I must say. Not a bad view this morning while working on my next novel.
On July 24th, Giuseppe di Stefano would have celebrated his 96th birthday.
Giuseppe, or Pippo, as he was affectionately called, was one of the world’s leading tenors in the 1950s.
Born in Sicily, he reached the pinnacle of the opera world, singing at all over the world, including the Met and La Scala, where he was often paired with the great soprano, Maria Callas.
His recordings of operas are both fantastic and famous, with his 1953 Tosca with Callas and Gobbi sometimes labeled the greatest opera recording of all time.
Giuseppe had perfect diction and sang with unbridled emotion. However, where he really stood apart from other tenors was in Neapolitan songs. Here, when he sang those beautiful songs, one could fill the Mediterranean sun and hear the waves along the shore.
Here is a quick example.
In celebration of his life, find a recording or do a search on You Tube, and just listen to a God given voice.
Italian Historical Fiction Author
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I am so exited about the release of a biography on the life of Arturo Toscanini- released as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth. It was written by a great writer- Harvey Sachs.
A true musical giant. He knew Verdi and Puccini. Was the darling of La Scala.
A man of courage in his convictions, I can’t wait to dive into his story.
I will be sure to post a review of this monumental biography once done.
Autbor of Tempesta’s Dream and A Song for Bellafortuna
On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress approved the resolution offered by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia. It was seconded by John Adams.
Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.
The very next day, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail and predicted for all future generations of Americans how important Independence Day would be.
The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.—I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
Adams would be two days off from his prediction, however.
Adams was on the committee of five members of Congress to draft a document setting forth the reasons for independence. Thomas Jefferson was given the task of writing such a document. This Declaration was debated, edited and then, on July 4, 1776, was voted on and approved, a document that eloquently articulated the reasons why the colonies had separated from the British Empire. The Declaration would not be signed until August, however, going forward, America began celebrating Independence Day on the 4th of July.
In a twist of fate, 50 years to the day of passing the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both passed away on July 4, 1826.
Here is my Sicilian secret regarding olive oil -passed down from my grandparents.
Castelvetrano, Sicily is home to world famous olives. From those olives is produced the greatest olive oil you can buy. Olio Castelvetrano tastes great on anything, especially salads.
Once you taste this olive oil, you will never use another kind ever again.
I grew up with the voice of Mario Lanza always being played at my home. The tenor from South Philly became a Hollywood star, giving up a career on the opera stage.
He did sing in an opera only one time – yep in good ole New Orleans.
Here is a picture of Lanza in his dressing room on the night of his professional operatic debut (as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly), New Orleans Municipal Auditorium, April 8, 1948.
My grandmother was in attendance that night and always said that the label that his voice was not big enough for the opera house was completly false. His voice soared over the entire house that night and was beautful.
As I attempted to show in my article on Bel Canto, that style of singing in opera was eloquent, structured, with long melodic lines.
However, tastes change. Around the turn of the century, a new fad was taking hold in the literary world. Naturalism or as it became known in Italy, Verismo, now looked for true, realistic and contemporary storytelling. No longer were stories about Gods, mythological figures, or Kings and Queens. But instead, the protagonists would be real people in real situations, such as a woman working in a cigarette factory or a Diva pursued by the Chief of Police, or a story based on a real trial of a clown in a traveling show.
Emile Zola and Giovani Verga were the famous authors of this literary movement. And then, in 1875, along came Bizet’s opera, Carmen, and one can say Verismo in opera was born.
No longer was there the long elegant melodic lines, but instead a passionate, declamatory style of singing was born.
Here is a clip of Carmen showing this passionate style.
The Carmen here was Agnes Baltsa and Don Jose, the Spanish tenor, Jose Carreras. They sang these two roles all over the World.
One could say Carmen was the antecedent to Verismo, which soon took complete hold on the opera world of Italy. Here the young Italian opera composers, such as Puccini, Mascagni, Giordano, and Leoncavallo, would fundamentally change opera. Of course, Verdi and Wagner were influences, but these composers made Verismo their own style.
No longer were the composers creating works with set pieces and recitative and in a very structured way, but instead, the entire work was a seamless musical composition.
Puccini’s Tosca is one great example of Verismo. Real passion with people struggling with life’s issues. Here is a clip from the conclusion of Act 1.
Sherrill Milnes is spectacular in this role; don’t you agree?
The two works that really are the heart and soul of Verismo is Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. So much so, these short one act operas by Mascagni and Leoncavallo respectively have been joined in performance almost from inception.
“The author has tried to paint for you a glimpse of life” — So says Tonio in the Prologue and with those words the composer has really provided to the listener the entire goal of the Verismo movement.
Here is Pavarotti singing one of the most famous arias from Pagliacci.
The verismo style also changed the way singers sang opera. Now, a more spoken style of singing was introduced. Florid singing was out, and a more, let’s call it, heart on your sleeve style of singing was put forth.
Perhaps, the great tenor, Enrico Caruso, is the best example of this unabashed style. Here is a short clip for you to view.
Recorded in 1905, his miraculous voice still shines through the dim recording.
Verismo lasted until the early 20s. One could say with the death of Puccini, so died Verismo. A short lived style of opera, but one that still brings much excitement and joy to those of us still listening today.
Author of Tempesta’s Dream and A Song for Bellafortuna.
Today we are going to get a snippet of the era of Romantic Bel Canto singing.
First, what is Bel Canto?
It means simply: “Beautiful Song.”
This type of vocal singing, introduced in Italy, ruled Europe during the 18th centry and early 19th century. It is most known for long, melodic lines, along with legato phrasing and skill in high, florid singing.
Here is a quick clip to give an example.
The tenor was Rolando Villazon. Notice how his voice just floats along the melodic line. Gorgeous right? Renee Fleming described this singing the best when she compared it to a clothesline, and the clothes pins along the line are the notes. The melodic line just keeps going forward while the vocal line does the same all the while hitting the notes along the way.
Next, who were some of the famous composers of Bel Canto?
Rossini, Vincenzo Bellini, and Gaetano Donizetti.
I wanted to share this clip of Elina Garanca singing and discussing Bel Canto.
At some point in the 19th century, the public taste for operatic drama evolved. Composers, like Verdi and Puccini started composing operas that demanded more intense and powerful singing. Soon, Bel Canto was replaced by Verismo – which tried to bring realism to the arts. We will look at Verismo another time.
Bel Canto should not be forgotten. It is a glorious part of the tradition of opera. And when a singer comes along who can sing in that style, audiences can relive what it must have been like to attend opera centuries ago.
I leave you with Maria Callas – the soprano who brought Bel Canto back to the forefront in the 40s and 50s and paved the way for Sutherland and Pavarotti who flourised in the Bel Canto Operas.
Author of A Song for Bellafortuna: An Italian Historical Fiction Novel.