Saturday, September 20, 2008

Notes on a Forgotten Hero

Titta Ruffo. 1877-1953.
Born Ruffo Titta.
Named Ruffo after the family dog, which had just died.
Ruffo discovered that he had a powerful baritone voice. A rival said it wasn't a voice--it was a miracle.
The Voice of the Lion.
At Covent Garden, he was scheduled to sing with Nellie Melba, the wicked witch from Australia.
Nellie, apparently worried after hearing him sing that she would be outshone by him, told the manager: He's too young.
Eight years later, when Ruffo was the most famous baritone in the world, she invited him to sing with her. He sent back a message, instructing the messenger not to change a word: Signor Titta believes she is too old to sing with him.
But later he did sing with her.

In 1916, when he was making a fortune singing all over the world, he joined the Italian army! Stopped singing--except at benefits for wounded soldiers. Returning to opera years later.

Didn't suck up to Mussolini, the way other singers (Gigli and Lauri-Volpi) did.

Got assaulted in France before a performance by Mussolini's thugs--went on with his performance.

A leading Socialist in Italy defied Mussolini. He was Ruffo's brother in law. The man disappeared. Ruffo canceled his operatic appearances. The man was found dead. Ruffo went to the funeral. Arrested by Mussolini, spent a few days in jail before international protests led to his release.

His recording of the Oath Aria from Otello, with Caruso, is considered by some critics to be the best recording of any operatic aria ever. (He and Caruso seemed to be rivals--they made few recordings together.)

You can listen to the Voice of the Lion on YouTube.