Showing posts with label Spoleto. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spoleto. Show all posts

13 January 2018

Renato Bruson – operatic baritone

Donizetti and Verdi specialist rated among greats

Renato Bruson, pictured not long after his debut in the 1960s.
Renato Bruson, pictured not long after
his debut in the 1960s.
The opera singer Renato Bruson, whose interpretation of Giuseppe Verdi’s baritone roles sometimes brought comparison with such redoubtable performers as Tito Gobbi, Ettore Bastianini and Piero Cappuccili, was born on this day in 1936 in the village of Granze, near Padua.

Bruson’s velvety voice and noble stage presence sustained him over a career of remarkable longevity. He was still performing in 2011 at the age of 75, having made his debut more than half a century earlier.

Since then he has devoted himself more to teaching masterclasses, although he did manage one more performance of Verdi’s Falstaff, which was among his most famous roles, at the age of 77 in 2013, having been invited to the Teatro Verdi in Busseto, the composer’s home town in Emilia-Romagna, as part of a celebration marking 200 years since Verdi’s birth.

Today he is director of the Accademia Lirica at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, a role he combines with a professorship at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena and a post at the lyrical academy in Spoleto.

It was at the Teatro Lirico Sperimentale in Spoleto, the ancient city in Umbria, that Bruson made his stage debut as the Conte di Luna in Verdi’s Il trovatore in 1960, which was a moment that brought deep satisfaction after a difficult childhood.

The parish church of Santa Cristina in Granze near Padua, where Bruson sang in the choir as a boy
The parish church of Santa Cristina in Granze near Padua,
where Bruson sang in the choir as a boy
Born into a family of modest means, he found it difficult to convince his parents that if they allowed him to pursue his desire to study music it would not make him appear to others as workshy.

In an interview many years later, Bruson said that the older generation in Granze as he was growing up took the view that people who went straight from school into the world of work could look forward to a prosperous future, whereas those who preferred to continue their studies were destined never to find their path in life.

Therefore he was given little support from his family, even though they had encouraged him to sing in the parish choir. Fortunately, he was awarded a scholarship by the Conservatory of Padua, 30km (19 miles) away.

His debut in Spoleto was well received and he was soon making his mark at some of the great opera houses of Italy, including the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome (1961), La Fenice in Venice (1965) and the Teatro Massimo in Palermo (1966).

The Teatro Regio in Parma, where Bruson was seen by a talent scout from the Met
The Teatro Regio in Parma, where Bruson was
seen by a talent scout from the Met
His big break came in 1967, when he sang the role of Don Carlo di Vargas in Verdi’s La forza del destino at the Teatro Regio in Parma.

In the audience was Roberto Bauer, whose job was to scour Europe looking for new talent for the Metropolitan Opera in New York.  He was so impressed he sought out Bruson afterwards so that he could arrange a meeting with the Met’s artistic director, Rudolf Bing.  Two years later, Bruson was making his debut on the other side of the Atlantic as Enrico in Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor.

In the early part of his career, in particular, Bruson was associated with Donizetti’s baritones as much as Verdi’s, performing in no fewer than 17 operas from the pen of the Bergamo composer.

Over the next few years, Bruson paraded his acting skills, the deep but smooth resonance of his voice and his commanding stage presence at Europe’s leading opera houses.

Another milestone moment came in 1972 with his debut as Antonio in Donizetti’s Linda di Chamounix at La Scala.

In 1975 he took his first bows at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London, as Renato in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, and in 1978 came his debut at the Vienna State Opera in Macbeth, the Shakespeare play upon which Verdi had based his 10th opera in 1847.

Renato Bruson in more recent years
Renato Bruson in more recent years
In the meantime, he had also begun what was to be a long and fruitful collaboration with the conductor Riccardo Muti, who was particularly appreciative of Bruson’s vocal style, which had deep resonance without the thunderous qualities associated with some baritones. The singer always wanted audiences to appreciate the quality of his voice, rather than the volume, and to go home “with something in their hearts rather than some sounds in their ears.”

