• Legendary Italian baritones

    Once upon a time, in Italy, there was a bright generation of baritones that all together are considered the real Golden Age for this fach. We are talking approximately from late 19th century to the 1930s.

    In this thread we would pay homage to those great singers, and try to share some jewels, usually buried deep in youtube, that we can enjoy together.



    Antonio Cotogni (1831-1918) was able to learn from the legendary Tamburini and Ronconi. After singing across many Italian theaters, he arrived in 1861 to La Scala, and from there started an international career, being especially appreciated in London and Saint Petersburg. After his retirement, he teached singing at the Academia Santa Cecilia, in Rome, where he trained singers like Gigli, Lauri-Volpi, Mario Basiola or Mariano Stabile.

    Of course, he was not recorded at his peak, but we can find a rarity, a take from 1908 (when he was already 77 years old!), of "O casto fior", from Le Roi di Lahore:



    Just a small window into 19th century's baritonal singing...
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Legendary Italian baritones started by Schigolch View original post
    Comments 31 Comments
    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -


      Giuseppe Kaschmann (1850-1925) debuted in 1876, in the role of King Alphonse XI, in La Favorita. He was a big star in Italy and Spain, sung also in the MET, and even in Bayreuth, before going into retirement in 1922.

      Kaschmann, dressed to sung Hamlet in the picture above, was recognized as a 'singer-actor', due to his modern approach to acting on stage, as opposed to more traditional singers of the period, like Mattia Battistini.

      Let's hear Kaschmann as a Verdi baritone:



      Or in his signature role of Hamlet:

    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -


      Antonio Magini-Coletti (1855-1912) was the owner of a very beautiful voice, and a flexible one, capable of singing buffo roles (Figaro, Belcore,..), Verdi's baritones (Amonasro, Conte di Luna,..) and dramatic characters (Pizarro, Wotan...). He debuted in 1880 and was the first Frank in Puccini's Edgar.

      He died was still in active, at 57 years old, but was able to record several of his more succesful roles.

      This "Credo in un Dio crudele", singing Verdi the Verdian way:



      Here, with Giannina Ross, in the duet Aida-Amonasro, a beautiful phrased "pensa che un Popolo..."



      With the great verismo soprano Eugenia Burzio, in Trovatore:

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      Giuseppe Pacini (1860 - 1910) was born in Florence and his career was mainly in several second rate Italian theaters until he could sing at La Scala in 1895, where he will premiere the roles of Douglas in Guglielmo Ratcliff and Renzo, in Silvano, both operas written by Pietro Mascagni. His repertory was tipically Italian: Rigoletto, Amonasro, Carlo di Vargas, Barnaba, Riccardo (I Puritani), Enrico Ashton...

      A clever singer, refined and with a good technique, but also able to transmit passion, the perfect mix for many verismo roles. His voice was of great quality, and was able to reach with ease the A3.

      Let's hear Pacini singing "Il balen del suo sorriso":

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      Giuseppe Campanari (1855-1927) was born in Venice, and as a child a cello prodigy, being a member of the La Scala orchestra as a seventeen years old teenager. However, his real love was singing and he debuted in 1880, in the Verdian Ballo. He kept both jobs during some time, until he finally decided to be a full time singer. His debut at the MET was in 1894, singing Il Conte di Luna, with Tamagno's Manrico. He sung more than 200 performances in New York, until his retirement, in 1912.

      Before this retirement, he recorded some arias for Victor, of which we can hear a rather inward-looking performance of "Il balen del suo sorriso":

      Campanari - Il balen del suo sorriso

      Or this more energetic rendition of Faust's "Dio Possente":

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      Mario Ancona (1860-1931) was born in Livorno. He debuted relatively late, at 29 years old, singing Massenet't Le Roi de Lahore. However, his was a very swift and complete success. Three years later, in 1892, he was singing at the premiere of Pagliacci, as Silvio, under the baton of Arturo Toscanini. He was also a favourite of the Covent Garden, and the MET. He retired in 1916.

