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Fernando De Lucia

Fernando De Lucia (b. Naples, 11 October 1860 or 1 September 1861, died there, 21 February 1925) was an Italian opera tenor and singing teacher.

De Lucia was famous in his lifetime as a performer of verismo roles (such as Canio in Leoncavallo's Pagliacci) and certain Verdi parts. He has also acquired a great posthumous reputation among record-collectors as a leading exponent of a certain style of ornamental tenor singing which is now extinct. They value especially De Lucia's recordings of Almaviva's arias from Rossini's bel canto comic opera Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville).

Early career

De Lucia studied at the Naples Music Conservatory with Vincenzo Lombardi and Beniamino Carelli. He made his debut at the Teatro di San Carlo, Naples, as Gounod's Faust in 1885. Over the next two or three years he sang in Spain, South America and in the smaller Italian opera houses, in Linda di Chamounix, Dinorah, L'elisir d'amore, Fra Diavolo and La sonnambula. While in Madrid he was hired by Augustus Harris and Herman Klein for his first London appearances in the Drury Lane season of 1887; but although Klein liked his Alfredo, he went comparatively unnoticed due to the British debut of the charismatic Jean de Reszke. His Almaviva in Il barbiere di Siviglia (a role later closely associated with him) was described as 'truly detestable' by The Times.

Mascagni, Rome and Florence

On October 31, 1891, De Lucia took part in the world premiere of L'amico Fritz, singing the role of Fritz Kobus opposite the French diva Emma Calvé. The opera had been composed by the up-and-coming musician Pietro Mascagni and its debut occurred in Rome at the Costanzi Theatre. For a singer later upheld (by some) as the rarified model of bel canto style the situation was originally quite otherwise; De Lucia was, in fact, famous during his career not as a bel canto stylist but as a performer of Mascagni and Ruggero Leoncavallo's earthy, melodramatic characters. Indeed, De Lucia found himself at the centre of the European Mascagni craze of the early 1890s. Accordingly, in November 1892, he was engaged by the Florence opera house to create the tenor lead in Mascagni's third opera, I Rantzau. Appearing with him in the work was the brilliant baritone Mattia Battistini.

Verismo firsts in London, 1893

De Lucia's verismo-opera career continued with the first English performance (on 19 May 1893, with Enrico Bevignani conducting), of Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, opposite Nellie Melba and Mario Ancona. De Lucia sang the part of Canio, which had been created a year earlier in Milan by Fiorello Giraud. Klein describes an audience breathless with excitement, and De Lucia's burning intensity in the role as a triumph of realism. Mascagni made his own London debut at Covent Garden, conducting L'amico Fritz on June 19 1893 with Calvé and, of course, De Lucia in the cast. Soon afterwards, again with Calvé, and accompanied by the song composer Paolo Tosti, De Lucia sang excepts from Cavalleria rusticana for Queen Victoria at Windsor. On July 7 of that year, appearing in a cast which included Melba, Ancona and David Bispham, he gave the first British performance of I Rantzau at Covent Garden. (The opera was not a great success.)

London and Milan

In 1893-94, De Lucia sang in New York City at the Metropolitan Opera. He repeated his Canio with Melba and Ancona, and this was esteemed; but he was disliked as Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni and as the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto. He did not repeat the experience. In London in 1894, he performed both Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci (together on the one night) at Covent Garden, with Ancona in the lead baritone parts. Shaw admired the 'altogether exceptional dramatic force' which their performances gave to the pair of works. That season he was also in a bilingual (French-Italian) Faust, with Melba, Ancona and Bauermeister. Shaw thought the role of Faust too heavy for De Lucia: his 'dramatic instinct helped him well through a part in which he seemed likely to be overweighted. Several times in the garden scene he found the right musical treatment with exceptional success.' That was also his verdict of his Duke in a Rigoletto with Melba, Ancona and Giulia Ravogli, though he got through the music 'adroitly and pluckily'.

De Lucia sang at La Scala in 1895 in the world premiere of Mascagni's Silvano, and also appeared in the first Milan performances of Puccini's La bohème and Massenet's La Navarraise. At Covent Garden in that same year, he shared the principal tenor work with the heavier-voiced Francesco Tamagno and Albert Alvarez in the absence of Jean de Reszke. The American baritone David Bispham thought De Lucia admirable in Fra Diavolo that year. The cast of Auber's light-hearted opera featured Bispham and Mme Amadi (as Lord and Lady Allcash) and Marie Engle (as Zerlina), as well as Vittorio Arimondi and Antonio Pini-Corsi (as brigands).

