Salvatore Fisichella was born in 1943 in Catania Sicily to a noble family distinguished in diplomacy, jurisprudence, philosophy, and theology since the 17th century. He was opera’s leading bel canto tenor for the last 30 years of the last century and into the first few years of the 21st century. Known for the elegance of his singing as well as awesome high notes he was a solid lyric tenor who successfully managed roles outside the bel canto repertory such as the tenor leads in La Bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, La Traviata, Rigoletto, and Faust. In recital he could easily handle spinto arias. Despite a major international career his fame never rose to the level of his talent. He made only one appearance at the Met in five performances of I Puritani with Joan Sutherland in 1986. His formidable technique and skill allowed him to be in outstanding vocal condition throughout his sixties.
Clearly, he was one of the greatest tenors of his era – or any era, for that matter. I cannot explain why an artist of this magnitude did not achieve more renown. You can judge his worth from the material presented below. Still vigorous he lives in his native Sicily and is active as a teacher.
I’ll start with Bellini. Fisichella is said to have sung more of his countryman’s leading tenor roles than any other 20th century tenor. The role of Arturo in I Puritani is one of the most demanding tenor parts in opera. The story is par for the silliness of early 19th century Italian opera. It takes place during the English Civil War. Elvira is from a Puritan family and has been promised in marriage by her father to another Puritan – a baritone. Of course, she loves the tenor, a Royalist. Her father on learning of her emotional direction consents to her marriage to Arturo. He appears in Act 1 scene 3. He expresses his happiness and is joined by Elvira and the rest of her clan. The soprano in this recording is the late Slovak prima donna assoluta Edita Gruberová. A te o cara
Elvira has gone mad when the last scene arrives, a common affliction among bel canto sopranos. Arturo is about to be executed. At the last moment, a pardon from Oliver Cromwell saves him. Before the pardon arrives Arrturo starts an ensemble beginning Credeasi, misera in which he says how sorry he is for Elvira while the rest express their pity for the unhappy lovers. Gruberová is again Elvira.
I Capuleti e i Montecchi was written in 1830, five years before Puritani which was Bellini’s final opera. He died in 1835 at age 33. This version of Romeo and Juliet is based on an Italian play rather than the Shakespeare drama. Tebaldo is a Capuleti. He and Capellio (Giuletta’s father), at the start of the opera, address their followers advising rejection of an offer of peace to be brought by an envoy from Romeo, the man who had killed Capellio’s son. Tebaldo states that he will avenge the killing to celebrate his marriage to Giulietta: È serbata a questo acciaro
O muto asil del pianto is the Italian version of Arnold’s aria that opens Act 4 scene 1 of Rossini’s last opera William Tell. Arnold is dispirited, he’s aware of Tell’s arrest, but set on revenge, draws strength from being in his father’s former home and sings a moving lament. The difficult tessitura and high notes, especially in the cabaletta, are tossed out with spectacular ease.
Donizetti’s most popular opera, Lucia di Lammermoor, now thought as a vehicle for a star soprano was initially considered a showpiece for the tenor. It still is because of the opera’s final scene which is a long solo for Edgardo, Lucia’s forlorn lover. He thinks she dumped him for a comprimario tenor. Halfway through the scene, he discovers she is dead and kills himself. He dies after a beautiful soliloquy. Here’s the entire scene. Edgardo requires a more muscular tenor than most bel canto operas. Fisichella has the chops for the role. Lucia di Lammermoor Tomb Scene
Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots is not only the composer’s masterpiece, but it also has his second best tenor aria (‘O paradis is the best) – Bianca al par di neve alpina in its Italian translation. Raoul tells how he rescued a girl from an attack on her in the street. Although he does not know her name or her origins, he immediately fell in love with her.
Every tenor sings Che gelida manina. Fisichella sings the high C that arrives near the end of the song as if it were a middle C and then sings the rest of the phrase without an additional breath. There’s much more to his interpretation than high notes. It’s a sensitive reading.
Finally, two tours de force in arias from operas Fisichella would never have sung on stage as they require a true tenore di forza. First Nessun dorma from Turandot. He hits the ending over the fence and into Bedford Avenue. Last, as nothing could follow this, is Di quella pira from Il Trovatore. He hits the high C so far it hasn’t yet landed. The final note is the best high C ever recorded and it’s from live performance.
There’s more of Fisichella’s singing available on the web. Regardless of the Met’s failure to re-engage him or his relative lack of name recognition by anyone save an opera devotee, his was one of the greatest tenor voices of the last century.