My personal experience with singing teachers

By Giuseppe Tomaselli

I remember when Milnes first appeared. I believe the performance was Tosca. He was outstanding and I wasn't surprised that he went quickly to the Met. His vocal quality was very good and his technique wasn't bad. I guess he was impressed by Warren, who was quite exceptional. Warren did study in Italy with the great baritone Giuseppe De Luca. I don't know how long he studied in Rome, but he had the same teacher of Arte Scenica that I had for a while. The teacher's name was Picozzi, and I found his method to be very old-fashioned. Picozzi had a lot of students especially at the Santa Cecilia conservatory in Rome and the Teatro Sperimentale in Spoleto, and I could tell immediately who studied with him because he had them use gestures that were very outdated. Anyway, that didn't take away from Warren's great voice and excellent diction. Near the end of his career, Warren sang some performances of Rigoletto in Italy. Unfortunately, some of the envious singers in Milano including the bass Trancredi Passero organized against him and managed to ruin his performance. Too bad Warren died during a performance of Forza del destino. The opera is considered a bad luck opera. If anything bad is going to happen, it is during Forza. That is when scenery falls on singers and all kind of bad things happen. There are many stories about the bad luck, and some singers try to avoid the opera. Warren's Italian diction was very good. In his later years, however, his voice seemed to get very hollow, but he retained his Number One status at the Met until his unfortunate demise on stage. It is not unusual for the Met to use up singers until they get burned out. Poor Renata Scotto's voice wobbled so much I don't know how she continued to sing in that fashion. Warren also studied with Sidney Dietsch.

Regarding teachers, I must have had about 20 – some in Rome, Italy and some in the U.S. I can count on, maybe, two fingers the ones who were almost in the right direction. My first teacher studied with Giuseppe Campanari. He was THE BARITONE at the Met when it opened up in 1883. Stefano Pettine, my teacher, was a good tenor. He had a good knowledge of opera and Italian diction, but he lacked some knowledge on how to produce the high notes correctly. I could produce the high Cs, but I knew instinctively they were not correct. After military service, I went to study with Rosati. His concept was correct, but he, also, was never clear on producing high notes correctly. Gigli and Lanza did manage to produce good high notes, but I don't know how much Rosati had to do with that. He spoke of the "third register", but he was never clear on how to produce those notes. It is my opinion that male voices are much more difficult to train than female voices. Before I studied with Rosati, however, he sent me to one of his pupils to study solfeggio. I should have mentioned to him that I played violin and was first chair in my high school orchestra. His pupil, a female, took it upon herself to give me some vocal exercises. Her concept was awful. She had me open up the voice so that it did not go into the resonating cavities. When I went back to Rosati, he should have been ashamed and given me free lessons to fix the damage she did. I was very fortunate that she didn't cause any harm to the vocal cords. I studied with Rosati for about six or eight months, and I told him that I wanted to study in Italy under the G.I. Bill. He suggested Santa Cecilia in Rome where he taught. I learned a great deal about Rosati then. He was the accompanist of the GREAT Antonio Cotogni. Cotogni was a great baritone, a great musician, and a GREAT teacher. I was amazed to learn that Jean de Reszke was one of his pupils (but as a baritone). Cotogni was the teacher of Lauri-Volpi, Gigli, Franci, and many others. The book of cadenzas includes all of the changes and cadenzas he wrote. Anyway, when Cotogni died, Rosati was picked to replace him. Not too many students liked the idea, but they had no choice. Since many of them had good basics, they made improvements and, some became great. Rosati, however, was quite a lecher. He liked to fondle the pretty female pupils and, when I went there, the secretary of the conservatory showed me the desk where Rosati used to hide under when irate fathers went looking for him. When Gigli went to the U.S., in 1921, Gigli brought Rosati with him shortly after his own arrival. Of course, his studio, West 205th Street in New York, was loaded with students. Lanza was one of his successes: a great voice, but no discipline. Eventually, he imploded through his own stupidity. When I went to study with Rosati, he used five books and gave a few vocal exercises. How the heck can anyone make any progress with a 40 minute lesson once a week? Anyway, he did make arrangements for me to go to Santa Cecilia. In Rome, I met another pupil of Rosati's (Maria Callichio who became Maria Candida and sang at City Center and did some performances as Musetta in Bohème with Tebaldi. She is now The Diva Maria Candida in Germany.) She brought me to Manlio Marcantoni who was another disaster as a teacher. He was really a coach and had no business teaching singing, but he was at the Teatro dell'Opera where they gave out scholarships to Mario Del Monaco and other winners of a vocal contest. Marcantoni had to be one of the worst voice teachers. The popular story about his teaching Del Monaco was, after a performance of Otello with Del Monaco, he asked Del Monaco how he managed to produce that great voice. Del Monaco replied, "It was easy maestro, I just did the opposite of what you told me to do!"
I think I would nominate Rodolfo Ricci. the nephew of the famous Luigi Ricci. Rodolfo Ricci went to Japan to ruin the voices there. Francardi met Ricci in Japan when they were both there. Francardi liked him. He never studied with him, or he would have changed his opinion. I never found a good teacher in the U.S. I studied with Sam Margolis, teacher of Merrill and Jerome Hines. Margolis was a wonderful man, but he did not have full knowledge of the mechanisms of singing. I wish I had met Paul Althouse, teacher of Tucker. Tucker's technique was very good, even though everything he sang sounded the same. Jan Peerce had a good technique and lasted a long time at the Met. His interpretations were technically good, but no deep emotion. I don't know of many others, and some in New York were notorious charlatans though they had the right connections.

