The Unknown Fernando de Lucia  -  Phonotype Recordings, 1917-21      (The Record Collector TRC 44)
Item# V2510
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The Unknown Fernando de Lucia  -  Phonotype Recordings, 1917-21      (The Record Collector TRC 44)
V2510. FERNANDO de LUCIA: The Unknown Fernando de Lucia - Rarely heard Phonotype Recordings. (England) 2-The Record Collector TRC 44, recorded 1917-21. The Elaborate 23pp. Booklet offers full discographical information & extensive biographical notes by Michael Henstock. Transfers by Norman White.


“De Lucia was born in Naples in 1860 and, whatever his successes and wherever he traveled, to Naples he always returned. His career blossomed. His greatest successes were in Italy where he was much in demand to create new roles. After 1908 he sang less frequently, but when he did appear he was not considered to be in decline. He sang at the funeral of Caruso, who died in Naples in 1921, but after that only two or three small appearances are known.

Fernando De Lucia was a tenor with a short voice. He may never have had top notes worth speaking of, and as time passed he used transpositions increasingly often and increasingly large so that when he comes within our ken he rarely if ever sings above A. The voice was neither particularly beautiful nor particularly powerful, but one can call to mind no other tenor, alive or dead, who even remotely rivals De Lucia's accomplishment in fioritura, the ability to sing rapid ornaments and decorations. Hermann Jadlowker and Gershon Sirota certainly come very near to him and each has a magnificent trill, conspicuously absent in De Lucia, but nevertheless they lack something which we find in him. It is in the area of refinement and delicacy, poise and finesse. But in his own day, De Lucia was much more in demand for the new verismo works, CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA and L'AMICO FRITZ, PAGLIACCI and FEDORA. Here his histrionic abilities were considered appropriate and his lack of a particularly beautiful sound less relevant. It is in these later works, CARMEN, is another example, that his tremendous powers of conveying tension and drama are evident. However, his transpositions upset composers who strove for dramatic effect by writing high-lying parts and critics for whom a tenor without stentorian top notes was little short of an impostor.

In De Lucia we have a tenor whose eminence dictated that leading composers of the day insisted that he be associated with the premières of their works. His style and special vocal powers of creating light and dark effects, sfumature, his influence as a model and teacher on his tenor colleagues, and those of a full generation that followed in the lyric field, was immense. With the great baritone, Battistini, he is supposed to be a link for us with the so called ‘Golden Age’, epitomising what is supposed to have been the accepted style and vocal method pertaining to male singers at that time. Yet we now allow for the fact that transposition (generally frowned upon today) was then fairly common, and De Lucia it would seem, transposed almost everything….Yet, [Mascagni] insisted that De Lucia be involved. Evidently in the early part of his career De Lucia did command the top notes so generally admired by audiences.

What then is the fascination with De Lucia as a vocalist? Even for those listening to his recordings for the first time, he must certainly sound better practiced in singing florid music than many of his fellow tenors, and that, in a time when vocalising fioriture was supposed to be a facility de rigeur in all voice categories. It has been suggested that perhaps the vibrato inherent in his tone was an aid to producing the rapid ornamentation and roulades required by the early 19th century composers. However, without doubt his ability to mould and colour a phrase, and to float and extend the tone so that the listener is forced to wonder what is coming next (even in familiar music), makes many of his contributions on record unique. This not only applies to operatic excerpts but in particular also to his renditions of Neapolitan songs. In concerted items he seems to demonstrate an ability to blend perfectly with other singers, and to draw from them a mirror-like response to his particular way of dealing with the vocal line. Perhaps it was rehearsals, or a close association with those particular artists in live performances, that achieved those results, but it invariably strikes the listener as spontaneous.

