Mattia Battistini was considered to be one of the greatest singers of opera.  He displays on record the perfect blending of his registers and a sophisticated use of ornamentation, portamento and fil di voce, as well as an array of rubato and legato effects. His art was perfected before the advent of verismo opera in the 1890s, and he represented the twilight of the art of male bel canto singing on disc.  When one listens to Battistini one hears a precursor of the bel canto training of Maria Callas.  She brought back what he did.  Also, the phrase “singing on the breath” is very apt for Battistini since there was no grabbing in the throat muscles or use of the swallowing muscles to produce the tone.  The breath almost passes through the vocal mechanism without disturbing it.  This is in the greatest contradistinction to the way that today’s singers produce tones.

Fortunately the sound of Battistini’s clear, high-placed and open-throated baritone voice took well to the primitive acoustic recording process with only his very lowest notes sounding pallid. He also handled the trying conditions of the early sound studios, with their boxy confines and wall-mounted recording funnel, much better than did many of his contemporaries, who often felt inhibited or intimidated by their uninspiring surroundings. His singing was considered to be old-fashioned, even in the circa-1900 era. Consequently, his discs provide a retrospective guide to Italian singing practice of the early-to-mid-19th century (the era of Gaetano Donizetti and Vincenzo Bellini)—as well as exemplifying the “grand manner” style of vocalism for which much Romantic operatic music was written. Battistini delivers this kind of music in a virile, bold and patrician way.
He is not averse, however, to showing off his voice by prolonging top notes or embellishing the written score with a liberality that might surprise 21st-century listeners who are imbued with the modern notion that a composer’s work is sacrosanct.

Non più andrai

Non più andrai, farfallone amoroso,
Notte e giorno d’intorno girando,
Delle belle turbando il riposo,
Narcisetto, Adoncino d’amor.

Delle belle turbando il riposo,
Narcisetto, Adoncino d’amor.

Non più avrai questi bei penacchini,
Quel cappello leggiero e galante,
Quella chioma, quell’aria brillante,
Quel vermiglio donnesco color!
Quel vermiglio donnesco color!

Non piu avrai quei penacchini,
Quel cappello
Quella chioma, quell’aria brillante

Non più andrai, farfallone amoroso,
Notte e giorno d’intorno girando,
Delle belle turbando il riposo,
Narcisetto, Adoncino d’amor.
Delle belle turbando il riposo,
Narcisetto, Adoncino d’amor.

Fra guerrieri, poffar Bacco!
Gran mustacchi, stretto sacco,
Schioppo in spalla, sciabla al fianco,
Collo dritto, muso franco, Un gran casco, o un gran turbante,
Molto onor, poco contante.
Poco contante
Poco contante

Ed in vece del fandango
Una marcia per il fango.

Per montagne, per valloni,
Con le nevi, ed i solioni,
Al concerto di tromboni,
Di bombarde, di cannoni,
Che le palle in tutti i tuoni,
All’orecchio fan fischiar.

Non più avrai quei penacchini,
Non più avrai quel cappello
Non più avrai quella chioma
Non più avrai quell’aria brillante.

Non più andrai, farfallone amoroso,
Notte e giorno d’intorno girando,
Delle belle turbando il riposo,
Narcisetto, Adoncino d’amor.

Delle belle turbando il riposo,
Narcisetto, Adoncino d’amor.
Cherubino, alla vittoria!
Alla gloria militar!
Cherubino, alla vittoria!
Alla gloria militar!
Alla gloria militar!
Alla gloria militar!

You won’t go any longer

You won’t go any more, amorous butterfly,
Fluttering around inside night and day
Disturbing the sleep of beauties,
A little Narcissus and Adonis of love.

Disturbing the sleep of beauties,
A little Narcissus and Adonis of love.

You won’t have those fine feathers any more,
That light and galant hat,
That hair, that shining aspect,
That womanish red color
That womanish red color

You won’t have those fine feathers any more,
That hat
That hair, that shining aspect,

You won’t go any more, amorous butterfly,
Fluttering around inside night and day
Disturbing the sleep of beauties,
A little Narcissus and Adonis of love.
Disturbing the sleep of beauties,
A little Narcissus and Adonis of love.

