Like many of the great Otellos, Zanelli started his career as a baritone and developed into a tenor during the early years of his career. Throughout his career, he retained a richness of timbre that served him well in dramatic roles, and the secure bottom notes that helped make him “the new Tamagno, (the greatest Italian dramatic tenor of the previous generation)” particularly as Otello. His acting was as acclaimed as his singing, and he had a particularly commanding stage presence, well-suited for heroic roles. He studied privately with Angelo Querenz and made his opera debut in Santiago as Valentin in Gounod’s Faust in 1915. He followed this with his Met debut as Amonasro in Verdi’s Aida in 1919, and in 1923, following a suggestion from Arturo Toscanini, went to Italy where he studied to sing as a tenor.

I’m not going to go over the plot of Andrea Chénier since I have done that already in another posting.  I will briefly describe what is happening in the various acts of Otello so that you understand what the character is trying to express.  This opera is one of Verdi’s great great operas and needs to be sung by a heroic tenor.  Today, we have a lack of heroic tenors.  But to the plot.  This will be the really abridged version.

The opera is taken from Shakespeare’s Othello.  The opera takes place in Cyprus.  A large thunderstorm is howling, and the people of the town await the new governor, Otello, who is a Moor.  Iago is Otello’s “friend” who begins his machinations against Otello right away.  He offers to  help Roderigo seduce Otello’s wife Desdemona.  Iago’s evil doing continues through the length of the opera.  In Shakespeare, Iago is depicted as Satanic.

This second aria below is from Act III of Othello.  Iago has managed to persuade Otello, through various lies and stratagems, that Desdemona has been unfaithful.  He is pushing himself toward killing her, which happens in the final act.  Here, this aria is pleading with God as to why he has been cursed with an unfaithful wife.  Desdemona has not been unfaithful, but Otello does not know this yet.

Ore e Sempre occurs earlier in the opera.  It is in Act II.  At this point in the opera, Iago is pouring his poison into Otello’s ear to try to convince him that Desdemona has become unfaithful to him.  Unfortunately for everyone involved, Otello believed him.  In the Shakespearean version, Othello asks Iago for the “ocular proof” of Desdemona’s disloyalty.  This becomes one of Desdemona’s handkerchiefs, which will lead to her death in Act IV.

Finally, Niun mi tema takes place in Act IV after Otello has strangled Desdemona.  It is his realization of the terrible wrong that he has done and the innocence of his wife.  He kisses her, and he kills himself.

Un di, all’azzuro spazio

Un di all’azzurro spazio
guardai profondo,
e ai prati col mi di viole,
piove va l’oro il sole,
e folgorava d’oro il mondo;
parea la Terra un immane tesor,
e a lei serviva di scrigno,
il firmamento.
Su dalla terra a la mia fronte
veniva una ca’rezza viva, un bacio.
Gridai, vinto d’amor:
T’amo, tù che mi baci,
divinamente bella,
o patria mia!
E volli pien d’amore pregar!
Varcai d’una chiesa la soglia;
là un prete nelle nicchie dei santi
e de la Vergine, accumulava doni…
e al sordo orecchio
un tremulo vegliardo invano
chiedeva pane,
e invan stenddea la mano!
Varcai degli abituri l’uscio;
un uom vi calunniava bestemmiando
il suolo
che l’erario a pena sazia
e contro a Dio scagliava,
e contro a li uomini
le lagrime dei figli.
In cotanta miseria la patrizia prole,
che fa?
Sol l’occhio vostro
esprime umanamente qui,
un guardo di pietà,
ond’ io guardato ho a voi sì
come a un angelo.
E dissi:
Ecco la bellezza della vita!
Ma, poi, alle vostre parole,
un novello dolor,
m’ha còlto in pieno petto…
O giovinetta bella,
d’un poeta non disprezzate il detto:
Udite!
Non conoscete amor,
amor, divino dono, no lo schernir,
del mondo anima e vita è l’Amor!

