div style="margin: 12px 0px 0px 0px;">November 6, 1915
Page 9

Modern Operatic Composers Discouraging Beautiful Singing on Part of Baritones by Un-vocal Roles Which They So Frequently Write for Them, Points Out New Metropolitan Artist—Puccini Operas as an Example—His Views on Baritone Controversy—Value of Old-School Training in That It Fits Singers to Portray All Manner of Parts—Career of This Baritone Who Has Sung Almost Continuously in Many Countries Since His Debut Sixteen Years Ago at the Age of Twenty—Thrice “Decorated” by Royalty

NO matter what else happens to Giuseppe de Luca during his first season in America, he will be spared one experience: As he walks along our highways, nobody will say of him, “That must be an opera singer.” Scarcely ever was there an individual whose appearance so belied his profession. Further, the countenance of this noted Italian baritone bears hardly any of the characteristic features of Italy’s people. Were he called upon to sing the rôle of an up-to-date American, he could “look the part” to perfection. In fact, from his well-groomed appearance and the geniality of his manner, one might fancy him to be a Wall Street broker rejoicing over the recent boom in war stocks.
Thus, when the writer sought out Mr. de Luca by appointment in the lobby of his hotel the other morning, he would have had some difficulty in locating the eminent baritone, had not Gianni Viafora accompanied the expedition—in the rôle of interpreter. This latter service, however, was found to be scarcely needed with the new Metropolitan baritone.
Studied English in Rome
“I have been studying English for three months in Rome,” said Mr. de Luca, in response to an exclamation of astonishment as to his proficiency. “My teacher was an English lady, and now I have a hard time to understand the speech of Americans. Did I study by conversation? No, from an English grammar. I know many English words, but it is not easy to use them. Yet I will speak with many American people until I know how.”
Mr. de Luca made some pertinent comments upon the discussion which has been raging in MUSICAL AMERICA’s “Open Forum” as to who is the greatest baritone. He disagrees, for instance, with those who, while desirous of placing Battistini as the greatest baritone, consider him really a tenor. “No, Battistini is a baritone,” he commented, “a baritone of wonderful art, but his tone is more white than that of the ordinary baritone. Yet his voice is a real baritone.”
Puccini’s Baritone Rôles
Signor de Luca, by the way, is a product of the same teacher as Battistini. “The school of Battistini is dying out,” he declares. “Battistini was superb in the old style beautiful singing, but we do not find baritones to-day who can sing the trills and other ornamentations of the old operas. The reason, of course, is that the composers no longer write operas of that style. What chance has the baritone for beautiful singing in the Puccini operas? (And Mascagni is worse.) Puccini does not write for the baritone. Look at ‘Tosca’—‘Scarpia’s music is harsh all the way through. Then there’s ‘Bohème.’ Marcello practically doesn’t sing—he talks all through the opera. In ‘Butterfly,’ yes; in the letter scene, Sharpless has some beautiful singing. You see, it seems that Puccini is not interested in the baritone. But Verdi—ah! He always writes for the voice, no matter how dramatic the scene, there is always a chance for beautiful singing. And the classic style of Mozart! His operas and Verdi’s, those I love to sing."
If you ask Mr. de Luca as to his favorite rôles, he will start the list with Don Giovanni and Rigoletto. “Don Giovanni—that is the test of the baritone,” he exclaimed. “In this rôle the artist must combine fine singing, good dress, effective action, thorough art and the ability to present the different moods of the Don. And as Rigoletto the baritone must sing ‘from the heart’; his facial expression must show the emotions vividly; in the scene with the courtiers he must laugh when he is really weeping, and later, in the scene with his daughter, he is the broken-hearted father. These roles I like very much.
Favored Rôles
“Then I like to do Hamlet and Marquis de Posa in ‘Don Carlos.’ I have been urging Mr. Gatti to produce ‘Don Carlos,’ but it will be impossible this year. Perhaps I may sing it here if I return after this season. Beckmesser in ‘Meistersinger’ is another rôle that I enjoy singing. I studied it with Mr. Toscanini. Once when I sang the part at Bologna, many people who were there said that my Beckmesser· was an imitation of that of Frederich, the great German interpreter of the rôle. But I had never even seen him. (I sing through the nose all the time as Beckmesser.) ‘Damnation of Faust’ is another opera I have sung all around the world. Altogether I have eighty operas in my répertoire.”
Of the operas in the comic vein a favorite of Mr. de Luca is “Don Pasquale.” He relates that upon the occasion of his appearance in a revival of the work at the Scala, it had been produced some five months before at a vaudeville theater, in a sort of “ten, twenty, thirt’“ atmosphere. The lowering of the Scala’s dignity by producing an opera that had just been given under such cheap circumstances so nettled the populace that they came to the theater ready to make trouble. “But the opera was such a success,” added the baritone, “that we gave it twenty-four times during the Carnival.”
Mr. de Luca was asked: “Simply because, as you say, the operas that call for the old bel canto are no longer being written, it doesn’t follow that the old art of beautiful singing need no longer be taught, does it?”
Value of Old School Training
