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.