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Hitler’s Tenor

The four biggest stars among twentieth-century Italian tenors were Caruso, Gigli, Corelli and Pavarotti. Gigli had the sweetest voice, but he was a Nazi collaborator. Not only did he write a book, Confidenze, praising Fascism, not only did he allege a Jewish conspiracy, not only did he help Mussolini supplant the native culture in Slovenia by singing performances there, not only did he write, “Adolf Hitler and the ministers Goebbels and Goering have honored me with their friendship,” but he also collaborated with the Germans after they occupied Rome. He even collaborated after they massacred 335 civilians on March 24, 1944. (The event was Italy’s 9/11.) He sang for them, became a go-between, gave them a photo op, helped them create an appearance of normality and an illusion of civilization. After the Allies took Rome in June 1944 Gigli’s countrymen singled him out as a collaborator, and the Allies prohibited him from performing. At the end of 1944 a Roman commission held a hearing about his collaboration—and gave him a slap on the wrist. In 1945 he wrote a second book, La verità sul mio «caso,» this time to exculpate himself. Although he was able to resume his career his reputation in Italy was soiled. The U.S.S.R. would not let him into any country under its control. The U.S. wouldn’t allow him in either until 1955, when he gave farewell concerts.

Why was he a “Nazifascista” and why did he collaborate? He said he was naïve politically. But this contradicts his position in Confidenze—and in 1953 he ran for the Italian Senate, so one wonders about his supposed naïvete. He also claimed he was for Italy no matter who was in charge—but that position fails to shed light on his behavior during the Italian civil war of 1943-44.

Gigli’s was a religious family, and he was educated by priests. After he became a star he visited the pope on a number of occasions. My thesis is that to understand his actions and inactions one has to consider the role of the Church in Italy and Germany. As will be seen, Gigli followed the Church’s lead. (In his personal life, however, he followed that of the Mussolini regime, which exalted male promiscuity, with the Duce himself setting the example. Then he fell under the influence of Padre Pio and was torn asunder by a conflict between the dictates of the heart and those of the Church.)

His personal life was stormy. He had nine children, two of them legitimate, and for twenty-three years maintained two families concurrently. His daughter soprano Rina Gigli discusses his relationships candidly—as well as singing with him for Hitler.

What sets Gigli apart from nearly all other twentieth-century tenors? His singing is full of contrast. Such nineteenth-century holdovers as Fernando De Lucia varied dynamics and tone color as well as rhythm and, sometimes, notes. Most singers since at best have had or have created one sonority of individual character, at one dynamic level. Caruso and those who followed him mostly sang full voice. Pavarotti and company did little varying of dynamics and seldom shaded their tones, using the same color to express both happiness and sadness. Gigli had many sonorities and two basic dynamic levels, loud and soft.

Gigli perfected chiaroscuro like no other singer since the dawn of recording. He achieved chiaroscuro by contrasting loud with soft singing—chiaroscuro of dynamics. But he also contrasted open, closed and covered tones—chiaroscuro of timbre. This last was his great innovation.

The book discusses Gigli’s twenty-eight films and hundreds of recordings as well as his rift with The Metropolitan Opera and is full of photos.

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Press About Conversations with Corelli

Encore (the magazine of BMG classical music service) reported:

Franco Corelli, known as “golden thighs” to opera audiences, was one of the world’s leading tenors from his La Scala debut in 1954 until his unofficial retirement from the stage in 1976. His matinee-idol looks coupled with his thrilling high notes earned him cult status during his singing career. A recent survey by the magazine Opera Fanatic [the radio program, really] named Corelli Favorite Tenor of the Century, out-polling even Björling (second), Caruso (third), and Domingo (nineteenth, tied with Jacques Urlus).

Jeannie Williams wrote in USA Today:

Look out Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti: Italian tenor Franco “Golden Thighs” Corelli, the Mel Gibson of the Metropolitan Opera in the 1960s, may be back. Corelli, who left opera in 1976, made a rare weekend appearance on a New York radio show, “Opera Fanatic.” He said he quit too soon, he wants to sing Verdi’s Otello and do recitals. His reappearance would sell out Carnegie Hall in hours….” (“Starwatch”)

Michael Redmond treated the same story in the Newark Star-Ledger:

Last week’s big buzz had to do with a live radio interview given by Franco Corelli to the irrepressible Stefan Zucker, host of “Opera Fanatic.” During the interview, Corelli indicated a clear interest in returning to the stage to perform and record the title role of Verdi’s Otello, the brightest jewel in the Italian tenorial crown.

Corelli never sang this role during the years that he was the most brilliant and exciting tenor alive…. Well, this was news,…It is also a matter of public record (i.e., listeners heard Corelli say it), as well as a matter of on-tape record. By early this week, Corelli was waffling about the whole thing, saying that he had been mistranslated. The interview had been conducted both in Italian, which Zucker then translated, and in English. A difficulty with Corelli’s explanation is that he had said it in English. Hmmm. So why all the fuss? Simply because a return by Franco Corelli to sing Otello, or “Mary Had a Little Lamb” for that matter, would surely become a candidate for “hottest operatic ticket of the 90s”…. I had had the privilege of overhearing Corelli sing while he was teaching in Newark. The tenor sounded fantastico, high notes and all….(“Corelli Comeback: Yes or No?”)

Audrey Farolino wrote in Page Six of the New York Post:

Will he or won’t he? That’s what opera fans are wondering about Franco Corelli, considered the world’s best and sexiest tenor during his heyday from the 1950s through the 70s. Corelli worked music lovers into a fever pitch earlier this month when he suggested on WKCR’s “Opera Fanatic” program that he would still like to perform in Verdi’s Otello, something he never did during his career. Since then, “the phone here has been going wild,” says Stefan Zucker, the show’s host….(“Corelli: Coming Back?”)

