Lebendige Vergangenheit - Giuseppe Campora

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Lebendige Vergangenheit

Anyone who took an interest in the goings-on of international opera in the 1950s and 1960s discovered that the record industry was imposing its opinion on audiences about who the best singers were supposed to be. Typically they were the “stars” that were being pushed the hardest by the respective record company’s PR department. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau provided this apt definition for the dubious term “star”: a star, he said, was someone whose career had been manipulated. Inevitably, this created the impression that singers who were ignored by the record companies could not possibly be good artists. Once this strange prejudice had been created, it was very difficult for a singer to get rid of it. Although many of the singers affected by it were highly able and even favourites with audiences at various theatres, in the consciousness of the audiences of many countries they were stuck with the stigma of being second-rate singers. The injustice done to one singer or the other often became obvious only decades later, and when the time came to document the neglected artist the euphemism used in their rehabilitation was “rediscovery”, which often enough occurred posthumously. The singers victimised by this process include both historical figures and a number of singers of the present day. Jaime (Giacomo) Aragall is such a case. Asked why this outstanding Spanish tenor had not enjoyed the professional success to which he was entitled, the conductor Richard Bonynge replied: “Well, probably, he didn’t pay the P.R. people enough. That’s what it’s all about today, isn’t it? Look at the major careers today. The’re all P.R. careers.” (Opera News, May 2006, p. 12) Giuseppe Campora was another such case. While the singer had a remarkable career at top opera houses and sang with such wonderful partners as Callas and Tebaldi and under important conductors, he was stuck with the label of being a second-class tenor. But Campora’s recordings prove how unjustified that judgement was, especially given the “star tenors” we hear on our stages today. Here Campora is audibly an authentic tenore lirico spinto, an Italian tenor between the two genres with an attractive, youthful timbre, excellent vocal placement, solid singing technique, dramatic expressive verve, a high range with penetrating power, clear diction and natural musicality. The history of his stage career provides further evidence of these excellent qualities. Giuseppe Campora was born in Tortona on 30 September 1923. Following vocal studies in Genoa and Milan, he made a surprising debut at a large house in 1949 at the age of 26, where he was asked to fill in for Galliano Masini who was too ill to appear as Rodolfo in La bohème at the Teatro Petruzzelli (3200 seats) in Bari. Following performances on smaller stages (Lecce and Lucca) as well as in Genoa, he was called to the Teatro alla Scala in Milan by Tullio Serafin in 1951. There he made his debut as Maurizio in Adriana Lecouvreur with Renata Tebaldi. In the same year Campora was hired to sing the part of Radames in a film version of Aida (considerably shortened musically). But like his colleagues Renata Tebaldi (Aida), Ebe Stignani (Amneris), Gino Bechi (Amonasro) and Giulio Neri (Ramfis), he was present only acoustically in the film. On screen the roles were played by Sophia Loren (Aida), Luciano Della Marra (Radames) and Lois Maxwell (Amneris), who later became popular as Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond films with Sean Connery. Curiously, real singers were cast in the roles of Amonasro and Ramfis, the baritone Afro Poli and the bass Antonio Cassinelli, but they acted in playback to the singing of their colleagues Bechi and Neri. Only Enrico Formichi as the King both acted and sang the role. It is not clear whether it was because of the Aida film or his ability and winning appearance, but Campora immediately launched a career at major opera houses. In 1952 he was invited to sing at Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires and the opera of Rio de Janeiro. In the same year he appeared at La Scala in the première performance of Lodovico Rocca’s opera L’uragano, and two years later he sang in the première of Jacopo Napoli’s opera I pescatori at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. In 1954 Campora made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, singing Rodolfo in Puccini’s La bohème. In the years that followed he became a favourite singer not only of the New York audience but also of Sir Rudolf Bing, who chose him for numerous productions, including Lucia di Lammermoor with Maria Callas. Campora was at the Met for seven seasons (1954-59 and 1963-65), singing nine roles in a total of 90 performances. In Italy, Campora appeared in 1952 and 1956 in the Arena of Verona as Enzo in La Gioconda and at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. At La Scala he sang Maurizio in Adriana Lecouvreur with Magda Olivero in 1958, Rodolfo in La bohéme with Renata Scotto and Ettore Bastianini in 1959, Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly with Antonietta Stella and Rolando Panerai as well as Orombello in Bellini’s Beatrice di Tenda with Joan Sutherland in 1961, Count Elemer in Richard Strauss’ Arabella in 1970 and Pinkerton again in 1972. Other appearances took him to the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels, the Paris Opéra, the Hamburg Staatsoper, the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, the opera houses of Zurich and Geneva, to Toronto and Vancouver, the National Opera of Bucharest, to Monte-Carlo and Mexico City, the Scottish Opera in Glasgow and to Amsterdam and Johannesburg. In 1964 he sang the role of Prince Sou-Chong in Lehár’s Das Land des Lächelns at the Bregenz Festival. In the late 1960s …