Claudio Villa

1 January 1926 Rome – 7 February 1987 Padova

Born Claudio Pica into Rome's other-side-of-the-tracks (actually, other-side-of-the-river) quarter Trastevere, he was the epitome Roman proletarian. Grown up in dire conditions, he had a chronic lung disease from a young age. Nevertheless, he started singing hit music already in 1944, and professionally after WWII: on the radio in 1946, on record in 1947 (countless discs would follow), and his first film (in a supporting role) came out the same year; he would make about 30 films total, soon as a lead actor. He won lots of song competitions, notably the most important of them, the Sanremo Festival, four times: 1955, 1957, 1962 and 1967. His fame came quickly, and it lasted for all his life, although his small, pretty voice deteriorated considerably in later years. Villa was (referring to his diminutive stature) "il reuccio", the tiny king of the Italian canzone.

He had an unrivalled reputation of being extremely difficult to work with, rude, quick-tempered, haughty; basically, of being a bad character. An outspoken communist on the one hand, he reveled in the company of the rich and powerful (and amassed a big fortune himself); an outspoken atheist, he had no qualms about participating at the consecration of a church standard that was, after all, embroidered with his portrait. And yet a considerable part of the public – not only in Italy, but internationally, particularly also in Japan – adored him, his voice and his musical style (which you may call sentimental, but you cannot deny that he knew how to effectfully present even the most trivial music). He had a secret love for opera; obviously, he was (for all his pompous self-assurance) perfectly aware that his voice was not suited for it, and he rarely gave in to the desire to sing an operatic aria. But if and when he did, the results were certainly far from embarassing.

Reference 1, reference 2

Claudio Villa singsTosca: E lucevan le stelle

Claudio Villa singsPagliacci: Vesti la giubba

Claudio Villa singsL'amico Fritz: Tutto tace, with Magda Olivero
In RA format
The Amico Fritz recording requires an explanation maybe... Of course it is evident, also from this recording, that he was not an opera tenor, he never pretended to be one, and he's giving his best to comply here. He is reported to have always dreamed of being a "true" tenor, but obviously, he knew that his voice was not sufficient. This particular recording is very interesting; it's from a live TV show in 1958, i.e. from the pre-playback era. Villa came to the show to sing one of his pop songs, but when he wanted to start, the TV host would start a conversation with him... he had heard that he, Villa, had been studying the Duetto delle ciliegie with nobody less than Magda Olivero? Yes, Villa admits, they have been working together privately. The host continues to speak about it, Villa is somehow embarassed, wants to go on with his pop song – but then, totally unexpected for him, Magda Olivero enters the show stage, they are bringing the Amico Fritz score for Villa, and force him (indeed, he was very, very reluctant about it) to sing Mascagni instead of pop. The result is... well, he is certainly no Schipa, no Gigli and no Bonisolli (who did the best Tutto tace recordings IMO)... but there are actually operatic tenors who did it worse than he does, I think.
Claudio Villa singsTurandot: Nessun dorma
In RA format
Claudio Villa's live recording of Nessun dorma is completely nuts, the accompaniment being the apotheosis of bad taste; and to make things worse, they thought the aria as written by Puccini wasn't long enough, and corrected the composer's "mistake"... Villa's singing, though, while clearly past the prime and far from being perfect, is not that bad and certainly incomparably better than what crossover tenors are typically capable of (just think of Carrisi or, shudder to mention him, Potts).
I wish to thank Daniele Godor for the recordings (Pagliacci, Tosca).

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