I did write a book on singing after immense research and practical experience, but getting it published seems to be impossible. Oh, and Arrigo Pola, Pavarotti's teacher had to be pretty darn good too. He used a I - U - O - A - E on the same note going up a half tone at a time, and it seemed to work pretty good. Pola was a good tenor but not a super star. But if you heard him, you can hear the similarity in his voice with the late Pavarotti's. Of all the voice teachers, I guess the most famous one was Nicola Porpora. Unfortunately, he taught the great castrati. Too much of a price to pay for a vocal career.

I did not include Manfredi Polverosi among the noted teachers in Rome during the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s, but Polverosi had many successful pupils. He started out as a tenor and sang with all the great artists, and he sang many roles mostly in the lyric vein. He was an avid fascist and interrupted his career to go to Spain to fight with Generalissimo Franco to defeat the communists. As a result, Polverosi got chronic bronchitis and his career was shortened. During a performance at the Eliseo Theater, he went to hear the debut of a young tenor in the tenor role in Tosca. The tenor was so nervous that he said he hardly remembered the performance. It went pretty well until the second act when he came to the heroic phrases, "Vittoria, Vittoria". Instead of the notes coming out, two cracked notes came out. The tenor was humiliated, and he didn't know where to hide. A friend of Polverosi remarked, "That is the end of that tenor", and Polverosi responded, "Too bad because he has a great larynx". Close to Polverosi, in the theater, was the brother of the tenor who overheard Polverosi. He asked Polverosi if he could help his brother. An appointment was set up, and Polverosi accepted the tenor as a student. After half a dozen years, the tenor was given the role of Rodolfo in Puccini's Bohème. Agents of the Ricordi publishing company went to hear the rehearsal to approve of this tenor whom they already knew through his reputation as a cracked tenor. Their opinion could either have made or broken his reputation. The rehearsal was flawless, and that tenor sang from 1933 to 1958 and was one of the most reliable tenors with the vastest repertory of all tenors. He was called on to sing for Mascagni, Giordano, Mulè and many of the great conductors of his era. He substituted for all the great tenors when they were ill, and he was so reliable that no one ever had to substitute for him. He knew so many operas that they called him "The human gramophone". Once a maestro Consorti asked him to sing the premiere of an opera he composed called Giulio Cesare. He explained that the music was so beautiful that there was a little of Verdi, a little of Puccini, a little of Mascagni, some Giordano, and a little of other composers. The tenor said, "Just send me the words, I already know the music". When he sang William Tell, in Geneva in 1941, he caused a sensation when the audience asked for some of the difficult arias to be sung THREE times. His last performance at the Rome Opera was Otello in 1953 when he substituted for the indisposed Ramón Vinay. Unfortunately, by then, he was diabetic and his throat became very dry and he realized that he could no longer sustain the demanding pace of the big opera houses. He formed his own company and continued to organize performances until 1959.
One very interesting story about him happened right after WWII, he was singing Aida when someone told him: "They just threw your secretary out of the theater". His secretary was also the secretary of Tullio Serafin. "Why did they do that?" he asked. "Because," they said, "he was a fascist." He might have been in order to earn his living, but he was never an active member of the fascist party. When the 3rd act started, the tenor entered the scene and stood silently for his cue. The conductor started the phrases again and still no Radames. The conductor called up to him, "What is the matter!" "I don't sing until my secretary is back in the theater in the first row!". Now who would be as audacious as that? His name was Renato Glgli and his secretary, Sanpaoli, became artistic director of the Rome opera house. By the way, Polverosi was Gigli's teacher until the end of Gigli's career. Polverosi also taught Licinio Francardi, and many others. Renato Cioni (who sang almost exclusively with Maria Callas and Suherland), became a pupil of Renato Gigli. He had some success with other pupils, but the biggest surprise to me was when his son was singing some performances at the Met in Bohème and Butterfly. Renato Gigli had spectacular high notes. So did his son Franco.
Here, Mr. Tomaselli's memory played a trick on him: Franco Gigli never sang at the Met, not even under any stage name. Could it have been the New York City Opera?

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