Born: 13 August 1888 in Barcelona, Spain
Died: May 17, 1974 in Barcelona, Spain
Although Spain cannot boast a tradition in Bel canto, equal to that of Italy, nevertheless in the last hundred years or so, she has given to the operatic firmament, a number of stars of the first magnitude.
Among the Tenors, we already know of the great Guarri, and we have heard the fine trio of Vias, Constantino and Pioli. The famous musicologist Rodolfo Solette mentions that the oriental influences of Arab civilization, on the vocal language of the Spanish people would have outstanding importance, resulting in an irresistible propensity to languid melancholy, and to long rich tendencies of trills, vocalizations in phoria tourer.
Consequently, all Spanish voices, whatever their register, brought to operatic singing in the 19 century a taste for modulations for spinning out the tone and for mezzavoche, which was in born in them, a true endowment of nature.
Where singers of other countries, including often, Italians, were unable to obtain the same effects except by dint of study.
Certainly, in the cases where this natural gift was refined by a knowledge of style and technique, Spanish tenors attained an outstanding virtuosity, for example, Manuel Garcia Snr and in the middle of the 19 century Manuel Carrion.
But such cases were rare. From Garri to Valero Venus and Constantino from Adam Bureau to Lazaro, Flatter and Cortese.
Modulations and Mezzavoche represented an innate physical characteristic, rather than an acquired technique.
Today another three great Spanish tenors, Domingo, Carreras and Arregal, dominate the Tenors scene. And during the 60s and 70s, Alfredo Krauss was surely the world’s finest lyric tenor. As we approached a new decade, the star of the Portuguese tenor, Francisco Areasia, is starting to rise. But long before we reach him, however, another superb trio of Spanish divos have to be discussed.
The first of these was, Hipolito Lazaro, born in Barcelona on August 1888, and it was while doing his military service that he gained his first musical experience, by playing the saxophone in the regimental band.
He showed promise as a singer too, for while his regiment was posted at Olof in 1909, he sang in an Opera and several concerts there.
His performances were sufficiently successful to make him decide to take up singing as a career.
And he made his debut in La Favorita in Barcelona in March 1910.
While we today, jaunt over to Spain, to enjoy our holidays at 200 plus pesetas to the pound, you will be interested to know that at the end of five performances, Lazaro was paid a total of 35 pesetas.
He saved up enough to travel to Milan for further training and study and made his Italian debut at Fahrarar in Rigoletto. In 1911, he came to England and gave concerts in London and Manchester, under the name of Antonio Manuela.
The main purpose of his visit was to make some recordings for HMV.
He had nothing good to say of these recordings which he thought were very poor indeed. He later recorded exclusively for Colombia, and he is one of the very few artists whose Columbia records are better than their HMV’s.
In any event, his London visit must have left a bad taste in his mouth, for he never sang opera in Britain.
It was during a season in Genoa in 1913, that he met Mascagni, the composer was greatly pleased with his performances and thereafter often secured his services. The two men became firm friends and remained so throughout the years.
When Mascagni’s Parasina had its world premiere at la Scala, Milan on the 12th of December 1913, the composer chose Lázaro to create the tenor role. LaScania had very happy associations with Rome, and Lázaro too, became a favorite with his city’s opera go-ers.
He first appeared at the Constanza in 1911, returned in 1914 to sing with Corelle and Battisti, and had another season there in 1915, during which he took part with Raiza and Formice in the world premiere of “Romanes” one act opera, Federa.
Unfortunately, Lázaro did not make any records from either Parrasina or Federa.
Nevertheless, we shall introduce him with a bang.
Here is a little something from William Tell.
Lazaro’s first South American visit was in 1914. But in 1915, he was a member of a much more distinguished company there. He sang in the Colognes’ first presentation of Zandenai’s, “Francesca de Rimini”, with Raiza and Spani.
He also sang in Tosca, alternating with Caruso this season.
The history of the colon mentions the arguments that raged over the 1913 Rigoletto, was Strattchiari, Barrientos and Anselmi, and a 1915 production with Ruffo, Galli-Curci and Lázaro. I would give my right arm to have seen either of them.
