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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Nunzio Todisco


I need first to express my sincere gratitude and acknowledge my indebtedness to my Neapolitan friend Mr. Gaetano De Rosa for the photos and biographical information I have used in the preparation of this article.  Mr. De Rosa’s Youtube channel Caruso1873, which I highly recommend, is a wonderful archive of Neapolitan music. I thank you!]
 have only over time come to appreciate just how popular opera really is.  It is almost certainly the most popular and widespread of the classical musical forms, and there is no sign of decline. Quite the contrary, in fact. Such widespread popularity  makes possible the accommodation of a great variety of tastes, styles, traditions, and voice types, all of which have their audience.  This has been the case for centuries, and the particular enthusiasms for bel canto, or for verismo, or—more recently—for neoclassical 18th century opera—often become armed camps making special claims for the forms their adherents most love.  There are, correspondingly, many different voice types and acting schools that soon provide the stars and the darlings for each of the different kinds of operatic art.  Elegant, even tiny-voiced singers, so beloved of some bel canto enthusiasts, are poles apart from the giant stentorian voices which are so popular with Wagnerian enthusiasts, and so it goes.  Many singers, many styles, many fans. point this out because Nunzio Todisco is a very particular kind of singer, with a nearly unique voice, performing in an old, well-known and, for many, a much appreciated tradition.  We all need to respect the enthusiasms of others, because we are all opera lovers.  “Opera” itself is a plural word, the plural of “opus.”  It means many works, and accompanying those many works—singing, acting, dancing, instrumental music, costumes, stagecraft—are many styles of singing and acting.  Add to this the enthusiasms of different cultures and their various traditions, and we have a phenomenon that absolutely prohibits claims of exclusivity.


Nunzio Todisco was born in 1942 in Torre del Greco.  A seaman by profession, he traveled the world with different shipping companies.  A good Neapolitan, he always had a love of music and singing, and would sing whenever he had the opportunity, either in singing contests or for  family members or shipboard passengers. He was a born favorite with audiences because of his extraordinary voice, which has to be one of the most powerful instruments ever!  He also had a natural melodramatic and audience-pleasing way of presenting himself, which is sure-fire in Italy!  He was in all ways a “big” personality, with a very big voice. of his extraordinary voice eventually reached soprano Maria Grazia Marchini, who determined to meet him and encourage him to participate in the 1971 Spoleto Festival.  Justifying her faith, Todisco joined the singing competition, and won the contest!  By so doing, he  joined the ranks of such previous winners as Mario Del Monaco and Franco Corelli.  He attracted critical attention, and early critics compared him to Caruso, another Neapolitan, because of the extreme power of his voice, and the nearly wide-open vocal production, with such great carrying power.


The move was steadily upward from that point on. In 1978 he performed in Norma in San Francisco and in La Gioconda in Barcelona.  This was followed by Pagliacci at La Scala in 1981 and a Carmen on French television in 1982.  He has performed in many outdoor concerts, for which he is a natural, with a voice and style that can reach out to large audiences, even outdoors.  One thinks of Roman amphitheaters!  A passionate Neapolitan, he has performed and recorded many Neapolitan songs, much like his compatriot Francesco Albanese, a tenor of a very different kind.


I think the best way to introduce Todisco to an audience who many not know him, since his career was almost exclusively in Italy, is to show him singing for a very large audience (a prime venue for him) at a Gigli Memorial Concert, performing not an operatic piece but the old Neapolitan classic “O Sole Mio.”  It shows all the most important features of Todisco’s extraordinary voice, his singing, and his highly melodramatic stage manner, so beloved by many.  Also note a very enthusiastic reception by a huge crowd.  This is typical.  He had very many fans:


"My own sunshine is right here in front of you!"  Yes, it certainly is!
Does anyone else find themselves smiling, ear to ear?  I sure am.  As are several players in the first violin section, who seem to be getting into the spirit of it allJ  That is my invariable reaction when I hear something this powerful, honest, this uninhibited and overwhelming.  What a voice!  That has to be one of the biggest operatic voices ever, backed by a stage presence that is just as powerful.

One of the things I like so much about Todisco is his absolute honesty.  He is what he is, and he makes no pretenses or apologies.  Powerful, wide-open, even bombastic (not unlike Franco Bonisolli, in some ways), he  can make the rafters ring like few if any others.  Such a personality is infectious.


It is important to point out, however, that Todisco was a serious artist.  One need only reflect upon his many awards and the first class opera theaters he sang in.  It is the use to which he put his big personality and voice that counts.  He always did the big verismo roles, which is what his voice was suited for.  Here is an admirable “Cielo e Mar,” from La Gioconda”



That is great singing.  True, it is his own style and vocal sensibility, but he has that right.  As I said, he is honest.  He is what he is; this is how he sings, this is how he feels and sees the role and the music.  Because of that absolute honesty, it works. Not every singer is the same.  It would be a dull  opera world if they were! It is Todisco’s Enzo Grimaldo.  Period.  Audiences were very fond of him.


Anonymous said...

Very nicely done.

Annie said...

Nunzio "The Voice" Todisco! A huge. huge voice, but full of expression and pathos. not for him the polish and elegance of a Gigli or a Björling. But he grips me. His voice is an impressive instrument and he uses it with greatest effect. Bravo! Thank you Edmund!
Annie Helman

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank YOU, Annie! Good comment, much appreciated. Edmund