FERNANDO DE LUCIA: The Complete Gramophone Company Recordings 1902–1909 • Fernando de Lucia (ten); Celestina Boninsegna, Josefina Huguet, Maria Galvany, Angela De Angelis (sop); Antonio Pini-Corsi, Ernesto Badini (bar); various pianists; various conductors;various orchestras • MARSTON 54004–2 (4 CDs: 316:50)
Arias, duets, and songs by: TOSTI, VERDI, ROSSINI, GIORDANO, DI GIACOMO, PUCCINI, COTTRAU, MASSENET, MASCAGNI, BALDELLI, BIZET, COSTA, WAGNER, DENZA, DONIZETTI, CILEA, GOUNOD, THOMAS, MOZART, BELLINI,Read more BARTHÉLEMY, DE CURTIS, GAMBARDELLA, RICCIARDI, MEYERBEER, BOITO, LEONCAVALLO
The 1890s were years of transition for Italian operatic music, and for its singers as well. Save for Verdi, the composers who had dominated the latter half of the century—Mercadante, Ponchielli, Petrella, Gomes (Italian in training), Lauro Rossi, and Federico Ricci, among others, including several musicians of the primo ottocento—were slowly fading out of public view. A new generation arose who paid less attention to earlier musical forms, and the strict prosody of its verse. They also took frequently as their subjects the sensational side of Romantic Realism (so popular in novels and on stage); increasing levels of size and sophistication in many Italian operatic orchestras; and the larger opera houses that were being built. All this led naturally to the development of a different kind of singer, one that emphasized volume, brilliancy of tone, and emoting over agility, and subtlety of phrasing.
Recordings made in the subsequent decade catch these changes just after the cusp. Several of the old guard remained, but most up and coming singers of the Italian repertoire either adopted to or were trained in this new style. Fernando de Lucia (1860–1925) is a pivotal figure among recording artists of the time because though already middle-aged, he retained his singing method, all of his voice (if not his full, youthful range up to high C), his old-fashioned stylistic proclivities—and last but hardly least, because he recorded roughly 300 sides.
Had this been all, it would be enough, but de Lucia was also a vocal artist of the highest order. He didn’t merely sing the music. He interpreted it according to a tradition that made color and phrasing the servants of the work. The tenor has been repeatedly accused of going far beyond what’s necessary in this regard, and even his strongest supporters acknowledge that on some of his records, the technique takes precedence over the material. But few enthusiasts of vintage opera singers will argue with the statement that his technique was extraordinary, and that he could and often did use it with exceptional taste.
His “Ecco ridente” from Il barbiere, recorded in 1908, is a case in point. When I first encountered this performance over 45 years ago, it came as a revelation. Other, more recent tenors I’d heard—and at the time, Luigi Alva, Nicola Monti, and especially Cesare Valletti were thought the best Almavivas—sang the aria smoothly, gracefully, but left little impression. You waited eagerly for Figaro’s first appearance in the opera. (I wasn’t as yet aware of what Kozlovsky had done with the role in the 1950s in the Soviet Union.) De Lucia makes it a serenade of aspiring seduction, by turns caressing, ardent, and commanding—all by varying colors, ornamentation, volume, intensity, and tempo. The numerous diminuendos are perfect, but they never seem out of place, nor do they overstay their leave. The runs of the second section are immaculate, each note distinct, the entire thing sung with a playfulness and ease that remain impressive today; even given the remarkable crop of tenors in our current Rossini revival whom de Lucia still surpasses in charm. (Ironically, it was precisely in this kind of music that British critics severely criticized him. They preferred his Canio and Rudolfo, but Mediterraneans who retained a fond memory of the older style never lost their affection for the tenor.)
One matter of concern for modern listeners, however, is de Lucia’s flicker vibrato. It comes across strongly on discs, though the question remains open about how much of it was perceived in the very different aural perspective of the opera house. (John Steane once wrote of a fan of another great singer with a flicker vibrato, Conchita Supervia, who preferred scratchy, “unscrubbed” recordings of hers to the deticked kind, because the vibrato, as covered by the scratches, more closely resembled when he heard her live on stage.) Michael Aspinall’s excellent liner notes discuss why de Lucia used a flicker vibrato at all, but comes to no conclusions. A number of his contemporaries, and modern singers as well, display this feature, though de Lucia’s flicker is strong. It’s an acquired taste, but one I acquired early in life.
A second area of concern is that of pitch. Up through much of the 1920s there was no standard speed applied during the recording process, and variations as great as 55 rpm to 90 rpm on records that were nominally 78 rpm disks were common. On top of that, de Lucia found his high B and C unreliable by the mid-1890s, and often transposed to avoid them. (Nor was he alone in this. It was a common practice at the time, and orchestras were expected to transpose on sight after being told the singers’ requirements.) No method has been discovered to determine exactly when de Lucia did that and if so, how far, on nearly all his records, nor what speed they were recorded at. Aspinall notes that he and Marston were guided in this collection mostly by the sound of the vowels, and they also agreed that usually the recording speed remained constant throughout a given engineering session. Much guesswork is still involved, but the results in my opinion beat out the other solutions I’ve heard ever since I began collecting LPs of de Lucia in the late 1960s—and certainly beat out my own fledgling efforts at tape editing and speed alteration at the time.