On one of the programs Corelli described his diet, which Jeannie Williams then reported in USA Today:

Sixties superstar tenor Franco Corelli says he’s eating nothing but bananas and yogurt daily, plus water and coffee—and it works.

Marylis Sevilla-Gonzaga in Opera News also made mention of the Corelli shows and the prospect of a comeback.
Listeners having voted Corelli Favorite Tenor of the Century, Stefan Zucker booked a date at a concert hall for him to be interviewed by the audience and me and be presented with an award. Marylis Sevilla-Gonzaga in Opera News, Bill Zakariasen in the New York Daily News, Iris Bass in Sightlines, Jeannie Williams in USA Today and Tim Page in Newsday all noted the event in advance, while Albert Cohen in the Asbury Park Press described the audience’s reaction:

Zucker arranged for a fascinating evening when he brought Corelli to the stage of Merkin Hall in New York City for an evening of talk. Part of the fun was the capacity audience. Talk about fanatics! Whenever someone recognizable entered, the applause would erupt. Jerome Hines, the Scotch Plains basso, was greeted warmly.
Pandemonium took over when Corelli appeared. Everyone was standing, whistling and shouting “Bravo.” The fans really went crazy when he was given his “Tenor of the Century” plaque during this unusual evening. (“Fans Go Wild over ‘Tenor of Century'”)

The Honorable David N. Dinkins, Mayor of the City of New York, proclaimed January 7, 1992 “Franco Corelli Day.” On that occasion Stefan Zucker interviewed Corelli in Gould Hall, taking a microphone into the auditorium à la Phil Donahue so that the public could speak with him as well. After intermission mayoral representative Dr. George Seuffert presented Corelli with the proclamation, which among many things cited his “thoughtful expertise and delightful sense of humor” in interviews.
Joseph Li Vecchi wrote about the event in Gramophone:

When Corelli walked out on stage at Florence Gould Hall the audience reacted as if Caesar had just returned from the conquests in Gaul….Corelli was interviewed by Stefan Zucker and he answered questions from the audience. We were also treated to a number of his recordings….Corelli fans are devoted to the great tenor and one lady even drove in from Cleveland for a chance to meet him. [Another came from Raleigh, another from Miami.] After the interview there was a reception….

Li Vecchi then described Corelli’s vocalism, citing high notes and diminuendos, and maintained:

There is no voice before the public today with Corelli’s combination of power, range and color….

Ann E. Feldman, wrote in Sightlines

I know for a fact that Edward Rothstein, chief music critic for The New York Times, was not at the Corelli Master Class sponsored by the Bel Canto Society on Monday night, May 2. (He was instead at some Marilyn Horne or Hermann Prey thing, I can’t quite remember which.) Given that I think someone should cover this event, I happily fall into the breach. The reason I know Mr. Rothstein was not present is that I met him for the first time while paying a condolence call on the Tuesday evening following, at the home of a couple to whom I had once expressed the opinion that I did not agree with Mr. Rothstein’s criticisms and that he did not appear to have a true grasp of the Italian repertory. These two people are old fiends of ours and have two lively, precocious, and somewhat mischievous daughters, the elder of whom chose to greet Mr. Rothstein at the door with “You can’t talk to Andy Feldman, she doesn’t like you.” (There goes my career!) Actually, I may not always agree with him, but, upon meeting him, I did like him.

Anyone who has never attended one of Stefan Zucker’s (the moving force behind the Bel Canto Society) “Corelli” events has no idea of the fun they are missing. Abbott and Costello could learn from these two, and the audience itself is worth the price of admission, given that it is composed almost entirely of lovingly hysterical Corelli groupies.

 For those of you who have never attended a master class, the format is basically this: a young singer enters, is introduced, and sings an aria, after which the Maestro comments on various aspects of the voice and technique. The singer then repeats various parts of the aria as prompted by the Teacher, who meanwhile demonstrates how he or she feels it should be done. It is actually a very interesting and instructive process, both for the audience and the student, and frequently you notice the improvement right then and there as the young singer attempts to follow the veteran’s promptings. As far as Mr. Corelli is concerned, we had witnessed him in this role once previously, at an evening sponsored by the Richard Tucker Music Foundation a year or so ago, and in our opinion he has a great deal to offer.

The latest event took place at Florence Gould Hall. Up front as usual sat Loretta Corelli, Franco’s still very attractive spouse, and the legendary soprano Licia Albanese. The stage of the hall was set up with a small dais upon which three chairs were lined up, at stage right, floral arrangements to its right and rear. In the center was the piano, and at stage left was a lectern with a microphone, which as it turned out no one ever used. After somewhat of a delay, Mr. Zucker was wheeled out in a wheelchair, pushed by Mr. Corelli and the accompanist with Stefan himself giving assistance by sort of rowing with a pair of crutches. For those of you who are not regular listeners to the “Opera Fanatic” show on Columbia University’s WKCR-FM on Saturday nights at 10:30 PM, Stefan has been in a wheelchair since falling ten feet through an open trapdoor in a health food store a couple of months ago, and it is only recently that he has been able to get around even in the chair. Mr. Corelli was greeted with the usual standing ovation and cheers from the sold-out house, followed by the usual sound system glitches (mike feedback, not being able to hear anybody onstage) that we “regulars” have come to expect on such evenings.

