Mattia Battistini


Born: February 27, 1856 Died: November 7, 1928
Baritone Mattia Battistini was born on February 27, 1856 in Contigliano, near Rome. In Rome, he studied voice with Eugenio Terziani and later with Vencesleo Persichini. In 1878, he made his professional debut at the Teatro Argentina in Donizetti's La Favorita on less than a day's notice. He was a great success, and over the next several years sang throughout northern Italy in Il Trovatore, La Forza del Destino, Rigoletto, Les Huguenots, L' Africaine, I Puritani, Lucia di Lammermoor, Ernani, and many other operas. In 1881, he traveled to South America and on his return stopped at Madrid and Seville to sing Figaro in The Barber of Seville. In 1883, he sang at Covent Garden in London and had a mild success, but how could such a young singer expect to steal headlines from the likes of Sembrich, Marconi, and Edwuard de Reszke? In 1888, he returned to South America, but the voyage was very difficult -- that was the last time Battistini crossed the Atlantic. He felt that crossing the English Channel was as long as he wanted to be on a ship again. Massenet was so beguiled by his voice that he rewrote the tenor role of Werther so that Battistini could sing it. Beginning in 1893, he spent long periods of time each season in Russia. The opera house at St. Petersburg included on its roster Marcella Sembrich, Fernando de Lucia, Adamo Didur, and many other great singers from the turn of the century. From this point on, his career was a succession of triumphs matched by few singers in the history of opera. He sang several Russian operas including Russlan and Ludmilla by Glinka, The Demon by Rubinstein, and The Queen of Spades and Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky. He would sing in Italian while his colleagues sang the original Russian text. His last opera performances were in Padua, 1921, when he repeated his Rigoletto. He continued to perform in recitals and concerts until 1927, an astonishing 49 years after his debut. He died on November 7, 1928, at Colle Baccaro near Rieti.

Battistini had one of the most beautiful baritone voices ever recorded. It was not the largest voice but, because of his exemplary control, it had a commanding presence. His voice was quite agile and he could crescendo and/or diminuendo with ease in any range. If his voice had any weakness, it was in the lower register which, at least on recording, does not carry well. On several recordings, he transposed the lower notes up an octave as in his recording of "Eri tu" from Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera.

Battistini was already 45 years old when he made his first recordings in 1902, and he continued to record until 1924 when he was 67. In all, he recorded over 100 items, and each one has examples which we would want every singer to listen to and to understand. His earliest recordings are prime examples of great singing (Romophon 82008-2), with the aria from Eugene Onegin representing the pinnacle of vocal performance. He ends the aria on an unwritten high F that proceeds to swell and then diminish away into nothingness. He recorded many arias several times during his career, and while the voice was more secure in the earlier recordings, the later ones show little loss of technical prowess. The consistency of his artistry is the most truly remarkable aspect of this "King of the Baritones."