Opry Links # 98: Look Back Edition
Saturdee Opry Links
is/are now posted. Dogs recommend: "Better than fire hydrants!" Yes! Now YOU
can experience beautiful art instead of reading and hearing incessantly
about horror! Today: the great forgotten tenor,
Giovanni Consiglio! And. . .the Ponselle Sisters! What's that, you say? Eh?
You'd rather sit naked on cactus? BE MY GUEST! Otherwise, enjoy all ten
selections, plus overture and encore. You could not spend your time in a
better way, unless you are still young enough to fornicate. And even that's
debatable. You're welcome.
Giovanni Consiglio Carmela and Rosa Ponselle
Saturdee Opry Links
"Orpheus in the Underworld," by Offenbach.
Okay, I usually steer clear of "Nessun Dorma" (from
Puccini's "Turandot") on SOL. It has become the cliche of all cliche tenor
arias. Everyone from Michael Bolton to Aretha Franklin has assaulted it.
Yes, it is a great, great aria. Yes, it has been substantially reduced in
impact from out-of-context over-exposure. But! Giovanni Consiglio is such a
forgotten tenor that there is not even a Wikipedia entry. He sang with the
greats, studied with the legendary Francesco Merli, yet seems to have---by
preference---spent much of his career in South America. I stumbled across
his name recently, and did a little listening to his lirico-spinto voice (a
lyric tenor with power to "punch through" over the orchestra on the big
notes.) I was amazed. Chalk it up to quirks of fate---and apparently some
jealousy---that his voice is not better known (more later.) I mean, listen
to this. . .
Setting: The gardens before the walls of Peking
Synopsis: A herald has just announced that no one will
sleep in the city of Peking until the Calaf's name is known to the Princess.
Calaf, who knows that he has agreed to be killed if Turandot learns his name
before the morning, is not worried. He is sure that he will be the only one
to reveal his name to the Princess and he will only do that once morning has
come and the Princess has consented to be his wife.
With many opera singers, the stories are similar: they
exhibit an early talent, and are eventually discovered by a teacher or
sponsor. Not quite with Giuseppe Consiglio. A little stint as a
prisoner-of-war interfered with this process. Seems an uncle pushed him into
Mussolini's army, and after seeing action from ages 17 to 19 in Libya, he
was captured at the battle of El-Alamein by the British. Set free when WWII
ended, Consiglio went home to San Marco La Catola, in Italy, with no idea
what the hell to do. Lucky for him, the same uncle who nearly cost him his life
pushed him to study music. At age 24, he sang passages from Mascagni's
"Cavalleria Rusticana" with a local orchestra, and was promptly offered job
in. . .Buenos Aires. Huh? Yes, poor Consiglio went from fighting
for a fascist dictator, to singing for one (Juan Peron.) He became the pride
of Buenos Aires, toasted and wined and dined, an enormous success, but was
counseled by friends that he would never achieve his potential unless he
returned to Italy. So in 1955, he did---where he studied for three years
with Merli. Here is his rich, opulent, powerful voice in a tour-de-force
rendition of the aria, "O tu che in seno agli angeli" from Donizetti's "The
Elixir of Love." (Aria starts at the 3:00 mark.)
Setting: Italy, near the town of Velletri
Synopsis: Don Alvaro, who has changed his name to Don
Federico Herreros, is musing on his lost love - Leonora. He decries the fate
that befell his parents and denied his royal throne. He has come to Italy as
Captain of the Spanish Grenadiers to fight in the army.
Consiglio's career was peripatetic, if not downright weird. After studying
with Merli in Italy for three years, he came to the USA (1958), promptly
sang a Verdi's "Aida" in some kind of extravagant production at the Triboro
Stadium, and was booked in opera houses around the country: New Orleans,
Providence, Dallas, San Francisco, Detroit, Washington, Chicago. But he
hated having to register with Immigration every few months, so he blew town
and went back to his beloved South America, where he was treated like
royalty in: Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, and Argentina. The guy should have
been a regular at the Met, recognized as one of the greatest tenors of his
time, but instead was content to wander---back to the States again by 1960,
where, get this, he became lead tenor from 1962 to 1967 at the. .
.Cincinnati Opera? Yup. Go figure. Cincinnati. Here he is with the
delightful Verdi waltz from "I Lombardi," "La mia letitia infondere" ("such
joy to my heart is thrilling.") (Note: the link also includes "Nessun
Dorma," which I posted in selection number one. Also note: none of the
Youtube posts give date or location of the performances.)
Setting: a hall in Acciano's palace
Synopsis: Giselda, Arvino's daughter, has fallen into the hands of her
father's enemy, Acciano. Oronte sees her and they fall in love with each
other. He proceeds to lay out all his feelings for her in the first part of
his aria. After he is warned by his mother that he will only be able to have
her if he becomes a Christian, he states that he will become Christian for,
as he sings in the cabaletta, if she believes in this god, he must be the
true one. To him, she seems like an angel of purity and virtue.
To infuse my joy
I wish, in your lovely heart
I wish to awaken with the throbbing
Of my blessed love
As much harmony in the heavens
As it has planets
Ah! To go with her to heaven and to rise up
Where no mortal goes…
Later, while in Cincinatti (!), Consiglio also began moonlighting with the New York
City Opera Company, but a hair perm got in his way. What? Let Consiglio tell
"I never liked the atmosphere you would breathe in that (NYCO) theater. One episode
in particular made me decide to never go back. I auditioned for Maestro
Julius Rudel, a nobody, house conductor at NYCO, and at the end of the
audition the comment of the conductor was:
'You Italians have a defect. You sing too much to the audience'! When the
hell should a singer ever sing with his back turned to the audience? Just an
idiotic remark! I had to work with him nonetheless, having already signed a
contract, but that was the end of our cooperation. I should also say that I
never particularly liked men that perm their hair."