Things finally got more or less straightened out, and our first singer of the evening, a young Mexican tenor, made his appearance to sing Federico’s Lament from Cilea’s L’Arlesiana. (In fairness to the participants, I have chosen not to mention names, with one exception, so I can be freer in my remarks.) Our primo tenore bore a strong resemblance to José Carreras, and the voice, also, was similar in timbre, if a trifle bleaty. The legato was decent, the phrasing somewhat idiosyncratic, and the upper register more like a falsetto than a head tone, but still there was something there worth hearing. Mr. Corelli began his comments by saying that the young man had “a really beautiful voice.” I am afraid that I missed a good part of what he said after that because all of a sudden I was distracted by Stefan, in obvious discomfort, attempting to uncurl himself out of his wheelchair with the aid of crutches (the New Testament text of Jesus curing the paralytic and Lon Chaney, Sr. in “The Miracle” both flashed before my eyes). Well, Mr. Z was not “taking up his pallet” and walking, but simply getting himself into a upright position in order to be able to hold a wireless microphone for Mr. Corelli so that we might hear him better. Why someone else could not have been recruited for this task is beyond me. The odd thing is that anytime Franco would begin to sing a few bars in order to demonstrate how a phrase should be sung, the microphone was quickly withdrawn. One senses some prior arrangement had been reached concerning this. As usual, however, I digress. Back to the subject at hand. The Maestro pointed out the need for more legato, rounder tones in certain areas, and requested that other parts be taken more softly. He suggested that the interpolated B-flat not be taken, saying that only Gigli did it in Italy, and that he, Franco, preferred the ending the way Cilea had written it! (He’s right. Everybody tries the B-flat now, often with crude results, just to show off a high note frequently not worth showing off.) In the end, after the gentleman had left the stage, Corelli also commented on how the color of the voice reminded him of Carreras.

Our next tenor (four out of five of the evening’s participants were tenors) was a very handsome fellow who chose as his aria “Che gelida manina.” For some reason Stefan and Maestro Corelli were both hanging on to the microphone in a chummy fashion at this point so I may not have heard correctly, but I could swear that Stefan, in introducing Tenor Two, said that he had recently sung SEVENTY performances of Les Contes d’Hoffmann in Sweden. If so it is a wonder that his vocal cords weren’t in vapor lock. In any event, although he was very cute (in spite of his oddly oversized shirt collar and his scuffed cowboy boots), he sang stiffly, with indifferent pronunciation, no inflection (all those Hoffmanns?), and off pitch. He did nail his high C and pulled off a nice piano on “vi piaccia dir.” Mr. Corelli was kind, saying that “it was not so easy to do this right away,” telling Tenor Two to begin more sweetly, with more legato and with care for what he was saying. He demonstrated by crooning the phrase “e i bei sogni miei” and I melted into a puddle…such memories! Tenor Two tried again, and was somewhat better, though one was still jarred by such things as “yew SA tee” (“usati”), “pa ROLL lay,” and “sin YORE ay.” Still, there is a voice there, and one must make allowances for the circumstances which could have given anyone a case of nerves and have affected performance.

Stefan took the opportunity during the space between Tenor Two and the next performer to comment on the “dreamy” quality of Mr. Corelli’s own “Che gelida manina,” to which he replied that Puccini’s music “goes inside” for him. He added that he would have done more Bohèmes at the Met, but that they needed him for heavier roles.

 Our next singer was a pleasant surprise (there was no printed program so we had no idea who or what was coming next): neither tenor nor novice, but a baritone and consummate professional, Theodore Lam-brinos. Mr. Lambrinos was one of the principal singers in the US premiere of Verdi’sJérusalem at Carnegie Hall this past season. He is covering the Met’s Boccanegras next season. On the present occasion, he sang the Prologue from Pagliacci, while the Maestro beamed his approval. After, Mr. Corelli praised the voice: its size, color, legato, and easy high notes. He did suggest again more “roundness” and a discussion centering on the passaggio of baritone voices ensued. Mr. Lambrinos repeated a large part of the Prologue with the approval of the enthusiastic audience, after which Mr. Corelli, commenting on the difficulty of the aria, said, “he does it easy and he laughs…he’s happy!” (recalling to mind this tenor’s own legendary stage nerves). The two artists then shook hands warmly.

Meanwhile, the pianist had trotted off to tell Tenor Three that he was next (we had a feeling that someone had not shown up). After a few more minutes of interesting repartee between Stefan and Franco, he arrived. Originally from China, he related a story of how, when he was growing up back in the days of Chairman Mao, his oldest brother had borrowed a tape of opera featuring, as chance would have it, Franco Corelli. (At that time, even opera was disapproved of as a symbol of decadent Western civilization.) When our young singer had heard it, his reaction was, “A god is singing here!” Tenor Three’s selection for this evening was “Quando le sere al placido” from Luisa Miller. This is a voice we are going to hear from: a big easy sound produced with the aid of a long breath line and a nice ring. His face is wide across the mask, perfect for resonance. Apparently he has already begun to be noticed, having won a major competition recently. Roles performed include Calaf and Don José. He studies with a 90-year-old Italian singer born in Rome.

Maestro Corelli praised the beauty of the voice, the legato, the “heart.” He commented on the squillo and the brilliance. He suggested a different ending to the cadenza (again preferring the one written), and wanted the “quando le sere” more mezza voce. There was one incident that will give you a better idea of the nature of the crowd in attendance. Tenor Three was having trouble with the sequence of notes in the phrase “amo te sol dicea” and Maestro Corelli kept trying to correct him without success. Finally, the entire audience hummed in unison!

Intermission followed, and then a second Chinese tenor, very tall, with dimples, also with an excellent, somewhat lighter voice and very good technique. He sang “Addio fiorito asil” from the third act of Butterfly. Mr. Corelli suggested broadening the tempo, which made it sound even better when the young man repeated the aria.

Mr. Lambrinos appeared again, giving us “Il balen” from Il trovatore, and this in turn was followed by a brief question-and-answer session which touched on such subjects as Mr. Corelli’s sense that vocal technique began to decline after 1963, and on his personal favorites among operatic greats (Gino Bechi for his charisma and command in spite of a faulty technique which caused his voice to begin failing at a fairly early age; Gigli, Lauri-Volpi, Masini). When Mr. Corelli was asked his advice for young singers, a member of the audience answered first, saying “Study plumbing.” The evening ended with an autograph session, for which we did not remain. On the sidewalk outside Florence Gould Hall, a tenor who had been sitting behind us in the audience was serenading Licia Albanese with a section of the duet from Butterfly, and for a brief moment she joined in. When out-of-towners ask us how we can stand living in New York, these are the things we remember. (“Maestro Corelli Does a Master Class”)


Speranza declared,

“Stefan Zucker is a bel canto singer and radio host of ‘Opera Fanatic.’ His program airs each Saturday at 10:30 PM on WKCR (FM) in NY. He too is a great lover of la cultura italiana. Notable are his wonderful interviews with the great tenor Franco Corelli.”

