Gianfranco Cècchele (1938-2018) was a noted tenor who was trained by Marcello Del Monaco, the younger brother of Mario. Accordingly he was a belter in the mold of his teacher’s older brother and other pupils of Marcello such as Amadeo Zambon profiled here in 2016. Thus it’s not surprising that he wanted to be a boxer. His father talked him out of that profession and he did the next best thing by becoming a tenor with a wallop.
He sang regularly at all the major opera houses in Europe, but only 25 times at the Met, all between 1976 to 78. In an interview the tenor blamed Plácido Domingo for the shortness of his Met career. He’s describing the same type of collegial behavior that kept Lauritz Melchior from singing Italian roles at the Met. He also gave his explanation for why his recording career was likewise abbreviated; most of his recordings were made in performance either by audience members or by the prompter. After listening to Cècchele it’s easy to understand why even the best of tenors could have been threatened by comparison to him.
His style didn’t have to be subtle; when you have as howitzer for a voice as he did you can get along without finesse. Though to be fair, he was capable of modulating his sound down when he wished and and often produced sensitive singing. Five years after his 1964 debut, he was forced to take an extended respite from performing to recuperate from a severely abused throat. Amazingly, he did recover and went on to sing even bigger roles like Otello. His career continued past the turn of the 21st century. His death followed a long battle against lung cancer.
In the interview linked above he denies a vocal crisis and blames severe tonsillitis requiring surgery as the cause of his temporary withdrawal from the stage. Cècchele’s voice was as good as any of his tenor contemporaries. He had a successful career for which he was well paid; he just didn’t become as famous as his talent deserved. The short version is that he had a great voice that didn’t take him as far as it should have.
I’ll start with a early recording of Spirito gentile from Donizetti’s La Favorita. This is an aria usually sung by a lyric tenor, Cècchele’s rendition is powerful enough for the 4th of July, so what if it’s a tad inappropriate. His teacher is at the piano. La mia letizia infondere from Verdi’s I Lombardi shows the strength and beauty of his spinto/ dramatic tenor. His high notes are the definition of squilo. The second part of the aria proves that sensitivity was not beyond him.
Quando le sere al placido from Luisa Miller includes the introduction and the cabaletta. This is the aria that moved Boito to the height of ecstasy. It’s is about as good as anyone can do it.
Dio mi potevi scagliar from Otello was recorded relatively late in his career. If the voice is not as fresh as formerly, the excerpt shows that he must have been a formidable Moor. The Improvviso from Andrea Chenier is as good as Aureliano Peretile’s famous interpretation and Cècchele has a finer sound. Also note the extraordinary breath control he possessed – it almost seems endless.
Three Puccini arias are next. E lucevan le stelle is sung full out. Ch’ella mi creda from Fanciulla get a perfect reading. You’ll have to cast a wide net to find a finer one. This is just the way the piece should be, but almost never is, sung. Everybody sings Nessun dorma, even my last Uber driver was humming it. This is from a 1979 performance just after he gave his last performance at the Met. He was 41 years old and at his peak. But the Met never saw him again.
He made a movie with Fiorenza Cossotto under Herbert von Karajan’s direction. The following Youtube videos are taken from that film. As is my practice, a link to the video is provided should the Youtube clips go dark.
Finally, here is a video made of the last opera Cècchele ever sang – Pagliacci. Recorded in 2005 (not 2006 as said on the video), he was 67 years old and still in possession of a mighty voice.
Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti are known to everyone who can read, listen, or watch – Cècchele is not. Another example where being equal is not enough. There’s a lesson somewhere in there, but you’ll have to figure it out on your own.
And this just found. Thanks to JK for alerting me to it – a complete performance of Turandot produced by RAI in 1969 featuring Nilsson and Cècchele.