It has to be said that the title of this album itself is something of a misnomer. Yes, you get the tenor’s complete Gramophone recordings, but those take up two-and-a-half discs. The other disc-and-a-half is given over to selected recordings of de Lucia from the Phonotype catalog, cut between 1917 and 1922. He had by then turned more to teaching, at the Naples Conservatory, and the voice sounds more relaxed, its natural, honeyed warmth easy to hear in “Apri la tua finestra.” So is the teasing humor in his “Tra voi belle,” while his “Ed anche Beppe amò … O amore, o bella luce” is a demonstration of fine vocal acting as well as singing, though hardly a surprise—given that de Lucia was the first Fritz in Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz. There are suggestions that more de Lucia may follow. I can only hope this proves the case, given the quality of Ward Marston’s transfers.
Great singers transcend vocal type. They achieve through some amalgam of genetics, training, luck, insight, and will an individuality that makes them stand out from the rest. Fortunately, de Lucia was a favorite in the recording studio, because even today we are the richer for it.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
A windfall of major boxed set releases in the 1970s and ’80s created quite a buzz among avid historic vocal record collectors, including Rubini’s five-LP set devoted to the complete Gramophone Company recordings by Neapolitan tenor Fernando De Lucia (1860-1925), all recorded between 1902 and 1909. The Marston label has prepared its own edition of this body of work, along with a generous selection from the singer’s later recordings for the Naples-based Phonotype label.
The singer’s instinct for drama and colorful shadings comes across with vivid immediacy throughout this collection, even though his pronounced vibrato, sometimes strident tone, and frequent rhythmic liberties may not be to all tastes. For example, the distended phrases in “La donna è mobile” are sure to fall strangely on modern ears, while no contemporary tenor would even think of protracting phrase endings in Giordano’s “Amor ti vieta” to De Lucia’s extremes, even if the composer himself approved! Yet De Lucia’s command of long, sustained lines and off-handed yet impressively accurate ornaments convey such idiomatic character in selections from French operas like Carmen, Les Pêcheurs de Perles, Mignon, Faust, and Les Huguenots that you almost forget that he is singing in Italian.
In Mozart’s “Il mio tesoro intanto” from Don Giovanni you won’t find John McCormack’s seamless legato and purity of style, but De Lucia’s flexible pulse, attention to words, and sense of the music’s internal build ultimately convinces. While the tenor made his mark in verismo (he sang in the London premieres of Cavalleria Rusticana, I Pagliacci and La Bohème), he was no less striking and elegantly imaginative in bel canto repertory, Wagner in Italian (what a seductively stretched out “Mein lieber Schwan”!), and popular Neapolitan songs.
Producer Jeffrey Miller has spared no effort and left no stone unturned in order to do things right, from Ward Marston’s clean and vibrant transfers and Michael Aspinall’s perceptive and scholarly annotations to pitching the selections as accurately as possible—De Lucia was notorious for transposing arias down. In short, this significant reissue not only reveals a large scope of De Lucia’s idiosyncratic and compelling artistry but also provides a window into a vanished style.
‘A surrentinaby Ernesto De Curtis Performer:
Fernando de Lucia (Tenor)
Period: Romantic Written: Italy
Luna-lùby V. Ricciardi Performer:
Fernando de Lucia (Tenor)
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Enchanted still after all these years ...March 17, 2014By A. Paradis (Toronto, ON)See All My Reviews"I'm quite a lush when it comes to drinking in the magic of de Lucia's unique singing. When the five-LP set on Rubini first appeared (which decades on this Marston CD set mirrors with perfecting technique), I only knew two, perhaps three cuts of de Lucia. These had been on diverse el-cheapo labels that did not correct pitches, were rather peaky and screechy in their transfers, and whose publishers probably had no clue that almost every recording from the earliest years of singing had to be thought about and adjusted for speed to hear a real voice sound-picture emerge. So, I was simply stunned when I heard the first cut on side one of the extraordinary Rubini set. I was ... well, addicted within the day. I like tenors. But even the most wonderful can be loved and left after one CD. In many cases, a whole CD is more than enough for one sitting. Even the gorgeous Domingo, the heady Bjorling, the winsomely lovely Pavarotti, the heavenly Schipa and Anselmi, delicious Gigli and Apollonian Gedda and Simoneau are pure gold ... for an hour. Well, perhaps Schipa and Anselmi can sing a bit longer for me. But, when it comes to de Lucia, I remember one evening listening through the whole Rubini set in one sitting!! Is de Lucia the most beautiful tenor voice ever? Certainly not. Were his recordings exemplars of how it ought to be done? Well, not really and truly (anymore) -- even for many not even then (ask Toscanini!). But he gives you everything you need to know about how it 'could' be done and was done in the generation leading up to the end of the 19th century. His bel canto style is uniquely effortless; his verismo very Neapolitan ... I cannot say how the magic works, but it might be worth a listen! cheers for the ears ... Andre"Report Abuse
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