Born: November 4, 1889, Worchester, Massachusetts
Died: January 1, 1942, New York, New York
This cassette opens with the first American tenor to appear in our survey, Charles Hackett.
Born in Worcester, Massachusetts on the 4th of November 1889. And it grieves me to have to tell you, that the only LP ever issued of this singer (An American Oasis) is not in my position. Nor is it in that of Mr Edward Finley’s, and mention of Eddie’s name reminds me, that it is long overdue.
My first thought on this survey, for that it would be impossible, or at the very least, that would have to be so curtailed that it would hardly do justice to the subject. At the first mention of the idea to Eddie, his immediate response, was to consider his collection at my disposal, and anyone who knows the extent of his collection, will realize, that it dawned on me, that with this kind of help, it might be possible. So, to Eddie, goes my heartfelt thanks, for all the help and encouragement that he has provided, and it gives me the greatest pleasure to dedicate this survey to him.
As to Mr. Hackett, I should like to have been brief. As we are going to hear so little of his voice. But he was an important artist in his time, and his discography throws up some information on a subject, that I have never seen discussed anywhere else, recording contracts and fees. So, we must have some of that.
But firstly, some brief biographical details.
First major concert – December 1911 Carnegie Hall, New York and Verdi’s requiem with Gluck, Homer, and Witherspoon
Further three years study in Italy. Debut on the 6th of January 1915 in Mephistopheles in Pavia
La Scala Milan debut on the 28th of December 1916 in Mignon with Storchio
Then Roe in the Cologne, Buenos Aires, meets and befriends Caruso, who is best man at his wedding
Rome and Turin in 1917 and the Paris opera in 1918 for Maria de Rohan with Battistini
Metropolitan debut 31st of January 1919 in the Barber of Seville with Hempel and DeLuca
Then Gounos, Nere with Barrientos and Rothiae
First of some 150 gramophone titles released.
Sings at the Metropolitan in seasons 1919, 20 and 21, then in 1934, 35,36,37 and 39
A Chicago opera in 1920/21 and then every year from 1924 to 1932 and again in 1937 and 1938.
At La Scala in 1922 in the Barber, with Hidalgo and Gileffe,
Then Monte Carlo in the Paris opera and Rigoletto and Romeo
1922 sees him also at the Lissio in Barcelona
1923 Covent Garden debut. Boehme with Maggie Tate
Then Tosca. Back in 1926 in the Barber with Kapsia and Chaliapin
And for Melba’s farewell in scenes from Romeo and Juliet
Tours of Australia and New Zealand in 1924
At least we can get to hear his voice, here he is with the brilliant Spanish coloratura soprano Maria Barrientos, Rigoletto.
Now to some rare and fascinating information regarding recording contracts and fees.
Hackett’s first contract was with Edison in 1912, at $125 a month, no royalties, when he was little known. When his reputation abroad began to soar, at least three companies began to take an interest.
Here is a letter written to him by a friend regarding this.
What’s started me writing to you, this particular moment, was to give you a tip on the phonograph situation as I see it.
I understand the Victor people have already made an offer to you through their Buenos Aires man and that the Aoelion company has also made you an offer.
I was in the Columbia office the other day, where a particular friend of mine stating that they most certainly wanted to be considered in the running, and that as far as arrangements went, they would be willing to make your terms as favorable to you, as any other of the firms.
In signing with the Victor people, you would come in direct competition with Caruso and McCormick records. Both of whom already have an established popularity under prominent sellers.
The Aoelion company has not yet started to make their records. They have of course, a very fine selling organization. And they claim they’re going to turnout finer records than anybody else. But as they have made none as yet, that is a question for the future to decide.
With the Columbia people, he would occupy practically the same position that Caruso did with the victor. A number of tenors have sung for them of course, but they have no one star tenor to make records for them. That position would be yours. And with their prominent selling force devoted to pushing you, it really seems to me, that the Colombia has more to offer than any of the others.
Naturally, I should not advise you to sign with them, unless the financial arrangements come up fully to the offers of the others concerned.
The writer was a good friend of Mr Hackett, and was offering entirely personal thoughts, mentioning that the magazine he represented was on excellent terms with all three firms. On January 31st, 1918, the tenor, then in Italy, sent his friend the following request.
