Lebendige Vergangenheit - Giuseppe de Luca (Vol.2)

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Lebendige Vergangenheit

Among the most replendent singers of that "golden era" of singing customarily associated with Enrico Caruso's artistry was the Italian baritone Giuseppe De Luca. His exceptionally long career (more than five decades) as well as his immense number of recordings has ensured De Luca a permanent place in the pantheon of operatic history. His association with music and the stage began early. As an eight-year-old he was highly esteemed as a soloist at the "Schola Cantorum dei Fratelli Carissimi". A short time later the boy was much in demand as an extra at the Opera in Rome, playing page boys and the like. As he was an exceptionally pretty lad, he was soon a favourite with the audience. At the age of fifteen one of the most important vocal coaches of the time, Venceslao Persichini, took him under his wing. He was soon the prize pupil of the class - such to the chagrin of the other students at the Accademia die Santa Cecilia, among them the young Titta Ruffo. As with Mattia Battistini, also a pupil of Persichini, De Luca's style evinces many of the characteristics of the belcanto method of the early 19th century. On 6. November 1897, shortly before his twenty-first birthday, he made his debut singing Valentin in Goundod's "Faust" in Piacenza. The next important step was Milan - as from 1902 the Teatro Lirico, thereafter he appeared for eight seasons at La Scala. In 1907, 1910, 1911 he appeared at Covent Garden, interspersed were engagements in Moscow, Kiev, Odessa and Warsaw. After 1915 he joined the ensemble of the Metropolitan Opera, New York and remained there as leading baritone until 1946 - in effect for more than thirty years. His career was not exclusively limited to the MET, however, for he sang in South America, Spain, England, USSR and as well as Germany and Austria. De Luca took part in several world premieres, viz: Massenet's "Griselidis" and Cilea's "Adriana Lecouvreur" (both in 1902). In 1903 he sang in Giordano's "Siberia" at La Scala, in 1904 he was the first Sharpless in Puccini's "Madame Butterfly". In 1918, when he was already engaged at the MET, he was again associated with a Puccini premiere, this time as Gianni Schicchi. He also participated in several first performances at the MET, e.g. "Bugen Onegin", "Turandot", Rossini's "Signor Bruschino" to name the most important. Among his most frequent partners, besides Caruso, were Rosa Ponselle, Giovanni Martinelli, John McCormack, Adamo Didur and Jose Mardones. He sang Sancho Panza opposite Feodor Chaljapin at the world premiere of Massenet's "Don Quichote" (Monte Carlo 1910). Giuseppe De Luca had a repertoire of nearly 100 roles: As he was an outstanding actor, he was equally acclaimed in character and buffo roles. Apart from the standard Verdi and Puccini roles, he was a famous Figaro (Mozart and Rossini) and Don Giovanni. In the Wagnerian repertoire he was an equally successful Wolfram and Beckmesser. De Luca's first recordings were made before his actual stage debut. Thereby hangs a tale. In 1895 he cajoled the owner of a slot machine that played cylinder recordings into allowing him to make 40 cylinders of arias. These were then listed as recordings by notable singers of his time (Kaschmann, Maurel etc.). De Luca kept this prank a secret until shortly before his death. However, once his career had taken wing, De Luca was soon able to make acoustic and eventually electric recordings under his own name. Even at the age of seventy he made a few aria antiche recordings. De Luca's recordings are among the most treasured belcanto documents known to posterity. He was an artist who combined exquisite musicality and taste with a voice of rare distinction. His cultivated tone production, his legato technique and, not least, his pellucid diction make him a paragon of vocal virtues. His true stature will, however, only become clear to those listeners sufficiently discerning to enjoy a rarified form of vocal culture.