He was scheduled to make his metropolitan debut in 1918 and the American Columbia recording company made the most of this, by mounting a publicity campaign of great intensity. Obviously, they needed someone to start selling like Caruso was doing for Victor, HMV.
We read that the opportunity to hear this marvel voice on Columbia records is the supreme coo of the company’s history. Lázaro had been termed the greatest tenor since Rubini and greater than Guarri. At the age of 26, he possesses the marvel voice of the generation. Not only is there no voice of greater power, but there is no tenor to touch such range or control.
In Lázaro, the world is listening to a vocal miracle, a voice that will be recalled in future generations, as the great world tenor.
And if that didn’t make you rush out and buy the records nothing would.
In the event, his debut at the Metropolitan was on the 31st of January 1918 in Rigoletto with De Luca and Barrientos. And on the whole, the press, was favourable.
He was compared to Bonci and was deemed an adequate successor to him.
Then came Puritani, which had only been heard once previously at the metropolitan, when Sembrich and Stanio sang it in 1883.
One of the reasons for the infrequent performance of the opera was, and still is, the difficulty of finding a tenor able to cope with the high tessitura.
The fact that Hammerstein was actually able to find two tenors, Bonci in 1906 and Constantino in 1909, to present it to New York, during his short tenure at the Manhattan, does not invalidate the argument that Lazaro’s participation was vital for the Metropolitan revival.
Anyway, the tessitura held no problems for our Hipólito.
He was with the Metropolitan again from 1919. He appeared with Farah in Tosca and Madame Butterfly, and with Muzio in Cavaliere Rusticana, La bohème and Aida. And for his last season there in 1920, he sang in Rigoletto with Barrientos and De Luca, Tosca with Farah and Scotti, Butterfly with Farah, and Scotti again, and Lucia de Lammermoor with Barrientos and De Luca.
In our return to Italy to take part in the world premiere of Mascagni’s opera, Il Piccolo Marat, which took place at the Constanza in Rome on the 2nd of May 1921. And just as DiMuro had made Mascagni’s Isabeau his own, so it was with Lazaro’s Piccolo.
He sang the part on many occasions all over the world, notably when it was first performed in Argentina, Brazil, Spain, and France. Invariably receiving high praise for his portrayal. And like Isabeau, when its creator was no longer there to sing it, it disappeared from the repertoire.
Lazaro had a magnificent reception when he went to sing at Madrid for the first time in early 1922.
The opera go-errs of the capital, eagerly awaited his coming. For was he not a Son of Spain, who had made a brilliant ascension from humble beginnings, bringing fame to his native land. And the press made the most of it, including a detailed report of his wedding, a few years before, in Santiago.
When the poor Bishop, trying to pronounce the benediction, had had to deal with a stampede, because of the overcrowded cathedral.
His debut was in Aida, and the King in high society turned out to hear the phenomenal Catalonian.
He also sang in Rigoletto, Tosca and finally in la Favorita, where many felt the shade of Guarri was once more treading the boards of the Real.
From 1930 onward, Lazaro too had been spending his time mostly in Spain. But in 1940 at the age of 52, he must have had a touch of the wanderlust again, for he gave a concert in New York, town hall, on the 13th of February 1940.
His first appearance in the city in 20 years. And the critics were impressed by his improved artistry. He even wrote to Lucrezia Bore, a fellow Spaniard, then popular at the Metropolitan, asking if Rigoletto or another Opera, would be available for him at the Met.
He received the following reply from Bore.
“Much as they appreciate your ‘very friendly gesture’ to sing a performance for the benefit of the opera funds, they cannot avail themselves of it”.
Lazaro was furious and his anger was aggravated by the fact that Bore, a fellow Spaniard had written to him in English.
The twilight of his career was spent in Havana, a city he must have loved, for after first appearing there in 1916 with Galli-Curci, he returned again and again to sing in concerts and in Opera.
His appearance in Marina, Aida, and Rigoletto in the Cuban capital in 1950, can be considered to mark the end of his career, although even after he had finally left Havana, to settle in Barcelona, he continued to sing for several years more in concerts.
He died in Madrid on the 14th of May 1974. Born 4 years earlier than Flater, he had outlived him by 36 years.