One day to the blue spaces

One day to the blue spaces
I looked profoundly,
and to the fields filled with violets,
rained the gold of the sun,
and illuminated the earth in gold,
it seemed the Earth an immense treasure,
and to her the skies served as a coffin.

Up from the earth to my face
came a lively caress, a kiss.
I shouted, overcome by love.
I love you, you who kiss me
divinely beautiful,
my homeland!
And I wanted, with great love, to pray!
I passed through a door at a church;
There a priest, in the alcove of the saints
and of the Virgin, he was gathering gifts…
and to the deaf ear,
an old man, trembling, in vain
was asking for bread,
and in vain extended his hand
I went into a workman’s hut;
a man there was offending, swearing at the earth

that the treasury barely fills
and against God he was swearing,
and against men
the tears of his children.
In so much misery the noble offspring,
what do they do?
Only your eye
expresses humanely here,
a look of pity,
where I looked at you,
you like an angel
And I said;
Here the beauty of life!
But, then, to your words
a new sadness
has gripped my heart
Oh beautiful young lady,
don’t discredit the words of a poet
Listen!
You don’t know love.
love, a divine gift, don’t scoff at it,
the life and soul of the world is love!

Dio, mi potevi scagliar

Dio! Mi potevi scagliar tutti i mali
della miseria, della vergogna,
far de’ miei baldi trofei trionfali
una maceria, una menzogna. . .
E avrei portato la croce crudel
d’angoscie e d’onte
con calma fronte
e rassegnato al volere del ciel.

Ma, o pianto, o duol!
m’han rapito il mirraggio
dov’io, giulivo, l’anima acqueto.
Spento è quel sol, quel sorriso, quel raggio
che mi fa vivo, che mi fa lieto!
Spento è quel sol, quel sorriso, quel raggio
che mi fa vivo, che mi fa lieto!
Tu alfin, Clemenza, pio genio immortal
dal roseo riso,
copri il tuo viso santo
coll’orrida larva infernal!
Ah! Dannazione!
Pria confessi il delitto e poscia muoia!
Confession! Confession!
La prova!

God, You could have hurled at me

God! You could have hurled at me all evils
of misery, of shame,
You could have made all my triumphs
rubble, lies. . .
And I would have carried that cruel cross
of anxiety and shame
with calm resignation
and submitted to the will of Heaven.

But, oh tears, oh sorrow!
The vision has been wrenched from me
to which I would turn to, joyfully, to comfort my soul.
Extinguished is that sun, that smile, that ray
that made me alive, that gave me happiness!
Extinguished is that sun, that smile, that ray
that made me alive, that gave me happiness!
But you, oh Mild One, pious eternal spirit
with the rosy smile,
cover your holy face
with the horrid mask of hell!
Ah, damnation!
Let her confess the crime and then die!
Confession! Confession!
The proof!

Ore e per sempre

Tu?! Indietro! fuggi!
M’hai legato alla croce! Ahimè!…
Più orrendo d’ogni orrenda ingiuria
dell’ingiuria è il sospetto.
Nell’ore arcane della sua lussuria
(e a me furate!)
m’agitava il petto forse un presagio?
Ero baldo, giulivo…
Nulla sapevo ancor;
io non sentivo sul suo corpo divin
che m’innamora
e sui labbri mendaci
gli ardenti baci di Cassio!
Ed ora!… ed ora…
Ora e per sempre addio, sante memorie,
addio sublimi incanti del pensier!
Addio schiere fulgenti, addio vittorie,
dardi volanti e volanti corsier!
Addio, addio vessillo trionfale e pio!
e diane squillanti in sul mattin!
Clamori e canti di battaglia, addio!
Della gloria d’Otello è questo il fin!

