Opry Links # 89: Boys and Girls Edition
"The Lancashire Caruso"
Thomas Burke is a long-forgotten tenor who, as is the case with so many singers,
has a renewed presence due entirely to Youtube. Burke is not the greatest tenor
who ever lived, but he was plenty good enough to sing major Puccini and Verdi
roles at the Royal Opera, and to tour the U.S. in the '20's as an "Irish Tenor."
(He was British, of Irish descent.) The most important thing about his voice,
and I expect he would agree, is that it got him out of a horrid coal mine, where
he went to work at age 14. Having displayed natural musical talent on instrument
and voice, he subbed for an ill tenor in a local "Messiah," and that was all she
wrote for digging coal. He trained in Italy---you'll hear the Italian "sob"
several times in this aria---and for a while was known as "the Lancashire
Caruso." Mr. Burke apparently stopped singing in the late '30's---bios have
reports of "womanising and drinking," what a shock---dying in relative obscurity
in 1969. Here is a 1932 Pathe film of him singing "E Lucevan Le Stelle," from
Puccini's "Tosca." The aria begins around the 3:00 mark.
Setting: The ramparts of a fortress
Synopsis: Cavaradossi trades his last possession, a ring, to get a guard to take
a letter to the imprisoned Tosca. As he writes the letter, he sings of his love
for Tosca and for life.
AND HERE is a marvelous article about Burke:
EXCERPT: Left to his wayward ways, Tom regularly made the headlines with his
drinking and womanising. There had to be questions about his judgement. Would
any sensible person pick a quarrel over a pretty girl with Jack Dempsey, the
undisputed ex-world heavyweight boxing champion who was known as the Manassa
Mauler? Or cross a Mafia boss in a dispute involving another woman; an
altercation that left Burke in hospital with a gunshot wound and a compelling
urge to get out of town?
And now to a better-known tenor, for obvious reasons. Luciano Pavarotti sings
the gorgeous "Lamento de Federico," from "L'Arlesiana," by Cilea. When his voice
still had that shine.
Setting: on the banks of Vacares pond in the region of Camargue, the end of May,
late 1800's, Italy
Synopsis: Federico has run away from home after finding out that his beloved
girl from Arles has betrayed him with the stable boy. He is found by Baldassarre
and L'Innocente but the former leaves to tend the flocks and the latter falls
asleep. As L'Innocente falls asleep, he mentions a line from a story told
earlier about a goat. This comment sets off Federico and he despairs over his
Turning to lighter fare for a moment, here is a wonderful Neopolitan love song,
"I Te Vurria Vasa," by Eduardo Di Capua. How is it that Neopolitan songs all
have a similarly wistful quality? The great Franco Corelli, from a 1961
recording. (Nice paintings of Napoli accompany the song.)
Poor Butterfly. Poor Pinkerton, even (never mind that he is a scoundrel.) They
are both victims of rapture perhaps born in fascination for what scholars like
to call "the other." But Butterfly's rapture is sincere, a declaration of
absolute commitment, while Pinkerton is merely smitten, overwhelmed by her
beauty, and the beauty of her world. Recipe for success? Methinks not. Here is
their moment of transitory bliss, so astoundingly dreamed up by Puccini. Placido
Domingo and Mirella Freni.
Translation: (search for "Vogliatem")
EXTRA: And here is a rare item: the great Luis Lima and
Yasuko Hayashi with the same duet, from 1980.
There is not too much on-line about soprano Yasuko Hayashi, other than she
debuted at La Scala in 1972 and made something of a career out of Cio-Cio San
from Puccini's "Madama Butterfly." (She is still with us at 71.) She seems to
have been a lirico spinto, with a smallish voice that surprises with real power
and body on the big notes. Rather perfect for "Butterfly" (which she played in a
La Scala-produced DVD intended to showcase "authentic orientalism.") Here she is
with the poignant, "Un bel di vedremo," from "Butterfly," in which she imagines
the "fine day" that her beloved Pinkerton will return.
