Hipólito Lázaro (1887-1974 ) was a Catalan tenor. He was born and died in Barcelona. His career began in 1910 and continued until 1950. Though he was a lirico-spinto, he made his debut in Donizetti’s La Favorita and scored a great success as Arturo in Bellini’s final opera I Puritani. Despite his success with bel canto operas, his career was built on Verdi and verismo roles.

He created the tenor parts in Mascagni’s Parisina (1913, La Scala) and Il Piccolo Marat (1921, Costanzi), and Romani’s Fedra (1915, Costanzi). Giordano wrote the tenor role for him in La Cena delle Beffe, which premiered in 1924 at La Scala under the direction of Toscanini.

The last 20 years of his career were largely devoted to Zarzuela and Spanish operas. His last appearance was in Havana in 1950. He had a lot of property on the island, which was confiscated by the Castro regime.

He had a truly antagonistic relationship with the other great Spanish tenor of his time – Miguel Felta. Operatic Spain wa divided into partisans of one or the other. Apparently the two really disliked each other.

Lázaro appeared 48 times at the Met over the course of three seasons, between 1918-20. The reviews of his Met performances were uniformly good, nevertheless he was not re-engaged by the company after 1920. Though he was just entering his best years as he departed the Met, the reason for his disappearance from New York likely was that Caruso was still active, Martinelli and Gigli has arrived, and Lauri-Volpi was soon to join the company leaving little room for another star tenor.

Lázaro’s vocal production was characterized by a rapid vibrato, verging on a bleat, in his middle and lower registers. The vibrato was inversely proportional to the volume of his sound. He was capable of singing piano with full support, but I found the vibrato disquieting. His high notes, and he could go really high as you’ll hear below, were of almost siren like intensity and were devoid of vibrato. In his 30s the vibrato noticeably lessened. This decrease is similar to the vocal transformation Franco Corelli went through as he entered his mature and best years.

Una vergine, un’ angel di Dio is from his debut opera, La Favorita. Both the vibrato and powerful top are on display in this recording.

The tenor sang the tenor lead in I Puritani seven times at the Met in 1918. The opera had previously received only a single performance by the company 35 years earlier during its initial season. These two excerpts from the opera show Lázaro’s ability to blast high notes like a high velocity rifle. I doubt the great Rubini who was the first Arturo sang them this way. A te o cara is from Act 1 scene 3. Vieni fra queste braccia is the tenor part of the duet that reunites Arturo with his temporarily insane lover, Elvira, in Act 3. Both were recorded two years before the tenor first appeared at the Met.

Di quella pira from Trovatore sounds like it was written for a bass after the dog whistle sounds of the Bellini. Celeste Aida gets a good, but conventional reading. There’s no attempt realize Verdi’s dynamic marking at the arias conclusion.

Two arias from Andrea Chenier. The Improvviso gets a somewhat tame rendition. This 1926 recording show the tenor’s voice to have darkened and exhibits less vibrato, as I mentioned above. Come un bel dì di maggio is suitably lyrical.

E lucevan le stelle receives an idiosyncratic run through. It seems Lázaro was trying to outdo Fleta in hysterics at the piece’s end. Both go full bore crazy, I think Fleta is the nuttier of the two. You can find his version under the article here about the aria. Or son sei mesi from La Fanciulla Del West is another 1926 recording. The tenor was clearly at his best at that time. The sequence of high B-flats at the end is tossed out with ease.

O Paradiso is from Meyerbeer’s L’Africana (obviously the Italian version). Meyerbeer was in his repertoire as was Gounod’s Faust. As his career progressed he came to focus a lot of his energy on Mascagni.

He recorded an extended duet from that composer’s Il Piccolo Marat. The soprano is Mafalda De Voltri. As the opera is not very well known a brief description is below. It’s taken from Christopher Howell’s notes on the opera. The work is written entirely in a declamatory style, which likely explains its relative obscurity. But there are those who seem to be taken by it.

Set in revolutionary France, Il Piccolo Marat is a “rescue opera” after the manner of Fidelio, with a brutal embodiment of evil in the form of the “Ogre”. Among the prisoners in his jail is Princess Fleury, whose son pretends to join the revolutionaries, the “Marats” (hence he is known as “the Little Marat”) in order to gain access to her and rescue her. Along the way he falls in love with the Ogre’s unhappy niece, Mariella, and aims to rescue her too. The story pivots around the noble figure of the carpenter who, utterly disgusted at the things he has been made to do (such as inventing a device for sinking a barge-full of prisoners in the open river) now works against the revolutionaries. It he who saves Fleury by slaying the Ogre, and as the opera ends he carries him off, severely wounded, to the boat where Mariella and Fleury’s mother are waiting to flee.

Finally, a real oddity – Eili, Eili. This song is a very well known mournful Yiddish lament. Lázaro sings it in Hebrew and Yiddish! How he came upon the song and learned it in those languages is completely unknown to me. Assuming most readers are not familiar with it, an English translation is below. The song alternates between Hebrew (Psalm 22) and Yiddish. Recorded in 1911 at the start of his career, his singing of this mournful number is terrific. He has the idiom down pat.

My God, My God, why have you forsaken us!
Father, Father, why have you forsaken us!

In fire and flame have men been tortured,
And everywhere we went we were shamed and ridiculed
No one could make us turn away from our faith
From you, my God, from your holy Torah, your Law!

My God, My God, why have you forsaken us!
Father, Father, why have you forsaken us!

Day and night I think of to you my God,
I keep within me your sacred Torah!

Save me, save me from danger,
As you have done many times before,
Hear my prayer, listen to my plea,
You alone can help us,

Hear Oh Israel, The Lord is Our God, the Lord is One!

In summary, a first rate tenor who deserves posthumous respect for a fine career. He leaves a significant record of his work.