At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Tito Schipa – operatic tenor

Star on two continents whose voice divided opinions


The tenor Tito Schipa enjoyed success on two continents
The tenor Tito Schipa enjoyed success
on two continents
Tito Schipa, one of the most popular opera singers in the first half of the 20th century who sang to packed houses in the United States and South America as well as in Italy, was born on this day in 1888 in Lecce.

The tenor, whose repertoire included Verdi and Puccini roles in the early part of his career and later encompassed works by Donizetti, Cilea and Massanet, rose from modest beginnings to find fame with the Chicago and New York Metropolitan opera companies in America.

He also appeared regularly in Buenos Aires in Argentina and later in his career starred regularly at Teatro alla Scala in Milan and the Rome Opera.

Some critics said his voice lacked power and had too narrow a range for him to be considered a genuinely great tenor, yet he overcome his perceived limitations to become extremely popular with the public wherever he performed.

Schipa was born Raffaele Attilio Amedeo Schipa in the Le Scalze district of Lecce, a fairly working class neighbourhood in the Puglian city.  His family were of Albanian heritage. His father was a customs officer.

His talent was first noted by a primary school teacher in Lecce and soon afterwards by a Catholic bishop, Gennaro Trama, a music enthusiast who had a reputation as something of a talent scout, and who encouraged him to join his local seminary.

Schipa often performed opposite the
soprano Amelita Galli-Curci
Eventually, feeling his opportunities in Lecce were limited, Schipa made the bold decision to move to Milan to work with Emilio Piccoli, an opera singer who had become a distinguished voice teacher.

With Piccoli’s help he was able to make his stage debut in Vercelli in Piedmont as Alfredo in a performance of Verdi’s La Traviata in 1909 at the age of 21.

He was by no means an overnight success, spending the next few seasons appearing at small opera houses around Italy. But in 1913 he had the opportunity to travel to South America. He had already displayed his linguistic versatility by singing in Spanish for audiences in Madrid and he was a hit with operagoers in both Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro.

On his return to Italy, a brilliant performance in Puccini’s Tosca on his debut at Teatro San Carlo in Naples in 1914 earned rave reviews and suddenly Schipa was regarded as a major talent.

He developed a professional relationship with the soprano Amelita Galli-Curci, whose voice blended perfectly with his. It was alongside Galli-Curci that he made his US debut in Chicago in 1919, having been invited by the Scottish soprano Mary Garden and the impresario Cleofonte Campanini, who were managers of the Civic Opera.

His debut in Verdi’s Rigoletto began a 20-year association with the Chicago Opera Company, although from 1932, as the financial recession hit Chicago in particular, he was dividing his loyalties between the Illinois city and the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Schipa waves farewell from the steps of an American ship en route to New York
Schipa waves farewell from the steps of
an American ship en route to New York
Schipa’s career was boosted by the growing popularity of the gramophone. He made numerous audio recordings of arias and songs during his career from 1913 onwards. His 78-rpm set of Donizetti's Don Pasquale, made in 1932, is considered so good that it remains in circulation on CD.

Away from the theatre, Schipa led a colourful social life, although his associations with characters in the circle of the Mafia boss Al Capone often resulted in him losing money through dubious ‘investments’ presented to him.

He was married for the first time in 1920 to the French actress Antoinette Michel d'Ogoy, with whom he had two daughters, Elena and Liana.  During the Second World War he had a long affair with the Italian actress Caterina Boratto, although it was to another Italian starlet, Teresa Borgna, that he was married after Antoinette’s death in 1947. The marriage produced a son, Tito junior.

Schipa was a conductor as well as a singer and towards the end of his career, after he had retired from the operatic stage, was the director of a singing school in Budapest.  He had another singing school in New York, and was living in Manhattan at the time of his death, in 1965, at the age of 78, from diabetes.

Piazza Duomo in the Baroque city of Lecce
Piazza Duomo in the Baroque city of Lecce
Travel tip:

Lecce, Schipa’s birthplace, has such a rich cultural heritage it is sometimes called the Florence of the South. It is the main city on Puglia's Salento peninsula. It became a centre for the ornate architecture called Barocco Leccese. Its historic centre, compact and easy to explore, is filled with Baroque monuments. There are many restaurants, too, that offer fine food typical of Puglia.

The Piazza Cavour is at the heart of historic Vercelli
Travel tip:

Vercelli, where Schipa made his operatic debut, is a city of around 46,500 people situated about 80km (50 miles) northeast of Turin near the Sesia river.  It is one of the oldest urban settlements in northern Italy, founded in around 600BC and has numerous Roman relics and several noteworthy towers, including the Torre dell’Angelo that overlooks the market square, Piazza Cavour.  The Basilica di Sant’Andrea is one of the best preserved Romanesque monuments in Italy.



















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