If some gifted Italianate tenors of the previous generation (among them Giacomo Aragall, Giuseppe Giacomini and Nicola Martinucci) had been unlucky enough to hit their prime at more or less the same time as those giants of the voice type Luciano Pavarotti, José Carreras and Plácido Domingo, the Sicilian Vincenzo La Scola emerged in that relatively quiet period as the voices of the three ‘supertenors’ began to wear and before Roberto Alagna and José Cura shot to stardom. Yet if La Scola never had the sheer quality of voice of any of those, his was a most appealing tenor, ardent, supple and with an attractive breathy quality.
He also used it stylishly, as might be expected as he shared a teacher with Pavarotti – the older tenor had heard La Scola’s turn at the Puccini Festival in Torre del Lago in 1979 and recommended him to Arrigo Pola. Another great tenor, Carlo Bergonzi, was also impressed and personally gave La Scola some lessons.
His big break on record came with Riccardo Muti’s 1993 EMI recording of Verdi’s Rigoletto. The conductor selected relatively little-known leads, La Scola and the soprano Daniela Dessì, to accompany the lead baritone Giorgio Zancanaro. It was not a star-making set (while praising his articulation, Gramophone’s Alan Blyth dismissed La Scola as 'a tight-voiced, uninteresting Duke'). Yet it inevitably led to wider awareness of the tenor and as he matured his voice acquired more depth and his natural musicality became more apparent. A 1996 Faust in Boito’s Mefistofele for RCA Victor, also under Muti, found him 'sensitive and elegant' according to Gramophone, while Patrick O’Connor was full of praise for his Turiddu in a 2008 filmed Cavalleria Rusticana, on Opus Arte. Discussion of his 1990’s duet with Cliff Richard is perhaps best left to hard-core Cliff fans.
There may be more now than when he started, but La Scola was the kind of fine, satisfying tenor that were once plentiful and are now far more rare. In some ways he gave some measure of new life to that tradition just when it was most needed. He died suddenly on April 15, while giving a masterclass in Turkey at the age of 53.