On one of the programs Corelli described his diet, which Jeannie Williams then reported in USA Today: “Sixties superstar tenor Franco Corelli says he’s eating nothing but bananas and yogurt daily, plus water and coffee and it works.”

Jeannie Williams also published about the Corelli shows in New York magazine: 

The Phantom of the Opera Returns

“An event of ‘Garbo talks!’ proportions is unfolding in a cluttered little radio studio at Columbia University.

“As Warren Beatty once baffled Barbara Walters, and Marlon Brando fired hardballs at Connie Chung, so another media odd-coupling has set New York opera fanatics to frothing and sobbing. Stefan Zucker, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as ‘the world’s highest tenor,’ has bagged for his WKCR show the reclusive Franco Corelli, Italian dramatic-tenor god of the Metropolitan Opera’s golden 60s.

“Corelli quit the stage in 1976, leaving vivid memories of glorious high Cs, movie-star good looks, and stratospheric duels with sopranos. Those are the days mourned by the cognoscenti.

“After retiring, the still-elegant Corelli hunkered down, teaching young singers and dividing his time among his Carnegie Hall vicinity apartment, Milan, and Rome.

“Enter the knowledgeably eccentric Zucker, whose audience thrives on debating the merits of booing and the diversities of divas. For years, he begged Corelli to appear; now the tenor, in his mid-sixties, has done four guest spots. He and pal Jerome Hines, the famed bass, stuck it out for five hours of call-ins during the first appearance, in February. And the tenor has been revealed as ‘an intelligent, analytical, shrewd man,’ says Zucker, ‘giving the lie to the idea he was a stud with a fabulous larynx but no brains.’ Corelli’s English is better than he thinks, though he sometimes reverts to Italian, with Zucker translating. His feisty little red-haired wife, Loretta, sits silently in the studio, restraining Zucker from asking personal questions (one female caller wanted to know what it was like to lie in Corelli’s arms).

“Corelli has dropped bombshells on the show. He said that he quit too soon, and admitted he would like to record again perhaps Verdi’s Otello and to do concerts. Offers flooded in from promoters; fans sneaked past the Columbia security to see the great Corelli again.”

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The Fluctuating Fortunes of Vibrato
 & Pertile on Vowels

During the March 30, 1991 broadcast I refer to my article on vibrato, reprinted here.

The Fluctuating Fortunes of Vibrato

Once Thought to Convey Emotion, 
Fast Vibrato Is Again Out of Fashion

For most of the 20th century singers used less vibrato than in the 19th, when it became so popular as to provoke British critic Henry F. Chorley in 1862 to call it “that vice of young Italy, bad schooling, and false notions of effect.”

The use of fast vibrato as a prominent aspect of each sung tone was pioneered by tenor Giovanni Battista Rubini, beginning around 1814. Before him singers reserved vibrato for special effects and moments of heightened emotion. At first, because of vibrato, Rubini was derided as a goat. He could not find employment as a recitalist or opera singer–not even as a chorister. Eventually by virtue of a masterful singing technique, unsurpassed musical sensitivity and a most magnetic vocal personality he became his age’s preeminent singer, despite an objectionably small voice. Even Chorley had to concede that, with vibrato, Rubini produced “an effect of emotion not obtainable by any other means.” His tones even came to be widely admired for their beauty.

By the mid-1820s other singers with pervasive vibratos had begun to make careers, Henriette Méric-Lalande becoming the first such star soprano. By the middle of the century Rubini vibrato was commonplace–in spite of critics’ fulminations. Rossini, among many, deplored it. Still, Italian tenors, in particular, sported it: Enrico Tamberlick, Roberto Stagno, Fernando De Lucia and Italo Campanini, for example. George Bernard Shaw’s epithet for Italian tenors was “Goatbleaters!” (Curiously, Campanini, in an unpublished letter, wrote of his rival Ernesto Nicolini, “His voice shakes as if with palsy.”)

In this country as well as Britain critics and public have tended to think of this quiver as disfiguring. When De Lucia and soprano Celestina Boninsegna appeared here, in 1893-94 and 1906-07, respectively, critics called each a goat. Baritone Riccardo Stracciari was excoriated here for the same reason, in 1907. Virtually all Italian tenors who appeared here from the 80s to the First World War vibrated and in consequence didn’t become really popular, even those with illustrious careers in Europe, such as Campanini and Stagno. When the adulated Jean de Reszke on occasion lapsed into such a vibrato at the Met, even he was scourged.

Enrico Caruso was found refreshing when he made his Met debut, in 1903, because, so critic W.J. Henderson noted, his voice was “without the typical Italian bleat.” (Henderson once wrote, “To make the voice quiver with imminent tears all the time is ridiculous.”) Although Caruso’s vibrato on his early records does seem moderate when compared to other Italian tenors then, it is faster, narrower and more flutterlike than on records he made 15 or so years later, where it is comparatively slow and wide.

The fortunes of Aureliano Pertile and Giovanni Martinelli exemplify a difference between Italian and American taste of the past. Both tenors were born in Montagnana, Italy, in 1885, both were impassioned. Pertile was received coolly here, in 1921-22, perhaps because of his “bleaty” vibrato-laden tone. Martinelli, a Met stalwart for decades, had almost no audible vibrato. When he returned to Italy in 1929 he was crucified for having la voce fissa, a tight or constricted tone with insufficient vibrato.