In 1896, in Milan, De Lucia appeared as Cavaradossi in Tosca, and again as Almaviva. The next year, he sang in a state concert at London's Buckingham Palace for Queen Victoria's Royal Jubilee. At the Costanzi Theatre, Rome, on 22 November 1898, he created the role of Osaka in Mascagni's Iris, and at Covent Garden on 12 July 1900 he played Cavaradossi in the first performance of Tosca in England, supporting the Floria Tosca of Milka Ternina, with Antonio Scotti as Scarpia and Luigi Mancinelli conducting. The "Musical Times" found that his performance was highly effective and that his character exactly suited that of Cavaradossi.

De Lucia was also admired in London as Don Jose in Bizet's Carmen. He appeared, too, in the same composer's I pescatori di perle and in various works by Rossini, Bellini and Verdi. His last London season would be in 1905, in an outstanding operatic company assembled by Henry Russell for the Waldorf Theatre (now the Novello Theatre). De Lucia's colleagues on this occasion were Alessandro Bonci, Ancona and Pini-Corsi.

In 1916, De Lucia delivered his farewell performance at La Scala as Rodolfo. He said goodbye to his loyal Neapolitan supporters the following year at the Teatro di San Carlo. De Lucia's final appearance before the public occurred at the funeral of the incomparable Enrico Caruso in Naples in 1921. In his later years, De Lucia dwelt in Naples and taught at the conservatory there, in which he himself had been trained. His most famous pupil was the French tenor Georges Thill.

His vocal technique

Although De Lucia's stage career was closely tied to works by his contemporaries Mascagni and Leoncavallo, the vocal method that he exhibited in their operas was not the strenuous, declamatory mode of singing normally associated by modern listeners with the verismo movement. His voice was not overly powerful or extensive in range, so he needed to rely on his histrionic skills to project the drama fully. When it came to his actual singing, he delivered the music at hand in a self-conscious, almost 'flowery' way that has no modern equivalent.

De Lucia's recordings of arias and duets from Rossini's Barber of Seville ('Ecco ridente', 'Se il mio nome' and 'Numero quindici', for example) show off his vocal characteristics to an even greater extent than do his records of verismo pieces or even Verdi. They contain a studied display of fioritura, rubato, limpid phrasing and portamento which appears to be a deliberate re-statement of the so-called bel canto style practised by previous generations of Italian tenors; or perhaps more accurately, a re-statement of that style's surviving mannerisms. These mannerisms were already dying out in the early 1900s when audiences, seduced by Enrico Caruso's resplendent vocal outpourings, came to prefer their tenor idols to sing in a more full-blooded, robust and emotionally-direct way.

George Bernard Shaw wrote tellingly of De Lucia in June 1892. Having seen his l'amico Fritz, he stated that: 'Signor De Lucia succeeds [Fernando] Valero ... as artificial tenor in ordinary to the establishment. His thin strident forte is in tune and does not tremble beyond endurance; and his mezza voce, though monotonous and inexpressive, is pretty as prettiness goes in the artificial school.' In 1894 Shaw speaks of De Lucia as a tenor of the Julian Gayarre school, without the "goat-bleat" of its extreme disciples. This comment of Shaw's provides a clue. Like Valero, Gayarre was taught by Melchiorre Vidal in Madrid. Another of Vidal's pupils, Rosina Storchio, was closely associated with verismo premieres. De Lucia, who sang in Spain in the 1880s, may have imbibed the example set by those who studied with Vidal.

By referring to De Lucia as an artificial tenor, Shaw is associating him with other pre-World War One Italian tenors who employed a similar vocal technique. They include Alessandro Bonci, Giuseppe Anselmi, Fiorello Giraud and Aristodemo Giorgini. The voices of each of these tenors had a fast, fluttery vibrato or tremolo which is all too apparent on their gramophone records. This excessive vibrato seems to be an integral part of the breathing technique that they use to negotiate vocal ornaments and perform portamenti. Musicologists debate whether it is a genuine stylistic hand-me-down from the "bel canto" singing tradition founded by the virtuoso tenor Giovanni Rubini (1794-1854) or merely a flaw, attributable to inadequate breath support, in the vocal method adopted by some Mediterranean tenors during De Lucia's era.

It should be noted that many famous Mediterranean tenors active in De Lucia's day, such as Francesco Tamagno, Francesco Marconi, Francesco Signorini, Emilio De Marchi, Francesco Vignas (a Vidal pupil, incidentally), Giuseppe Borgatti, Giovanni Zenatello and, of course, Enrico Caruso, did not 'tremble' like De Lucia and his ilk when they sang. This fact is borne out by their recordings. (Unlike the other tenors mentioned above, De Marchi did not make commercial records; but he can be heard singing Cavaradossi in a brief cylinder recording made live at the Metropolitan Opera in 1903.)

Recording career

Gramophone Company Recordings. De Lucia had a long relationship with the gramophone, which among later collectors acquired an almost legendary status. He recorded the following titles for the Gramophone Company between 1902 and 1908. The dates are the issue dates: more than one date indicates two separate recordings. All are 10-inch records unless otherwise shown. The partners in duets are Antonio Pini-Corsi (baritone), Maria Galvany (soprano), Giuseppina Huguet (sop), Celestina Boninsegna (soprano) and Ernesto Badini (baritone).

