Il Titanico Oricalco

The above is the title of a book issued by the City of Turin to honour a favourite native son.

A literal translation might be ‘The Trumpet- Toned Titan’. Tamagno was quite simply a phenomenon – for more than thirty years after his stage debut in Turin he was the world’s greatest dramatic tenor.

Il Titanico Oricalco is an excellent source of data on a world-wide career which took Tamagno to sixty five cities in twenty six different countries. This said, he was nonetheless quintessentially Italian and his career was predominantly within the Italian speaking operatic world.

Twenty six of the sixty five cities were in Italy and we can add a twenty seventh with Nice – only recently transferred to France when Tamagno’s career began.

He was also a regular visitor to Buenos Aires with its large Italian speaking population. By way of contrast there were just two US tours, three visits to Paris, a single German tour, one visit to Vienna at the very end of his career and just three seasons at Covent Garden, where opera lovers tended to enthuse rather more about Jean de Reszke!

Tamagno worked hard and earned prodigious sums of money. According to opera historian T.J. Walsh, the 1899 Monte Carlo season consisted of seventeen performances of six different works. Tamagno sang on eleven occasions and his remuneration amounted to 22.7% of the expenses of the entire season. His down payment from the Gramophone Company for his recordings would equate to something like £100,000 in today’s money and this was at a time when relatively few people owned gramophones and had the means to afford premium priced discs.

Given that the discs were cut in the infancy of recording but almost at the end of Tamagno’s career, they offer all told a very fine cross-section of his vocal art although there is inevitably considerable concentration on roles he had recently taken up or was still singing at the time.

In the course of his career Tamagno appeared in fifty three operas – nine of them by the most frequent composer, Verdi. After its creation in 1887 he sang the title role in Otello extensively, in locations from St Petersburg to Buenos Aires. Sixteen of the records, including many repeats, are from that opera. The other Verdi work represented on records is Il Trovatore. Tamagno first sang Manrico in Barcelona in 1876 and it was a regular part of his repertoire for more than twenty years. Two of the other operas featured in the list of recordings were of recent composition.

Tamagno appeared in Andrea Chénier and Messalina in 1898 and 1899 respectively. He does not seem to have repeated either work thereafter but he did record from them, although the item from Messalina did not appear in original ‘78’ rpm form until the appearance of the first Historic Masters boxed set of Tamagno records.

Apart from the Verdi recordings, the largest group are from the major French ‘grand operas’ of the nineteenth century. Most of these are sung in Italian; an important exception is Hérodiade which Tamagno only sang in Monte Carlo early in 1903 around the time of his recording two of the arias. We can perhaps regret the near absence of records from the great Meyerbeer works which played a great part in Tamagno’s stage career – there are just the two titles from Le Prophéte (or Il Profeta in Italian).

There can never be a final word on Tamagno’s recorded legacy.

We cannot know how these recordings made at the very end of his career match up to his earlier singing. What we do know is that he chose the material to record; we can presume that the pieces selected were designed to show his vocal powers at their best; and there is no evidence of transposition.

They are an indispensable part of the recorded legacy which comes to us from the past – Historic Masters is proud to have re-issued this legacy in its known totality.

Stanley Henig

The Fifteen Records in our 32nd and 2nd Tamagno Issue – January 2010

All recorded at Ospedaletti, Susa, Italy between 7th and 11th February 1903, with piano accompaniment.

