I have taken a sentimental commitment to write an homage in memory of my
father, but there would be so many things to tell that I really wouldn’t know
where to begin and where to end... I can say that he was unique, exceptional,
with a great personality and a very rich soul. In a certain way I have always
felt I was protected and privileged by being his son and by staying at his side.
My father has had the opportunity to sing in many different countries and
cities, in so many theaters and performances as well as in Radio & TV
programs, traveling almost half the world, always because of his vocal
merits and his art of the belcanto. When he sang abroad, he always represented
with much honor and success his Sicily and Italy. Whenever he sang operatic
repertoire, classical Neapolitan songs or Sicilian folksongs, he received
everywhere excellent reviews, often very praiseful. He loved very much his
country and especially Sicily! He never forgot his native land and his roots.
Because of so many experiences and vicissitudes of life, simply by staying at
his side there was always something to pick up or to learn from him. He was a man who
knew how to behave himself in the best possible way with everyone and how to
adapt himself to whatever circumstance.
I have always been very proud of having such a father, not only for his singing
(that I certainly admired very much and for which I have become his most
important fan and critic), but also for his rare modesty and humbleness, his
generosity, for his availability towards others, for his great
sensibility and his boundless love he had for me; he always praised me
everywhere and because of my natural shyness, he often made me a little
We had an unique relationship; we were not only simply father and son, we were
also like brothers and at the same time friends that would never part, in brief;
we shared almost everything, in good and in bad. We were very attached and
always worried if one of us was feeling not too well.
He lived with great passion and love
for the art of belcanto
When his beautiful and unique voice began to lack, his life ended
You will remain always in our memories and in our hearts
These are exactly the words that I felt to put on his tombstone
inside our family grave.
His goal of life was first of all to sing and to transmit emotions to
those who listened to him, that was his joy and the greatest passion which always
accompanied him. By the way, I remember a review after his interpretation of the
‘Cavalleria Rusticana’, they wrote that they at last had listened to ‘a very
fiery Turriddu’ !
Each time he sang, it was as if his soul illuminated and reflected, and just by
singing with his soul he knew how to transfer and take the audience “as a
hostage”. He never spared himself and gave all he had. I must say that,
by all means, he was born a singer, he had it in his blood! Certain
qualities you possess already when you are little or when you are very young and he,
regarding singing and being an artist in the deep of his soul, had them all.
My father began to sing in church when he was about seven years old.
Then when he was about fifteen years, M° (Maestro) Giacchino Carmelo, who was a
teacher at the Conservatory of Music of Palermo, invited him to participate as a
soloist in the choir “Il Coro della Conca d’Oro” (The choir of the Golden
Shell), at those times one of the best polyphonic choirs and Sicilian folk
groups, where he began to sing the most beautiful classical Sicilian songs of
that era. Already then he did many tours with this choir (also abroad) obtaining
lots of success everywhere.
At seventeen years old, his passion to fly made him participate in a National
Competition for gliding pilots (pilots of sailplanes) which he won.
So it happened that he had to follow the course in Bovolone, where he obtained,
as one of the youngest in Italy, his flying-certificate.
In 1941 he won a scholarship to become an actor-singer at the ‘Centro Sperimentale
per Cinematografia di Roma’ (Cinecittà) but unfortunately, because of
the war that was going on, he wasn’t able to finish those studies… At
Cinecittà, he personally met several famous artists and actors including: Amedeo
Nazzari (with whom he acted in a short scene of a movie), Luisa Ferida, Osvaldo
Valenti, Rossano Brazzi, Carla del Poggio, the Prince Antonio de Curtis (in
art Totò), Achille Togliani and Miriam di San Servolo (the sister of
Claretta Petacci). The next year he was a finalist in a
singing contest at EIAR (former RAI) singing live on air in the Radio program
“Trenta minuti nel mondo” (Thirty minutes in the world) where listeners
could express their votes by sending postcards.
