He was born Wesley Lincoln Swails in Wathena, Kansas. He studied voice with Lila Livian in New York City for a number of years. He sang in Germany in the late 50s mostly in Lübeck under the name of Johannes Volk, with a fine young baritone, named George "Harve" Presnell, who went on to act in the movies and stage, the song "Mariah" comes to mind. In the early 60s, Wesley graduated to Italy, where he sang Guillaume Tell (now under his real name, Wesley Swails), with Tito Gobbi in 1962. He changed his name soon after to Gianni Savelli and made his career in Italy and Scandinavia. Unfortunately he made no official recording (his only LP was never officially issued), another great forgotten voice. Here, he can be heard in Corriam, voliam, making us deplore that he did not sing Arnold more often. Wesley Swails regretted that he did not sing both Otello and Almaviva in public.
The two following recordings were made in Italy when he was 76 years old, and attended an audition of young singers. Those two unpublished recordings were issued to remember his death.
Herod was most effectively sung and acted by a newcomer Gianni Savelli, who penetrated the neurasthenic core of the role. Max de Schauensee
Once again, Johannes Volk proved to be a great artist, and a true theater animal: his Herod was the paragon of neurasthenia. Lübecker Freipresse
In the role of Bacchus the tenor Volk sang the near heldentenor role with power and brilliant facility. Lübecker Freipresse
Bacchus demands an heldentenor quality with a very high vocal line, last evening the tenor Volk soared over his role with great facility, at the same time making the part of the semi-God believable. Kieler Nachrichten
A truly remarkable tenor ... Tito Gobbi
Hailed in Rossini's Guilaume Tell .. with his ringing tones (he is) the first tenor since Lauri-Volpi to overcome the difficulties of the part. G. Pugliese, Il Gazzettino di Venezia
It is not easy to find in the world an Italian heroic tenor with the power and secure tones like the Radames of Gianni Savelli ... He was the conqueror with the stature of a gladiator, secure victor over the Ethiopians. You almost believed he could break the roof of the tomb in the last act ... he sang always with a voice that did whatever he wanted, and from the first to the last moment preserved his strength and warmth. Berlinske Tidende, 16 November 1964
.. This is the way Radames should be sung, powerful, dominating. He could be heard with unbelievable clearness, even in the great ensembles. Ekstrabladet
Il celebre tenore Savelli mandò in visibilio il pubblico specie al Ventritré ore. Cellemare
Der größte Beifall konzentrierte sich auf den Tenor Johannes Volk: ein echtes, ein ursprüngliches Sängertemperament mit prächtigem, stellenweise noch engem Material, dessen auf dem Boden der italienischen Gesangskunst gewachsene Technik die Verdische Kantilene zu formen versteht und das reizvolle Spiel des Auslassens und Auffangens des Tones sicher beherrscht. Wirkungsvoll auch der Gegensatz zwischen der anfänglich allzu draufgängerischen Darstellung und dem Ausdruck der Vertiefung und Verinnerlichung, den er im Schlussakt erreicht; er wird bei wachsender Herrschaft über die deutsche Sprache zweifellos ein starkes Aktivum des Ensembles sein. Lübecker Freipresse
.. he possesses a noble voice, rich in expression, with a flexibility that is never limited by technical problems, an instrument that in every moment is ready to give life to a high musicality, and a temperament controlled with wisdom. The last act aria was a masterpiece by any measure.
I wish to thank Wesley and George Swails for the recorded material and permission to put it on the site.
I wish to thank George Swails for Ron Grable's article.