I am writing to you to ask a great favour, last summer, you communicated with me regarding the phonograph people, who were after me, and as a friend, advised me to take up with the Colombia people. I had already been in close negotiation with them, but we could never come to any understanding.
They wished me to quote a figure, which I was not willing to do, and there, in the other hand, had played exactly the same game, as a consequence, we arrived nowhere. In your letter to me, you said you had a close friend of some of the head ones of the Columbia company.
I’m going to ask you, if in some way, in the course of the next few days, you could not find out, what they’re paying Lazaro. He’s being paid on the percentage basis, so much on each record manufactured and of course he received a big advance on making the contract.
Mr Hackett made it clear, that he did not want his friend to pursue the matter, if it would cause him any personal difficulties or embarrassment in his position. Apparently, it didn’t, as the tenor received the following telegram on February 26th, 1918.
Columbia original contract Lazaro five years. Royalty 15% percent on wholesale price. Columbia advanced $3000 contract afterwards extended additional five years and $5000 additional advanced. Making entire advance, $8000 for 10 years. Lazaro earned over $16,000 first year. Person considers amount advanced or guaranteed unimportant, but believe can get Colombia to guarantee at least 5000 yearly.
A letter from Mr Hacketts influential friend, followed on in March 3rd, 1918, quoting the cable and going into further detail.
I had a talk with the head man of the Columbia contract department, he would like to secure you, and I am sure, will be very liberal. As the cable states, I am sure I can get the Columbia company to guarantee you $5000 per year and give you the usual 15% royalty on the wholesale price of the records. The guarantee of course takes the form of an advice on royalties, that is, they pay you $5000 at the beginning of each contract year, and then charge it against the amount of your royalties. Paying you the difference between the sum and whatever your royalties may have earned by the end of the year. From the way they talk, I think they would prefer three years contract with you, with the privilege of renewing for another three years. Undoubtedly, if your records came up to expectations from the selling standpoint, and I’m sure they would, instead of renewing for three years, they would perfectly be willing to make it for a much longer term. I know more or less the contracts of various artists, Caruso and McCormick of course, do not need guarantees. And as far as I can find out, no other tenor has been guaranteed the amount which they were willing to offer you, $5000 per year except Bonci, and that was only in the heyday of his powers. As regards the situation in general, I have not changed my mind since I wrote you last summer. There are only two companies which really come into consideration, Victor, and the Columbia. Victor of course is a concern of the very first rank. But with the longest of tenors who now sing for them, I still believe that you would do better as the star of the Columbia catalogue. I do not know this for a fact, but I suspect that the sale of Lazaro’s records, has not been sustained as well as they might wish, and they are in need of a first-class tenor, like yourself. Otherwise, they would not be so willing to exceed to such exceptional terms. Just in confidence, Lazaro has not done so well at the Metropolitan as they had hoped. They like his voice but his singing and acting, both smack of the provinces.
The writer went on to assure Mr Hackett that Columbia would be willing to include in the contract, $1000 exclusive of payments to him, to be set aside for advertising.
The Colombia forces who had indicated such a strong desire to record the Hackett voice, took an unusually long time in issuing his first records. They finally reached a market in November 1919, but perhaps the delay was intentionally planned to coincide with the beginning of the new opera season.
At any rate, new Hackett discs were regular features of the Columbia supplements over a period of 10 years. The final recording date was April 23rd, 1930.
This premature finale had nothing to do with the acts themselves but was rather related to the lack of financial stability in America at that time. The depression was entering the full swing phase, and radio had taken over the nation’s living rooms. Both at Colombia and Victor, were in positions of financial crisis, and contracts with almost all major singers, had been left to lapse.
While Charles Hackett was seldom bothered by poor health. He had experienced some problems with his gall bladder and appendix. Although this situation did not demand immediate attention, he elected surgery to remedy these sources of annoyance.
For some unknown reason, he chose the evening of the 31st of December 1941 for the event, a most unlikely time, considering the demands placed upon a New Year’s Eve skeleton hospital staff.
Shortly after the operation, Mr Hackett lapsed into shock and died the following morning. It was a most tragic and avoidable death.
Here he is, with that glorious Italian baritone, Ricardo Stracciari in a duet from la Forza del Distino.