The Art of Tito Schipa - Operatic Arias and Songs
An Italian tenor aged 24, with Milan today, tomorrow the world, is what we hear at the beginning of this recital. But that is only the start. From the first phrases it is clear that he is something quite special. The tone is light but free and carrying; the emission is even, the placing clean, the style graceful, the definition exact. And still there is more, but now something more elusive for it involves that personal factor which picks the one from out the many and sets the stars in the sky.
The complete run of published recordings from Schipa's first Milan sessions of 1913 is included here as fine a sequence of its kind as any. The Lucia di Lammermoor solo which comes first has an elegance that must be the despair of all tenors who conscientiously try to sing this music with grace. Nor is it wanting in emotion; from the serene, gentle arc of the opening phrase, sorrow enters the voice as the tonality turns towards the minor, and it grows in just proportion with the music, ending with a passionate, full-blooded avowal. Schipa was never a showy singer and his ornamentation is always discrete, but the traditional graces of appoggiatura are there and in the Rigoletto solo the rubato and portamento are exquisitely judged. This surely is a performance as near to the ideal as one could hope for, with every development of mood in the recitative understood and unobtrusively interpreted, while the aria shows understanding of a still rarer kind, seeing through to what lies beneath the written notes in the simple-seemingmelody. In the La traviata Brindisi, all the many markings in the score are observed, and in such a way that the rightness seems intuitively rather than studiously achieved.''Cielo e mar'', one of the rarest and the most surprising of the group (I have never seen any reference to his singing in La Gioconda), is shortened but otherwise perfect: a reflective, poetic opening, scrupulously lyrical in style, with ringing B flats and plenty of passion as the urgency grows. Turriddu's Siciliana, lacking Martinelli's breadth of phrase and Caruso's gorgeous richness, has a poise and a personal quality all its own. The Faust and La boheme arias, down by half a tone, are equally glorious except when in trouble with the low notes: I can't help thinking that the transposition was more for the orchestra's convenience than the singer's (it was quite normal in both, so the band parts may well have been in the lower key, whereas Schipa sings the high Bs with such easy resonance that a C must at that time have been well within his range).
After these from 1913 come a number of Pathes, best (I would say) the fiery Zaza record showing how Schipa's lyricism had a strong Italian temper within it and, interestingly, the rare Amarilli of Caccini, a little cautious and overreverential in approach but scrupulous in care. From the famous Don Pasquale recording of 1932 the beautiful ''Sogno soave'' and ''Cerchero'' are included, though not the Serenade. The duets with Toti dal Monte remind us again of the tenderly imaginative touch this music requires. Classics of the gramophone the ''Una furtiva lagrima'' (L'elisir d'amore and L'amico Fritz duet, are mingled with some less familiar: the aria from Giordano's Marcella which Schipa sang in Milan at about that time, is a good example (the Andrea Chenier I think, not). Among the songs are many that polish up to look like real gems in the hands of such an artist. It only remains to add what we are beginning to take for granted when they come from this source, that transfers (particularly of the 1913 group) are excellent. No one with an affection for singing and singers will want to be without this.