GIACOMO LAURI-VOLPI

(b. Lanuvio near Rome 1892   d. Burjasot near Valencia 1979)

 

 

Life

 

Giacomo Lauri-Volpi was born at Lanuvio near Rome on December 11, 1892, within a large family but remained orphan from a tender age. In 1914, he studied law at La Sapienza university of Rome and vocality at the Santa Cecilia conservatory under a famous teacher, baritone Antonio Cotogni. In 1915 he enrolled in the Italian army during WW I, distinguished himself in battle and three years later was promoted captain. He was conferred the War Cross, Italy's highest decoration for military valour. In 1919, when still in the army, he made his stage debut in I Puritani and Rigoletto at Viterbo.

 

In 1920, he sang at the Teatro Costanzi of Rome in Massenet's Manon and it was a triumph. The news spread throughout Italy with excitement. The new voice led him immediately to the great opera houses of the world. In 1920, he was at Rio De Janeiro and Buenos Aires (Barbiere, Manon and Rigoletto), in 1921 in Madrid (Rigoletto, Bohème, Tosca, Puritani and Favorita), in 1922 at La Scala (Rigoletto) then in Montecarlo (Tosca, Bohème, Butterfly), Barcelona (Rigoletto, Manon, Favorita) and Buenos Aires (Bohème, Tosca, Rigoletto and Traviata). In barely two years after creating a sensation in Manon, he was at The Met, the most rapid tenor's ascendancy in history.

 

From 1922 to 1933, a period of great splendour, he sang in New York at The Met (Butterfly, Chenier, Africana, Aida, Carmen, Lucia, Norma, Faust, Gioconda and Pagliacci among others) and several American cities. He created the role of Calaf (Turandot) at The Met, co-starring the fiery soprano Maria Jeritza in 1926. Indeed, Puccini had composed the vocal score of Calaf, thinking of Lauri-Volpi. Between 1926 and 1928, Calaf was Lauri-Volpi, who cherished the role especially from 1935 (Opera di Roma and Staatsoper of Vienna) to 1956 (Caracalla di Roma). He shone in the roles of Il Duca di Mantova, Manrico, Radames, Rodolfo (Bohème) and Cavaradossi.

 


Don Jose

(Carmen)


Radames

(Aida)

 

 

He sang Cavalleria, Pagliacci and Chenier fairly often but never emerged in these verismo operas. He was a magnificent Arnoldo (Guillaume Tell) in 1930 at La Scala, Opera di Roma, San Carlo and Opéra de Paris. Alas, he needed a few months of absolute rest to recover from the extenuating role. He successfully challenged the prohibitive tessitura of Raoul (Les Huguenots) in 1933 at the Arena di Verona and he gave renewed glamour to the role of Rodolfo (Luisa Miller) in 1937 at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. He was still in splendid form in 1942 at La Scala and San Carlo in the role of Otello. The sensitive tenor deeply resented newspaper criticisms and sang the Moor only seven times on the stage.

 

During the decade 1945-1955, he toured Italy and Europe extensively. On 7 February 1959, he appeared on the stage for the last time singing Il Trovatore at the Teatro dell'Opera, Rome. At the age of seventy three in 1965, he entertained an enthusiastic public at a concert in Ariccia. At the age of eighty in 1973, he participated in Barcelona to a concert of Spanish singers, singing Nessun dorma (Turandot).

He was highly educated, an avid reader and well versed in Latin, mythology and philosophy. He wrote in depth on vocality and singers of the Golden Age of Opera and beyond, kept and published a diary of his artistic career and even a novel. His death was that of the righteous. He passed in his sleep after a day spent on singing and writing: 17 March 1979. He was eighty seven years old.

 

 

Personal profile

 

Lauri-Volpi gave the impression of being an extrovert man, due to his intrepid movements, temerity and vocality on the stage. To the contrary, he was an introvert man even if success and celebrity made him an outright and attractive conversationalist. A man of handsome appearance, impeccable dress sense, cultured speech and refined manners, he was the last famous singer to have direct contacts with kings, political leaders, dictators, rich bankers and famous men of letters. Yet, he was not mundane. He kept away from the operatic milieu except for two radiant sopranos who attracted him.

