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Dramatic Tenor

Mario Filippeschi, Italian Spinto Tenor

By February 18, 2023March 19th, 2023No Comments

Mario Filippeschi was a spinto/dramatico Italian tenor. He was very well known for the ringing sound at the top of his register (“lo squillo” in Italian). As I remark below, there were a lot of very fine Italian singers between the wars, and this led to some singers, who were of the very finest caliber, not getting the exposure, both in performances and in recordings, that they should have had. Filippeschi was part of this group. He was essentially not very well known outside of Italy.

One remark about the sound. The quality of the recordings that we have and Filippeschi’s singing on them do not do him justice. Because of the recording technique, and to some degree because of his tendency to push somewhat at the top, we are not hearing the overtones that would have been evident during a live performance. Thus, you may hear Filippeschi grabbing with the throat a bit. I doubt that this would have been o consequence in an opera theater.

Puccini, Turandot: “Nessun dorma”

Nessun dorma! Nessun dorma!
Tu pure, o Principessa
Nella tua fredda stanza
Guardi le stelle che tremano
D’amore e di speranza!
Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me
Il nome mio nessun saprà!
No, no, sulla tua bocca lo dirò
Quando la luce splenderà!
Ed il mio bacio scioglierà
Il silenzio che ti fa mia!

Dilegua, o notte! Tramontate, stelle!
Tramontate, stelle! All’alba vincerò!
Vincerò! Vincerò!

Puccini: Turandot “None shall sleep”

None shall sleep! None shall sleep!
Even you, oh Princess,
In your cold room,
Looks at the stars,
That tremble with love
And with hope.
But my secret is hidden within me,
My name no one shall know,
No… no…
On your lips, I will tell it,
When the light shines.
And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine!

Vanish oh night!  Set, stars!
Set, stars! At dawn, I shall win!
I shall win! I shall win!

Verdi: Rigoletto – Ella mi fu rapita…Parmi veder le lagrime

Salotto nel palazzo ducale. Vi sono due porte laterali, una maggiore nel fondo che si schiude. Ai suoi lati pendono i ritratti, in tutta figura, a sinistra del Duca, a destra della sua sposa. V’ha un seggiolone presso una tavola coperta di velluto e altri mobili.

No. 8 – Scena ed Aria

entrando, agitato
Ella mi fu rapita!
E quando, o ciel?… ne’ brevi
Istanti, prima che il mio presagio interno
Sull’orma corsa ancora mi spingesse!
Schiuso era l’uscio! e la magion deserta!
E dove ora sarà quell’angiol caro?
Colei che prima poté in questo core
Destar la fiamma di costanti affetti?
Colei sì pura, al cui modesto sguardo
Quasi spinto a virtù talor mi credo!
Ella mi fu rapita!
E chi l’ardiva?… ma ne avrò vendetta.
Lo chiede il pianto della mia diletta.

Parmi veder le lagrime
Scorrenti da quel ciglio,
Quando fra il dubbio e l’ansia
Del subito periglio,
Dell’amor nostro memore
Il suo Gualtier chiamò.
Ned ci potea soccorrerti,
Cara fanciulla amata;
Ei che vorria coll’anima
Farti quaggiù beata;
Ei che le sfere agli angeli
Per te non invidiò.

Verdi: Rigoletto – She has been stolen from me…I seem to see the tears

A room in the ducal palace. There is a door on each side and a larger one at the far end flanked by full length portraits of the Duke and his wife. A high back chair stands near a velvet covered table and other furniture.

No. 8 – Scena and Aria

entering, agitated
She has been stolen from me!
When, O heaven? In those few moments,
before some inner voice
made me hastily retrace my steps!
The gate was open, the house deserted!
And where is she now, that dear angel?
She who first kindled my heart
with the flame of a constant affection?

So pure that her modest demeanour
almost convinced me to lead a virtuous life!
She has been stolen from me!
And who dared do this? … But I shall be avenged.
The tears of my beloved demand it.

