Tito Schipa

Tito Schipa was an extremely famous and talented light lyric tenor, or “tenore di grazia” in Italian.  His voice was not large, but it was produced so well that it could carry over any orchestra.  There were types of roles that were too heavy for Schipa, and he avoided them.  In other words, he knew what he could and could not sing, unlike some of today’s singers who think that they can sing anything. In recital he was known to sing in as many as five languages, always sounding like a native speaker.  He was born Raffaele Attilio Amedeo Schipa on January 2, 1889 in Lecce  His recordings document the career of one of the most important lyric tenors of the twentieth century.

Una furtiva lagrima
negli occhi suoi spuntò:
Quelle festose giovani
invidiar sembrò.

Che più cercando io vo?
Che più cercando io vo?
M’ama! Sì, m’ama, lo vedo. Lo vedo.
Un solo instante i palpiti
del suo bel cor sentir!
I miei sospir, confondere
per poco a’ suoi sospir!
I palpiti, i palpiti sentir,
confondere i miei coi suoi sospir…
Cielo! Si può morir!
Di più non chiedo, non chiedo.
Ah, cielo! Si può! Si, può morir!
Di più non chiedo, non chiedo.
Si può morire! Si può morir d’amor.

A single secret tear
from her eye sprang:
Those joyful youths
she seemed to envy.

What more searching need I do?
What more searching need I do?
She loves me! Yes, she loves me, I see it. I see it.
For just an instant the beating
of her beautiful heart I could feel!
My sighs were hers confused
for a short time with her sighs!
The beating, the beating of her heart I could feel,
to merge my sighs with hers…
Heavens! Yes, I could die!
I could ask for nothing more, nothing more.
Oh, heavens! Yes, I could, I could die!
I could ask for nothing more, nothing more.
Yes, I could die! Yes, I could die of love.

The Siciliana from Cavarlleria Rusticana

Turridu

O Lola c’hai di latti la cammisa
si bianca e russa comu la cirasa,
quannu t’affacci fai la vucca a risa,
biatu pì lu primu cu ti vasa!
Ntra la puorta tua lu sangu è spasu,
ma nun me mpuorta si ce muoru accisu …
e si ce muoru e vaju ‘n paradisu
si nun ce truovo a ttia, mancu ce trasu

Turridu

O Lola! like the snow, pure in thy whiteness!
Redder than cherries glow thy lips in brightness!
Happy the lover brave, when by thy kisses
Thou shalt his soul enslave in fondest bliss!
Though at thy door dark blood be warningly lying,
Ne’er shall it hinder me, when to thee flying.
Death straight to heaven in its arms may enfold me;
Ne’er shall I enter there happy, till I behold thee!

Tornami a dir che m’ami,
dimmi che mia/mio tu sei;
quando tuo ben mi chiami
la vita addoppi in me.

La voce tua sì cara
rinfranca il core oppresso:
sicuro/sicura a te dappresso,
tremo lontan da te.

Turn to me and tell me you love me
Tell me that you are mine
When you call me your beloved
Life redoubles in me.

Your voice, so dear,
Revives the oppressed heart:
Safe while close to you,
I tremble when far from you.

Ombra mai fu
Di Vegetabile,
Cara ed amabile
Soave più.

Never was made
A vegetable (a plant)
more dear and loving
or gentle.

Biography

Schipa’s musical talents were apparent at a very young age; he studied both piano and composition before discovering his singing voice. Recognizing the young tenor’s potential, the Bishop of Lecce subsidized his earliest vocal studies; the singer then went to Milan for further training. After six years of study, Schipa made his debut in Piedmont as Alfredo in La Traviata in early 1910. On March 24 of that same year he made his debut at Messina as the Duke in Rigoletto with the great Claudia Muzio as Gilda. He spent the next two seasons singing in small houses in Italy. In 1913, he traveled to Buenos Aires and then to Rio de Janeiro for his first appearances outside Italy. He was heard in Mignon, La Traviata, and Lakmé.

In early 1914 he sang at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, his first appearance in a major opera house in Italy. In many of his early appearances he was partnered with Amelita Galli-Curci whose voice blended perfectly with his. In December 1915, he first sang in Prince Igor of Borodin at la Scala and later that season also sang Des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon. During World War I his career continued to flourish even with the travel restrictions.

In 1919, he made his U.S. debut in Chicago as the Duke in Rigoletto with his favored partner, Galli-Curci. For the next 20 years Schipa sang nearly all of his important roles in Chicago and also at the Ravinia Park summer performances. From 1920 to 1929 when he was not singing with the Chicago Opera Schipa could be found touring the United States and Canada giving concerts and recitals. In 1929, he returned to Italy for performances of L’elisir d’amore at La Scala and was later heard there in Don Giovanni. While in Italy he also sang in Naples, Rome, and Florence. He then began a long recital tour which was a great success.

Schipa signed a contract with the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1932. He made his debut there in November 1932 in L’Elisir d’Amore and later in the season was heard in Lucia di Lammermoor, La Traviata, Don Giovanni, and Il Barbiere di Siviglia. He continued to appear at the Metropolitan Opera until 1941, but most seasons he spent the majority of his time in Italy with summers in South America. He remained in Italy during World War II and returned to Buenos Aires in 1946. In the early 1950s he began to sing less often in opera but he continued to appear in many concerts and recitals. In 1957, he sang his final performances on a recital tour in Moscow, Leningrad, and Riga.

Schipa made numerous audio recordings of arias and songs during his career, beginning in Italy in 1913. His recorded output included a famous 78-rpm set of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, made in 1932. He also recorded several tangos, some of which were composed by him in Spanish, mostly in Buenos Aires and New York. Thanks to his early Latin American tours, Schipa was a very popular tenor in Latin America.

Although he undertook concert engagements until 1962, Schipa retired from the operatic stage in 1958 to teach voice, initially in Budapest. He died from diabetes in 1965 at the age of 77 in Manhattan, New York City, while teaching there.