      His main repertory was Verdi and Puccini, with the typical Belcanto baritone roles (Riccardo, Enrico), some Mozart (Figaro, Don Giovanni) and even some Wagner (Telramund, Hans Sachs,... sung in Italian), with the occasional French opera, mostly sung in Italian too.

      Ancona's voice was magnificent. Very masculine and beautiful, with velvety overtones, uniform in all the range, fluid singing, very secure top notes until A3,... On the weak side, he was not the most imaginative of singers.

      Let's hear Ancona in this exciting performance of "O de' verd' anni miei"



      Now, from Donizetti's La Favorita, not the most refined of performances, but a very good one, nonetheless:



      Arguably his most famous recording, singing with Enrico Caruso:

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      Giuseppe Bellantoni (1880 - 1946) first big success was at Teatro Carlo Felice, in Genoa, singing Amonasro in 1907. From there he went to La Scala and other important theaters outside Italy, like Madrid or Buenos Aires. He retired in 1925, and his last years were rather sad, being ruined in the Great Depression.

      His was a very powerful voice, a true dramatic baritone, even a bass-baritone. A darker voice also, than other singers on this thread. This is an expressive singer, but always using a true Belcanto technique, and able to restrain such an enormous instrument, what is not always an easy task.

      This is an impacting performance of la Favorita's "A tanto amor":



      And in this "Vision Fugitiva", from Massenet's Herodiade, sung with passion, but also with very nice dynamics changes:

      Bellantoni - Herodiade
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      Mario Sammarco (1868 - 1930) was born in Palermo, Sicily. He debuted there while still very young, at twenty years old, and he was much appreciated also outside of his native Italy, especially in the Covent Garden, where he sung 26 different roles, until his retirement in 1919, and he collected a lot of praise on his acting.

      He was a very versatile singer: Ernani, di Luna, Rigoletto, Iago, Enrico Ashton, Belcore, Figaro, Don Giovanni, Hamlet, Monteverdi's Orfeo,... but also verismo. He was the first Gérard in Andrea Chenier (1896), and also the firt Cascart in Leoncavallo's Zazà (1900). A great voice, though perhaps with an excessive inclination towards the easy way out.

      This was the opinion on Sammarco of the Italian critic and voice expert Rodolfo Celletti:

      Baritono "tenoreggiante", secondo la tradizione verdiana, aveva voce morbidissima e di timbro insinuante, ma anche vibrazioni energiche e ragguardevole volume. Le sue attitudini al belcantismo trovarono compiuta estrinsecazione nella Favorita, nell'Ernani, nella Traviata, in cui Sammarco sfoggiava fiati, legature, mezzevoci che lo ponevano nell'immediata scia di Battistini, insieme al contemporaneo Ancona e ai più giovani De Luca e Stracciari; ma anche in queste opere, come nel Ballo in Maschera, nell'Aida, nella Gioconda e, soprattutto, nel Rigoletto, spiccavano la declamazione serrata, la sillabazione mordente, l'espressione intensa e l'azione scenica varia, dinamica, approfondita che fecero di lui uno dei primi grandi interpreti veristi, tanto nel genere brillante (Marcello della Bohème, oltre alla citata Zazà) quanto nei personaggi biechi e brutali (nel suo Scarpia, alla viscida untuosità e all'affettata eleganza si alternavano l'irrompente sensualità e lo spirito d'autorità violento e intollerante), quanto infine nelle parti a sfondo umanitario ed epicchegiante come Gérard dello Chénier o Worms della Germania

      This was his Gérard, in a slightly disappointing performance:



      A much better Cascart:



      Singing Verdi:

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      Antonio Scotti (1866-1936) was born in Naples, and his breakthrough role was, surprisingly, Hans Sachs at La Scala, when he was already 32 years old. In 1899 he debuted in the MET, and he just keep singing there until his retirement, in 1933.

      An elegant and restrained baritone, with a good voice, but far from the best singers of the fach.