 

Lauri-Volpi had an amorous friendship with Claudia Muzio and a brief but solid relationship with Grace Moore, the soprano cum Hollywood movie star. More likely, they were the result of his in built fantasies. They were signs of a dreamer. However, he was attached to his wife, Spanish soprano Maria Ros, who was his mentor, teacher, aficionado and probably the instigator of some ‘diva' excesses in him. Despite being very religious and generous to the poor, he was a man of tenacious rancor and forthright bouts. Contradictorily, he demanded large emoluments but hated material possessions.

 

 

Voice

A major soloist in exceptional and heart felt thousands of stage performances during the years from 1919 to 1959, Lauri-Volpi was always supported by a miracle: his voice. The voice was prodigious, naturally beautiful, versatile and not comparable to that of any of his celebrated tenor contemporaries. He coined it “the solitary voice” because it was bizarre, extraordinary and unique. Also, it was tempered like steel and resistant beyond the average artistic career retirement age.

 

It was easily adaptable to roles of tenore di grazia (Barber of Seville), tenore lirico (Bohème), drammatico (Pagliacci and Luisa Miller) and eroico (Otello and Aida). In his prime, the pronunciation was impeccable, the timbre sensuous, the mezzavoce stupefying, the diminuendo a la Fleta and the extension disorienting: it possessed three octaves of vibration, which were impossible with other voices. It could easily be picked up among one thousand of other tenor voices.

 

Whereas any tenor voice becomes a reinforced falsettone above the high C, Lauri-Volpi's voice displayed the same timbre and squillo throughout. Richness of harmonics, vibrational intensity and uniformity of colour were typically coherent from low register sounds to upper register resonance even at a semitone above the high C. "The solitary voice" gave rise to envy, morbid jealousy and open hostility especially in the operatic milieu, within the realm of conductors and male singers.

 

Not all the male singers, however. Tauber venerated the tenor, Thill was a great friend, Fleta guested at his villa in Valencia, Tibbett confided in him, Bechi listened to his advice, De Luca was his buddy, Martinelli was a devoted colleague, Corelli became a studious pupil under him, Martinelli and Corelli were at the unveiling of the tenor's statue in the hall of the old Met in 1965.

The great bass Nazzareno De Angelis was mesmerised by the tenor's performance in Il Trovatore on the night of 30 April 1933 at La Scala. He sent him a telegram which read, ”…my great enthusiasm for your Manrico, which is matchless, puts together drama, passion, fraseggio, belcanto and has quality Tamagno, Masini, Marconi and Stagno. Best wishes for many more years. Stop”

 

Audio files **

 

Audio 5 Tosca – O dolci baci sung by Giacomo Lauri-Volpi in 1928

 

Audio 6 Gli Ugonotti – Bianca al par di neve sung by Giacomo Lauri-Volpi in 1929

Audio 7 Carmen – La fleur que tu m'avais jetée sung by Giacomo Lauri-Volpi in 1930

Audio 8 Otello – Quando narravi duet sung by Caniglia and Lauri-Volpi in 1941

 

Audio 9 La forza del destino – Or muoio tranquillo duet sung by Lauri-Volpi and Bechi in 1943

Audio 10 Il Trovatore – Di quella pira sung by Giacomo Lauri-Volpi in 1951

 

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(j.f.)

 

 

Our Guest of Honour, tenor Salvatore Fisichella, makes an undivided and heart-whole comment on the art of Lauri-Volpi and the artistic rivalry between Lauri-Volpi and Gigli.

 

In Italian

 

Giacomo Lauri Volpi rappresenta il Tenore per eccellenza .La cristallinità del suo timbro,la originalità di alcune sue interpretazioni fanno di Lui un Artista singolare e per certi versi moderno e fuori dagli stilemi cui erano soggetti i colleghi del suo tempo.