  • 'Stradella': Aria di chiesa (Pietà, Signore!) 1907.
  • Mozart, Don Giovanni: Il mio tesoro, 1908. Dalla sua pace, 1908.
  • Rossini, Il barbiere di Siviglia: Ecco ridente, 1902; 1904 (12"); 1908 (12"). Se il mio nome, 1908. Numero quindici (w. Pini-Corsi), 1906. Ah, qual colpo inaspettato (w. Galvany), 1908; (w. Huguet and A. Pini-Corsi), 1906 (12"). All'idea di quel metallo (w. Pini-Corsi), 1906 (12").
  • Bellini, La sonnambula: Ah! perchè non posso odiarti?, 1908. Son geloso del zeffiro (w. Galvany), 1908 (12"). Prendi, l'anel ti dono (w. Galvany), 1908 (12").
  • Donizetti, La favorita: Una vergine, un'angiol di dio, 1904. L'elisir d'amore: Obbligato obbligato (w. Badini), 1907.
  • Verdi, Luisa Miller: Quando le sere al placido, 1908 (12"). Rigoletto: La donna e mobile, 1902. La traviata: Un dì, felice, 1904. Dei miei bollenti spiriti, 1906 (12"). Parigi, o cara, noi lasceremo (w. Huguet), 1906 (12").
  • Wagner, Lohengrin: Cigno gentil, 1902. Deh, non t'incantan, 1906. S'ei torna alfin, 1906. Cigno fedel, 1907 (12"). Cessarono i canti alfin (w. Huguet), 1907 (12"). Mai deve domandarmi (w. Huguet), 1907 (12").
  • Bizet, Carmen: Il fior che avevi 1902; 1907 (12"). La tua madre (w. Huguet), 1907 (12"). Pearl fishers: Della mia vita, 1906. Mi par d'udir ancora, 1906. Non hai compreso (w. Huguet), 1906 (12").
  • Gounod, Faust: Salve dimora, 1906. Tardi si fa (w. Boninsegna), 1904 (12"); (w. Huguet), 1907 (12"). Romeo e Giulietta, Deh sorgi, o luce, 1908.
  • Thomas, Mignon: La tua bell'alma, 1906. Ah non credevi tu, 1906. Addio, Mignon, 1905 (12").
  • Massenet, Manon: Il sogno, 1902; 1907. Werther: Ah! non mi ridestar, 1902.
  • Mascagni, Cavalleria rusticana: Siciliana, 'O Lola', 1902.
  • Giordano, Fedora: Amor ti vieta, 1902. Mia madre, 1904. Vedi, io piango, 1904.
  • Puccini, Tosca: Recondita armonia, 1902.
  • Cilea, Adriana Lecouvreur: L'anima ho stanca, 1904. Lontananza, 1904.
  • Neapolitan. Anon: Fenesta che lucive, 1902. Baldelli: A suon di baci, 1902. Barthelemy: Sulla bocca amorosa, 1908. Triste ritorno, 1908. Serenamente, 1909. Cannio: Carmela sua, 1909. di Capua: O sole mio! 1908. Costa: Napulitanata, 1902. Tu sei morta nella vita mia, 1902. Era di maggio, 1908. Oilì, oilà, 1909. de Curtis: A Surrentina, 1909.Denza: Occhi di fata, 1904. Gambardella: Nun me guardate, 1909. Ricciardi: Luna lù, 1909. Tosti: Serenata, 1904. Ideale, 1902. Marechiare, 1902.

Fonotipia Records. De Lucia also recorded 30 Neapolitan songs for the Fonotipia label (later subsumed under Odeon Records). This company began recording exclusively celebrities in October 1904, having been founded for that purpose by Baron d'Erlanger as the Società Italiana di Fonotipia, Milano. The De Lucia titles had the catalogue numbers 92695 to 92724: the 92000 sequence was cut between 1907 and 1914 on the characteristic ten and three-quarter inch Fonotipia record, and these were probably made after cessation of work for Gramophone Co.: some duplicate the HMV songs.

Phonotype Records. Not to be confused with Fonotipia, De Lucia later established his own recording firm, the Phonotype Company, mainly to ensure that his art was suitably immortalized. These include many operatic titles, including a near-complete Barber of Seville.

Note: By the time that De Lucia came to make his recordings, his upper register had contracted to such an extent that he was forced to transpose downwards some of the pieces that he committed to disc by a semi-tone or tone.

References

Other reading

  • M. Henstock, Fernando de Lucia: Son of Naples (Duckworth 1990).
  • G. Kobbé, The Complete Opera Book (English Edition) (London 1922).
  • J. Steane, Singers of the Century (Duckworth 1996), 41-45.

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