      In Don Pasquale:



      Pagliacci:



      Singing with Enrico Caruso:

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      Mattia Battistini (1856 - 1928) was born in Roma. He was trained by the best available teachers at the Santa Cecilia Academy. His debut was at 22 years old, in La Favorita, singing with the soprano Isabella Galletti, and collecting a thunderous applause. Very soon, Battistini was singing everywhere: London, Paris, Madrid, Berlin, Vienna,... he also travelled to America, but it was in Russia where he was considered at the best singer in the world. He will sing in Russia from 1888 to 1914, and is celebrated as "The Baritone of Kings, and the King of Baritones". He sung until a few months before his death.

      Battistini was the consumate professional, taking care of his voice, preparing the roles from a stage point of view, and documenting on each opera, and each composer. He was blessed with a very beautiful voice, and a superb middle register, with secure top notes. His low notes were missing, however, a little bit of weight. A very flexible instrument, no problems to manage coloratura, and a perfect legato. Elegant phrasing. He was perhaps the last baritone in the Belcanto tradition, rather than the verismo school.

      He sang on stage more than 80 roles. Some of the operas he was part of: La forza del destino, Il trovatore, Rigoletto, Dinorah, L’Africana, I Puritani, Lucia di Lammermoor, Aïda, Ernani, Don Carlo, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Un Ballo in Maschera, La Favorita, Hamlet, La Traviata, Don Pasquele, Otello,....Massenet wrote his Werther's baritone version, and the role of Athanaël for Battistini.

      There are many recordings in youtube, just a couple of examples:




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      Domenico Viglione-Borghese (1877-1957) debuted at 22 years old, as the King's Herald, in Lohengrin. Later, he went to South America, and after he was able to sing at La Scala, in 1910, he basically stayed in Italy for the rest of his career.

      His repertoire was basically Verdi and verismo. The voice was really good, with an sickly sweet timbre, but also powerful and imperious, as needed. A true dramatic baritone. However, his technique is not really as refined as Battistini's or some other baritones we have already discussed in the thread. More like the verismo school. Instead of singing the aria, sometimes he just battled it to submission.

      This is "O monumento", from La Gioconda: Viglione-Borghese

      And "Visione fuggitiva" from Massenet's Herodiade:

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      Taurino Parvis (1879-1957) was born in Turin, and after obtaining a degree in Law, he decided to drop everything for singing, and debuted in Rio de Janeiro, in Mascagni's "Iris". His debut scaligero was in 1908, and until his retirement in 1929 he was a regular of the major Italian theaters, as well as singing abroad in Spain, Russia, the MET,.. (as an anecdote, he was singing "Carmen" in San Francisco, in 1906, the day of the famous earthquake).

      His was a good, though not superb, voice, with powerful top notes. Not star material, perhaps, but a very good singer. He sung a lot of verismo, and was the baritone at the world premiere of operas like "I Cavalieri de Ekebú" or "Il Piccolo Marat".




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      Ernesto Badini (1876-1937) was born in Milan, and his speciality were buffo roles. His voice, light and flexible, and his acting talents, were just about ideal for this type of characters. He sung at La Scala for 21 consecutive years. He also did some singing outside Italy, and his Gianni Schichi at Covent Garden was especially celebrated. He is considered one of the best ever Fígaro, Dulcamara or Don Pasquale.



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      Cesare Formichi (1883-1949) was born in Rome, and after his debut in Bologne, in 1907, he was singing for several years in Italy, before moving to the international operatic scene ((Mariinsky, Viena, Liceu, Teatro Real, Teatro Colón, Berlín...) and especially Chicago, where he was a regular from 1922 to 1933. After his retirement in 1935, he decided to work as an opera house manager.

      His was a powerful, important, voice, though perhaps his singing was not the most refined. He was the recipient of the famous sentence of English's critic Ernest Newman: "Italy is no longer the country of Belcanto, but of mal'aria". But he was a darling of the public in many theaters.



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      Emilio Ghirardini (1885-1965) was born in Ferrara, and debuted singing Rigoletto in Argentina. After that, he sung mainly in Italy where he was a regular of all opera houses, including La Scala, when he sang his first role (David, from L'Amico Fritz) back in 1930, until his retirement in 1949.

