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Claudia Muzio, inspiration to Maria Callas

By April 15, 2018March 25th, 2023No Comments

Claudia Muzio was one of the great singers of the 20th century, and she had a profound influence on Maria Callas.  She died quite young, too young to have made a significant number of recordings in the electric age.

Muzio is represented by recordings from various stages of her career, but few of them are from the period of her greatest successes in the late 1920s and early 1930s. She also recorded primarily for two companies whose distribution was limited and erratic: Pathé and Edison. Muzio’s Pathé discs are of mixed quality due to Pathé’s problematic recording process – artists recorded to cylinder masters which were then pantographically transferred to disc masters for making stampers, and frequency range loss and distortion often occurred during the cylinder-to-disc processing. Her Edison recordings, however, represent not only some of the best operatic recordings released by that company, but also Muzio’s power and ability to project her personal intensity through the difficult acoustic recording process. She was aided at Edison by chief recordist Walter Miller and staff conductor Cesare Sodero.

In selecting these recording from youtube, I have tried to choose recordings that were done for Edison and that also were in her strongest period.  The only exception to this was the aria from La Bohème, which she made in 1935, a year before her death.

Muzio was an extremely expressive singer.  Note that I don’t say emotional, with a lot of sobbing and histrionics.  She used her voice to color the words and bring new meaning to them.  Callas did listen to her recordings, and although it is not possible to say what Callas did and did not like about Muzio, Callas was flattered when compared to Muzio.

Pace, pace, mio Dio!
Cruda sventura
M’astringe, ahimè, a languir;
Come il di primo
Da tant’anni dura
Profondo il mio soffrir.
L’amai, gli è ver!
Ma di beltà e valore
Cotanto Iddio l’ornò.
Che l’amo ancor.
Nè togliermi dal core
L’immagin sua saprò.
Fatalità! Fatalità! Fatalità!
Un delitto disgiunti n’ha quaggiù!
Alvaro, io t’amo.
E su nel cielo è scritto:
Non ti vedrò mai più!
Oh Dio, Dio, fa ch’io muoia;
Che la calma può darmi morte sol.
Invan la pace qui sperò quest’alma
In preda a tanto duol.
Misero pane, a prolungarmi vieni
La sconsolata vita . . . Ma chi giunge?
Chi profanare ardisce il sacro loco?
Maledizione! Maledizione! Maledizione!

Peace, peace, o my God!
Cruel misfortune
compels me, alas, to languish;
from the first day
for so many years
have I suffered profoundly
I loved him, its true!
But God had blessed him
with such beauty and virtue
that I love him still,
and never shall I be able
to efface his image from my heart.
Ah, destiny! destiny!
A crime divided us here below!
Alvaro, I love you,
and in heaven it is written
that I shall never see you again!
Oh God, God, let me die:
for only in death shall I know peace.
My soul sought peace in vain in this world,
my soul, the prey of eternal sorrow.
O wretched bread, which lengthens out
this sorry life. But who comes now,
daring to profane this sacred refuge?
A curse upon him! A curse upon him!

Io son l’umile ancella

Ecco, respiro appena,

Io son l’umile ancella
del genio creator;
Ei m’offre la favella
Io la diffondo ai cor…
Del verso io son l’accento,
l’eco del dramma uman
il fragile strumento
vassallo della man…
Mite, gioconda, atroce,
Mi chiamo Fedeltà;
Un soffio è la mia voce,
che al novo di morrà.

I’m but the humble servant

Look here; I’m scarcely breathing…

I’m but the humble servant
of the brilliant creator;
He offers me the words
that I impart to the heart…
I’m the verse’s music,
the echo of human drama,
the fragile instrument,
the lowly hand-maiden…
Timid, joyous, terrible,
I’m called Faithfulness.
My voice is just a whisper,
which, with the new day, will die.

L’altra notte

L’altra notte in fondo al mare
Il mio bimbo hanno gittato,
Or per farmi delirare dicon ch’io
L’abbia affogato.
L’aura è fredda,
Il carcer fosco,
E la mesta anima mia
Come il passero del bosco
Vola, vola, vola via.
Ah! Pietà di me!
In letargico sopore
E’ mia madre addormentata,
E per colmo dell’orrore dicon ch’io
L’abbia attoscata.
L’aura è fredda,
Il carcer fosco, ecc.

The other night

The other night at the bottom of the ocean
my little boy was lying
or in order to drive me mad, they told me
that I had drowned him.
Dawn is fresh,
the cell gloomy,
and my spirits,
such a sparrow in the woods,
flies, flies, flies away.
Ah! Pity me!
Into a lethargic sleep
I lulled my mother,
and, crowning horror, they say
that I poisoned her.
Dawn is fresh,
the cell gloomy…

Poveri fiori

Poveri fiori, gemme de’prati,
pur ieri nati, oggi morenti,
quai giuramenti d’infido cor!
L’ultimo bacio, o il bacio primo,
ecco v’imprimo,
soave e forte bacio di morte,
bacio d’amor.
Tutto è finito!
Col vostro olezzo muoia il disprezzo :
con voi d’un giorno senza ritorno cessi l’error!
Tutto è finito!

Poor flowers

Poor flowers, jewels of the meadows,
born only yesterday, dying today,
like the promises of an unfaithful heart!
The last kiss, or the first, there –
I imprint on you,
a sweet, strong kiss of death,
a kiss of love.
All is over!
Let contempt, too, die with your perfume:
with you, let the illusion end of a day that cannot return!
All is over!

Ancora un passo or via

Le Amiche
Come sei tarda!


Le Amiche
Ecco la vetta.


Spira sul mare e sulla terra
un primaveril soffio giocondo.

Le Amiche
Quanto cielo! Quanto mar!

