PIERO CAMPOLONGHI (1914)
The history of opera singers has given several samples of good and reliable baritones that after some years and further studies have become distinguished renowned tenors. Some of these are: Giovanni Zenatello, Lauritz Melchior, Renato Zanelli, Ramón Vinay, Vasco Campagnano, Carlos Guichandut, Carlo Bergonzi , Bruno Prevedi, Ottavio Garaventa and Plácido Domingo.
Piero Campolonghi could have been included in the list, but it has some special differences. After a long career (23 years) as baritone he decided at 48 years old to become a tenor. After two years in the higher register he made the decision to return to his original clef singing for another ten years again as baritone.
Unfortunately (for him), his career developed in Italy during a period full of celebrated baritones. The below list is far from complete and it only follows an alphatical order, but it is useful to show how hard he had to compete in his own country and why he was almost completely ignored in international circles.
During the '30s and '40s: Gino Bechi, Mario Albanese, Mario Basiola, Augusto Beuf, Piero Biasini, Armando Borgioli, Luigi Borgonovo, Mario Borriello, Mino Cavallo, Scipio Colombo, Armando Dadò, Raffaele De Falchi, Enrico De Franceschi, Benvenuto Franci, Carlo Galeffi, Giovanni Inghilleri, Giampiero Malaspina, Giuseppe Manacchini, Spartaco Marchi, Luigi Montesanto, Francesco Nascimbene, Ettore Nava, Leone Paci, Afro Poli, Antenore Reali, Mariano Stabile, Carlo Tagliabue, Gino Vanelli.
During the '50s and '60s: Ettore Bastianini, Sesto Bruscantini, Renato Capecchi, Piero Cappuccilli, Anselmo Colzani, Dino Dondi, Giulio Fioravanti, Tito Gobbi, Giangiacomo Guelfi, Piero Guelfi, Filippo Maero, Antonio Manca-Serra, Enzo Mascherini, Carlo Meliciani, Walter Monachesi, Licinio Montefusco, Rolando Panerai, Aldo Protti, Ugo Savarese, Mario Sereni, Paolo Silveri, Enzo Sordello, Giuseppe Valdengo, Francesco Valentino, Giuseppe Taddei, Mario Zanasi.
And I honestly think that if it not were for those mythical performances of Maria Callas in Mexico City in 1952, his name would have been quickly forgotten.
Piero Campolonghi was born in Piacenza on April 23rd, 1914. He belonged to a modest and big family (16 brothers!) and he had to work as an apprentice at a carpenter shop. He showed a good baritone voice, and at 18 years old he was singing in churches and a year later in the chorus of the Teatro Politeama in Piacenza.
A member of the chorus advised him to go to Milan to study and there he studied "free" with maestro Enrico Pessina. In April 1935 he sang in a concert at the Teatro Duse in Cortemaggiore and in 1938 he participated in the International Contest in Alessandria (Piemonte). There were 347 singers and among them 58 baritones. He won the first prize in the section of the contest corresponding to baritones.
His opera debut in Italy took place on January 6, 1939, at the Teatro Duse in Bergamo in the role of Gérard in "Andrea Chénier". He sang under the fictitious name of Renzo Castelli. On January 31, 1939 and now with his real name, he sang "Rigoletto" for the first time at the Teatro Comunale in Alessandria.
He developed an interesting career, singing throughout Italy in big and small theatres. Some important milestones of his career are: in October 1940 his debut at the Teatro Regio in Parma as Marcello in "La bohème" . On 22 January 1948 was his debut at Teatro alla Scala, again in "La bohème" In this theater he sang only that season and the other titles were "Resurrezione", "Gli incatenati" (by Renzo Bianchi and a world première) and "Werther". In 1948 he also sang for the first time at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples.
Besides the traditional baritone repertoire he also sang in "Resurrezione" (Franco Alfano), "Il giuramento" (Saverio Mercadante), "Loreley" (Alfredo Catalani) and "Francesca da Rimini" (Riccardo Zandonai).
He was also chosen to sing in several modern operas, now almost completely forgotten: "Baldo" (Giovanni Ascanio Cicogna, 1939, Teatro Alighieri, Ravenna), "Il cosacco" (Di Martino, 1942, Teatro Comunale, Piacenza), "La vindice" (Francesco Morini, 1946, Teatro Municipale, Piacenza), "Gli incatenati" (Renzo Bianchi, 1948, Teatro alla Scala, Milano), "Nellì" (Lamberto Landi, 1949, Teatro Comunale, Piacenza), "Romanticismo" (Igino Robbiani, 1949, Teatro Metastasio, Prato), "Paganetta" (E. Saline, 1955, Teatro Monteverdi, La Spezia) and "Attilio Regolo" (S. Mantovanelli, 1957, Teatro Lirico, Milano).