Since W. W. II few Latin singers have had prominent vibratos, with the exception of throwbacks such as tenor Salvatore Fisichella, indifferently received at his Met debut, in 1986, and tenor Bruno Beccaria, whose vibrato is reminiscent of Pertile’s. In the late 50s Franco Corelli, who had begun his career with a prominent vibrato, eliminated it, regarding it as a flaw–a sign of the times. Magda Olivero, a heavy vibratoer in the 30s, used comparatively straight tones after 1950.

With some exceptions Afro-American singers have a different kind of vibrato, slower and wider. Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price are examples. To study vibrato, it’s helpful to play tapes at half speed.

To serve music vibrato’s width and rapidity must be capable of variation. For me the main objection to omnipresent vibrato is that pitch fluctuations interfere with resolutions of dissonances and other moments of harmonic repose. In florid music vibrato, moreover, creates ambiguities of pitch. Still, the allure of Conchita Supervia does seem to stem in part from vibrato.

Although the British dislike vibrato in singing, old-time Oxford philosophy dons were given to talking with voices aquiver with emotion. As a graduate student I heard one such deliver a highly abstract and rigorous lecture on truth theory in a manner worthy of Pertile. On early records and sound films a number of orators, politicians and actors also speak with vibrato, as did Evans and Gielgud in Shakespeare.

Pertile on Vowels

It always has been thought that Italian has five “pure” vowels: “ah,” “eh,” “ee,” “oh,” “oo,” but in actuality this has not been true in singing for generations. In 1932 Pertile dictated a singing method, Metodo di canto, that codified what by then had become standard practice for men: “ah” should be blended with “oh,” “oh” should sound like “oh,” “ee” should sound like “ih” (as in “it”), “eh” should be blended with “oo,” “oo” should be blended with “oh.” He said that, in singing with this approach, the five vowels, which in speaking are dissimilar, come to resemble one another. Possibly because of Pertile, possibly because of a trend, this treatment of vowels rapidly was taken up by women. It is the way in which rounded or darkened singing is achieved. (Pertile, incidentally, opposed “exaggerated” pronunciation on the grounds that it makes singing proceed with syllable-by-syllable choppiness, induces muscular contractions and rigidity and causes the voice to lose its placement. He advocated masque placement–and placement still deeper in the masque when singing in the passaggio, the area of the voice where head resonance begins to predominate over chest resonance. His Metodo di canto is reprinted in Bruno Tosi’s Pertile, una voce, un mito.)

A special case: before W. W. II most women had a good “ah” vowel but did not sing a true “oo.” Instead they were apt to sing “ü.” Had Claudia Muzio attempted to sing her name the result would have been Müzio. Some singers from the generation before Muzio also turned “oo” into “ü,” Gemma Bellincioni being one example. Today “oo” is the one vowel often heard in its pure form–at least when singers don’t go above their middle ranges. On higher pitches they are apt to blend “oo” with “oh.”

Like Pertile, Del Monaco and Corelli darkened “ah,” “oh,” “ee” and “eh.” But unlike Pertile they sang “oo” as “oo.”

According to former Milanov student Linda Kundell, of New York City, Milanov taught that one should sing each vowel with the mouth position for “oh,” with the lips formed into a spout. (Conversation, November 16, 2008) This is another way to round or darken.

–Stefan Zucker

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The Darkened Age of Soprano Singing

by Stefan Zucker

Soprano singing has changed in various ways during the last 70 years. Here’s one aspect, illustrated by Mirella Freni and Katia Ricciarelli from the 1970s onward. Their sounds were very different from those of most Italian sopranos prior to W.W. II. Those women for the most part didn’t sound mellow or creamy. (Claudia Muzio began to cover her tones as she aged, and Rosa Ponselle covered from the start, but they were exceptions, as were Iva Pacetti and Mafalda Favero, who rounded or darkened, along with such Germans as Tiana Lemnitz and Maria Ivogün.) Most pre-war Italian women didn’t round or darken their tones, as did Freni and Ricciarelli.

Freni-and-Ricciarelli-like sounds may fall kindly on the ear but the price is monotony. Unrelieved rounding or darkening limits expression and irons out tonal nuance.

Rounded or darkened sound is less youthful. To convey girlishness Freni herself sang Micaëla with an unrounded or undarkened sound, heard on a Carmen (available as a download or CD). But that was in 1959. Iris Adami Corradetti taught her pupil Ricciarelli to round or darken. But in recordings made in 1940 Adami Corradetti herself did little or no rounding or darkening. In her recordings from the 50s, however, she did. These singers presumably were trying to accommodate modern taste: rounding or darkening and to some extent covering are now expected worldwide. But undarkened, unrounded, uncovered sounds sustain interest better. Listen to Bianca Scacciati, Adelaide Saraceni, Maria Carena or Augusta Oltrabella, none of whom rounded, darkened or covered. If you’re not accustomed to them, you may find their top notes acerbic and even piercing. But the result is more characterful.

At the opposite pole from rounded or darkened singing is the voce infantile, a “white,” childlike sound, useful for expressing innocence and fragility. Toti Dal Monte, Lina Pagliughi and Maria Zamboni are three who always sang with the voce infantile, sometimes with a charming and playful result otherwise unobtainable. Tones sung with the voce infantile are open, and open tones sustain interest (whereas covered sounds in and of themselves do not). Even so, the use of the voce infantile for everything can limit expression. Consider the second and third acts of Dal Monte’s Butterfly, where the voce infantile becomes less appropriate as the tragedy deepens. Whether or not Dal Monte continued to sing with it out of interpretive choice is unclear.

Notwithstanding the expression-limiting effect of pervasive rounding or darkening, not to mention that of pervasive covering, and the expression-limiting effect of using only the voce infantile, singers still can be expressive through musicanship, vocal acting and fuoco sacro.