Ha! What's that, you say? "Tenors!" Well, perhaps. In this instance, one
might just as well say, "Conductors!"
Consiglio sang well for FIFTY YEARS. Here is rare footage of him performing
part of the act one love duet from Puccini's "Tosca" at the age of (gasp)
76! And sounding great! The soprano is Yolanta Rawyeska, and it was part of an "opera classics"
concert in New Jersey. Astonishing.
Who says quality guarantees success? I mean, look at me! Consiglio did not go over well at the Met, either, or maybe it was the other
way around. Hired to sing Berlioz's monumental "Les Troyens" in 1972,
it seems no one mentioned that he had to sing it in French. Minor detail. At least not
until the last dress rehearsal. Consiglio was immediately replaced by Jon Vickers. The
tenor also claims that Richard Tucker ("a very nasty person") tried to
interfere with his Met success (and
elsewhere.) Mia geloso! "Tenors!" Perhaps the salient anecdote is that
the great Franco Corelli told reporters that no one was able to sing at Consiglio's level. (The pair became, and remained, close friends.) And so
Consiglio went on to teach at the Philadelphia Academy of Vocal arts, and
worked as artistic director for the Connecticut State Opera to the end of
his days. One of his career highlights was when the composer, Anton Coppola
(uncle of Francis Ford), dedicated the tenor aria, "Antico Amor," from his
opera, "Sacco e Vanzetti," to Consiglio. Here, Consiglio sings that lovely
aria. No translation available.
SOL EXTRA! Review of Consiglio's 1958 Carnegie Hall Concert
in the NYT!
One more Consiglio post---and this will be fun. No,
really---fun. I know, I know, listening to "screaming opera people" is maybe
not your idea of fun, but tough shit. Here is the wonderful, largely
forgotten tenor singing the great Neapolitan song, "Core 'ngrato"
("Ungrateful heart") when he was in his prime---and, get this---private
footage of him singing the same song, when he was in his 80's, sitting down
at a party (probably a birthday party for him.) Quite incredible, and quite
heartwarming. In other words. . .fun.
The great Rosa Ponselle, while not forgotten, is not
sufficiently remembered. She debuted to great acclaim at the Met in 1918,
opposite Enrico Caruso---yet did not get around to singing "Carmen" there
until 1935. Her upper register was not what it once had been, though, and
critics savaged her. Is it coincidence that she more or less gave up on her
operatic career after that? Oh, the power that critics can despicably wield.
. .What did she love about "Carmen?" "Oh," said Ponselle, "I suppose because
she's a bit barbaric." Yes, like critics! Here is a screen test that
Ponselle did for "Carmen" around 1938.
"Les tringles des sistres tintaient" (or "chanson
Setting: The inn of Lillias Pastia
Synopsis: With her friends Frasquita and Mercedes,
Carmen sings a wild gyspy song about dancing and seduction to the joyous
"L'amour est un oiseau rebelle" (Habanera.)
Setting: A square in Seville
Synopsis: After appearing out of the cigarette factory,
Carmen seductively sings about love and its unpredictable actions.
Rosa Ponselle and
Enrico Caruso in “La Juive,” by Halevy
Rosa Ponselle (originally Ponzillo) used to sing at
brief intermissions during silent films, while the projectionist changed
reels. Reely. Meanwhile, her big sister, Carmela, worked as a cabaret singer
in Meridian, Connecticut. This was in the teens, and yes, there apparently
were cabarets in Meridian! The daughters of Italian immigrants, Carmela was
a kind of "full-figured" mezzo, and her little soprano sister a beauty with
a fashion model physique. Between 1915 and 1918, The Ponzillo Sisters (also
known as "Those Tailored Italian Girls") starred on the Keith Vaudeville
Circuit, singing traditional ballads, popular Italian songs, and operatic
arias and duets. Here is something they certainly did together at that time:
the "barcarolle" from "Tales of Hoffmann," by Offenbach. "Belle nuit, ô nuit
d'amour," or "Lovely night, oh night of love."
And, for those who might
prefer a better-recorded version:
The prolific opera composer Jules Massenet wrote a little music for a French
drama, "Les Érinnyes," by one LeConte DeLisle. He later set that music as a
song, "Elegie," with words by one Louis Gallet. It is a touching paean to
spring, and times that will not return. "O sweet springtimes of old verdant
seasons /You have fled forever. . ." Here sung in 1926 by Rosa Ponselle.
To go out on a light, cool note, here is Ms. Ponselle with the Neapolitan chestnut, Paolo Tosti's ode to
a kiss, "A Vucchella." Yes, it is usually sung by tenors, but why? With
More about Rosa Ponselle:
Saturdee Opry Links ENCORE!
It's The Ponzillo Sisters, together again! Rosa Ponselle and big sister
Carmen, singing, you know, that song. The one I most often use as an encore.
"What a wonderful thing is a sunny day! / But another sun, even more
beauteous, oh my sweetheart /My own sun, shines from your face!"
(Rosa sang the opening verse, Carmela sang the second verse, and Rosa led
the refrain throughout the recording.)
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