Despite the revival of interest in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century works that require expert florid singing, and the current crop of talented tenors now on the international circuit singing those roles in the original keys, with, it must be granted, wonderful facility, expertise and dexterity, and a great deal of cultivated musicianship, the key factor missing is what Italians refer to as 'morbidezza'. This almost indefinable element of 'tenderness' is to be found essentially in the Latin voice, where it is underlined not only by tonal emission, but also seems to be a physical manifestation of the artist's very soul. That is where, with his unmistakable delicacy of utterance and pointed musical nuance, Fernando De Lucia has made his most significant contribution to the art of singing on record.”

- Alan Bilgora, 1994

“Fernando de Lucia was one of the bridges between nineteenth and twentieth century styles, a link that is reflected, appropriately enough, in his career. He began his career as a lyric tenor, verging on tenore di grazia, but by the end of the century he was well established as a verismo tenor. He also taught some of the most prominent tenors of the first half of the twentieth century, including Ivan Petroff, Enzo de Muro Lomanto and Georges Thill. Like his contemporary Enrico Caruso (he sang at Caruso's funeral), he had an almost baritonal timbre and rather limited top, and particularly in his verismo rôles he was most often compared to Caruso.

He studied voice at the Naples Conservatory, where his teachers included Vincenzo Lombardi. His opera début was in the title rôle of Gounod's FAUST in 1885 at the Teatro San Carlo. In 1887, he made his London début at the Drury Lane Theatre, though his London triumphs were not to come until 1893 and his Covent Garden début as Canio in Leoncavallo's PAGLIACCI. This established him as a favorite at that house. 1893 also marked his Metropolitan Opera début, though he sang only one season there. His verismo rôles had taken a toll on his voice and by 1909, he had greatly reduced his stage appearances. He gave his last performance, in the title rôle of Mascagni's L'AMICO FRITZ, in 1917, though he continued to make recordings. Though many of these show some wear on his voice and much of the material was transposed down, even the late recordings show his profound sense of musical style in both the bel canto and verismo schools.”

- Anne Feeney,

“Fernando de Lucia (1860 – 1925) sang in many of the world’s greatest opera houses from his début at the San Carlo of Naples in 1885. Since 1909, however, his operatic activity had been limited to only a handful of performances (Rome and Paris in 1910, Naples in 1914, and Milan and Rome in 1916) when, in February 1917, he was persuaded to emerge from retirement to give some last performances, at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples, of the title rôle of Fritz Kobus in Mascagni’s L’AMICO FRITZ, a part that he had created at the Teatro Costanzi (as it then was) of Rome, in 1891.

It was in 1917, shortly after Fernando de Lucia had been enticed from the virtual retirement of several years to make some farewell performances at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples, that his old friend Raffaele Esposito, proprietor of the small Neapolitan recording house of Phonotype, offered him the opportunity of making records for his company. It would be a resumption of a recording career which had started in 1902, with the first of his 69 published titles made for G&T up until 1909, but to which the 30 published Fonotipias of 1911 had seemed to write finis. It would also be the most prolific period of that career, for over the period May 1917 – 1922 De Lucia recorded 301 titles for Phonotype: they embraced operas that he had never sung on the stage, religious pieces, a great variety of songs, both Neapolitan and otherwise, and much of his operatic repertoire (including ‘complete’ versions of RIGOLETTO and IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA). Phonotypes had little circulation outside Naples, and they are rare even in that war-ravaged city. Most are known in only a handful of copies. Many collectors may never have seen one.”

- Dr. Michael Henstock, HISTORIC MASTERS

“During World War II, Italians were called upon to collect metals, particularly copper, for the war effort. Raffaele and Americo Esposito [of Phonotype] knew that their matrices were threatened. Secretly, largely at night, they built a concrete bunker under the garden behind the factory in Via Enrico de Marinis, and there many of the matrices…passed the war years. A few reappeared when peace was renewed, but most remained underground. Raffaele died in 1945, and Americo in 1956. Astonishingly, neither ever revealed to the family the secret of the garden. In 1961, during work to enlarge the factory, a workman’s pick struck the edge of the bunker. As Americo’s sons…watched, the vault was opened, and the matrices once again saw daylight.”

- Michael Henstock, FERNANDO DE LUCIA, p.335