Among soldiers, by Bacchus!
A huge moustache, a little knapsack,
Gun on your back, sword at your side,
Your neck straight, your nose exposed,A big helmet, or a big turban,
A lot of honour, very little pay.
Very little pay
Very little pay

And in place of the dance
A march through the mud.

Over mountains, through valleys,
With snow, and heat-stroke,
To the music of trumpets,
Of bombards, and of cannons,
Which, at every boom,
Will make bullets whistle past your ear.

You won’t have those feathers any more,
That hat
That hair
That shining aspect

You won’t go any more, amorous butterfly,
Fluttering around inside night and day
Disturbing the sleep of beauties,
A little Narcissus and Adonis of love.

Disturbing the sleep of beauties,
A little Narcissus and Adonis of love.

Cherubino, go to victory!
To military glory!
Cherubino, go to victory!
To military glory!
To military glory!
To military glory!

Ah, per sempre io te perdei . . .Bel sogno beato

Ah, per sempre io te perdei,
fior d’amore, o mia speranza;
Ah! La vita che m’avanza
sarà piena di dolor!
Quando errai per anni ed anni
in poter della ventura,
io sfidai sciagura e affanni
nella speme del tuo amor,
io sfidai, ecc..

Bel sogno beato,
di pace e contento,
o cangia il mio fato,
o cangia il mio cor.
Oh! Come è tormento
nel dì del dolore,
la dolce memoria
d’un tenero amor.

Oh, forever have I lost you

Oh! Forever have I lost you,
flower of Love, oh hope of mine;
what’s left of my Life
will be filled with pain!
When I wandered year after year
under the power of blind luck,
I challenged calamities and cares
in the hope of your Love,
I challenged calamities, etc.

Lovely blessed dream,
of peace and contentment,
either change my fate
or change my heart.
Oh! What torment
in that day of sorrow,
the sweet memory
of a tender love.

Pietà, rispetto, amore

Perfidi! All’Anglo contro me v’unite!
Le potenze presaghe han profetato:
Nessun nato di donna ti nuoce;
No, non temo di voi,
Nè del fanciullo che vi conduce!
Raffermar sul trono quest’assalto mi debbe,
O sbalzarmi per sempre!
Eppur la vita sento nelle mie fibre inaridita!
I can feel my lifeblood drying up.

Pietà, rispetto, amore,
Conforto a’dì cadenti,
Ah! non spargeran d’un fiore
La tua canuta età.
Nè sul tuo regio sasso
Sperar soavi accent;
Ah! sol la bestemmia, ahi lasso!
La nenia tua sarà.

Honor, respect, and love

Traitors! With the English you unite against me!
Yet those who predict the future have prophesied:
“For none of woman born shall harm you;”
No, I don’t fear you
Nor the boy who leads you!
This attack will confirm me on my throne
Or overthrow me forever!
And yet … within my veins

Honor, respect and love,
The comforts of one’s declining years,
Will not offer any flowers
For me in my old age.
Nor even at my royal tomb
Might I hope for some kind words.
Only bitter curses, alas!
My requiem shall be.

Caro mio ben

Caro mio ben,
Credimi almen,
Senza di te
Languisce il cor.

Caro mio ben,
Senza di te
Languisce il cor.

Il tuo fedel
Sospira ognor.
Cessa, crudel,
Tanto rigor!

Cessa, crudel,
Tanto rigor.
Tanto rigor!

Caro mio ben
Credimi almen,
Senza di te
Languisce il cor.

Caro mio ben
Credimi almen,
Senza di te
Languisce il cor.

