Antenore Reali (1897-1960)) was a baritone active from 1921 until 1952 when he was forced to retire because of ill health. Even serious opera lovers may not have heard of him. After listening to his recordings you will likely share my surprise at his obscurity. He may have gone relatively unnoticed for several reasons. His best years coincided with World War II. There were a lot of good Italian baritones active at the same time he was. While he appeared in all the major Italian houses, he never appeared in the Americas. And finally, he didn’t make very many recordings. Regardless of why he’s not better known, his voice is a big, beefy, dark baritone that is powerful in its upper register.

Here’s a sample of what he could do:

From the third act of Verdi’s Ernani Oh dei verd’anni miei 

Cilea’s L’Arlessiana is best known for its tenor aria, but the shepherd Baldassare’s pastoral act one aria is also worthy of note. Come due tizzi accesi

Next two selections from Ponchielli’s La Gioconda – both from act one. In the duet Enzo Grimaldo, Pricipe di Santafior Reali is joined by tenor Giacinto Prandelli (1914-2010). The tenor was much better known to American audiences because of his appearances at the Met, Chicago’s Lyric Opera, and the San Francisco Opera. O monumento follows the duet. It’s a warm-up for Iago’s Credo in Verdi’s Otello. Boito wrote the libretti for both operas.

Leoncavallo (full name – Ruggero Giacomo Maria Giuseppe Emmanuele Raffaele Domenico Vincenzo Francesco Donato Leoncavallo)  wrote 11 operas (one for each name) and 9 operettas. Of course, the only one everyone knows is Pagliacci. But before we get to it and just in passing, it’s obvious that the Italians not only have the most names, they also have the best names. Antenore – wow! But I lose focus. Reali’s realization of the Prologue from Pagliacci is really loud; though he does sing a few of the lines with a well supported piano. These recordings suggest that his voice was very large. Zaza piccola zingara is from Leoncavallo’s Zazà (1900). The lovely tune helps explain the considerable success the opera had over the 20 years following its premiere. Between 1920 and 1922 it was performed 23 times at the Met. The last of these was Geraldine Farrar’s farewell; she was also in the other 22 performances. Since then silence.

Giordano’s Andrea Chenier is still with us. Nemico della patria is a part of every Italian baritone’s repertoire. Reali gives it a powerful reading.

Puccini’s Il Tabarro is almost 100 years old, yet it keeps getting better. These two excerpts show why. In the duet  Come è difficile esser felici! Reali sings with soprano Clara Petrella (1914-87). She was famous for her acting, less so for staying on pitch. This duet captures the distance that separates an older husband from his young, and he suspects (rightfully) unfaithful, wife. Their despair over the loss of a dead child further widens the chasm between them. In Nulla! Silenzio Michele rages over who his rival might be. The high note at the end of the aria may crash your computer. These two selections show Reali at his vocal and dramatic best.  They also underscore Puccini’s uncanny ability to combine pathos, drama, and beauty into a dramatic whole. Come back in 2018 for the opera’s centenary and you’ll find even better than it is today.

So why is such a good singer virtually unknown? I really don’t know; but he did leave a trace for us to access his art more than 60 years after his career ended.