Niun mi tema

Niun mi tema,
s’anco armato mi vede.
Ecco la fine del mio cammin…
Oh! Gloria!
Otello fu.
(Lasciando cadere la spada, va presso al letto,
contemplando Desdemona.)
E tu… come sei pallida!
e stanca, e muta, e bella,
pia creatura nata sotto maligna stella.
Fredda come la casta tua vita,
e in cielo assorta.
Desdemona! Desdemona!
Ah!… morta! morta! morta!
(estraendo furtivamente dalle vesti un pugnale)
Ho un’arma ancor!
(si ferisce)
Pria d’ucciderti… sposa… ti bacai.
Or morendo… nell’ombra in cui mi giacio…
un bacio… un bacio ancora…
ah!… un’altro bacio…
(muore)

Now and forever

You! Hence! Leave!
You have lashed me to the cross! Alas!…
More monstrous than the most monstrous abuse
of abuse itself is suspicion.
Of her stolen hours of lust
(and stolen from me!)
had I no presentiment in my breast?
I was contented, merry…
Nothing knew I as yet;
I found not on her sweet body
which I so love
or on her lying lips
Cassio’s ardent kisses!
And now!… And now…
Now, and forever farewell, sacred memories,
farewell, sublime enchantments of the mind!
Farewell, shining battalions and victories,
the flying arrow and the flying steed!
Farewell to the standard triumphant and holy
and the shrill fife that sounded to reveille!
Pride, pomp and circumstance of war,
farewell! Farewell, Othello’s glory’s at an end!

Let no one fear me

Let no one fear me
though he see me armed.
Here is my journey’s end …
Oh! Glory!
Othello’s day is done.
(Letting his sword fall to the ground, he goes to the bed
and gazes at Desdemona.)
And thou… how pale you are!
And weary, and mute, and beautiful,
pious creature, born ‘neath an evil star.
Cold, even like your chastity,
and gathered into heaven.
Desdemona! Desdemona!
Ah!… Dead! Dead! Dead!
(furtively producing a dagger from his robe)
I have another weapon!
(stabs himself)
Before I killed you, wife, I kissed you thus.
Now dying… in the shadow where I lie…
a kiss… another kiss…
ah!… another kiss..
(he dies)

Renato Zanelli

Renato Zanelli (April 1, 1892 – March 25, 1935) was an Italian-Chilean operatic baritone and later tenor, particularly associated with heroic Italian and German roles, notably Verdi’s Otello.

Renato Zanelli was the stagename of Renato Zanelli Morales, born in Almendral, Los Andes, Valparaíso, Chile on April 1, 1892. His father was Italian and his mother Chilean. In 1894 he was taken to Europe and was educated in Switzerland and Italy. He returned to Chile in 1911 to work in his father’s saltpeter factory office in Valparaiso. His voice was discovered at a social party by Angelo Querzé, an Italian tenor who had sung in Chile in 1894 in the local premiere of “Otello”.

He studied in Santiago with Angelo Querze, making his debut there as a baritone in 1916, as Valentin. His Metropolitan Opera debut came in 1919, as Amonasro (a baritone role). He remained there until 1923, singing most of the major Italian baritone parts.

Zanelli then left for Italy for further studies with Dante Lari and Fernando Tanara in Milan. His debut as a tenor was on October 28, 1924 as Alfredo in “La Traviata” at the Politeama Giacosa, in Naples. In November of that year he also sang there the role of Raoul in “Gli Ugonotti”.

His last appearance as a singer was in a concert, in the city of Osorno in October 25, 1933. In February 1934, Zanelli returned to U.S.A. where he was engaged to sing in opera and concerts. However, his advanced illness  prevented him from fulfilling most of his engagements.   Zanelli consulted several doctors and cancer at the kidneys was diagnosed. He returned to Chile and on March 25, 1935, he underwent an operation but his weakened condition could not stand it and he died, one week before his 43rd birthday.diverse as Pollione, Don José, Andrea Chénier, Canio, Tristan and Siegmund.