Giovanni Martinelli, October 22, 1885 to February 2, 1969, for many years the Metropolitan Opera’s leading dramatic tenor, and one of the last to carry on the tradition of Enrico Caruso, died in New York at 83.
The world-famous performer rose from rural choir boy, squeaked through a nearly ruinous audition with Arturo Toscanini, and went on to compile a record that few in opera have equaled. His name was legendary in the famous opera house when he retired in 1946 to become a vocal coach.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, what was special about Martinelli was both the size of his voice and the vocal production. He had what the Italians call “lo squillo”, which means that at the top of the voice he had a bell-like sound. Sometimes in English, we say “ping”. There was no tension in the voice, and for him to have lasted as long as he did, he had to keep pressure and tension off the voice. He was Caruso’s successor.
Leonora – Rosa Ponselle
Don Alvaro – Giovanni Martinelli
Il Guardiano – Ezio Pinza
La Forza del Destino, Act IV, scene II
DON CARLO (dentro la scena)
Io muoio! Confessione! L’alma salvate.
DON ALVARO (entrando con la spada sguainata)
È questo ancora sangue d’un Vargas.
DON ALVARO (gettando la spada a terra)
Maledetto io sono;
ma…qui presso è un eremita…
(Corre alla grotta e batte alla porta.)
A confortar correte un uom che muor…
Fratello! In nome del Signor.
DON ALVARO (battendo più forte)
LEONORA (dall’interno, suonando la campana)
(Leonora si presenta sulla porta.)
Temerari, del ciel l’ira fuggite!
Una donna! Qual voce!
Ah no…uno spettro…
LEONORA (riconoscendo Don Alvaro)
Egli è ben desso…
Io ti riveggo ancora…
Lungi…lungi da me…queste mie mani
grondano sangue. Indietro!
Che mai parli?
DON ALVARO (indicando il bosco)
Là giace spento un uom.
Tutto tentai per evitar la pugna.
Chiusi i miei dì nel chiostro.
Ei mi raggiunse…m’insultò…l’uccisi.
(Corre ansante verso il bosco.)
Destino avverso, come a scherno mi prendi!
Vive Leonora e ritrovarla deggio
or che versai di suo fratello il sangue!
LEONORA (dall’interno, mette un grido)
Qual grido! Che avvenne?
(Leonora ferita entra sostenuta dal Guardiano.)
Nell’ora estrema perdonar non seppe.
E l’onta vendicò nel sangue mio.
E tu paga non eri, o vendetta di Dio!
Non imprecare, umiliati
a Lui ch’è giusto e santo,
che adduce a eterni gaudii
per una via di pianto;
d’ira e furor sacrilego
non proferir parola;
vedi, vedi quest’angiol vola
al trono del Signor.
Sì, piangi e prega.
Di Dio il perdono io ti prometto.
Un reprobo, un maledetto io sono.
Flutto di sangue inalzasi fra noi.
Di Dio il perdon io ti prometto. Prega!
A quell’accento più non poss’io resistere.
(Si getta ai piedi di Leonora.)
Leonora, io son redento,
dal ciel son perdonato!
LEONORA e GUARDIANO
Sia lode a Te, Signor.
LEONORA (a Don Alvaro)
Lieta poss’io precederti
alla promessa terra.
Là cesserà la guerra,
santo l’amor, santo l’amor sarà.
Tu mi condanni a vivere
e m’abbandoni intanto!
Il reo, il reo soltanto
dunque impunito andrà!
Santa del suo martirio,
ella al Signor ascenda,
e il suo morire ne apprenda
la fede, la pietà!
In ciel ti attendo, addio!
Deh, non lasciarmi, Leonora, ah no, non lasciarmi…
E il suo martirio, ecc.
Ah…ti precedo…Alvaro…Ah… Alvar…Ah!
Salita a Dio!
The Force of Destiny, Act IV, scene II
DON CARLO (off-stage)
I am dying! Confession! Save my soul!
DON ALAVARO (entering with drawn sword)
This, too, is the blood of a Vargas.
DON ALVARO (throwing down his sword)
I am damned;
but nearby there is a hermitage…
(Alvaro runs to the cave and knocks.)
