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Apollo Granforte, the Great Verdi Baritone

By April 21, 2018March 16th, 2023No Comments

I have two purposes in this posting.  I would like to introduce Apollo Granforte, who was a great Verdi baritone, with marvelous placement, during the early and middle parts of the 20th century.  I would also like you to hear some of Titta Ruffo, who is the Italian baritone against which all other baritones are measured.  His is the last recording listed, and I haven’t given you any biographical information on him.  That will come at a later date, but he is a good contrast to Granforte.

I have selected several very famous baritone arias for Granforte.  This first was filmed in Australia in 1932.  It is a marvel.  Once again, I bring your attention to the word placement.  By placement, I really mean freedom of the voice.  That is, no grabbing with the throat muscles, no grabbing with the tongue muscles and making sound in the back of the throat, etc.  Granforte studied years to learn how to control his voice and place the air and the tone correctly.  This is one thing that differentiates popular or broadway singers from classical singers – the way in which placement is used.  You will find a lot of popular and broadway singers grinding their vocal cords away.  Today, you will hear classical singers do the same thing (this is referred to as “Modern School Singing”).  I am clearly in the camp of healthy vocal placed, resonant sound, and musicality.  Anyway, enough of me.  Listen to Granforte, and as a treat (and I really mean as a treat), listen to Ruffo.

Largo al factotum del mar

Largo al factotum della città.
Presto a bottega che l’alba è già.
Ah, che bel vivere, che bel piacere
per un barbiere di qualità!

Ah, bravo Figaro! Bravo, bravissimo!
Fortunatissimo per verità!

Pronto a far tutto, la notte e il giorno
sempre d’intorno in giro sta.
Miglior cuccagna per un barbiere,
vita più nobile, no, non si da.

Rasori e pettini, lancette e forbici,
al mio comando tutto qui sta.
V’è la risorsa, poi, del mestiere
colla donnetta… col cavaliere…

Tutti mi chiedono, tutti mi vogliono,
donne, ragazzi, vecchi, fanciulle:
Qua la parrucca… Presto la barba…
Qua la sanguigna… Presto il biglietto…
Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!, ecc.

Ahimè, che furia! Ahimè, che folla!
Uno alla volta, per carità!
Ehi, Figaro! Son qua.
Figaro qua, Figaro là,
Figaro su, Figaro giù.

Pronto prontissimo son come il fulmine:
sono il factotum della città.
Ah, bravo Figaro! Bravo, bravissimo;
a te fortuna non mancherà.

Room for the city’s jack of all trades

Room for the city’s factotum, here;
Off to the shop – the dawn is near.
What a merry life, what pleasure gay,
Awaits a barber of quality!

Ah, bravo, Figaro! Bravo, bravissimo!
Of men you are the happiest, most surely.

Ready for all, both by night and by day,
I bustle about so briskly and gay.
What better cheer, what happier lot,
Could an ever active barber await!

Razors and combs, and lancets, and scissors,
All here and ready at my command.
Then there are little resources besides –
With the young dame, with the gay cavalier.

All after me, all inquire for me,
Both young and old, mistress and maid:
“My wig here!” – “My beard here!”
“Here, bleed me!!” – “Quick, the note!”
Figaro! Figaro! Figaro! etc.

Oh, what a crowding! Oh, what a fury!
Oh, what a crowding! Oh, what a fury!
“Hey, Figaro!” – I’m here.
“Hey, Figaro!” – I’m here.
Figaro up, Figaro down.

Swift and swifter, quick as lightning:
Room for the city’s factotum here.
Ah, bravo, Figaro! bravo, bravissimo!
In very truth the most lucky of men.

Un dì m’era di gioia

Un dì m’era di gioia
passar fra gli morte e morte fra gli odi e le vendette,
puro, innocente e forte.

