Matteo Manuguerra (1924-1998) was born in Tunis to Italian parents. His family moved to Buenos Aires where he received his initial vocal training. Rare among great singers was his extremely late start. He didn’t begin studying voice until he was 35. He first was a tenor, but after moving to France in 1961 he retuned as a baritone making his debut as Valentin in Gounod’s Faust in 1962 with the Opéra de Lyon. He stayed with that company for three years. In 1966 he appeared at the Palais Garnier as Rigoletto. He soon was engaged by all of the world’s major opera companies. His Met debut was in in 1971. He appeared 127 times at the Met including 24 performances as Rigoletto. I heard him him all the roles he sang with the Lyric Opera in Chicago. He was the baritone who as Tonio in Pagliacci lost the head of his drumstick in Act 1 and as Rigoletto had the door to his garden come of in his hand in Act 2. I’ve written about these two accidents earlier. Stage accidents aside, I was very impressed by the beauty of his voice and the skill with which he used it.
Manuguerra had a rich velvety baritone that was ideal for the great Verdi roles. He was also comfortable in bel canto and verismo roles. His reviews were uniformly very positive except for his impersonation of Escamillo in Carmen. His high baritone and stocky physique were unsuitable for the role.
He sang until he was 70 with great effect. He retired because of bad leg pain. I don’t know the cause of this pain. He had gained a lot of weight as he aged. He died suddenly of a heart attack at 74. Two possible candidates for his debilitating symptoms are osteoarthritis or intermittent claudication secondary to the vascular disease that eventually killed him. Both disorders would be exacerbated by obesity, but pure speculation on my part.
Dio di Giuda! is sung by the title character of Verdi’s Nabucco. He went mad in Act 2 after proclaiming himself god. In Act 4 he prays to the God of the Hebrews. He asks for forgiveness, and promises to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem and convert to Judaism if his prayers are answered. This recording is from a recital and has piano accompaniment.
Oh, de’ verd’anni miei is from Act 3 of Ernani. This is the moment when Don Carlo decides to grow up and stop chasing women after he’s elected Holy Roman Emperor. His election is announced shortly after the aria.
Next, La sua lampada vitale from Act 1 scene 2 of Verdi’s I Masnadieri. The baritone has a plan to hasten his father’s death so he can inherit his title and estate.
Stiffelio is the oddest choice of subject in all of Verdi’s operas. The title character is a minister whose wife, Lina, has committed adultery. He eventually forgives her. In Act 3 Stankar, her father, decides to kill the man who seduced her, which he does offstage. The excerpt includes the recitative that precedes the aria and the cabaletta that follows it. Manuguerra’s singing is sensitive and dramatically apt – an outstanding effort. Lina pensai che un angelo
Rigoletto was at the center of Manuguerra’s repertoire. His interpretation of Verdi’s tragic jester was among the best I’ve heard. Cortigiani vil razza dannata in Act 2 is the Verdi baritone’s summa. This reading is from a live performance in 1977 when the baritone was at the height of his powers even though he was well past 50.
Di Provenza from La Traviata brings the action to total immobility in Act 2 of La Traviata. It’s a good tune that Verdi inserted as he likely felt a first rate baritone wouldn’t do the role of the elder Germont without an aria. Manuguerra sings the piece to perfection.
Next two of Verdi’s greatest pieces for baritone. Eri tu from Un Ballo in Maschera depicts Renato’s rage, sorrow, and grief over what he believes was his betrayal by his wife with his best friend. He’s sort of right. Urna fatale… Egli è salvo is from Act 2 of La Forza Del Destino. Another Don Carlo discovers that his new friend, perhaps mortally wounded, is the man he’s been trying to kill for a long time. The tenor Don Alvaro escapes his wrath and is still alive at the opera’s end after wiping out the entire Calatrava family. The loud orchestral sound is the result of the recording being made with a microphone in the pit during a performance in Florence in 1974. The very young Riccardo Muti was the conductor. His presence was the reason the high note at the end of the aria was omitted.
O monumento is sung by a particularly vile villain – Barnaba – in the first act of Ponchielli’s La Gioconda. Arrigo Boito the librettist was so embarrassed by the florid story that he rearranged the letters of his name to Tobia Gorrio, but his guilt was not hidden. Gioconda is one of opera’s guilty pleasures as is Andrea Chenier. I really like both. Nemico della patria is the baritone aria in Act 3. The disillusioned revolutionary Carlo Gerard muses of the wrong turn taken by new government.
Finally, another version of Di Provenza taken from the last production of the baritone’s career. The staging of Traviata was in Buenos Aires. Manuguerra broke character to acknowledge the applause. He even gestured to the orchestra. Di Provenza at 70
Manuguerra was clearly one of the best baritones of the second half of the last century. Posterity doesn’t seem to have been as kind to him as his ability merits, but his recordings will ensure he’s not forgotten.