowledge of the great singers of the past was not what it is today, I immediately recognized in his high ringing and peremptory emission, his aristocratically chiseled phrasing and delicate sense of the chiaroscuro, the perfect Bel Canto archetype to "imitate". Everytime I was told by my teacher something that seemed contrary to what my mental laurivolpian voice whispered to me, I used to object "sorry, I'm doing it like Lauri Volpi". Well, more humbly, I was TRYING TO !
This is why I am particularly grateful to Elmund for his beautiful tribute to the God.


Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you very much! I both understand and appreciate your enthusiasm for this great tenor. One could not choose a better vocal model: in Giacomo Lauri Volpi the bel canto school of singing triumphed absolutely!

Gioacchino Florio-Maragioglio said...

I salute this wonderful page Mr St Austell. It makes me remember many nights at San Carlo with Lauri-Volpi, oh how much he was loved. We adored him, and he knew how to make the crowd happy. In "Trovatore" third act, he sang the most smooth and accomplished "ah sì ben mio," then sang a thrilling "di quella pira", singing a final high C to drown out the chorus, drown out the orchestra, and outlast them all!

For me, it is the old French-Italian école: only Georges Thill is equal to Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, and only Giacomo Lauri-Volpi is the equal to Georges Thill.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Very well said! Very well said! Bravo!

Gioacchino Florio-Maragioglio said...

Yes, I must say too you organize the months well: I know Lauri-Volpi is pleased he is in the same month's category as Joan Sutherland and Ruffo Titta.

Anonymous said...

thank you so much!!! I think Lauri Volpi has the most pure and brilliant tenor voice ever.


Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you very much; I appreciate your comment, and I agree with you!