Gigante mi credea …
Son sempre un servo!
Ho mutato padrone!
Sono il servo obbediente di violenta passione!
Ah, peggio! Uccido e tremo,

e mentre uccido io piango!
Io della Redentrice figlio,
pel primo ho udito il grido suo
pel mondo e vi ho il mio grido unito…
Or smarrita ho la fede
nel sognato destino?
Com’era irradiato di gloria
il mio cammino!…
La coscienza nei cuori ridestar delle genti!
Raccogliere le lagrime
dei vinti e sofferenti!

Fare del mondo un Pantheon!
gli uomini in dii mutare
e in un sol bacio e abbraccio
tutte le genti amare! 

The time was when I rejoiced

The time was when I rejoiced
I could never be affected by evil passions,
Pure, innocent and strong,

I thought myself a giant
I am still a slave!
I have changed masters!
I am now the obedient servant
Worse.  I kill and I tremble

and while murdering, I weep!
I, son of the glorious Revolution,
for the first time when I heard her cry
reverberate throughout the world
Have I lost faith
in my cherished destiny?
Once like a line of radiant light
It lay before me
The awakening heartfelt conscience of the awakening people
To collect the tears
of the vanquished and suffering

Make the world into a Pantheon
where all men would be changed into gods
and in one sole embrace
love all people

Eri tu

Eri tu che macchiavi quell’anima
La delizia dell’anima mia;
Che m’affidi e d’un tratto esecrabile
L’universo avveleni per me
avveleni per me!
Traditor! che compensi in tal guisa
Dell’amicoi tuo primo, dell’amico
tuo primo la fé!

O dolcezze perdute!  O memorie
D’un amplesso che l’essere india!
Quando Amelia si bella, si candida
Sul mio sereno brilava d’amor!
Quando Amelia sul mio seno
Brilava d’amor
È finito, non siede che l’odio, non
siede che l’odio
Che l’odio e che la morte nel vedovo cor!
O dolcezze perdute, o speranze
d’amor, d’amor, d’amor!

It was you

It was you who tainted that soul
The delight of my soul
Who confided in me and in one condemnable instant
Poisoned the universe for me!
poisoned for me!
Traitor! In such a manner you repay
The faith of your former friend!
of your former friend!

O lost delights! O memories
Of an embrace that rendered happiness! . . .
When Amelia so beautiful, so pure
On my breast shone with love!
When Amelia on my breast
Shone with love.
It is finished, nothing remains but hatred
only hatred
And death in my widower’s heart!
O lost delights, O hope
of love, of love, of love!

Credo in un Dio crudel

Credo in un Dio crudel
che m’ha creato simile a sè
e che nell’ira io nomo.
Dalla viltà d’un germe
o d’un atomo vile son nato.
Son scellerato perchè son uomo;
e sento il fango originario in me.

Sì! Questa è la mia fè!
Credo con fermo cuor,
siccome crede la vedovella al tempio,
che il mal ch’io penso
e che da me procede,
per il mio destino adempio.
Credo che il guisto
è un istrion beffardo,
e nel viso e nel cuor,
che tutto è in lui bugiardo:
lagrima, bacio, sguardo,
sacrificio ed onor.
E credo l’uom gioco
d’iniqua sorte
dal germe della culla
al verme dell’avel.

Vien dopo tanta irrision la Morte.
E poi? E poi?
La Morte è il Nulla.
È vecchia fola il Ciel!

I believe in a cruel God

I believe in a cruel God
who created me like himself
in anger of whom that I name.
From the cowardice of a seed
or of a vile atom I was born.
I am a son evil because I am a man;
and I feel the primitive mud in me.

Yes! This is my faith!
I believe with a firm heart,
so does the widow in the temple,
may the evil I think
and proceeds from me,
fulfill my destiny.
I think the honest man
is a mockery,
in face and heart,
that everything is in him is a lie:
tears, kisses, looks,
sacrifices and honor.
And I think that man plays a game
of unjust fate
the seed of the cradle
the worm of the grave.

After all this foolishness comes death.
And then what? And then?
Death is Nothingness.
Heaven is an old wives’ tale!

