Historic Masters is proud to announce the release of the Francesco Tamagno Edition (HM FT1 – FT7). (See Full Discography Details or read our Latest News section)

Francesco Tamagno 1850-1905 – ‘The birth of a legend’
Prospectus by Alan Bilgora

Early in his career Tamagno had gained a fine reputation as a tenore di forza exciting his audiences with his powerful and brilliant acuti, (high notes), especially in Donizetti’s Poliuto and Rossini’s Guillaume Tell. This gained him a popularity that had been previously been reserved for Roberto Tamberlik (1820-1889), the tenor who had interpolated an unwritten High C sharp in the finale of Rossini’s Otello and also the High C’s in the stretta ‘Di quella pira’ from Il Trovatore). Aged 29, Tamagno was given the opportunity of increasing his reputation by creating the role of Gabriele Adorno in the revised version of Simon Bocca negra in 1881, and later the title role in the revised 5 Act version of Don Carlo in 1884, when both operas were re-staged at La Scala, Milan.

According to Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, in his fascinating book Voci Parallelle (Parallel Voices) that very literate tenor comments that, initially Tamagno was no more highly regarded or appreciated, than his distinguished contemporaries Angelo Masini (1844-1926) Juliån Gayarre (1844-1890) Roberto Stagno (1836-1897, the creator of Turridu in Cavalleria Rusticana) and ’Cecco’ (Francesco) Marconi (1855-1916). The news that Verdi was writing a new opera to be called Otello evidently prompted Tamagno to write to the composer, proposing himself as the protagonist. Surviving correspondence indicates that at first, Verdi was not sure Tamagno was the artist he thought could do justice to the work. However on reconsidering who else might be available, and impressed not only with Tamagno’s vocal prowess but also his physique, he relented, and so on the 5th February 1887 at La Scala, Milan a ‘Legend was born’.

Since the advent of sound recording, collectors and admirers of vocal art, particularly that period euphemistically referred to as the ‘Golden Age’, have usually endeavoured to acquire, where possible, discs of artists who appeared in a première, thus creating those roles that have now become part of the standard operatic repertoire. Performance style and traditions can be put into some perspective and Tamagno’s singing of various excerpts from Otello, barely 16 years after its première, can surely be considered authentic and as the composer would have wished. Some of the Otello recordings were available over the years in original shellac format, but for the first time in association with the EMI Archive Trust, Historic Masters offer a set of vinyl pressings of the 12″ discs made in Ospedaletti in Feb 1903 and Rome in April 1904. (there is no trace whatever of a duet from Il Guarany said to have been recorded with Giannina Russ in October 1903)

The sound emanating from these discs is of unsurpassed quality, with a presence and ambience previously not available. Because of ill-health, Tamagno had not sung in the theatre for some time before these recordings were made, and indeed, barely two years after, he died aged 55. Although Fred Gaisberg wrote that the discs gave the listener only a fraction of his enormous voice, nevertheless the freedom of Tamagno’s tonal emission, placement, brilliance, thrust and penetration of the high tones, emanating from recordings made well over 100 years ago are still remarkable. They also indicate, why, for some considerable time after his retirement, this fiendishly demanding role was so difficult to fill successfully. Eight of these discs have never been published in their original form, including the rare Messalina aria, previously thought to exist only as a test pressing. Recent research in the archives has also uncovered not only this unpublished material, but also sensationally brought to light a completely unknown version of the great Otello/Iago Act lll Oath duet; ‘Si, pel ciel marmoreo giuro’.

Various suggestions have been made as to who the baritone might be, and it was suggested that it might be Giovanni Albinolo, rumoured as Tamagno’s natural son, but the voice one hears here does not really resemble other known recordings of this baritone. Another suggestion is that it could possibly be Antonio Cotogni (1831-19180) who had not only been a very famous singer, but, on retirement became a much admired teacher at the Academia Santa Cecilia, Rome. However this theory is unlikely, as although the voice is not that of a young man, by the time the recording was made Cotogni would have been well into his 70’s. Another suggestion, and one that is now thought most likely, is that it is Tamagno’s, brother, who it is reported, was visiting Tamagno’s home, where by special negotiations with the Gaisberg brothers, on behalf of the Gramophone and Typewriter Company, these recordings were made.

As with the Patti issue, which was made available with facsimiles of her specially designed original coloured labels, each record in this special set will bear faithful copies of ‘The Gramophone and Typewriter Company’s famous Red Labels, with which Tamagno’s discs were first issued, and will also contain an illustrated booklet with analytical comments on the tenor’s art, by Michael Aspinall.

  • View the Francesco Tamagno discography
  • Search our database for other Tamagno recordings
  • Download the color Tamagno Brochure (pdf -0.8 Mb)
  • Download the Tamagno Article by Michael Aspinall (pdf -0.4 Mb)
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