He was invited to sing in other countries too: France, Belgium, Monte Carlo, Spain, Egypt, Tunez, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico and, as a tenor, in Malta.
His 1952 season in Mexico City was, undoubtly, one of the most successful in his career. He sang from May to July, namely with Maria Callas and Giuseppe Di Stefano, in "I puritani", "La traviata", "Lucia di Lammermoor", "Rigoletto", "Tosca", "Werther", "La bohème" and "Il trovatore".
After 23 years of a career as baritone, he decided to try a new career as tenor. From 1961 to 1963 he sang a repertoire of dramatic tenor, "Samson et Dalila", "Otello", and "Norma". The book "Le voci piacentini" mentions that he also sang performances of "Carmen", "Aida" and "Turandot". Unfortunately, this part of his career is not well documented and I have been unable to confirm them.
Anyway, in 1965 he returned again to his original baritone repertoire (his career as baritone during these last 10 years is not documented at all) and in August 1975 he sang for the last time on stage, as the Barone Scarpia in "Tosca" at the Teatro dei Tremila, in Gradisca d'Isonzo.
His voice was beautiful, extense (he had no problem to sing all the high notes) and "squillante".
He was married and had two daughters, Rita and Giuseppina. After his retirement, he has lived in Piacenza, his home town.
Reference: "Le voci piacentine" by Franco Fernandi. Azzali Editore (1994)
STUDIO DISCOGRAPHY (AS BARITONE)
Remington R-199-62/3 TOSCA (Barone Scarpia): Vassika Petrova (soprano), Edward Ruhl (tenor), Duilio Baronti (bass), Melchiorre Luise (bass):
Emidio Tieri (conductor): Orchestra & Chorus, Maggio Fiorentino (1952)
Remington R-199-175/2 CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA (Alfio): Teresa Apolei (soprano), Pina Geri (soprano-Lola), Letizia Del Col (mezzo), Antonio Spruzzola-Zola (tenor):
George Sebastian (conductor). Orchestra & Chorus Teatro La Fenice, Venezia (1954)
NOTE: These two operas were issued on LP. Not available in CD format.
LIVE DISCOGRAPHY (AS BARITONE)
I puritani (Riccardo): Maria Callas, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Roberto Silva: Guido Picco: Mexico City, 29 May 1952
La traviata (Germont): Maria Callas, Giuseppe Di Stefano: Umberto Mugnai
Mexico City, 3 June 1952
Lucia di Lammermoor (Ashton): Maria Callas, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Roberto Silva: Guido Picco. Mexico City, 10 June 1952
Rigoletto (Rigoletto): Maria Callas, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Ignacio Rufino: Umberto Mugnai. Mexico City, 17 June 1952
Tosca (Scarpia): Maria Callas, Giuseppe Di Stefano: Guido Picco: Mexico City,
1 July 1952
These "live" recordings are available on CD in different labels.
PIERO CAMPOLONGHI CHRONOLOGY AS TENOR
1961 (November 16, 19)
LA VALLETTA (MALTA) – Manoel Theatre (debut as a tenor)
Sansone e Dalila (role: Sansone): Vittoria Calma (ms), Piero Francia (bt), Leonida Bergamonti (bt-Abimelech), Iginio Riccò (bs-Vecchio Ebreo): Ino Savini
1962 (April 27)
FAENZA – Teatro Comunale
Norma (role: Pollione): Carla Ferrario (s), Vittoria Calma (ms), Loris Gambelli (bs): Franco Patanè
LA VALLETTA (MALTA) – Manoel Theatre
Otello (role: Otello): Anna Maria Frati (s), Orazio Gualtieri (bt), Gino Belloni (bs);
1963 (January 12)
PIACENZA – Teatro Municipale
Otello: Angela Vercelli (s), Giulio Fioravanti (bt): Federico Del Cupolo
1963 (March 3)
CATANIA – Teatro Bellini
Sansone e Dalila: Adriana Lazzarini (ms), Piero Francia (bt), Enzo Dara (bs): Jean Trick
Acknowledgement: My special thanks to the Italian musicologist dott. Carlo Marinelli-Roscioni.
JUAN DZAZÓPULOS E., April 2010