Io sono la fanciulla più lieta del Giappone, anzi del
Amiche, io son venuta al richiamo d’amor!
d’amor venni aglie soglie!
ove s’accoglie il bene di chi vive e di chi muor!
Amiche, io son venuta al richiamo d’amor,
al richiamo d’amor
son venuta al richiamo d’amor, d’amor, d’amor!

Le Amiche
Quanti fior! quanto mar!
Quanto cielo! quanti fiori!
Gioia a te, gioia a te sia dolce amica,
ma priadi varcar la soglia che t’attira
volgiti e mira le cose tutte che ti son sì care!
mira quanto cielo, quanti fiori, quanto mar!
(si cominciano a sorgere
le Geishas che montano il sentiero)
Gioa a te, gioa a te sia, dolce amica,
ma pria di varcar la soglia
volgiti e guarda le cose che ti son care!
(appaiono in scena hanno tutte gradi ombrelli aperti, a vivi colori)

There is one more step to climb

The girlfriends
How long you tarry!

One moment.

The girlfriends
at last the summit.
Look, oh look, the mass of flowers!


Across the earth and over the ocean,
a spring of playful joy.

The girlfriends
What a sky! what a sea!

I am the happiest maiden in Japan, the happiest in all the world
Friends, I have obeyed the summons of love
I came to the threshold of love!
Here the glory that life or death can offer now awaits me.
I have obeyed the summons of love

The girlfriends
What flowers! what a sea!
What a sky, what flowers
Best of fortune await you, sweet friend
but before you cross over the threshold
pause, and look behind you at all that is dear to you
Look at the sky, what flowers, what a sea!
(the Geishas who are climbing the path
begin to appear)
Best of fortune await you, sweet friend
but before you cross over the threshold
pause, and look behind you at all that is dear to you
(they appear on stage, and they all have open parasols in vivid colors)

D’onde lieta uscì

D’onde lieta usci al tuo grido
d’amore torna sola Mimì.
Al solitario nido
ritorna un’altra volta
a intesser finti fior.
Addio senza rancor.
– Ascolta, ascolta.
Le poche robe aduna che lasciai
sparse.  Nel mio cassetto
stan chiusi quel cerchietto
d’ao e il libro di preghiere.
Involgi tutto quanto in grembiale
e manderò il portiere . . . .
Bada, sotto il guanciale
c’è la cuffietta rosa
Se vuoi . . .serbarla un ricordo d’amor . . .
Addio, senza rancor

Back to the place that I left

Back to the place that I left at the call of your love
I return alone, Mimì
To my lonely nest
I’m returning once again, alone
to make false flowers.
Goodbye, without any anger
– Listen, listen
Please gather up the few things
that I’ve left behind. In the trunk
there’s the little bracelet
and my prayer book.
Wrap them in an apron,
and I’ll send someone for them . ..
Wait! Under the pillow
is my pink bonnet.
If you’d like . . . keep it as a memory of our love . .
Goodbye, with no anger

Claudia Muzio (February 7, 1889 – May 24,1936) was an Italian operatic soprano who enjoyed an international career during the early 20th century.
Born in Pavia, Muzio was the daughter of an operatic stage manager, whose engagements during her childhood took the family to opera houses around Italy as well as to Covent Garden in London and to the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Her mother was a choir singer, Giovanna Gavirati.

Muzio arrived in London at the age of 2 and went to school there, becoming fluent in English, before returning to Italy at the age of 16 to study in Turin with Annetta Casaloni, a piano teacher and former operatic mezzo-soprano who had created the role of Maddalena in the world première of Verdi’s Rigoletto. Muzio then continued her vocal studies in Milan with Elettra Callery-Viviani.


Muzio, like Callas, had a voice with a certain veiled tone, one making it near-perfect for tragic heroines; she was an excellent actress and a beautiful woman, and also had some major vocal troubles towards the end of her career, though was still able to thrill audiences by her vocal and physical communication. Muzio’s vocal acting was poignantly subtle, based on colors and shading of her tone, rather than the harsh-toned, uncontrolled shrieks or melodramatic gulping sobs that too often passed (and still do) for dramatic high notes or powerful involvement, and she was known as “the Duse of song,” after Eleonora Duse, an actress famed for her intensity. During most of her life she was more or less a recluse and avoided society.
She made her operatic debut as Massenet’s Manon in Arezzo in 1910; in 1911, she made her first recordings, an aria from La Bohème and part of La Traviata. Her La Scala debut was as Desdemona in 1913. This was so successful that a member of the Paris Opera management immediately offered her the same part for the next season, and a representative of the Covent Garden management heard her in rehearsals, and immediately offered her the role of Manon for the next year. However, while she sang several roles during just ten weeks there, that was the only season she sang at Covent Garden; much of the remainder of her career was in Italy and North and South America, especially at the Teatro Colon, where she was known as “La unica.”
Her Met debut was as Tosca, in 1916, singing with Enrico Caruso and Antonio Scotti, and she appeared in each season there for the next six years, singing a total of 15 roles and 152 performances, including, in 1918, the role of Georgetta in the world premiere of Puccini’s Il Tabarro. Her Chicago debut was in 1922 as Aida, and she remained there for nine seasons, singing a combination of contemporary, and nineteenth century works. She died in Rome, probably from either a rheumatic heart condition or Bright’s Disease, though to this day, rumors of suicide persist, as her love life was never a happy one and the stock market crash had affected her finances deeply.
Muzio was noted for the beauty and warmth of her voice, which, although not particularly large, acquired a considerable richness of tonal coloring as she grew older. Her performances were sometimes criticized for excessive use of dynamic extremes, including her exquisitely expressive pianissimo singing.