Come quickly, to console a dying man…
Brother! in the Saviour’s name!
DON ALVARO (knocking harder)
LEONORA (within, ringing the bell)
(Leonora appears at the door.)
Rash man, flee from the wrath of Heaven!
A woman! This voice!
Ah no, a ghost –
LEONORA (recognising Don Alvaro)
What do I see!
You – Leonora –
It is really he…
I see you once again –
Do not come near me – these hands
are drenched with blood. Away!
What are you saying?
DON ALVARO (pointing to the grove)
There a man lies dead.
You killed him?
I did all I could to avoid fighting.
I had left the world for the cloister.
He found me, insulted me, I killed him.
And who was he?
(She runs towards the grove.)
Cruel destiny, how you mock at me!
Leonora is alive, and I must find her
only when I have split her brother’s blood!
LEONORA (crying out, from off-stage)
What a cry! What has happened?
(Leonora, wounded, enters supported by Father
She – wounded!
Even in his last hour, he could not forgive.
And he avenged our shame with my blood.
Not even with his death was the vengeance of God
Do not curse; humble yourself
before Him who is holy and just,
who leads us to eternal joys
over a road of tears.
Do not speak a word
of blasphemous wrath and fury.
while this angel is leaving us,
flying to the throne of God.
Yes, weep – and pray.
I promise you God’s pardon.
An outcast, a damned soul am I.
A flood of blood surges between us.
Weep and pray!
I promise you God’s pardon. Pray!
I cannot resist this voice any longer.
(He throws himself at her feet.)
Leonora, I am redeemed –
Heaven has pardoned me, has pardoned me!
LEONORA and GUARDIANO
Praise be to thee, o Lord.
LEONORA (to Don Alvaro)
Joyfully now I go before you,
into the Promised Land.
There, this strife cannot follow us,
and holiness will bless our love.
You condemn me to live on
abandoning me here on earth!
Only the guilty one, I see,
will escape punishment!
Made blessed through her martyrdom,
may she now rise to the Lord,
and may her death teach you to know
what faith means!
I wait for you in heaven. Goodbye!
Ah, do not leave me, Leonora, do not leave me…
And may her death, etc.
Ah… I go before you…Alvaro…Ah…Alvar…Ah!
She has ascended to God!
Leonora – Rosa Ponselle
Manrico – Giovanni Martinelli
There is not a date given for the recording, but given the quality, I suspect that it was close to 1928.
Il Trovatore, Act IV, scene I
Miserere d’un’alma già vicina
alla partenza che non ha ritorno.
Miserere di lei, bontà divina,
preda non sia dell’infernal soggiorno.
Quel suon, quelle preci
di cupo terror!
che tutta m’investe,
al labbro il respiro,
i palpiti al cor!
MANRICO (dalla torre)
Ah! che la morte ognora
è tarda nel venir,
a chi desia morir!
Addio, addio Leonora, addio!
Oh ciel! Sento mancarmi!
ahi, par che la morte
con ali di tenebre
librando si va!
Ahi! forse dischiuse
gli fian queste porte
sol quando cadaver
già freddo sarà!
Miserere… miserere… miserere…
Sconto col sangue mio
l’amor che posi in te!
Non ti scordar, non ti scordar di me,
Leonora, addio! Leonora, addio!
Di, te, di te scordarmi!
Sento mancarmi! ecc.
The Troubadour, Act IV, scene I
MONKS (from within)
Have mercy on a spirit approaching
the departure which has no return.
Have mercy on him, divine Goodness.
Keep him from being the prey of hell.
That sound, those prayers,
so solemn and dire,
fill the air
with baleful terror!
that fills me almost deprives
my lips of their breath,
my heart of its beating!
MANRICO (from the tower)
Ah! how slow Death
is in its coming,
to him who longs to die!
Farewell, Leonora, Farewell!
Oh heaven! I feel faint!
Have mercy, etc.
Over the horrid tower,
ah, Death seems
with wings of darkness
to be poised!
Ah, perhaps these doors
will be opened for him,
only when his corpse
is already cold!
Have mercy… have mercy… have mercy…
I’m paying with my blood
for the love I bore you!
