Today is the birthday of two of opera’s supremely gifted tenors – Lauritz Melchior and Beniamino Gigli. Not only were they born on the same day, but in the same year. Below is Melchior singing Dio mi potevei scagliar from Verdi’s Otello. He sang the role at the Met only one time, and only it’s final act. It was part of the farewell gala for Giulio Gatti-Casazza on March 19, 1935. Melchior would have put any Italian tenor of his time who sang this role in a dark closet so they protested his appearance in the part. Gatti had him sing it when their opinions no longer mattered. Melchior Dio mio poetevi scagliar. This excerpt, from the 3rd act, was recorded in German in 1930. His appearance as the Moor at the Met was a triumph. It’s a shame that Melchior’s other 518 Met appearances were limited to the Wagnerian repertory
Mr. Melchior is a magnificent Otello. It is a pity that he has not sung the role before at the Metropolitan, for his performance last night brought down the house by its dignity, its passion, its restraint, its depth of feeling. Mr. Melchior as the tortured and terrible Moor captured the imagination from the moment when he loomed gigantically in Desdemona’s doorway to the moment when he was filling his dying utterances with a profundity of pathos that searched the heart and spirit. One will not soon forget his singing of the “E tu…come sei pal! E stanca, e muta, e bella…”
Lawrence Gilman in the Herald Tribune
But with his appearance all thought of everything else was displaced from my mind. For not only had Lauritz Melchior achieved an amazing transformation of his appearance by his make-up and wig, but he had in some miraculous way changed his personality. The wooden first act Tristan was now a gigantic figure, arresting and dramatically compelling as it moved slowly about the stage; the absurdly gesticulating third act Tristan now exhibited genuine animation, intensity and eloquence of gesture that were breath-taking. Astounding that it should be Lauritz Melchior who should achieve this incandescence, and with it created dazzling illusion in such illusion-destroying surroundings.
B. H. Haggin in the Brooklyn Eagle
Beniamino Gigli had one of the most beautiful tenor voices ever bestowed by providence. Though his taste may have sometimes lapsed his vocal technique and production were so good that he could sing heavier roles without damaging his voice which remained intact until he was in his sixties. Puccini’s La Boheme was a role he was born to sing. His rendition of its first act aria is so good that his aspiration of the aria’s final syllable is forgivable – besides it’s a beautiful effect. Gigli Che gelida manina. Of Gigli’s 510 performances at the Met (he was essentially the company’s house tenor during the twenties) 43 were as Rodolfo in Boheme.
For some icing on the cake here’s Melchior appearing with another Great Dane – Victor Borge.