Bruson is married to Tita Tegano, a costume and set designer who has also written several books about the life and work of her husband. In 1996 he was made Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic.

Last year, his career was celebrated again as he was named as the recipient of the Caruso Prize in recognition of his lifetime contribution to the opera genre.  The award is made annually in a ceremony at the Villa Caruso di Bellosguarda in Tuscany, former home of the great Neapolitan tenor and now a museum.

The well-preserved castle at Spoleto
The well-preserved castle at Spoleto
Travel tip:

The ancient city of Spoleto in Umbria, where Bruson made his first appearance in a live opera performance, has a long association with music and other performing arts, which it celebrates every summer with the Festival dei Due Mondi, which sees events taking place in churches, theatres and open squares throughout the city and attracts a high calibre of performers during June and July. Spoleto also has some fine architecture, including a beautiful 12th-century Duomo which has frescoes by Fra Filippo Lippi, who is buried in the church.  The city also has the remains of a Roman amphiteatre and an imposing castle, parts of which go back to the fifth century.

Padua's Palazzo della Ragione
Padua's Palazzo della Ragione
Travel tip:

The city of Padua’s biggest attraction is the beautiful Scrovegni Chapel, made famous by the wonderful frescoes painted by Giotto, but there is plenty more to the Veneto’s second largest city, including a wealth of parks and gardens and a city centre where you will find many more students and local people than tourists.  This is despite Padua boasting the two fine basilicas of Sant’Antonio and Santa Giustina, the oval piazza known as Prato della Valle, the historic centre built around the Duomo, the Palazzo della Ragione and a University established in 1222 at which Galileo Galilei was a lecturer.

29 October 2016

Franco Corelli - 'Prince of Tenors'

Self-taught singer who wowed New York

Franco Corelli's movie star looks added to the quality of his voice
Franco Corelli's movie star looks added to
the quality of his voice
The great Italian tenor Franco Corelli died in Milan on this day in 2003 aged 82 after suffering heart problems.

Corelli was renowned for the power and vibrancy of his voice, described by some as generating a 'white heat' on the stage when he performed.  In a career spanning more than a quarter of a century he mastered all the major tenor roles and appeared at the greatest opera theatres in the world.

He was a fixture at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where he performed 19 roles over 15 seasons in some 365 appearances.  As well as possessing outstanding vocal range, he used his natural assets – he stood 6ft 1ins tall and weighed 200lbs – to develop a charismatic stage presence.

Blessed with movie star looks, he had the appearance of an opera-singing Errol Flynn. He was nicknamed the 'Prince of Tenors'.

Corelli was born in 1921 in Ancona on Italy’s Adriatic coast, in a house just yards from the shore.
His father was a shipbuilder for the Italian navy and as he neared adulthood it seemed that Corelli’s destiny was to pursue the same profession. He obtained a place at Bologna University to study naval engineering.

It was while he was in Bologna that a friend dared him to enter a singing competition. He did not win but the judges were impressed enough with his voice to tell him that with proper training he could have a career as a professional singer if he wanted.

Clearly, he had inherited some of the talent of his grandfather, Augusto, who had been an operatic tenor, and two uncles, who had both been in the chorus of the Teatro delle Muse in Ancona.

Mario del Monaco's style influenced Corelli
Mario del Monaco's style
influenced Corelli
Corelli entered the Conservatory of Pesaro but despite the expert coaching he received felt that the experience made his voice worse rather than better. After finding himself unable to reach notes that were previously within his capabilities, he decided he would be better off developing his own technique and declared voice teachers to be ‘dangerous people.’

Although he took advice from the voice coach of another great tenor, Mario del Monaco, he was essentially self taught, identifying Enrico Caruso, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi and Beniamino Gigli among a small group of singers he chose to study.

He developed a vocal power similar to that enjoyed by Del Monaco and after winning a competition at the Maggio Musicale festival in Florence made his opera debut at Spoleto in 1951 as Don Jose in Carmen.