Don’t forget, don’t forget me,
Leonora, farewell, Leonora, farewell!
Forget you! Forget you!
I feel faint! etc.
M’apparì from Flowtow’s Martha
il mio sguardo l’incontrò
bella sì che il mio cor
ansioso a lei volò;
mi ferì, m’invaghì
sculta in cor dall’amor,
cancellarsi non potrà,
il pensier di poter
palpitar con lei d’amor;
può soprir il martir
che m’affanna e strazia il cor!
Marta. Marta, tu sparisti
e il mio cor col tuo n’ando!
Tu la pace mi rapisti,
di dolor jo morirò ah!
di dolor morró, al, morró! ah!
M’apparì from Flotow’s Martha
She appeared to me, full of love,
my eyes caught sight of her;
so beautiful that my heart
flew to her with longing;
was wounded and inflamed
by her angelic beauty
which love has engraved in my heart,
and which cannot be erased,
and the mere thought
of her responding to my passion
is able to appease the suffering
which distresses me and breaks my heart!
Martha, Martha, you have vanished,
and my heart went with you!
You have stolen my peace of mind,
I shall die of grief,
I shall die, shall die of grief!
Giovanni Martinelli was born into a large family; he was the eldest of fourteen children. During his military service he served as a bandsman, but the power of his voice so impressed his bandmaster that he arranged singing lessons for him with Giuseppe Mandolini in Milan. Martinelli’s very first role on-stage was the Messenger / Aida: this was in 1908 and his formal debut came in 1910, with Rossini’s Stabat Mater at the Teatro dal Verme, Milan when he substituted for the tenor Giuseppe Sala. His immediate success led to his appearance at the same theatre in the title role of Ernani a few weeks later.
Puccini’s La fanciulla del West had its Italian premiere in Rome during 1911. Together with tenor Amedeo Bassi, Martinelli auditioned successfully before Toscanini, Puccini and Ricordi for the part of Dick Johnson. Martinelli sang the final three performances in Rome, after which he sang the part in the first performances at La Scala, Milan in 1912, with Toscanini conducting, as well as in productions later mounted at Naples, Brescia, Genoa and Monte Carlo. In 1912 also Martinelli enjoyed a successful debut at the Royal Opera House in London as Cavaradossi / Tosca. Later roles in London included Canio / Pagliacci, Pinkerton / Madama Butterfly, Rodolfo / La Bohème, Dick Johnson (1912), Gennaro / I gioielli della Madonna (Wolf-Ferrari, 1913), Riccardo / Un ballo in maschera and Paolo / Francesca da Rimini (Zandonai, 1914), a role which he also sang at the opera’s Italian premiere in Milan during 1916.
Martinelli made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera, New York in 1913 as Rodolfo; this company was to be his principal arena of activity until 1945. During this time he sang more than 900 performances of thirty-eight operas. At the Met he became a close colleague of Caruso, who gave him his costume for Canio; and after Caruso’s death in 1921 Martinelli assumed many of his dramatic roles. He proved to be an outstanding singer of the often taxing dramatic tenor roles in operas by Verdi, such as Manrico / Il trovatore, Radamès / Aida and Alvaro / La forza del destino; as well as of other demanding parts such as Raoul / Les Huguenots, Jean / Le Prophète, Vasco / L’Africaine, Eleazar / La Juive, Don José / Carmen, Enzo / La Gioconda, des Grieux / Manon Lescaut and the title role in Andrea Chénier. Roles in premieres at the Met in which he participated included Lefèvre / Madame Sans-Gêne (Giordano, 1915), Fernando / Goyescas (Granados, 1916) and Huon / Oberon (Weber, 1918); and in their US premieres Lensky / Eugene Onegin (1920), Carlo / Don Carlo (1920), Heinrich / La campana sommersa (Respighi, 1928) and Gabriele / Simon Boccanegra (1932).
His farewell performance at the Met was in 1945 as Pollione / Norma, although he continued to sing in fund-raising events at the Met and in 1967, at the age of eighty-two, sang the Emperor in Turandot. From 1946 onwards he was active in New York as a teacher.