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Music in the Third Reich

by Frederic Spotts

The story of music in the Third Reich is a sad one, showing on the one hand how a totalitarian dictatorship maneuvered artists into painfully difficult moral situations and revealing on the other how badly most of them behaved in those dark times. Yet music lovers today often are unable to make a distinction between these artists and their art; they perceive in the arts the highest achievement of humanity and unconsciously slide into the notion that the practitioners of those arts were themselves a special type of person. Talent is mistaken for character. Nothing has muddled the discussion of musicians in the Third Reich more than this confusion. Moral accountability–not just artistry–is the issue in the context of the time; and by their deeds–political as well as artistic–these artists must be judged.

Artists were on the forefront of the Nazis’ ambush on power in 1933. To this day most people remain unaware of how tightly the Nazis harnessed the arts to their political system. Culture was of the utmost personal importance to the Nazi leaders, many of whom themselves were failed artists–Hitler a painter and architect manqué as well as a passionate Wagnerian, Goebbels a would-be novelist and playwright, Göring a gluttonous art collector, Rosenberg a trained architect, von Schirach an aspiring poet. They raised culture to a central position in their so-called “New Order” and used the arts as a means of gaining legitimacy, respectability and acceptability. Culture was the painted veil behind which democracy was suppressed, concentration camps were opened, books and paintings were burned, racial persecution was carried out and wars were launched.

The face of the Nazi system clearly was evident already in the summer of 1933. By then many prominent artists had fled. Those who could have practiced their profession outside Germany but decided to stay must have found the New Order at the very least acceptable.

An artist’s relationship to the Third Reich was not necessarily linked to party membership as such. Hitler himself considered artists naïve fools when it came to political matters and did not care whether or not they joined his movement. Many who did so were motivated by professional opportunism more than political conviction; many who declined to join performed exemplary service to the Nazi state.

The Nazis sought not just to use music to support their political objectives, they also endeavored to alter the very character of the music performed in Germany to suit their ideology. They attempted to achieve this in three ways: to ban performers and composers who were of Jewish or partly Jewish origin; to forbid all “modernist” music; and to foster German compositions and composers while discouraging (and eventually banning) foreign works. By 1935 official lists were promulgated with the names of unacceptable composers and forbidden compositions.

The centerpiece of Nazi policy in the field of music was brute anti-semitism, and this was implemented immediately and ruthlessly. Germans of Jewish background accounted for an exiguous two percent of the music profession in 1933, though their number included many of the country’s leading conductors and composers: Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer, Leo Blech, Arnold Schoenberg, Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, Jascha Horenstein, Joseph Rosenstock, Hermann Scherchen, Wilhelm Steinberg, Eugen Szenkar, Fritz Zweig and Gustav Brecher. Within weeks of the Nazi takeover they–and many non-Jews–were discharged along with singers, teachers, administrators and soloists, such as Arthur Schnabel and Rudolf Serkin. Anyone who was considered liberal, socialist, communist or critical of National Socialism was subject to expulsion from his position. Despite the damaging emigration, however, the quality of musical performances generally remained high.

Compositions and sometimes even texts by persons of Jewish or part-Jewish background were banned. Exceptionally, Rosenkavalier and other Strauss–von Hoffmansthal operas survived, and there was no alternative but to tolerate lieder with words by Heine. But Mozart–Da Ponte works were not so fortunate. The texts of these operas were unacceptable doubly since both Da Ponte and the person who had provided the standard German translation of his librettos, the conductor Hermann Levi, were objectionable racially. Several new translations–one of them commissioned by the Propaganda Ministry–were produced and widely performed. Those of Handel’s works based on the Old Testament in some cases were replaced by Nazified versions. At the time of the German invasion of Russia, for example, Israel in Egypt was recast as The Mongol Storm.

As part of this racial revisionism scholars completely rewrote music history and produced Aryanized musicology. At the same time music organizations, schools, conservatories and publications all were taken over by Nazi loyalists who promoted the party’s ideological views. A Reich Music Chamber was established–with Richard Strauss and Wilhelm Furtwängler as president and vice president–to forge links between the music world and Nazi authorities. All this was accepted widely and even approved by both the public and the musicians themselves. To be sure, some Gentile artists such as Fritz and Adolf Busch, Erich Kleiber and Carl Ebert left the country in disgust. But most remained, and all of them–from the lowly to Richard Strauss, Karl Böhm, Clemens Krauss, Wilhelm Furtwängler and Herbert von Karajan–were only too happy to profit from the situation. Yet opportunists though they were, many remained devoted to their art above all.

Anyone who played an instrument, composed, conducted or sang was contributing, however innocently, to the Nazis’ objectives. Even acts of omission–not conducting Mahler, Mendelssohn, Schoenberg, Berg or Bartok–amounted to active participation in the corruption of music. Worse were those who actively supported the aims of the party. Most unforgivable of all were those who celebrated German military triumphs and the suppression of foreign culture by carrying their art into occupied countries. These were Hitler’s willing cultural executioners.

Nazi authorities used musicians to attain propaganda objectives. At home they manipulated artists in such a way as to create the impression that Nazi Germany was the world’s great culture-state. Outside Germany they deployed many musicians as cultural combat troops, to establish German cultural supremacy and to supplant or suppress foreign cultures. Opera companies and orchestras–conducted by Furtwängler, von Karajan, Böhm, Krauss, Knappertsbusch and Pfitzner–frequently were sent on such missions throughout Sweden and occupied Europe. In Czechoslovakia and Poland, after 1939 indigenous musical life was crushed and replaced exclusively by German music and institutions. The Prague Symphony Orchestra, for instance, was disbanded and replaced by the so-called German Philharmonic Orchestra of Prague, under Joseph Keilberth’s direction. Once the war began musicians were given the additional mission of boosting popular and military morale by performing in factories and military units. Even after August 1944, when Goebbels declared “total war” and closed all theaters and concert halls, some musical events still were authorized.

