If you need more proof that good luck is the greatest gift a person can possess look no further than at the life and career of Apollo Granforte (1886-1975). Start at the beginning. When he was two days old he was left in a basket at the Ospedale Civile in Legnano – how it was known that he was two days old is not clear. The nuns who cared for him may have known who his parents were. Anyway, this story is too good to question. They gave him the name of Apollinare Granforte supposedly because of his good looks and robust appearance. He was adopted by a couple named Brigo and seems to have had a decent childhood.
Apparently, he kept his original surname and shortened his first to Apollo. He was apprenticed to a shoemaker, sang for a while as a tenor, moved to Argentina, continued to work as a shoemaker. He sang for for the numerous Italian immigrants in his new hometown – Rosario. He came to the attention of a wealthy music lover, Pietro Balmaggia, who paid his tuition at La Prensa Conservatory of Buenos Aires. He was now a baritone. He made his official debut in 1913. He sang often at provincial opera houses in South America. Still supported by Malmaggia, he returned to Italy in 1916. He joined the army, but was soon invalided out. After the war his career blossomed and he sang at all the major houses in Italy. His La Scala debut was in 1922 as Amfortas in Parsifal.
Granforte became close friends with Pietro Mascagni and often appeared under his baton. He also was in the premiere of Mascagni’s Nerone in 1935 as Menècrate. He seems to have shared the composer/conductor’s sympathy with Mussolini and fascism. Granforte recorded both the fascist hymn “Giovinezza and a ‘Hymn to Il Duce’.
He sang often in South America and made three tours of Australia. He didn’t get to South America’s leading company – the Teatro Colon until 1928. For a very detailed description (it’s almost day to day in its scope) of his appearances see Apollo Granforte on the Opera Voices site.
After his retirement from the stage in 1943 he taught voice in Turkey, Czechoslovakia, and in Milan. Among his students were Leyla Gencer and Flaviano Labò. Granforte had a rich baritone that he used with great expression. His acting was said to be excellent. He had a first rate career, but seems to have been largely forgotten by the current opera world. He sang all the standard Italian roles as well as seven by Wagner. Overall, he had more than 75 operas in his repertoire. As far as I know he never sang in North America.
He made numerous recording for HMV many of which are still available. I’ve picked a few which I think give a fair representation of his voice and style of singing. His career straddled the transition from acoustic to electrical recordings. I have included recording made with both techniques.
Granforte sang seven Wagner roles, all in Italian. The Song to the Evening Star from Tannhäuser shows the basic quality of the baritone’s rich sound. It’s very well done even if he inserts a hint of a sob. ‘O Lisboa’ is from Donizetti’s last opera written to a French text as Dom Sébastien. Of course, Granforte sings it in Italian. He never sang the opera on stage. Granforte O Lisbona, alfin ti mio
Next are Rigoletto’s two arias. They indicate, combined with his reputation as a fine actor, that Granforte was superb as Verdi’s deformed jester with a tragic virtue. Granforte Pari siamo and Granforte Cortigiani, vil razza dannata
Granforte recorded the great duet from the Nile Scene of Verdi’s Aida with Hilde Monti. His reading of the stern and then loving king/father is outstanding. Granforte/Monti A te grave cagion m’adduce Aida
Barnaba in Ponchielli’s La Gioconda is a particularly repellent villain; he has absolutely no redeeming characteristics. He’s a baritone. If he had any charm like the equally villainous duke in Rigoletto he’d have been a tenor. But he does get a fine aria in the first act. This opera is another based on a Victor Hugo play – Angelo, Tyrant of Padua. Granforte O monumento
Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Zazà was first performed in 1900 under Arturo Toscanini’s direction. It was very successful over its first 20 years. It reached the Met in 1920. It lasted for 23 performances, all with Geraldine Farrar in the title role. It disappeared from the company on April 22, 1922 along with Ms Farrar. The baritone’s aria ‘Zazà, piccola zingara’ is still performed on recordings and in recital. Granforte Zazà, piccola zingara
Puccini mostly focused on his sopranos and tenors. But he did give a baritone a star role on occasion. The only such part in a full length opera is Baron Scarpia in Tosca and he doesn’t make it into the third act. But he does get a boffo finish to the first act. This excerpt is taken from a complete recording of the opera made in 1929 with the La Scala Opera Orchestra and Chorus under Carlo Sabajno. Granforte Te Deum
Puccini wrote his ‘Hymn to Rome’ in 1919. He must have done it for the money because it sounds like the bandmaster in Lucca wrote it, but Granforte sounds great. Its worth lies solely in his singing. Granforte Hymn to Rome
With a name like Apollo Granforte, could he have pursued any profession other than opera? I don’t think so. Luckily, he made records.