Giuseppe Bellantoni (1880-1946) was another outstanding Italian baritone whom opera seems to have forgotten. Born in Messina, Sicily he went to Rome in his early 20s to study under the legendary baritone Antonio Cotogni (1831-1918). Alas, Cortogni’s career preceded the recording era. Everyone including Verdi and Toscanini thought him the prince of baritones. When his singing career ended he became an equally legendary voice teacher. His students are a Who’s Who of late 19th and early 20th century great opera singers.
Bellantoni made his debut in his native city in 1905 as Renato in Un Ballo in Maschera. In addition to the great Verdi roles he became especially well known for his Wagner portrayals which were sung in Italian. He appeared at La Scala and the other major Italian houses. He was also a regular at the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires. His career ended around 1930. I can’t find any information on what he did thereafter.
He made only a few recordings. Just a handful are available now. His voice was bright with a smooth line and an easy top. On the basis of the acoustical recordings that have been preserved, I would rank him as a major talent. Why he has drifted into obscurity is as mysterious as fiat money or fractional reserve banking.
I’ll start with Wagner, here is the end of Die Walküre. Bellantoni’s rendition of Wotan’s farewell (in Italian) to his favorite daughter is noteworthy in that it’s sung rather than barked. I suspect this is what Wagner had in mind when he wrote this music. The baritone’s bel canto training clearly serves the music well. Wotan’s Abschied
Giovanni Pacini (1796-1867) wrote 74 operas. They achieved some success during his lifetime, but his works were soon eclipsed by those of Bellini and Donizetti and later overwhelmed by Verdi’s operas. His most successful opera was Saffo which premiered in Naples in 1840. It was frequently performed during the remainder of the 19th century, but then was discarded. The story involves the poetess Sappho and the Leucadian Leap. The heavy in the story is the baritone Alcandro who turns out to be Sappho’s long lost father. He has two arias which suggest the opera might be suitable for a revival. As far as I know, the last performance of the work was in 1995 and before that in 1967. Di sua voce il suon / Un’erinni Bellantoni’s singing of both numbers is lyrical and sweet and his tone rich and has bite and depth when needed.
A tanto amor is from Act 3 of Donizetti’s La Favorita. Originally written to a French text, it was first performed in Paris in 1840. Set in Castile in 1340 it involves an innocent hero, the tenor of course, who falls in love with the king’s mistress and marries her without knowing of her history with the monarch. The aria expresses the relief of the king about getting rid of his mistress whom he loves but cannot marry because the Pope doesn’t want him to. Don’t worry too much about the story – it’s an opera. Again Bellantoni’s way with the lovely aria is exquisite.
Urna fatale del mio destino from La Forza del Destino is one of Verdi’s great baritone creations. Sung here without the introduction or cabeletta owing to the space limitations of the 78 rpm technology, it shows the baritone was equally adept with the other great composer born in 1813.
Finally, a bon-bon. Lolita – Spanish Serenade is by the Italian song composer Arturo Buzzi-Peccia. Born in Milan in 1854, the song writer moved to the US 1898. He taught and composed, first in Chicago and then in New York. He spent the rest of his life in America. Caruso took an interest in his work as did many other prominent singers. This number is his most famous song.
Fame is fickle and Bellantoni landed on its bad side. Life it tough, but the singer deserves some residue of rememberence.