Born: 29 July 1872
Died: 14 January 1949
The year 1874 produced our next tenor, Italian Armedeo Bassi.
He was born near Florence, and it was Florence that there was to be the source and scene of much that was important in his life.
It was close to his birthplace, the place of his early studies, then of his debut and eventually of his retirement and death.
Bassi came on the scene in the 1890s, and Tomagno and De Lucia were the reigning tenors in Italy. And Caruso and Zena Tello were beginning their careers which were so often in the future, to come into competition with his.
His debut, in Florence, was in Marketa’s Ru Bla 1897. And during the next five years his reputation was further enhanced by successful appearances in Florence, Genoa, Verona, and other important Italian cities. In operas such as Boehme, Rigoletto, Mignon, Faust and particularly in Tosca and Fedora, which got him rave notices.
From 1902 to 1907 he appeared, every year at the Cologne in Buenos Aires, where he opened the 1902 season with Aida.
There he became an idol of one of the operatic factions, into which his city was divided. In those days, with no television or radio, no football teams or rock groups, young men and women took their opera stars very seriously indeed.
Each favourite singer had their own following, and arguments would rage continuously over this or that performance. What’s more, their elders were every bit as involved, sometimes, even more so.
Back at La Scala in Milan, he had very successful appearances in Trankette’s Germania, to such effect, that he was chosen to create the role of Leonello in Mascagni’s new opera, Anika, with Geraldine Farrah, at Monte Carlo in 1905.
And in 1906, he was asked to create the tenor lead in D’Erlanger’s new opera, Tess at the San Carlo in Naples.
Finally in Milan’s La Scala in 1907, he had the lead in Cuillea’s new opera, Gloria.
Here he is then, in one of his greater roles, an aria from Tess.
An opera, which did not survive long in the repertoire, although it did enjoy some popularity at the time.
Always on the lookout for new stars, Hammerstein at the Manhattan opera in New York, had not failed to notice the successes of the young tenor. And he was engaged in 1906 and remained there for three years.
It is a delight to read through the catalysts of his performances at the Manhattan.
Here are just a few, to give you some idea of the singing strengths of those days, taking into account, of course, that at the other end of the city, the metropolitan, was competing with if anything, even stronger casts.
Aida with Bassi, Russ, and Cona and Sasisnarov.
Pagliacci: Bassi, Donelda and So Marco.
Traviata: Bassi, Melba and Renault.
Traviata again, Bassi, Tetrazzini and Ancona
Faust: Bassi, Agosdinella and Dadoua
Fernanes: Bassi, Russ, Ancona and Arimonde
Mass Ball: Bassi, Russ and So Marco
And it is equally interesting to read what the papers had to say about some of these performances. The New York world on Aida, singled out his tonal beauty and brilliance of technique.
His Traviata was praised by the New York Times, for the opulent outpouring of voice, and his Analgias Shenmue was sung with a verve that carried the house by storm.
As I have already said, when the Manhattan closed up, most of the singers transferred to the Chicago lyric opera. So, it was with Bassi, who sang there from 1910 to 1912, joining his tenor colleagues, Dalmorez, Constantino, McCormick and Ritoa.
For a single season 1910/1911, Bassi also sang at the Metropolitan, in direct competition with Caruso, in the girl of the golden West, which he sang with Destine, Russ, Amato, Dudoua, and Gillie, no shortage of staff here.
Although the owner of a powerful and vibrant voice, he was unable to match Caruso’s either voice or his enormous popularity.
Let’s hear him now in an Aria from Puccini’s opera, Manor Lescaut.
I wonder if you noticed that that was the first Puccini aria, we have had, and we are now on our 5th tape of Tenor Aria.
It was not deliberate, it simply illustrates musical history, in that it is only now that the Puccini Operas are becoming established and the arias becoming popular.
Bassi returned to Europe and continued an active career, specialising in verismo roles. When suddenly Giuseppe Bargatti had to leave the stage in 1913, owing to his blindness, this opened the way, not only for Ferrari Fontana but also for Bassi. And until 1926, he had a second career as a Wagnerian specialist. Playing Tristan, Parsifal, Siegfried in Rome, Milan and Turin.
He just could not find it in his heart to stop singing, even after 50.
There were many concert tours, his last appearance being in 1940, aged 66.
His last years were devoted to teaching in Florence, where he died in 1949.
He recorded mainly for Pathe. Those centre star records, that we first heard from Affre, and not good for transfers.
He made a few Phonotapaya records in 1906, but Tess Aria came from that batch. And a couple of rare disco paradisus, Puccini came from them.
I have my own amusing tale to tell, of the only 78 RTM record I had of Bassi. I sent to Chicago for the record and after a lengthy wait, the precious disc was in my hands, and I just couldn’t wait to show and play it, to a great musical friend of mine and fellow collector, especially as it was transferred onto what I thought was the new unbreakable vinyl format.
My friend was a bit skeptical at this unbreakable bit, and in order to convince this doubting Thomas, I nonchalantly dropped the record onto the stone fireplace, we had at that time.
Imagine the look on my face when the record shattered into a dozen pieces. We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, as neither of us had any Bassi records and little prospect of securing any.
One thing I can promise you, I’ve never dropped a record since.
Here to conclude then, is a Pathe record of Bassi in Denza’s lovely little song, Ochhi Di Fata