My dear beloved

My dear beloved
at least believe me,
without you
my heart languishes

My dear beloved
without you
my heart languishes

your faithful one
sighs evermore
Stop, cruel one
being so hard

Stop cruel one
being so hard
so hard

My dear beloved
at least you believe me
without you
my heart languishes

My dear beloved
at least you believe me
without you

Mattia Battistin

Mattia Battistini (February 27, 1856 – November 7, 1928) was an Italian operatic baritone. He was called “King of Baritones”. Battistini was born in Rome and brought up largely at Collebaccaro di Contigliano, a village near Rieti, where his parents had an estate.

Battistini attended the Collegio Bandinelli and later the Istituto dell’ Apollinare.  Battistini dropped out of law school to study with Emilio Terziani (who taught composition) and with Venceslao Persichini (professor of singing) at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia—then the Liceo Musicale of Rome. Battistini worked with conductor Luigi Mancinelli and the composer Augusto Rotoli, and he consulted with baritone Antonio Cotogni, in an effort to refine his technique.

Early career

A 22-year-old Battistini made his operatic debut at the Teatro Argentina, Rome, as Alfonso in Donizetti’s La Favorita on November 9, 1878. During the first three years of his professional career he toured Italy, honing his voice and gaining invaluable experience by singing principal roles in such varied operas as La Forza del Destino, Il Trovatore, Rigoletto, Il Guarany, Gli Ugonotti, Dinorah, L’Africana, I Puritani, Lucia di Lammermoor, Aïda, and Ernani. He participated, too, in several operatic premières. In 1881 he went to Buenos Aires for the first time, touring South America for more than 12 months. On his return trip, he appeared in Barcelona and Madrid where he sang Figaro in Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia. His success in this was enormous and it marked the beginning of his ascent to major operatic stardom.

In 1883, he undertook his first visit to the Royal Opera House at London’s Covent Garden, where he appeared as Riccardo in Vincenzo Bellini’s I Puritani . He also sang opposite Adelina Patti, the leading soprano of her era, in other Covent Garden productions.

Unlike his initial London experience, when Battistini made his debut at the important Teatro San Carlo in Naples in 1886, he scored an immediate triumph. Two years later, he once more sailed to Buenos Aires to fulfil a series of singing engagements; but this proved to be his last trans-Atlantic excursion, and he never appeared again in South America.

The Russian years

From 1892 onward, Battistini established himself as an immense favorite with audiences at Russia’s two imperial theaters in Saint Petersburg and Moscow: the Mariinsky and the Bolshoi, respectively. He returned to Russia regularly, appearing there for 23 seasons in total, and touring extensively elsewhere in eastern Europe, using Warsaw as his stepping-stone. He would journey to Warsaw, Saint Petersburg, Moscow and Odessa like a prince, traveling in his own private rail coach with a retinue of servants and innumerable trunks containing a vast stage wardrobe renowned for its elegance and lavishness. Indeed, the composer Jules Massenet was prepared to adjust the role of Werther for the baritone range, when Battistini elected to sing it in Saint Petersburg in 1902, such was the singer’s prestige.
The industrious Battistini also appeared with some regularity in Milan, Lisbon, Barcelona, Madrid, Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Budapest and Paris (where he sang for the first time in 1907). But his many social connections in Russia, and the favor that he enjoyed with the imperial family and the nobility, ensured that Russia—more than perhaps even Italy—became his artistic home prior to the outbreak of the First World War, in 1914. The war led to the destruction, by the Bolsheviks in 1917, of the Tsarist regime and the aristocratic society which had enriched touring Italian opera stars like Battistini. This history-shaping political development, coupled with Battistini’s refusal to sing in the Americas, meant that his career after the war’s conclusion in 1918 was confined to Western Europe.

Final years and death

Battistini formed his own company of singers following the 1914–1918 war. He toured with them and appeared frequently in concerts and recitals. He sang in England for the final time in 1924, and gave his last concert performance one year before his death. His voice was reportedly still steady, responsive and in good overall condition.

His last singing engagement took place in Graz, Austria, on October 17, 1927. He withdrew to his estate at Collebaccaro di Contigliano, Rieti, dying there from heart failure on November 7, 1928.