Martinelli talks about Martinelli - Giovann iMartinelli

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Martinelli talks about Martinelli


Seattle, 1967 - Conference -      

Ladies and Gentlemen, My Friends, Virtually every composer of opera from Monteverdi of 350 years ago to the present day has made the tenor his hero in majority operas.  I was - I am a te-nor - but   I   don't  feel heroic now.   However,  those of you who are about middle age, and be-yond, may  remember when  I  was a hero - right here in your own beautiful city - . Let me tell you the story.  Many  years ago - more than  I  care to admit or you to recall - I  sang  a  concert  here.   It was my custom on my first appearance at a theatre to locate a convenient  exit door in case  I  might have to leave the stage hurriedly. On that occasion I followed my usual practice  and took notice of the backstage emergency  exit …. Fine!
      Midway in concert an alarm bell sounded followed by others in rapid succession.  It  all  signified  only one thing - Fire!  I looked around  (naturally with the exit in mind). I  saw  no  flame
-  smelled no smoke  -  and over thousand  people were in front of me. Should I rush  to the exit
door?   People were standing - panic was in the air.  What was Martinelli  to do? A tenor has but  a single  thought when danger looms - sing and sing I did - standing smiling and poised at the piano.  The audience  seemed reassured and sat down. What  had happened was that the watchman  standing  backstage  listening  to my  singing had forgotten to do his job - to  wind up the devices controlling the alarms. He was not reproached  and  the next  day I was acclaimed a hero.

Quando suonava il clarinetto nella banda militare nel 1908 (Martinelli è il quarto dall'alto, in terza fila)

This time  I  not going to sing for you.   I'm  just going to talk to you.  About  what? About me.
“ Martinelli  talks  about  Martinelli”. But  only as the link between the music we all love and you, my  listeners,  today. A  troubadour  recounting his adventures for the past  60 years - 54 of which have been  spent in our wonderful  America.
    To do this, I  must ask your indulgence in one matter.   I  detest  the constant use of pronoun ”I”
-  yet - they are my experiences that  I  must talk about and  I  do not have the right to use the editorial  “We”. I  know that as a youth  I  sat at the feet of my elders and listened with reverence to the wisdom and  knowledge of their  achievements.   Now the position is reversed and by reason of
the  accomplishments of my lifetime I can talk to you. I was there - I saw and heard - and is my story.
    My  father was a very good cabinet maker (and so was  I ) in a little town in the  North of  Italy.
I  was the oldest of fourteen children and helped support the family from childhood doing anything even picking grapes for wine and attending to all the chores of a farmer boy. Perhaps that is where  I  gained my strength - it was a wholesome life - and the main course was a vegetable soup.
So what? I loved it and if any of wish to feed me today - give me first a fine bowl of soup and  I'll be most happy with whatever you serve thereafter.

    I  started to sing at the age of six in church as a boy contralto.  Since I  had a natural voice  I  was asked to do solos at that age, I can say truthfully that I have now been singing before the
public  for more  than three quarters of a century.   At  eleven my voice started to change, and silence  was my lot until  I was seventeen when a tenor voice evolved. It was during this period  when,  unable to sing, I began to study the clarinet which, since it was mostly just blowing, was easy for a tenor and enable me to continue with my music. At  twenty I entered the army and because of the clarinet training was selected as a member of the regimental band.

Giovanni Martinelli in una foto con Giuseppe De Luca (alle sue spalle), Arturo Toscanini (al pianoforte) e colleghe

Naturally I sang -without training - the song and arias  that any  Italian boy would have sung at the age. One day, while singing at an open  window in the barracks, I was heard by my commanding officer, who decided I had talent which should be developed. I was taken to Milan and there,  against strong protests on the part of my father, was given a scholarship in the form of a contract to study.
     After six months of study my sponsors wanted to hear me and judge my progress. It was a complete fiasco. The freshness, naturalness, and spontaneity of voice which they had heard at my original audition were gone. My six months' study was a disastrous mistake and they were ready to cancel the contract and send me home. You can imagine my despair.  Their opinion was that my voice was not lost nor but  I  was just on the wrong track.   
      Fortunately, Giuseppe Mandolini, a former tenor, then working as a bookkeeper for my sponsor  heard me as did Tullio Serafin, the great conductor. Mandolini understood my problem and with the support  of  Serafin  asked for three months in which he was certain he could restore my voice and put me in the right line. It  will interest you to know that in 1908  before starting my lessons in Milano I was asked by the local  committee of my hometown, Montagnana, to take the role of Messaggero in “Aida”, the opera which was given for twelve performances at what they sued to call the Autumn Festival, and I was paid three  Lire  per performance ( equal to $ . 60  per performance today ).

