Born: 6 June 1939
While Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras enjoy enormous fame and popularity throughout the operatic world, their immediate contemporary and fellow Spaniard, the Catalan born Giacomo Aragall, is much less well known to the general public and indeed to opera lovers generally.
Yet he is highly regarded by his fellow tenors and has his own devoted fallowing in much the same way as Alfredo Krauss, who has been his moral throughout his career.
There is one other important factor, rather unusual in the tenor hierarchy.
Aragall suffers from depression and an acute lack of self-confidence.
Yet he had arrived in Milan in 1963, at the age of 23, on a freezing January night, in the middle of a snowstorm and almost penniless.
And yet within a year, he had made a successful debut at La Scala and embarked on an international career.
For an opening aria, I have chosen an opening aria, almost the very first piece of music, we hear from Verdi’s Don Carlo.
From the forest of Fontainebleau, Io L’ho Perdta.
Aragall was born into a very poor family.
His father had a beautiful tenor voice and had begun to study music but after the civil war, he found himself unable to afford his studies and ended up as a salesman in the fish market, in Barcelona.
As a young child, Giacomo, sang in the children’s choir of his local church and took elementary music lessons, from a young pianist student who was a family friend and he felt sure his pupil had a good tenor voice.
He decided to take him along to audition for Professor Francisco Pugh, a highly respected voice teacher. Pugh’s verdict, was that Aragall who was only 18 at the time, possessed a small voice of particularly beautiful quality.
Knowing that he could not afford lessons, he offered to take him on as a pupil for free and immediately set about the task of building his voice through a series of vocal exercises.
After a year, it had developed sufficiently for him to contemplate a professional career as an operatic tenor. And on completing his military service, he decided to take a Bruno Privete’s advice and continue his studies in Milan as Professor Vladimirov Bidialy.
So, to his arrival in Milan, (already mentioned) believe it or not, he’d absolutely nowhere to stay. And an Italian family, that he had met on the train journey, took pity on him, and drove him to a church near the station, where a priest was a friend.
The priest allowed the young student to sleep in the corner of the presbytery, for a fortnight. And fed him, once a day.
He eventually managed to find cheap lodgings, with a Milanese family and also to contact Professor Badiali, who recognised and confirmed, the young tenor’s exceptional potential and agreed to teach him for a pittance.
His faith was not misplaced. For within six months, Aragall had won first prize at the world-famous Verdi voice competition, in Busseto.
And within less than a year, he had made his debut at la Scala, in Mascagni’s, L’amico Fritz.
Which was followed there, by performances of la Boheme and Hindemith Kardula.
We’ve heard him in Verdi, now some Donizetti, Lucia de Lammermoor, Fra Poco.
We left Giacomo Aragall at his debut at la Scala. His successful debut led to a three-year contract there.
Granted, his extreme youth and financial predicament, it is remarkable that he should have resisted the temptation to do too much, and to embark on the wrong repertoire. Fortunately, he was sensible and realistic about his vocal potential.
Using Alfredo Krauss as his model, he contented himself with the purely lyrical roles and he really felt his voice was ready for heavier parts.
He restricts his appearances to a maximum of fifty to fifty-five a year and then built up a small repertoire of about 20 roles.
The Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s Rigoletto is perhaps his most popular role.
We remember that it was a great crowd favourite also.
Aragall first sang, at in Verona in 1965. And it as his debut role at Covent Garden in 1966, and at the Metropolitan in Vienna State Operas.
In 1966, Aragall took part in a famous revival at la Scala. Bellini’s opera I Capuleti e I Montecchi, Romeo and Juliet was produced with Aragall singing the part of Romeo. A part, which in Bellini’s day was taken by a female. A trouser role in fact.
So, they had to find a tenor for the part of Tybalt, the other young up and coming tenor chosen, was someone called Luciano Pavarotti.
Of course, no-one knew then, that both singers would become superstars. Not even La Scala could have afforded that.
Opera was broadcast and just guess, who was listening in? Yes, Eddie Findlay had that tape recorder running.
So, we are able to hear a super rarity, a duet sung by two tenors, direct from the stage at La Scala. Which becomes a mega-rarity.
If I may use the language of our younger generation, because of the two singers involved.
Giacomo Aragall as Romeo and Luciano Pavarotti as Tybalt.
Now a very quick look at Aragal and Carreras in those rather plaintiff songs that seems to suit the Spanish tenor voice to perfection.
Giacomo Aragall’s lack of confidence and constant self-doubt has already been mentioned.
He has never managed to master his nerves and seems unable to overcome this weakness.
When he appears in well-rehearsed productions with congenial colleagues and conductors, he excels.
But when, (for whatever reason, justifiable or not), he feels insecure, he can deliver uneven performances.
Even of roles he has sung with distinction, 100 times in the past.
Some years ago, this constant strain eventually took its toll, and he had a nervous breakdown.
Fortunately, after a long period of rest, he has recovered completely and is once again to be heard in all the great theatres of the world.
I should like to finish with something different, something special, from this beautiful singer.
In 1976, he recorded a rarely heard opera by Jules Masani, Esclarmonde with Joan Sutherland.
This opera was first produced in May 1889, at the opera comique.
This was also the year of the great Paris Universal Imbibition. So that the crowds, that flocked to Paris, could enjoy the two great new sensations.
Sybil Sanderson as Esclarmonde and the Eiffel Tower.
Here is part of the seductive love duet, and then the acceptance from her, Esclarmonde, of the magic sword of St George.