By 1954 he was performing opposite Maria Callas at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, gaining the respect of the brilliant soprano as a co-star whose acting ability matched hers.  His debut at the Met came in 1961 in a production of Verdi’s Il Trovatore.

Not all critics were fans. Like Del Monaco, he was accused of sacrificing finesse for power and found some opera writers expressed their disapproval after his debut at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in 1957, when in Act II of Puccini’s Tosca he stretched Cavaradossi’s defiant cry of ‘Vittoria!’ to a full 12 seconds to show how good he was at holding a high note. The audience was in raptures but critics panned him for showing off.

Watch Franco Corelli sing the aria E Lucevan le stelle from Tosca

Later in his career, it surprised no one that he should have behaved in such a way as he developed a reputation as someone who had a sharp sense of his own importance.

Prone to temperamental outbursts, he was said to be incensed, during a Met production of Puccini’s Turandot in Boston, when the Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson held a high ‘C’ for longer than he had. Later in the performance, Ms Nilsson claimed he took the opportunity presented by a scene in which he was required to plant a stage kiss her cheek to bite her on the neck, something Corelli denied but his co-star insisted was true.

Franco Corelli as he appeared in the title role in Umberto Giordano's Andrea Chénier
Franco Corelli as he appeared in the title
role in Umberto Giordano's Andrea Chénier
On another occasion at Teatro San Carlo in Naples he reacted to being heckled from a third-tier box by leaving the stage, in full costume as Manrico in Il Trovatore, climbing three flights of stairs and breaking down the locked door of the box with his shoulder, then waving his costume sword at the terrified occupant. It took the intervention of two ushers to restrain him.

Ahead of any performance he was nervous and ritualistic, making it a contractual obligation on the part of the theatre to prepare him steak tartare with lemon juice and raw garlic, which he consumed immediately before going on stage with no regard for the sensitivities of his leading lady, whatever her stature. On the other hand, he neither smoked nor drank alcohol at any time.

Away from performing, he had a taste for the high life. He modelled clothes for Town and Country magazine and had a passion for expensive cars and cameras. At one point during his years of fame in America he had a Jaguar, an Alfa Romeo Giulietta, a Lincoln Continental and a Cadillac in his garage and he could pick from any one of 12 cameras when he decided he wanted a day to indulge his interest in photography.

In 1958 he met Loretta di Lelio backstage at the Rome Opera House and they married, at which point the fledgling soprano gave up her career to become his secretary, business manager, agent and translator.  A forceful negotiator, she won him many lucrative contracts.

Corelli was at his peak between 1950 and 1970, after which he began to scale back his appearances sharply. He retired in 1976, having decided his vocal powers were beginning to decline and unwilling to expose his ego to the harsh criticisms that he knew would come if he overstayed his welcome.
It was a wise decision, ensuring his place among the greats of opera would be preserved.

An aerial view of the Adriatic port of Ancona
An aerial view of the Adriatic port of Ancona 
Travel tip:

Ancona is the capital of the Marche region. A port city of more than 100,000 inhabitants, it is known for its beaches, such as the Spiaggia del Passetto, and for the 12th century Cathedral of San Ciriaco, which sits on a hilltop. The Fontana del Calamo, with bronze masks of mythic figures, is a feature in the city centre. On opposite sides of the port are the ancient  Arch of Trajan and the 18th century quarantine station, the Lazzaretto.

Travel tip:

The ancient city of Spoleto in Umbria, where Corelli made his stage debut, is famous for its Festival dei Due Mondi (Festival of the Two Worlds), founded in 1958, which is held annually in late June-early July. It has developed into one of Italy’s most important cultural events, with a three-week schedule of music, theatre and dance performances.