I seem to see the tears
coursing from her eyes
as, bewildered and afraid
at the surprise attack,
remembering our love,
she called her Walter’s name.
But could not defend you,
sweet, beloved maid;
he who would pledge his very soul
to bring you happiness;
he who, in loving you, envied
not even the angels.

Meco all’altar di Venere, Pollione’s aria from Norma

Meco all’altar di Venere
Era Adalgisa in Roma;
Cinta di bende candide
Sparsa di fior la chioma.
Udia d’Imene i cantici,
Vedea Fumar gl’incensi,
Eran rapiti i sensi
Di voluttade e amore.
Quando fra noi terribile,
Viene, viene a locarsi un’ ombra,
L’ampio mantel Druidico
Come un vapor l’ingombra :
Cade sull’ara il folgore,
D’un vel si copre il giorno,
Muto si spande intorno
Un sepolcrale orror.
Più l’adorata vergine
Io non mi trovo accanto;
N’odo da lunge un gemito
Misto de’ figli al pianto;
Ed una voce orribile
Echeggia in fondo al tempio :
“Norma, così fa scempio d’amante traditor.”

Squilla il sacro bronzo.

Odi? I suoi riti a compiere Norma,
Norma dal tempio move.

Sorta è la Luna, o Druidi.
Ite, profani, altrove,
Ite altrove, ite altrove!

Vieni …

Mi lascia.

Ah, m’ascolta!


Fuggiam …

Io vi proverrò!

Vieni … Fuggiam …
Scoprire alcun ti può.

Traman congiure i barbari,
Ma io li preverrò!

Ah! Vieni, fuggiam …
Sorprendere alcun ti può.

Ite, profani, altrove.

Me protegge, me difende
Un poter maggior di loro
È il pensier di lei che adoro,
È l’amor che m’infiammò.
Di quel Dio che a me contende
Quella virgine celeste,
Arderò le rie foreste,
L’empio altare abbatterò.

With me at Venus’s altar

Adalgisa was with me, in Rome,
At the altar of Venus,
Dressed in pure white
With flowers in her hair.
As she heard the hymns of Hymen
And breathed the holy incense,
Her senses were enraptured
With the joy of love…
Suddenly between us there descended
A horrible shadow,
And the great Druidic mantle
Enfolded her like smoke.
Lightning flashed on the altar,
And the day was veiled in darkness.
Silently, all around,
Rose a tomb-like horror.
The beloved maiden
was no longer at my side.
From afar I heard a sob,
Mingled with the weeping of my children.
Then a monstrous voice
Echoed through the temple, saying:
This is the vengeance of Norma
Upon her faithless lover!

The sacred bronze rings

Do you hear it? Norma is coming now
From the temple to perform her rites.

The moon has risen, o Druids!
Let none stay here, unless he believe.


Let me be.

Listen to me.


Let us go….

I shall defeat their plans!

Come, let us go.
Here they will find you!

The barbarians are plotting against me,
But I shall defeat their plans.

Oh, come let us go.
If found here we are both lost.

A Power greater than they
Protects me, defends me.
It is the thought of her,
It is Love itself that inflames me!
I shall burn the evil forest
Of that god who contests to
Take her from me,
And I shall destroy his wicked altars!…

