I Sing for You Alone

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Schipa. Made in English, with songs in English, Italian, Neapolitan, French and Spanish. (1932). 57m. B&W.

Michael Tanner, reviewing in Classic CD

“A Treat for Schipa Fans

“At the other extreme [from Del Monaco] is Tito Schipa, the tenor of refinement and exquisite taste. To have him, recorded in 1932, is a treat indeed.

“This film was another three-language effort. The songs Schipa delivers in his literally incomparable voice are in English, Spanish, Italian and French.” 5 Stars (highest rating)

“The singing throughout is gemlike.” –George Hall, International Opera Collector

Alan Blyth, reviewing in Gramophone

I Sing for You Alone (1932), the first of Schipa’s ten films, is in English, though there were French and Italian versions. The plot is zany to the point of incomprehensibility, but there are enough chances to hear Schipa’s delicate, unadorned style. [Like Gigli,] he too portrays a tenor; he too has all the women at his feet; he too is a dab hand at portraying a kind of artless, endearing charm. Even more than the Gigli films, this is a period piece and a charming one.”

Tito Schipa’s was the most lyrical sensibility of them all, the most elegiac, sublime and endearing (with the exception of Giuseppe Anselmi). Schipa’s singing was conversational in its intimacy. He reconciled the conflicting demands of legato and diction so as to excel at both. No Italian tenor on records has imbued words with more significance. Since Fernando De Lucia, Alessandro Bonci and Dino Borgioli, no Italian tenor has equalled Schipa’s expressive use of rubato (taking time from one note or group of notes and giving it to others). He composed songs and an operetta, conducted orchestras, spoke a number of languages and wrote an autobiography.

Schipa was one of the last tenori di grazia, an anomaly in the age of the verismo tenor, in a century with a mania for heavy voices, voices with volume. If anything, as an interpreter he understated. Like Anselmi and Borgioli, to be truly appreciated he first had to leave Italy. In this country he was lionized like a Hollywood matinee idol and, although married with children, made love to a legion of women. His obsessively jealous wife became an alcoholic. They separated. At 57 he had a second family, with a woman 35 years his junior–and continued with what his son describes as his “incorrigible don-juanism.” (It later emerged that Schipa had had a daughter by still another woman.) His fees were the equivalent of any opera star’s ever, but he squandered much of the money and because of his ex-wife and bad business deals lost the rest. After the war he was dogged here, in Europe and South America by accusations by Walter Winchell, among others, that he had been “Mussolini’s tenor.”

I studied with Schipa but subsequently took my singing in a different direction. His real legacy is his records and films, of which I Sing for You Alone is the first of ten full-length features. (The film also was released under the title Three Lucky Fools.) Particularly before dubbing was introduced, in 1935, it was not unusual to shoot several versions of the same film, each in a different language, with many variations in detail, including supporting casts. Schipa also made I Sing for You Alone in Italian as Tre uomini in frac (of which no prints appear to survive) and in French as Trois hommes en habit (#655). He sings some songs in French in the French version that are in English in the English version.

In both versions he is at his most caressing and works his magic on eight songs including “Marechiare.” The plot: He breaks on a high note because of stage fright. They boo him savagely and run him out of town, but in the end he sings a concert and subjugates them. Lovely print.–Stefan Zucker

Here we have one of the world’s leading tenors, one noted for a certain sobriety of approach and aspect in just about every segment of his very considerable art, and what is he doing? Headlining and fully entering into a slapstick farce of near-Marx Brothers proportions! Much of the film has been made in the manner of a silent, with sound effects and a wonderfully lively background score that seems to mirror musically every line of the script, and the pace is very much influenced by silent-screen comedy. Most viewers, or course, will want this film for Schipa’s contribution, and that is only right, but they will find even the Schipa-less moments highly enjoyable. A minor caveat: Schipa’s speaking voice is very much like Schipa’s singing voice, an admirable trait in basses and baritones but one taking a bit of getting used to with tenors. But at least he speaks with total conviction.–Joe Pearce, President of The Vocal Record Collector’s Society