Recently, I posted an article about my choices for the 10 best baritones of the 20th century. Absent from this list was Ricardo Stracciari (1875-1955). Stracciari was such a great singer that I am uncertain why I omitted him. He was born in Casalecchio di Reno and died in Rome. In between he sang at many of the world’s most important houses. He gave 96 performances with the Metropolitan Opera over just two seasons – 1906-08. This was during his vocal prime. Why he disappeared from the company’s roster after 1908 is unknown to me.
Stracciari’s middle and lower voice was dark and full with a virile and refulgent sound. At his peak, his high notes were astounding – bright and rich. His best years coincided with a crowd of great baritones; nevertheless, he stood at its front. His sound was similar to that of Tita Ruffo who was just two years younger. Though he continued to sing until 1944, his prime was during the 20th century’s first two decades. He also taught; among his pupils was Boris Christoff. His money ran out before he did, and he had to sell many of his costumes and props.
The following recordings show him at his best, which was close to as good as a baritone can get. They are all in Italian, irrespective of their original language. His two most celebrated roles were Figaro in Rossini’s Barber and as Rigoletto. He is said to have sung the former role about 1000 times and latter almost as many. Largo al factotum (Barber) Cortigiani vil razza dannata (Rigoletto)
Stracciari sang all the great Verdi roles; here are a few of his Verdi interpretations. Lo vedremo veglio audace and Oh de verdanni miei are from the second and third acts of Ernani respectively. Eri tu che macchiavi is from Un Ballo in Maschera and Credo in un dio crudel is from Otello. These Verdi excerpts show Stracciari’s complete mastery of the Verdi style. Great Verdi baritones are as rare as an on time flight.
Sei vendicata assai is from Meyerbeer’s 1859 opéra comique Dinorah. Stracciari brings far more voice to the aria than one is likely to get from a French baritone at the Opéra Comique. O casto fior is sung by the bad guy of Massenet’s Le Roi de Lahore. The opera was the composer’s third and his first success. It premiered at the Paris Opera in 1877 and initially enjoyed widespread popularity. Today, it is rarely performed.
Of course, Stracciari sang the verismo roles that were contemporary to his career. These operas are not as generous to baritones as are those of Verdi. T’amo ben io is from the first act of Catalani’s La Wally. Buona Zazà del mio buon tempo is from Act 2 of Leoncavallo’s Zazà. Finally, here is O sole mio. This quintessential Neapolitan song is usually sung by a tenor, but a baritone of this vocal heft can do it justice. Though no Northern Italian can bring all the fire needed by this and the other great songs from Naples.
Fortunately, Stracciari was widely recorded. Most of his recording are still available.