More reading:

Tito Gobbi - baritone who found fame on screen and stage

Luciano Pavarotti - maestro remembered as 'King of the Hugh Cs'

Andrea Bocelli - today's modern superstar tenor


3 October 2016

Ruggero Raimondi - opera star

Singer overcame shyness to become a great bass-baritone

Ruggero Raimondi 
The bass-baritone singer Ruggero Raimondi, who would become famous for his performances in the operas of Verdi, Rossini, Puccini and Mozart, was born on this day in Bologna in 1941.

Blessed with a mature voice at an early age, he was soon encouraged to pursue a career in opera and enrolled at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Milan at the age of only 16, later continuing his studies in Rome at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia.

He won a national competition for young singers in Spoleto and made his debut in the same Umbrian city in 1964 in the role of Colline in Giacomo Puccini's La bohème in 1964. Soon afterwards, he appeared in the leading role of Procida in Verdi’s I vespri siciliani at the Rome Opera House.

Raimondi was also studying accountancy, wary that his ambitions in opera might not materialise.  But then came an audition at La Fenice opera house in Venice, after which Raimondi was offered a five-year contract.

Naturally shy, he struggled with the acting element to operas but was able to conquer his inhibitions with the help of acting lessons and work with a vocal coach who taught him interpretation.

Raimondi added acting skills to his singing
Raimondi added acting skills to his singing 
His reputation grew rapidly and within a short span of years he had performed at many of the world's leading opera venues. He made his debut at Teatro alla Scala in Milan in 1968 as Timur in Puccini’s Turandot and sang what would become one of his most popular roles as Mozart's Don Giovanni at the Glyndebourne Festival the following year.

Debuts followed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York (1970), the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden (1972), the Paris Opera (1975) and the Salzburg Festival (1980).

His earlier nerves a thing of the past, Raimondi developed a commanding presence on stage that was noted by film-makers and on-screen roles in Don Giovanni, Bizet’s Carmen and Puccini's Tosca came his way.

His career thrived in the 1980s and 90s, when his many triumphs included playing the notorious chief of police Baron Scarpia in a production of Puccini's Tosca that was performed as a series of live television broadcasts from the very settings in Rome described in the libretto and at the intended times of day.

The cast -- which also included Placido Domingo and Catherine Malfitano -- therefore assembled for Act One at the Church of Sant' Andrea della Valle at noon and for Act Two at the Farnese Palace as the sun set on the first day of the production, reconvening for the concluding Act Three at Castel Sant' Angelo at dawn the next day.

More recently, in 2011, Raimondi sang Pagano in Verdi’s I Lombardi alla prima crociata in an another unusual production, a concert staged on the rooftop of Milan Cathedral to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Italian Unification.

Married since 1987 to Isabel Maier, whom he met in Bilbao in Spain, Raimondi has four sons. Nowadays, he is an opera director and coaches opera students at the Bologna Conservatory.

Travel tip:

Bologna, the seventh largest city in Italy, is the historic capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, in northern Italy. Its hub is the Piazza Maggiore, a large square lined where with colonnades, notable for the 13th century Palazzo d'Accursio, which used to serve as Bologna's City Hall, the 16th century Fountain of Neptune and the 15th century Basilica di San Petronio.  Bologna is also famous for its porticoes, of which there are 38km (24 miles) in the historic centre.

La Rocca Albornoziana occupies a commanding position overlooking the Umbrian town of Spoleto
La Rocca Albornoziana occupies a commanding position
overlooking the Umbrian town of Spoleto
Travel tip:

The historic and beautiful Umbrian hill town of Spoleto, home to the Instituzione Teatro Lirico Sperimentale at which Raimondi won a national competition for young singers, has an impressive 12th century cathedral among a number of interesting buildings and, standing on a hilltop overlooking the town, the imposing 14th century fortress, La Rocca Albornoziana.  Spoleto is famous, too, as the venue for the annual celebration of the performing arts, the Festival dei Due Mondi, which includes concerts in the Piazza del Duomo and performances in the Roman theatre and a number of churches.

(Black and white photo of  Raimondi by Menerbes CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Photo of La Rocca Albornoziana by Lahiri Cappello CC By 2.0)