HMFT 8

Esultate! Otello – Verdi
Matrix number; 3000, unpublished

Esultate! Otello – Verdi
Matrix number; 3001-R-FT, published as 52673 and DR100

HMFT 9

Niun mi tema Otello – Verdi
Matrix number; 3002-R-FT, published as 52674 and DR100

Niun mi tema Otello – Verdi
Matrix number; 3003, unpublished

HMFT 10

Ora e per sempre Otello – Verdi
Matrix number; 3004-W-FT, published as 52675 and DR105

Un di all’ azzurro spazio Andrea Chénier – Giordano
Matrix number; 3005, unpublished

HMFT 11

Re del ciel Le Prophète – Meyerbeer
Matrix number; 3006-FT, Published in July 1997 as HM117

Un di all’ azzurro spazio Andrea Chénier – Giordano
Matrix number; 3007-FT, Published in July 1997 as HM117

HMFT 12

Un di all’ azzurro spazio Andrea Chénier – Giordano
Matrix number; 3008-R-FT, published as 52676 and DR102

Ora e per sempre Otello – Verdi
Matrix number; 3009, unpublished

HMFT 13

Re del ciel Le Prophète – Meyerbeer
Matrix number; 3010, unpublished

Re del ciel Le Prophète – Meyerbeer
Matrix number; 3011-R-FT, published as 52677 and DR104

HMFT 14

Di quella pira Il Trovatore – Verdi
Matrix number; 3012-W-FT, unpublished originally but issued in February 1972 by BIRS as HMA4

Di quella pira Il Trovatore – Verdi
Matrix number; 3013-R-FT, published as 52678 and DR102

HMFT 15

Sopra Berta Le Prophète – Meyerbeer
Matrix number; 3014-R-FT, published as 52679 and DR104

Sopra Berta Le Prophète – Meyerbeer
Matrix number; 3015, unpublished but issued in May 1987 as HMA43

HMFT 16

Adieu donc, vains objets Hérodiade – Massenet
Matrix number; 3016-FT, published as 52680

Adieu donc, vains objets Hérodiade – Massenet
Matrix number; 3017, unpublished but issued in May 1987 as HMA43

HMFT 17

Figli miei Samson et Dalila – Saint Saens
Matrix number; 3018-FT, unpublished but issued in Mar 1992 as HMB85

Figli miei Samson et Dalila – Saint Saens
Matrix number; 3019-R-FT, published as 52681, DR101 and VA62

HMFT 18

O muto asil Guillaume Tell – Rossini
Matrix number; 3020-R-FT, published as 52682 and DR103

Corriam, corriam Guillaume Tell – Rossini
Matrix number; 3021-R-FT, published as 52683

HMFT 19

Quand nos jours Hérodiade – Massenet
Matrix number; 3022, unpublished

Esultate! Otello – Verdi
Matrix number; 3024, unpublished

HMFT 20

Ora e per sempre Otello – Verdi
Matrix number; 3025-W-FT, unpublished originally but issued in February 1972 by BIRS as HMA4

Corriam, corriam Guillaume Tell – Rossini
Matrix number; 3026-FT, published as 52683X and DR103

HMFT 21

Quand nos jours Hérodiade – Massenet
Matrix number; 3027-W-FT, published as 52684, DR101 and VA62

Deserto sulla terra Il Trovatore – Verdi
Matrix number; 3028-FT, published as 7-52277 and DR105
(Announced as – Dedico alla memoria di mio padre)

HMFT 22

Ti vorrei rapire Song – Gastaldon
Matrix number; 3023, published as 52685

* nb 3023 is sung by an unknown baritone, possibly Tamagno’s brother.

SPEEDS

A brief note on speeds. Collectors will not need reminding that many recordings do not play at exactly 78rpm. Expert opinions frequently vary and for this reason we have decided to offer no more than general guidance. We think that the group of recordings from 3000 to 3008 play best at around 76/77; the group from 3009 to 3013 at around 73/4; the group from 3019 to 3028 at around 76/77.

In the absence of consensus it is not possible to give a clear recommendation for the group between 3014 and 3018 and the very last record 3028. One school of thought prefers the lower speed of 73/4 whilst the other opts for 77/8. We suggest playing the records at the speeds which you think is the most appropriate!


This article was last updated Monday, 25 January 2010
This article is presented here for archival reference only. All information was accurate at time of printing, however, HM policies, fees/charges, details and availability of recordings are subject to change without notice. Copyrighted material – Historic Masters

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