The History of the Tenor

June 12, 2010

The above is the title of a web site devoted to tenors and their recorded legacy. It contains material compiled by the late operaphile Sydney Rhys Barker (1928 – 2005). The site, still under construction, was assembled by Mr Barker’s son Sidney. The material on the site spans most of the 20th century – 1900 to 1990.  This is the description of its purpose given by the younger Barker:

My father, Sydney Rhys Barker was an opera lover from the age of 8. Opera was his great love and he collected records his entire life.

In the late 1980’s someone asked him to put together a cassette tape of highlights from some of his favorite singers.

My father spent the next 2 years recording what was to become “The History of the Tenor”.

He produced twenty-eight 90 minute tapes for a total of 42 hours of narration with clips from his substantial record collection and had access to several others through friends and opera lovers he had known since he was a boy.

These tapes were handed over to me by my mother after my fathers death in 2005 and it seems to me that these treasures should be available to those who shared in this great hobby of his.

It is my hope to try to make all of these sound clips available to anyone who wishes to hear them, it is information he collected over 45 years – of which I have little idea.

But I thank all and everyone who may have contributed in advance on his behalf.

These are the sole opinions of my father and I can only assume that they are as comprehensive a collection as can be made.

Opera was not something I inherited from him, but I do know if he did something – he did it with great enthusiasm, integrity and passion.

Anyone interested in opera in general and tenors in particular will gain great pleasure browsing through the vocal  archives assembled by both Barkers. While there are some errors here and there (eg, Chaliapin is listed as a tenor, La Juive is translated as The Jew rather than The Jewess, Di Stefano’s recording of Federico’s Lament from L’Arlesiana is the 1944 version with piano rather than the 1947 recording with orchestra), there’s nothing serious enough to distract you from the site’s cornucopia of audio.

Highly recommended. Worth perusing.

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Giuseppe Taddei

June 4, 2010

The renowned Italian baritone Giuseppe Taddei died June 2 just short of his 94th birthday. Taddei made most of his career in Italy and Vienna. He didn’t sing at the Met until 1985 when at age 69 he debuted at the New York house in the title role of Verdi’s Falstaff. There are a number of reasons why so celebrated a singer as was Taddei stayed away from the Met for so long.

First Rudolph Bing, the Met’s General Manager during Taddei’s prime, wanted the baritone to audition before being offered a contract. The well established singer felt this beneath his dignity and there was no deal. Second Bing made another offer for a fee that was well below the baritone’s accustomed recompense. But most important was the profusion of great American baritones that were at the Met during Taddei’s heyday – Leonard Warren, Robert Merrill, Cornell MacNeil, and Sherrill Milnes allowed Bing to be cavalier in his treatment of yet another star baritone.

When Taddei finally did appear he still had much of his voice left and he scored a great success in Verdi’s valedictory opera. He returned to the house in 1988 for Dulcamara in L’Elisir D’Amore, but at age 72 there was little more for him to do.

Taddei sang a lot of Verdi. He had a big beefy voice that though secure enough at its top was at its best in its mid range which is why he eschewed the interpolated high notes typically inserted into Verdi’s baritone arias. He phrased with insight and feeling that made his characterizations memorable. Here are three of Verdi’s most important baritone arias sung by Taddei at his zenith: Cortigiani vil razza dannata from RigolettoEri tu from Un Ballo in Maschera, and the  Credo from Otello. All three interpretations show Taddei’s ability to catch the passion and emotion written into these great pieces. Finally, here is Nemico della patria from Giordano’s Andrea Chenier.

Giuseppe Taddei was a great artist who fortunately left a rich recorded legacy. RIP

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