“Certainly not,” replied the baritone. “The artist who has been trained in the old school will be able to sing effectively all types of parts—the classic, romantic and dramatic and the comic roles. The case is similar to that of the ballerina who has been trained in the old school and who can dance not only the classic works, but the ballets in modern form. Does the old Italian training help even in the interpretation’ of Wagner rôles? Of course. It aids the singer to get rid of any harshness in the singing. There is ‘Tannhäuser,’ for instance. I sang Wolfram in my début at the Colon, Buenos Ayres. Another Wagnerian rôle in my repertoire is Alberich, which I sang in the first ‘Rheingold’ at La Scala under Maestro Campanini.”
Reverting to the subject of the world’s greatest baritones, Mr. de Luca mentioned Titta Ruffo, Amato, Scotti and Stracciari. One might supply another name (which Mr. de Luca, in his modesty, omitted) and, to judge from the reputation which precedes him, doubtless many Americans will do so after his Metropolitan début.
This baritone does not believe in the phonograph as an infallible test of voices, as, indeed, it has been used by some of the “Open Forum” correspondents in the “greatest baritone” discussion. “There are some voices which sound especially well on the talking machine,” he stated, “just as there are certain faces which look the best on a moving picture screen.” The speaker here instanced the case of a singer known particularly for his work as a buffo whose voice on the talking machine sounds big and resonant. “There are many good singers whose tones do not reproduce well, and for this reason I do not believe that talking machine records can be used as a real test. Besides, they cannot show the dramatic art of the singer, his facial expression, stage presence, etc.
Records Not Infallible
“Therefore,_ I do not think that, as some of your readers suggest, these records of singers will consistently be of value to posterity in giving a reliable idea of the singers of the present. For example, we have some records of Battistini, but they are not really good records, and will not give posterity an adequate impression of his singing.”
Mr. de Luca’s own vocal schooling is of the most thorough sort, for he began at fifteen a five year’s course of study at the Saint Cecilia Conservatory of Rome, which is his native city. He relates, “My voice was a baritone even at thirteen, when I was discovered by Bartolini, the noted baritone and teacher. Although it was expected that my voice would change after that, it did not, yet Bartolini advised me not to begin studying until I was fifteen. My teacher at the Saint Cecilia was Persichini, who has given seventy-four artists to the world. The ordinary course at the conservatory is four years, but they had me study for an extra year because I was so young.
“I was just a little over twenty when I made my début at Piacenza in ‘Faust.’ From that time to this—sixteen years I’ve practically never stopped singing. I’ve sung eight seasons at La Scala, eleven at Buenos Ayres (at the Grand Opera and then at the Colon) and three seasons in London (I never sang there in the spring season because I was always engaged for Buenos Ayres). Among other cities where I’ve appeared are Rome, Barcelona, Vienna, Bucharest, Petrograd and Moscow. This war has cut me out of my Russian engagements,” he continued ruefully, “and in Russia a singer can make in two months and a half what it takes him six months to earn here.”
Reunion with Caruso
When Enrico Caruso sang “Pagliacci” in Rome last year, Mr. de Luca was the Tonio. This was in the nature of a reunion, as he and the famous tenor had sung together in 1900 at the Carlo Felice, in Genoa.
Baritone rôles of several operas have been created by Mr. de Luca in Italy among them Massenet’s “Griselidis,” at the Lirico, Milan; Cilea’s “Adrienne Le-couvreur,’ also at the Lirico and with Caruso and under Campanini’s bâton; and Franchetti’s “Notte di Leggenda.”
At the Metropolitan among the works in which he will appear are two French operas, “Carmen” and “Les Pêcheurs de Perles.”
Mr. de Luca has been “decorated” in three countries in which he has sung. The Dowager Queen Marguerite of Italy was much interested in de Luca the Student at the Santa Cecelia Conservatory, and It was largely through her influence that de Luca the Artist was paid an unusual honor by the crown. That is, he was raised from a Cavaliere to a Commendatore, skipping the intermediary rank of Officiale Cavaliere. Mr. de Luca was also made a Commendatore by the King of Bucharest, and was also “decorated” by the King of Portugal at Lisbon.
This artist visitor has not been slow to seek out the pleasures of life in our Metropolis, from his hotel in the heart of the theater district. A few days after his landing he had already been to see the movies at the Strand, vaudeville at the Palace and the big Hippodrome show, over which he was most enthusiastic,” especially over Sousa’s Band. “In Rome we have a very fine band,’’ said he, “but this is fine, too, and the way the parts are held together is great.”
Prizes for Swimming
Of outdoor sports, the baritone is extremely fond of walking and swimming. He has won many prizes for swimming in the dangerous Tiber of his native Rome; and he had hardly settled in New York when he made a brisk walk up to the end of Central Park and back. “Even in cold Russia, with the snow on the ground, I walk all the while. It is better for the singer.”
An· indoor sport in which his luck is uncanny is poker. On the recent voyage of the Dante Alighieri to New York, Mr. de Lucca bested Caruso and the other Metropolitan notables so consistently in the American game of chance that they finally would have no more of him as an opponent. Yet it was Caruso who taught de Luca to play poker in 1903 on a voyage to South America. “And now my teacher is afraid of me,” quoth the baritone. —KENNETH S. CLARK.


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