Apollo Granforte

Apollo Granforte(July 20, 1886, Legnano – June 11,1975, Milan) was an Italian opera singer and one of the leading baritones active during the interwar period of the 20th century.

Early years and education

Granforte was one of the important baritones in Italian opera during the first half of the twentieth century, filling the gap left by Titta Ruffo, though he is neglected in some histories of the period. He had a warm, sonorous voice with a wide range, solid delivery, exceptional piano singing, and was acclaimed as a vocal and stage actor, as well.

Granforte was left in a basket at the Ospedale Civile in Legnano when he was two days old.  It was the nuns at the hospice who named him Apollinare Granforte, which became his legal name.  He was adopted by Gaetano Brigo and Rosa Uccelli, a couple from Noventa Vicentina.   Granforte showed a promising voice from an early age, and not having the money to study with a teacher, he taught himself to sing as a tenor while also preparing to support himself as a shoe maker. He made his debut as Arturo in Lucia di Lammermoor at the Legnano theater in 1905, where his voice was praised for its power, but also described as uncontrolled. Later that year he emigrated to Argentina, where he worked as a shoe maker until his voice was discovered by a wealthy opera lover, who financed his studies at the Buenos Aires conservatory, and he made his highly successful opera debut as a baritone as Germont in La Traviata in 1913 at the Politeama in Rosario, Argentina. He often returned to South America during the rest of his career and sang at nearly every major house on that continent.

In 1916, he returned to Europe, appearing in various small opera houses. After a brief period of service in the Italian army during World War I, he made his Milan debut in a concert celebrating the armistice, conducted by Serafin.  In 1919, Granforte was at Naples and there met composer Pietro Mascagni. They became lifelong friends and collaborators, the latter always choosing the former as lead baritone when he conducted.  He continued to sing lead roles in smaller houses in Rome and Milan, eventually making his La Scala debut in 1922 as Amfortas in Parsifal. In 1923, he made his Verona debut in the world premiere of the now-forgotten, but then-successful, Misteri Gaudiosi by Cattozzo.

In 1924, Nellie Melba included him in her Australian touring company, and the next year, he began his long and fruitful relationship with HMV Records in London.  During Granforte’s subsequent tour of Australia in J. C. Williamson’s 1932 Grand Opera season, Frank Thring Sr.’s Melbourne-based Efftee Productions filmed him with the Williamson-Imperial Grand Opera Company in a selection from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. This relatively brief footage was released on VHS in 1989 by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.

In 1935, he created Menecrate in Mascagni’s Nerone (he also recorded thinly veiled tributes to Mussolini and Fascism), and in 1938, he sang the Wanderer and Gunther in the first Italian-language performance of the Ring Cycle. He retired in 1943, his last performance being the world premiere of Liviabella’s Antigone, but remained active. He joined the faculty at various conservatories in Europe, including the Milan Conservatory where he taught, among others, Raffaele Arie, and also briefly served as the director of the Prague National Theater.

Granforte possessed a big, rich, vibrant voice with a sinister undertone, and quickly established himself in the great baritone roles of Verdi and the verismo composers. He sang some Wagner as well, and also sang the title role in the first performance of Mascagni’s Nerone in 1935. His last operatic appearance, after a career of ~ 1,800 performances, was on February 26, 1943 in Pizzetti’s Fedra at Trieste’s Teatro Verdi.

After retiring from the stage, he taught at the Music Conservatory of Ankara, then at the Prague Opera and in Milan, where he opened a music school at his residence on Via Arici in the Crescenzago section. Among his pupils were soprano Leyla Gencer, bass Raffaele Arié, and tenors Flaviano Labò and Jesús Quiñones Ledesma. He participated in musical life into his 80s, and was often an adjudicator for music competitions. Besides his musical life Granforte was also a successful businessman, inventing a kind of rotating or swiveling lamp in the process. Along with business partner Luigi Devizzi he owned the factory that produced these lamps, as well as a farm, both situated at a large villa in the Milan suburb of Gorgonzola, where he died on June 11, 1975.