        My official debut came on December 29, 1910, when I sang the title role of Verdi's  “Ernani” at  the Teatro  dal  Verme in Milano.  I  also sang “Ruy Blas” at the same  theatre, and after a while word got around  that  young upstart  Martinelli  might not have had much experience, but he did have a strong pair of lungs. One day, the  theatre manager who was also my sponsor, told me  I  was to sing an audition for someone. I came out on stage, looked  into the darkened  auditorium  and saw no one. A voice asked what  I  would sing. As  I  recall,  I  chose “Celeste Aida”and“Cielo e mar” from “Gioconda”. When I finished, two men came on stage,  and my heart  stopped. I was only at the threshold of my career but all  Italy knew  Arturo Toscanini and Giacomo Puccini. Puccini was then fifty-three years of age, fairly tall and thoroughly masculine in appearance and voice. He grasped my hand firmly and said. “Bravo, young man, I think you will do”.  Then explanation was given. Puccini's “Fanciulla del West” which had received its world premiere six  months before at the Metropolitan with Caruso, Destinn and Amato, was to receive its European  premiere at the Teatro Costanzi in Roma that  summer.
Caruso was not available and the part of Dick Johnson, the tenor was assigned to Amedeo Bassi. However, because Bassi  had contracted to participate in the Coronation Season of George V in London another tenor was required as a replacement and I was  chosen for the assignment.

Mario Cavaradossi in Tosca

I was from these performances that my career really began.  Puccini was so  pleased  with  my singing of “Fanciulla”  that  he  asked La Scala to engage me for “Fanciulla” despite the  fact  that I had been  singing in  Milano's  second  theatre - the  Dal  Verme - with Claudia Muzio in  performances  of  “Manon  Lescaut” under  the  baton of Ettore  Panizza. The  performances  of  both  of  these  operas  launched  my  international  career  at  Covent  Garden, London, Monte  Carlo,  Budapest,  Brussels  and  other  European  capitals.   
         Puccini  helped  me  much  throughout  my  career. His recommendation along with that of Toscanini brought about my engagement by Giulio  Gatti-Casazza, the general manager of the  Metropolitan in 1923. Originally, I had more  success with Cavaradossi in“Tosca” than with any  other part. In London, I was forced at my debut to  encore the last act aria, “E lucevan le stelle”,  twice, making a total of three times that I sang  it  in succession. In America I was loaned by Gatti-Casazza to the Philadelphia company, where I  made my American debut in “Tosca” with Mary  Garden, God bless her soul,and Vanni-Marcoux.  Mary would lean over him and snarl,”Voilà, c'est  fait”,before saying her more familiar lines,  “Davanti a lui tremava tutta Roma”.
One of the last times I saw Puccini was in 1921, three years before his death. He spoke enthusiastically about a new opera he was writing called “Turandot”. He told me that the tenor part  was half completed and sat down and played the last act. Puccini said he would like to have me create the part at La Scala and he hoped to have it ready by 1923. As you all know, the cancer of the throat that killed him in 1924 slowed his writing and last scene of the opera had to  be finished by the composer Alfano. Gatti-Casazza refused to give me time off from the Metropolitan, so I lost the chance to create the part and did not sing it until the Coronation Season at Covent Garden in 1937. But I was the first tenor to sing “Nessun  Dorma”.
          Now, let me play for you a recording taken from the stage at Covent Garden during a performance of “Turandot” in 937. The “Nessun  Dorma” and the final part of Turandot's great  aria, “In  questa  reggia”, beginning with the words: “O  principe” and climaxes with two sustained high “C” by the soprano and  tenor. Eva Turner, England's  magnificent  dramatic soprano, is the artist who sings with me in this excerpt.  In 1912 I sang my initial Canio in“Pagliacci”, a role in which I ppeares over 200 times. When I heard Caruso at the Metropolitan in 1923,I realized I would ave to do something to  make my own interpretation a bit different. I went to Leoncavallo and asked for his help. The  composer of “Pagliacci” looked at me in amazement and a it of disgust. “Martinelli”,he laughed, “you  ask me for help when you have the greatest Canio  of my dreams at the Metropolitan to watch. Go ask  Caruso for help”. I worshipped Caruso,but hesitated  to ask. Apparently Leoncavallo wrote to him about my request because Caruso invited me to attend  his rehearsals. One evening after a fabulous performance I went to his dressing room and I  truly did not know what to say. He asked me:“Did you like my  Canio
tonight, Giovanni?” “What  can I say o  you,  Enrico,” I  answered. “I  still have  not  recovered
from the experience.” Then he asked: “Do you like  my  costume?” I replied: “I  cannot imagine any  other costume for “ Pulcinella”. He  turned to his  valet anddirected, “Tomorrow take my costume to Giovanni. It is his from now on”. I received the cleaned costume the next day. I never  wore it, but preserved it as one of the most precious of my mementos.