      He was especially appreciated by Mascagni, that considered him one of the best baritones of the world. In fact, while his voice is not really top class, he was able to use it well.


      È sogno, o realtà?

      T'amo ben mio
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      Giuseppe Danise (1883 - 1963) was born in Naples, where he debuted in the role of Alfio, in 1906. After some years in the Italian operatic stage he went for some time to Russia, and finally he sang at La Scala in 1916, in the role of Rolando (La Battaglia di Legnano). From 1921 to 1932 he was singing at the MET, and he was the first Carlo Gérard in New York (with Gigli and Muzio). He retired in 1933 and opened a singing school. As an anecdote, his second wife was the Brazilian soprano Bidu Sayao.

      Danise's voice is that of a dramatic baritone, but with easy top notes, able to sing all Verdi roles. His singing style was austere, very classical, trusting in his great phrasing and his ability to sing in mezza voce and pianissimi. He was very appreciated as Rigoletto, where the existing recordings show indeed a master's performance.


      Cortigiani, vil razza

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      Luigi Montesanto (1887-1954) was born in Palermo, where he debuted singing Escamillo in 1909. Just a few years later, in 1913, he will be singing Escamillo at La Scala. After some more years in Italy, he started to sing in America, where he was a member of the world premiere of Il Trittico, singing in "Il Tabarro" with Muzio and Crimi. He returned in the 1920s to Italy, and sang there until his retirement in 1942. He opened a singing school and was the teacher of Giuseppe Di Stefano.

      A good voice, with a correct technique, and an engaging on-stage presence were his biggest assets.



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      Gaetano Viviani (1896-1954) was born in Sicily, but as a child he went to America with his parents. There he debuted in 1921, but a couple of years later he decided to go back to Italy, to study with Giuseppe de Luca. His debut scaligero was in 1929, as Don Carlo, with Aureliano Pertile, Ebe Stignani and Bianca Scacciati. Problems with the fascist authorities made him return to America, but he came back after the war to Palermo, where he died just after retiring from the stage.

      His repertory was that of a typical Italian baritone, with some incursions into modern opera by Marinuzzi, Pizzetti or Respighi, plus some Wagner and Bizet (sung in Italian). He was particularly appreciated as Barnaba. A dark, powerful voice, with a good technique and nice top notes.



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      Mariano Stabile (1888-1968) was born in Palermo, and debuted there singing Marcello in 1909. Apart from Italy, he also sang in Russia, Spain, France.... but his breakthrough was when Toscanini selected him as Falstaff for the reopening of La Scala, in 1921. He will sing this role more than one thousand times!. He was one of the most regarded baritones in Italy until his retirement in 1955, with roles like Gérard, Scarpia, Iago, Malatesta, Dulcamara, Schicchi,...

      His top notes were very limited, and his timbre, rather indifferent. However Stabile was a very good 'fraseggiatore', and his reputation as singer-actor was second to none, especially in comic roles.



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      Apollo Granforte (1886-1975). Born in Legnano, Granforte moved to Argentina with his parents as a child, where he attended singing classes and debuted at Teatro El Círculo, in Rosario, the year 1913. Only four years later he was singing in Rome, and debuted at La Scala in 1922. He was a regular of the Italian opera houses until his retirement in 1943.

      A very powerful voice, that always stirred a response from the audience. His phrasing and singing style were not the most refined ever, but he was one of the leading baritones of his generation.



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      Giovanni Inghilleri (1894-1959) was born in Sicily, and he started working in Opera as a 'répétiteur', until he realized he could do better as a singer. He debuted in 1919 (as Valentin, in Faust), and soon was singing in all Italian theaters, including La Scala, although his fetish house was Naples's San Carlo. He also sang outside Italy, for instance he was the baritone of the legendary 1930 Traviata in London, with Ponselle. He retired in 1953 and, like many others, started a second career as a vocal teacher.

      A nice voice, a nice technique, a nice singing style... Let's hear some Inghilleri's arias:






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