Tito Schipa (1889-1965) - I
The Master. And yes: despite questionings (mine as well as yours, you who listen with independent ears, unintimidated by legend and title), he surely is, and never more so than in the recordings of this period. Schipa was then at the height of his fame and fortune, the voice approaching the end of its very best days (a thrill and a freshness which began to diminish in the early 1930s) and with the art having developed (I would rather gently suggest) just about as far as it would go. Lovely examples are: “Sogno soave” (Don Pasquale), “Questa o quella” and “E il sol dell’anima” (Rigoletto), the Traviata duets, the Lakme and Werther solos, Harlequin’s Serenade (Pagliacci), “E la solita storia” (
But if ‘The Master’, then one whose mastery was exercised within severe limitations. Today’s tenors in the repertoire cultivate an extensive upper range, whereas Schipa sings here nothing above a B flat, transposing “La donna e mobile”, and even lowering “M’appari” so that the B flat becomes an A. His modern successors attempt and often attain a brilliance of bravura which can make Schipa sound tame and cautious (his “Ecco ridente” is fine but lacks the brilliance of true virtuosity, and his “Il mio tesoro” is essentially a bit of artful dodging).
There are other limitations too, but these are enough for the present: and enough remains to place him among the unforgettables and irreplaceables. Any of the recommendations mentioned will show why, and there is the added, vital and elusive quality of voice-personality. This collection comprises a complete run of Schipa’s operatic records made electrically for the Victor company. Transfers are faithful, with the sound well defined. Among all the many CDs currently devoted to him this would be a very suitable first choice.'