 

Per la sua concezione della vita teatrale e dell'Arte , entrò in rivalità con Gigli ,che in fondo ammirava, cercando di imitarne invano la bella mezzavoce,e alcune sfumature stilistiche che Lauri Volpi non raggiunse mai. L'avversione che Lauri Volpi ebbe per Gigli si poggiava per tutto quello che Gigli raffigurava e per tutto quanto roteava attorno a lui. Gigli era la forma schietta del tenore inglobata nella naturalezza del suo canto;Lauri Volpi è già personaggio dentro di sé e con il canto cerca di essere tenore a tutti gli effetti:nella scena,nella vita,nella sua Arte e,da buon letterato,con la sua penna.

 

Un carattere assai bizzarro che non si arrestava di fronte nessun ostacolo e a nessuna contrapposta personalità che fosse capitata davanti a sé.

 

Io non ho avuto modo di ascoltare di persona Lauri Volpi,ma chi ha avuto modo farlo mi ha riferito che in teatro la voce del tenore era di uno squillo e di una pienezza che non viene testimoniata dai dischi che ci ha lasciato. Peccato!Sarebbe stato assistere al miracolo di una voce Il Suo portamento scenico era di una carismatica caratura che faceva dimenticare,ove vi fosse,qualche lieve difetto.

 

Fra le interpretazioni del Grande tenore io preferisco,a parte il Trovatore,di cui forse è stato un Manrico insuperabile,Gli Ugonotti e l'Otello di Verdi.

 

A proposito dell'Otello debbo segnalare che durante la preparazione Lauri Volpi si assentò dalle scene(!939-1941),per il lungo e scrupoloso studio che Egli volle dedicare all'approfondimento delle ragioni vocali stilistiche ed espressive di Otello in previsione del suo esordio alla Scala (1941-42).

 

Tale esordio,preceduto da vivissime polemiche,avvenne il 14 febbraio 1942,con esito indiscutibilmente lusinghiero sotto il profilo vocale tanto da fare scrivere a Franco Abbiati nel Corriere della Sera:<<Lauri Volpi ha cantato… con quella bellezza e quella potenza e quella luminosità di suoni che fanno della sua voce lo strumento più affascinante del registro tenorile…>>

 

 

In English

 

Giacomo Lauri Volpi stands for the Tenor par excellence. The crystallinity of his timbre, the originality of some interpretations make him a singular artist, modern in certain ways and out of the stylistic traits, on which colleagues of his time depended.

Due to his concepts of theatrical life and Art, he became a rival of Gigli, whom he admired after all, trying in vain to imitate the Gigli's beautiful mezzavoce and some stylistic sfumature which Lauri Volpi never mastered. Lauri Volpi's aversion towards Gigli leaned on all that Gigli represented and spun around him. Gigli was the pure form of a tenor cocooned in vocal naturalness. Lauri Volpi has personality already and by singing he tries to be a tenor to all effects and purposes: on the stage, in life, in his Art and, being a good writer, with his pen.

 

A bizarre enough character, who did not falter in front of any obstacle and any confronting person which happened to come his way.

 

Personally, I never heard Lauri Volpi live but those who did have said that on the stage the tenor's voice was of such squillo and fullness that none of the recordings he left us bear testinony. A pity! It would have been a case of witnessing the miracle of a voice. His deportment on the stage had such charismatic quality that some slight defect was forgiving, if there was any.

 

Among the Great tenor's interpretations, my favourites are The Huguenots and Verdi's Otello apart from Il Trovatore, in which he was perhaps an unsurpassed Manrico.

 

Regarding his Otello, I should mention that, during the preparation work, Lauri Volpi absented himself from the stage (1939-1941) for a long and scrupulous period of in depth study he wanted to spend on the Otello's vocal, stylistic and expressiver reasons, in anticipation of his debut at La Scala (1941-42)

 

Preceded by very noisy polemics, the debut took place on 14 February 1942 with an undisputably favourable outcome from a vocal viewpoint so much so that the critic Franco Abbiati wrote in the Corriere della Sera, “ Lauri Volpi sang... with such beauty, power and luminosity of sounds that his voice is the most fascinating instrument of the tenor register...”

 

(s.f.) 

 

 

 



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