After the war almost all prominent artists were compromised politically–and morally. They themselves loudly insisted they always had been apolitical, devoted solely to their art. But in a totalitarian state no one is apolitical, and the practice of art cannot be divorced from the political circumstances in which it takes place.

The above essay was excerpted from the booklet to Great Conductors of the Third Reich: Art in the Service of Evil.

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Spotts on Furtwängler

by Frederic Spotts

Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886-1954), following an apprenticeship in Breslau, Zurich, Munich and Strassburg, was appointed conductor of the Lübeck Opera at the age of 25, and then went on to Mannheim, Vienna and Berlin. By 1922 he was the most promising young conductor in Central Europe and in that year succeeded Arthur Nikisch, in both Leipzig and Berlin. In the early days of the Third Reich Furtwängler resisted Nazi encroachments, refusing to purge either the Berlin Philharmonic of its Jewish players or the concert repertory of some compositions unacceptable to the Nazis. He fought to perform Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, tried to help Schoenberg and in 1934 audaciously conducted Jewish-born Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the composer’s birth. These actions were to resist interference in his autonomy as a conductor, not to contest Nazi cultural policy as such–he never fought for performances of
Mahler, Schoenberg or Berg.

[In August 1933 Furtwängler accepted a contract that stipulated he would not engage Jewish soloists to perform with the Berlin Philharmonic “without the agreement of the Reich government.” In January 1936 Furtwängler, in Budapest with the Vienna Philharmonic, scheduled a symphony by Mendelssohn. At the Nazis’ request he removed it from the program, substituting one by the Aryan Robert Schumann.–Stefan Zucker, ed.]

Although not a Nazi or a man to put anyone in a concentration camp, Furtwängler was anti-democratic, anti-liberal, anti-semitic, an enemy of the Weimar Republic and an arch-conservative both in music and politics. In a diary entry for 1929 he characterized political parties, democracy, progress and technology as dangerous threats, while in an entry for 1933 he applauded the Nazis’ advent to power. “Why will Germany win this war?” he asked rhetorically in his diary in September 1939. “Why will the authoritarian system necessarily win through with time? Because it is a feature of human nature that individuals cannot cope with limitless or even with just
a lot of freedom. This is equally clear in art.”

Furtwängler criticized “Jewish-Bolshevist” influence in the Weimar Republic. He called for the sacking of “tendentious Jewish penpushers” in the “Jewish press.” And he claimed that Jewish musicians were bereft of “a genuine inner affinity for German music.”

He accepted high office in the Nazi system (such as, Vice President of the Reich Music Chamber), signed statements affirming loyalty to Hitler, conducted twice at the Nuremberg Nazi party rallies and once in celebration of Hitler’s birthday. He willingly cooperated with Goebbels in promoting German cultural propaganda abroad–in Paris, Oslo, Copenhagen, Malmö, Stockholm and Upsalla. Most disgracefully, he performed in Prague in 1940, at a performance arranged by Goebbels to celebrate the German takeover of Czechoslovakia and returned to conduct there in 1944. That such performances were not the high-minded cultural acts of a naïve artist is evident from Goebbels’ comment in his diary in February 1942:

Furtwängler practically is bursting with nationalist enthusiasm. This man has undergone a profound transformation, which it gives me a great pleasure to witness. I fought for years to win him over and can now see success. He…is very willing to put himself at my disposal for any work I may require of him.

No one has ever summed up the Furtwängler case better than Bruno Walter, who wrote to his fellow conductor in January 1949:

Please bear in mind that your art was used over the years as an extremely effective means of foreign propaganda for the regime of the devil; that you, thanks to your personal fame and great talent, performed valuable service for this regime and that in Germany itself the presence and activities of an artist of your rank helped to provide cultural and moral credit to those terrible criminals or at least gave considerable help to them….In contrast to that, of what significance was your helpful behavior in individual cases of Jewish distress?

Although initially forbidden by Allied authorities to conduct after the war, Furtwängler eventually resumed his position with the Berlin Philharmonic and performed widely outside Germany.

The above essay was excerpted from the booklet to Great Conductors of the Third Reich: Art in the Service of Evil.

Frederic Spotts’ books include The Churches and Politics in Germany (Western Germany After WW II) (1973), Italy: A Difficult Democracy: A Survey of Italian Politics (1986), with Theodor Wieser, Letters of Leonard Wolf (1989), Bayreuth: A History of the Wagner Festival (1994), Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics (2002) and The Shameful Peace: How French Artists and Intellectuals Survived the Nazi Occupation (2009).

Furtwängler through the eyes of his contemporaries

Furtwängler was seen as compromised by many of his contemporaries. When Toscanini resigned from the New York Philharmonic in 1936, he recommended it engage Furtwängler for the 1936–37 season, which the orchestra accordingly did. The subscribers protested on account of his Nazi associations, to the point that he canceled. To cite only one more among a number of possible examples, on February 22, 1945, in an article about him the Swiss publication Volksrecht wrote:

Just by his participation in dozens of concerts and other events, Furtwängler has allowed the immortal works of the great German masters to be used for National Socialist propaganda purposes. For years he has allowed himself to be misused (witness that the cries of victims in the concentration camps were masked by solemn music). His activity was supposed to insure that the horrific crimes against countless individuals would not be heard and would not be considered possible.

On April 10, 1933, Furtwängler had summarized his position on Jews to Goebbels:

If the fight against Jewry is directed chiefly against those who are themselves rootless and destructive, who seek to impress through trash and sterile virtuosity, this is only correct. The struggle against them and the spirit they personify–and this spirit also has its German devotees–cannot be waged vigorously and thoroughly enough. But when this attack is directed against real artists as well, it is not in the best interest of our cultural life. Real artists are very rare, and no country can afford to renounce their services without great damage to its culture.

