V2591. GIACOMO LAURI-VOLPI: Arias & Duets (w.Caniglia, Lisson, Basiola & Bechi) from Andrea Chénier, La Gioconda, Tosca, La Fanciulla del West, Turandot, La Boheme, Luisa Miller, Forza, Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, Rigoletto & Otello. [His complete 1941 Otello solos and duets conducted by the notable Gino Marinuzzi are truly unforgettable, these alone being worth the price of the entire CD! "Lauri-Volpi's Otello is perhaps to be most worthily remembered by his version of the love duet with Maria Caniglia."
- Alan Blyth, OPERA ON RECORD, Vol. I, p.329.] (France) Malibran AMR 176, recorded 1941-46. [AMR titles are issued without rear tray-cards]
“A hundred years ago, in 1919, a young tenor made his operatic debut in Viterbo singing the male lead in I PURITANI. He used the pseudonym of Giovanni Rubini, either a display of singular confidence or a cover for nervousness, perhaps both - since Italian audiences in those days were not gentle with young singers who failed to measure up; and the legendary 19th century tenor Giovanni Battista Rubini was one of the so-called Puritani Quartet, four singers whom Bellini showcased in his opera. In any case, the young tenor proved so successful that he made his Rome debut the following year under his own name, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, in MANON, playing opposite Storchio and Pinza.
By the time the electrical recording process became standard in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Lauri-Volpi had matured into one of the greatest Italian lyrics of his day. With his flicker vibrato, no longer as common at the time as it was during his childhood, he was also one of the most distinctive. He combined perfect enunciation, a seemingly effortless management of dynamics and phrasing, and gleaming heroic metal at the top - referred to in a striking but appropriate image by musicologist Rodolfo Celletti as his ‘way…of setting fire to dust’.
Lauri-Volpi came to have other ambitions, however, after noting the continuing popularity of verismo, and the gradual eclipse of both Italian bel canto and French grand operas that fit his voice. To this end, he retrained for lyrico spinto roles and selected heroic ones. Several critics have consequently referred to the 1940s as the tenor's ‘second period’, noting a tradeoff between increased vocal heft and the loss of homogeneity across his three-octave range. In fairness to the singer, the decline evident in his technique at the time may also have been a product of age. He was pushing 50, and had been much in demand at major opera houses for two decades. Nor was it a precipitous change, such as Tito Schipa experienced when he pushed his voice for more power in the mid-1950s. Lauri-Volpi's voice (which he called ‘la voce solitaria’, to separate it out from all those other operatic voices possessed by mere mortals such as Gigli and Martinelli) was still a formidable one. Any young tenor coming onto the operatic scene with it would have drawn much positive attention from impresarios, audiences and press.
This, then, is the voice we hear in these 19 recordings issued between 1941 and 1946. It is no longer capable of the degree of extremely fine control of past years, perhaps best heard in the tenor's 1928 Victor recording of ‘A te o cara’. Critic J. B. Steane once wrote of it as ‘almost too much of a good thing’ due to its caressing, ever-shifting light and shade. But that voice remained, as he also wrote, ‘a voice and a half’. His 1946 ‘Non piangere, Liu’, for example, is impressive for its refined bel canto sensibility, with which the tenor successfully pursues the same emotional goals as other Calafs without ever disturbing the line, as so many do. His 1941 ‘La donna è mobile’ is appropriately mocking and frivolous, with the last two syllables in the repeat of ‘muta d'accento’ in both verses diminished to a silver thread. The opening section of his 1943 ‘Solenne in quest'ora’ (with Gino Bechi in strong voice) is first rate, while the 1946 ‘Cielo e mar’ has several distinctive felicities, including a mixed voice treatment of the concluding line to the first verse.
Then there's his ‘Esultate’, one of six selections he recorded in 1941 as souvenirs of his Otello, the most important role he first assumed in Italian opera houses during World War II. As pure sound, it is a magnificent thing, radiant and without flaw: perhaps the best ever caught on disc in this respect, and certainly one of the finest. What it misses is an element of humanity. Consider Renato Zanelli's version of ‘Esultate’, from 1929. The difference in the tonal quality is immediately obvious: Zanelli was a very baritonal tenor, not perhaps surprising so in a singer who began his career as a baritone. (Though both Vinay and Melchior, celebrated Otellos, began as baritones, too, and possessed less darkness in their tone after making the transition to tenor.)
Zanelli emphasizes the ‘m's’ in 'musulmano' to scoff at Venice's defeated enemies, and turns the ‘gl’ in 'gloria' into two syllables to make the city state's victory shine all that more brightly. Was the absence of this and the coloring of other consonants here an interpretative point of Lauri-Volpi? Perhaps - and this is just a guess - he wanted to contrast the unclouded sureness of Otello in victory against Iago's untamed monster of jealousy. Or possibly he considered other portrayals of the Moor too emotionally unrestrained, and inattentive to Verdi's music. The distancing effect of ‘Esultate’, after all, carries across into the other five OTELLO excerpts, notably so in ‘Dio mi potevi’ and the love duet (with Maria Caniglia on her best behavior). It dampens the pleasure of those recordings, all other flaws, such as his tendency to sing sharp, to one side. Still, when I want to hear how the Serene Republic's general sounds at first acquaintance, the brilliant and courageous commander who saved Venice, it is Lauri-Volpi's version that has remained engraved in my memory over the decades. La voce solitaria, indeed….this album is a solid recommendation, with decent transfers. It's available from Norbeck, Peters & Ford (www.norpete.com).”
- Barry Brenesal, FANFARE
"Lauri Volpi was a highly cultivated, deeply religious man. 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. Lauri Volpi and Maria Jeritza premiered TURANDOT at the Met on 16 November 1926. On the opening night, Lauri-Volpi noticed that the public remained unresponsive to the aria 'Nessun Dorma', 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' as it is sung today."
- Dr. Nardoianni, (personal acquaintance of Lauri-Volpi)
"For the mercurial Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, a case could be made that his voice - or, at least, his high notes - had no equal in his day. It was not a singularly beautiful voice, especially, although his mezza voce singing could be ravishing. Although his acting could be fiery, Lauri-Volpi was not an exacting musician, and could often be counted on to alter the time values of high notes....his high notes were phenomenal. As anyone who sang with him will underscore, the high C was nothing for him."
- Rosa Ponselle, A SINGER'S LIFE, pp.92-93