Caruso showed me where to save and where to give emotion as Canio and also how to attack the great  finale of the “Vesti la giubba” in two breaths, so that the legato line  is never broken. He also insisted I use his innovation  in the  score  in the music which  follows the “Vesti la giubba”. Here the anguished Canio staggers through the curtain of  the little theatre and before entering he cries  out  words not written in score - “Infamia. Infamia” - as
the aging man realizes that his pretty young wife  has taken alover. The very soul of man is revealed in his despair at this moment and one can hardly  breathe in the theatreif the Canio is sincere in his  feelings. Let me play you a recording made on the  stage of “Vesti la giubba” whit the cries of  “Infamia, Infamia” and listen to the reaction also  of the audience.
    In 1917, the Metropolitan presented “Faust” with  Geraldine  Farrar, Leon Rothier, Pasquale  Amato and myself under Pierre Monteux. “ Faust” was my second opera in French, “Carmen” having   been the first. I studied hard with Monteux  and  received much assistance also from Rothier who  had been selected for study at the Academy in  France by Charles Gounod, composer of “Faust”. I also worked with Nellie Melba and more particularly  in Cleveland with Emma Eames, of whom Gounod  said, “This is my perfect Margherita”. So I was well  prepared in this work which gave me the  chance  to display again the long legato line so necessary  to a romantic opera of this kind. The exceptional  demands on the high register also prepared me   for great French dramatic parts I was to assume  in  later years - the Juive, the Prophetes”, and the “Samsons” of the 1920's. At this time my voice  was at its peak both in the lyric and dramatic  repertoire. I felt that I had an artistic as well as  a  vocal success. I should like to play for you the last  part of Faust' aria, “Salut Demeure”, the second  verse, with the music soaring to a sustained high C in an unbroken lyric line.

Con la moglie Adele e i figli

Perhaps the greatest of the French  roles  I  sang was that of Eleazar in “La  Juive”. I had heard  Caruso, of course, sing it in 1919 and 1920. He  was incredibly good and I was inspired to ry  the  same part. Caruso's death caused “Juive” to be  dropped from  the repertory. I engaged Salvatore  Fugito, Caruso's accompanist, as my pianist and coach  after Enrico's passing. He brought parts of  opera to me and asked that I try them. I absorbed  the score and in December of 1923 went to Gatti-Casazza and told him I was ready, if he ever  decided to do the opera again. As this role required the portrayal of an elderly man (the supposed father of the heroine - not her lover -) deeply imbued with the spirit and  practice of his religion and a dedication for vengeance I did not want erely to imitate Caruso's interpretation  but  to  create my own conception of this powerful  character. I found my way to visit homes where  aged Jewish men spent their declining years and  observed their manner of speech, behaviour,  gesturing, walking, etc. On December 13, 1924, the opera  was given and I sang the role of Eleazar. The first  performance  was most  successful but already  inside me was the incubating typhoid fever germ  and almost immediately after the performance I  was stricken. For six weeks I hovered  between life  and death while the newspaper pointed out the  similarities in the cases of Caruso and me - and  called “Juive” a jinx opera. (“Juive”, you may  remember, was the last complete performance of Caruso's career.) Finally, after three months I as well enough to return to the stage. I made my reappearance in “Pagliacci”, and then Gatti-Casazza  I thought that belief in jinxes was a remnant of  paganism and I had faith in myself and God. I sang “Juive” and continued to do so for another  twenty years. I'm sure you all know the famous  aria of the fourth act sung y  Eleazar, “Rachel,  quand du Seigneur”, which Caruso made so famous. Allow me to play the last part of for you  now as I recorded it in  1924, the first year I sang  the opera. Let me,at this point, go to back a bit -in fact to 1915. When I first sang "Trovatore"at the Metropolitan.                  
                   Add “Trovatore”, “Aida” and “Otello” 

Eleazar ne: La Juive

Which of all the operas I sang did I like the best ?  Impossible to say. It all depended on the  circumstances - my fellow artists and where a  certain presentation was to be made. As an artist  I  loved  them all and if given a chance to return to  my youth, I' d sing them all again with the same delight and  enthusiasm I have had for more than half a century.
               But of the composer, I can make a  choice.To  me, Verdi was the King. He was my  Emperor of Opera - and I was but a disciple gifted  by Almighty God with the power to interpret  the  King of Music's message to the world. This is my  epitaph and no man could have a  prouder one.
               I  hope I have fulfilled your  expectations, and you have found my personal  observations interesting.

     Thank  you
Giovanni Martinelli

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