Mario Filippeschi
June 7, 1907 – December 25, 1979

Because of the large number of Italian tenors who enjoyed successful international careers in the period between the World Wars and in the post-war period, many singers with extraordinary qualities and abilities were not offered the venues and media they deserved, especially in the form of recordings. Mario Filippeschi was one of them. He was an outstanding and versatile tenor with a brilliant high range, a singer who not only would be an absolute superstar today but also one who was a rara avis even in his own time. In addition Filippeschi was endowed with an attractive appearance and bore a striking resemblance to Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. This was in keeping with the ideal of male beauty at the time, and film actors such as Errol Flynn and Clark Gable also sought to emulate it. Mario Filippeschi was born at Montefoscoli near Pisa on June 7, 1907, the fourth child of a farming family. Although opera was a popular entertainment in Italy in those days – only six years after Verdi’s death and a time when such composers as Puccini, Mascagni and Giordano were active and widely admired – Montefoscoli was too small to host any of the numerous travelling opera companies. Little Mario encountered music and singing for the first time in the local church choir. In 1924, at the age of 17, he started to play the clarinet. Three years later he began three years of military service with Carabinieri units in Monza and Lanza d’Intelvi. His unusually fine voice was discovered by accident when he sang Tuscan songs for his fellow soldiers and officers. Shortly after completion of his military service, Filippeschi heard that a Neapolitan singing teacher named Vicidomini was training young singers in Milan and preparing them for their stage debut. He was accepted as a pupil and studied from 1930 to 1935 with Vicidomini, who allowed his students to sing only vocalises and exercises, never songs and arias. The teacher focussed on training the naturally brilliant high range of the young tenor. When Vicidomini suddenly left for Rome, Filippeschi continued his studies with Pessina in Milan and began learning operatic roles. Choristers at La Scala heard the unknown tenor and recommended him to a provincial impresario who just happened to be planning a season for small Italian towns, and he hired Filippeschi on the spot. Thus after seven years of study, the thirty-year-old tenor made his debut on 19 July 1937, as Edgardo in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor at the theatre of Colorno near Parma. His success was as big as the theatre was small. The local newspaper wrote of the “lengthy applause” and especially praised his performance in the curse scene “Maledetto sia l’istante” and in Edgardo’s death scene, “Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali”. This is quite remarkable, given the fact that the two scenes mentioned by the paper are extremely difficult from a technical and stylistic point of view and have been the undoing of many an established tenor. The next day Filippeschi appeared as the Duke in Rigoletto in the tiny Teatro Verdi in Busseto. Filippeschi was intelligent enough in the early days of his career to limit his repertoire to strictly lyric roles. He sang Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, Rodolfo in La bohème, Alfredo in La traviata, Faust in Mefistofele – all roles with which one would not necessarily associate him from the vantage point of today. The choice of roles also reflected the fact that this young voice with its “silvery timbre” was technically excellent, equipped with a radiant high range, but still of limited volume. Only in the years of intensive stage activity that followed did the voice develop “muscles”, becoming the tenore robusto that made Filippeschi famous, although he retained his ability to sing a piano with carrying power and execute convincing diminuendi. In June 1940, just as Filippeschi was making his first tour of Spain, Italy entered World War Two on the side of Germany. He temporarily found refuge with his famous colleague Giacomo Lauri Volpi, who in 1935 had settled at Burjasot near Valencia and continued to live there until his death in 1979. After returning to Italy, Filippeschi sang his debut in 1941 as Alfredo in La traviata at the Teatro Reale dell’Opera in Rome (formerly Teatro Costanzi, after the war Teatro dell’Opera). In La Spezia in March 1942, he met Anna Pucci, the daughter of an industrialist, and they married in nearby Genoa. In the same year he sang Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly in Rome in the presence of the Japanese emperor, Hirohito. During the war years, which were difficult in every respect, Filippeschi occasionally toured Greece and Germany but also performed in Italy. In 1944 he was arrested twice in Liguria, once each by the Italians and Germans, but in both cases he was immediately released when he demonstrated with his singing that he was a professional singer. After the war Filippeschi’s first La Scala appearance was in September 1948 as Maurizio in Adriana Lecouvreur. He soon appeared regularly in Rome, Naples, Spain, France, Mexico and South America. He received considerable acclaim in Rossini’s Armide opposite Maria Callas at the 1952 Florence May Festival. His single London season was in 1958 with a visiting Italian company at the Drury Lane Theatre singing Manrico and Arnold in Guglielmo Tell.