The following was written by a Berlin Philharmonic first violinist, Richard Wolff:

In the Nazi era, what lengths [Furtwängler] went to in trying to save our Jewish members, half-Jewish members and the partners of mixed marriages! In spite of all his desperate efforts, he did not succeed in keeping the Jewish members, but he did succeed in making it possible for the others to remain. My wife was Jewish. When my son wanted to marry, Furtwängler ran from pillar to post to obtain the official consent necessary. ‘Dear Wolff,’ he said to me, ‘your son belongs to us too!'”

–Stefan Zucker

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In Defense of Furtwängler

Sidebar to reviews of Great Conductors of the Third Reich

The following was written by a Berlin Philharmonic first violinist, Richard Wolff:

“In the Nazi era, what lengths [Furtwängler] went to in trying to save our Jewish members, half-Jewish members, and the partners of mixed marriages! In spite of all his desperate efforts, he did not succeed in keeping the Jewish members, but he did succeed in making it possible for the others to remain. My wife was Jewish. When my son wanted to marry, Furtwängler ran from pillar to post to obtain the official consent necessary. ‘Dear Wolff,’ he said to me, ‘your son belongs to us too!’”—from the very stimulating The Furtwängler Record by John Ardoin

Furtwängler in His Own Words

From a letter Furtwängler wrote to Goebbels:

“If the fight against Jewry is directed chiefly against those who are themselves rootless and destructive, who seek to impress through trash and sterile virtuosity, this is only correct.

“The struggle against them and the spirit they personify—and this spirit also has its German devotees—cannot be waged vigorously and thoroughly enough. But when this attack is directed against real artists as well, it is not in the best interest of our cultural life. Real artists are very rare, and no country can afford to renounce their services without great damage to its culture.”

From Furtwängler’s article “The Hindemith Case”:

“It is certain that no composer of the younger generation has done more for the recognition of German music in the world than Paul Hindemith. Besides, it is impossible to predict what importance Hindemith’s work may one day have for the future. But then, that is not the question which is up for debate. Far more than the specific case of Hindemith, it is a general principle with which we are dealing….And about that we must be utterly clear: in view of the terrible and universal dearth of truly productive musicians, we simply cannot afford to do without a man such as Hindemith.”

From Furtwängler’s closing remarks in his deNazification trial:

“I knew Germany was in a terrible crisis; I felt responsible for German music, and it was my task to survive this crisis, as much as I could. The concern that my art was misused for propaganda had to yield to the greater concern that German music be preserved, that music be given to the German people by its own musicians. These people, the compatriots of Bach and Beethoven, of Mozart and Schubert, still had to go on living under the control of a regime obsessed with total war. No one who did not live here himself in those days can possibly judge what it was like.

“Does Thomas Mann [who was critical of Furtwängler’s actions] really believe that in ‘the Germany of Himmler’ one should not be permitted to play Beethoven? Could he not realize, that people never needed more, never yearned more to hear Beethoven and his message of freedom and human love, than precisely these Germans, who had to live under Himmler’s terror? I do not regret having stayed with them.”

The above quotations are from The Furtwängler Record by John Ardoin.

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The Nazi’s Seizure of A Star Fell From Heaven

The Lux Film Gesellschaft was established by Josef Koppelmann in the late 1920s. Initially Lux brought German films to Austria but later Josef decided to produce Austrian films. After securing the talent of Leo Slezak (who mentions Josef in one of his books), Koppelmann recruited Austrian opera stars, famous actors and cabaret chanteuses who began appearing in his productions and became regular visitors at his home. Among them were Franciska Gaal, Paul Hörbiger, Kurt Weill, Artur Schnabel and Joseph Schmidt. Lux also was the first company to bring talking films to Austria.

On the morning of March 12, 1938, troops of the Wehrmacht and the SS crossed the German-Austrian border. On the following day, in Linz, Hitler announced the Anschluss (annexation) of Austria into the German Reich. There were big celebrations all over Austria. Jews, however, were deprived of their civil rights and many were arrested. Jewish shops and businesses were broken into, destroyed or taken over by non-Jews. This seizure was called “aryanization” and was the fate of Lux. Continue reading The Nazi’s Seizure of A Star Fell From Heaven

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The Two Versions of Ave Maria

Ave Maria was shot and recorded by Itala Films in the Tobis Atelier, in Berlin, May 1936. Johannes Riemann directed. Alois Melichar conducted the orchestra of the Berlin Staatsoper. Ernesto De Curtis composed “Soltanto tu, Maria” and Melichar composed “Anima mia” for the film.

In the German version of the film Gigli does a lovely job of coloring his speaking voice. The film’s ending begins with the Bach/Gounod “Ave Maria” and segues into the final moments of “Soltanto tu, Maria.” The result is exuberant. In the Italian version an actor does an excellent job of dubbing Gigli’s speaking voice. The film concludes with “Ave Maria”–the ending is sweet and delicate.

The Italian version premiered August 17, 1936, in Venice. The German version premiered August 21, 1936, in Bremen, at the Tivoli. The Berlin premiere was on August 28, 1936, at the Ufa-Palast am Zoo (today known as the Ufa Zoo-Palast).

Notes on the Audio Restoration

We have provided two separate PCM audio soundtracks for both the German and Italian versions of Ave Maria. One track is restored, the other not. Imperfections in the film prints caused pops, clicks and thumps. In undertaking the restorations our philosophy was simple: do no harm. Therefore we removed most of these disturbances but limited ourselves to reducing the impact of others, to avoid dulling the sound or changing the character of the background noise. In restoring the German version we applied broad-spectrum hiss reduction to the dialog but not the music, so as not to compromise its emotional impact. (With today’s technology, you cannot remove hiss without attenuating soft overtones as well as acoustical ambience or “space” around the sound.) The Italian version was less hissy, so we did not de-hiss it.

We believe the restored soundtracks are preferable but suggest you compare them to the unrestored tracks and choose for yourself. The main menus on each DVD make this easy.

–Stefan Zucker