Synopsis : Three years have passed since Butterfly's American husband left her.
Her servant Suzuki, tries to convince her that he isn't coming back, but
Butterfly is convinced that he will. She sings of the day that he will return.
She dreams of him sailing into the harbour and climbing up the hill to meet her.
Martina Arroyo's story is remarkable, as many operatic success stories are, but
hers is especially improbable. Grew up in Harlem, BA in romance languages at 19,
never thought she had a chance for an operatic career because she was black.
(This was the early 50's.) Became a high school English teacher, but kept
studying voice on the side. When that proved overwhelming, she became a social
worker, handling a caseload of over 100. The Met turned her down in '57, but she
won a Met "Audition of the Air" competition on radio, and was on her way. Still
with us at 83, here is the sumptuous, radiant voice of Ms. Arroyo with "O Patria
Mia" from Verdi's "Aida."
Setting: The banks of the Nile
Synopsis: It is the eve of Amneris' wedding to Radamès and Aida has come to the
banks of the nile near the temple to meet Radamès. She mourns her homeland which
she will never see again.
About Ms. Arroyo:
EXTRA: Interview with Ms. Arroyo, 2017:
From exquisite to more exquisite. Here is Maria Callas with the lilting,
delicate, heart-rending "Al dolce guidami," from "Anna Bolena," by Donizetti.
Anne Boleyn's last words. . .
Lead me to the dear castle
where I was born,
to the green plane trees,
to that brook that still
murmurs to our sighs...
there I forget Past griefs;
give me back one day of my youth,
give me back one day of our love.
Lead me to the dear castle
where I was born;
give me back one day
of our love..
just one single day of our love.
Al dolce guidami castel natio,
ai verdi platani, al quello rio,
che i nostri mormora
Ah! colà, dimentico
de' scorsi affanni,
un giorno rendimi
de' miei primi'anni,
un giorno sol del nostro amor....
Al dolce guidami castel natio,
un giorno rendimi
del nostro amor...
on giorno sol del nostro,
del nostro amor.
From the sublime to the ridiculous, here is Callas with Rossini's de facto paean
to uh, oh, feminine tenacity, let's call it. "Una Voce Poco Fa," from "The
Barber of Seville." There was nothing this woman could not sing. Remember, she
began as weighty (literally and figuratively) Wagnerian soprano---yet here she
is, waifish, assaying coloratura runs perfectly. This is fun to watch.
Setting: A room in Dr. Bartolo's house
Synopsis: After having read the letter from Lindoro (Count Almaviva), Rosina is
filled with joy. She sings of her love for him. And what she will do if it is
So many voices, so many arias, so little time. This is Lucia Popp's last
recording before her tragic early death from brain cancer in 1993. (She was 54.)
She was widely regarded as without peer as a Mozart soprano. While I lack the
expertise to comment on that, I love her singing, especially the rich lower and
mid-range, and how her upper register seems organic to the overall voice, as
opposed to sounding mechanical, added-on, even forced. Here she sings "Non Piu
di Fiori," from "La Clemenza di Tito," Mozart's last opera.
Synopsis: Vitellia is in love with Emperor Titus. He loves another, so she
induces Sextus, a friend of Emperor Titus who is in love with her, to murder
Titus. Sextus does not succeed and is imprisoned, and she realizes that she must
tell the emperor that she asked him to commit the crime, since Sextus is
prepared to die for her if she does not. She realizes that she must abandon her
hopes for the throne and marriage to Titus by telling the truth.
Back to bread-and-butter tenors. The great Beniamino Gigli (think I'll change my
name to Beniamino) with the impassioned Neopolitan chestnut (what? chestnuts can
be impassioned?), "Core 'Ngrato." ("Ungrateful Heart.")
you wrenched my life from me
and now it's all over,
you no longer think of me!"
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