In 1949 the famous tenor Beniamino Gigli chose him, as one of the most
beautiful emergent tenor voices of that time, to sing at the ‘Teatro
Massimo’ of Palermo in a lyric concert as a benefit performance for the
Citizen Committee ‘Salviamoli’ (let’s save them), offered and organized by
Gigli himself. My father had thus the honor to ‘open’ the concert with the
romanza ‘Vieni’ by Denza and to sing, the last but one piece that was in the
program, ‘Che gelida manina’ from La Bohème. Also Gigli took part in the
concert by singing three arias. The reviews were very good;
about my father they wrote that he was a lyric tenor of great promise.
In 1950, after he won an International Contest for opera singers, he was
awarded a scholarship for perfection at the ‘Accademia Musicale
Chigiana’ in Siena where he studied with the Soprano Ines Alfano Tellini and M°
Giorgio Favaretto. At the end of the course he was chosen to sing, as the tenor,
in the Basilica San Francesco of Siena, together with a symphonic orchestra and
choir directed by M° Andrea Morosini, in the memorial concert of the fiftieth
year after the death of Giuseppe Verdi, obtaining excellent success in front of an
audience of about three thousand spectators and enthusiastic reviews afterwards.
At the concert was also present the maecenas, founder and honorary president of
the Academy, Count Guido Chigi Saracini who personally complimented my father
after the concert was over.
Then followed the first historical recordings on 78 rpm records: ‘Vitti
‘na crozza’ on Cetra records in 1951 (which suddenly became a worldwide
success), ‘E vui durmiti ancora’ (my father was the first singer who
recorded these two songs on records) and many other classical Sicilian and
Neapolitan songs on Fonit records recorded in 1952 (Torna, Passione, Addio a
Napoli, etc..). In that year my father was invited
by M° Furio Rendine to participate at the Festival of the Neapolitan Song,
‘La Piedigrotta’, (the tour lasted about two months) where he sang, accompanied
by orchestra Anepeta, ’’E Campane Napulitane’ (These Neapolitan Bells),
the song that was awarded and recorded also on Fonit records. The local press (Il
Mattino di Napoli) at that time praised him as ‘The new Caruso’ and
commented ‘At last a voice with the capital V’ for having sung without
microphone! Also in that same year he was invited by MSI to
record the hymn, ‘Sorgi Sicilia’ (Sicily stand up!), on VIS records.
In 1953 he was engaged to sing in the United States of America where, in
1954 at the ‘Metropolitan Opera House of Pittsburgh’, he interpretred the
main role of the ‘Count of Almaviva’ in the Opera ‘The Barber of
Seville’. The trip to America was offered to him, in accordance with the
contract, on board of the beautiful and legendary liner ‘Andrea Doria’
where, during the voyage, he was invited to sing lyric concerts accompanied by
the orchestra on board directed by Maestro Bandel.
In the following years he did many concerts, tours, performances and
programs for Radio and TV, first in the U.S.A. (for SBC, NBC, Ed Sullivan and
Perry Como shows, etc.) and then in South-America. In that period he personally
met many Vips like: Jane Russell and Robert Mitchum. In Cuba he was together
with Edith Piaf in a musical program for Television (Canal4) and with Maurice
Chevalier and Nat King Cole in the famous Nightclub ‘Tropicana’.
Immediately after that I was born in 1959 (we were at that time in Ecuador), my
father and my mother decided to continue to work, traveling and taking me with
them. My little bed was at that time simply the drawer of a wardrobe in a hotel
or a hammock that my mother attached between two walls of the room. For my
parents it was a pretty difficult life in that period… but it was full of
In the U.S. from 1955 till 1959, my father recorded 78 and 33 rpm records
for Columbia Records and 45 rpm
records for Onix and Granja. At his re-entrance from the U.S., from 1962 till
1964, Italian 45 rpm records followed, recorded for Phonotype, Zephir, Fonola
and Primary. In 1962 he won twice the 12th Sicilian Songfestival of
Castellammare del Golfo with the songs ‘Carritteri ‘nnammurato’ (Sicilian
cart driver in love) (awarded first prize) and ‘Saridda’ (awarded second
prize) which were recorded immediately on records afterwards.
The voice of my father was a voice of prime quality, flexible, sweetish,
brilliant, of natural beauty and velvety but at the same time ringing and
powerful, not artificial, spontaneously cutting and with a bright
emission and clear diction. His voice and his art of the belcanto have given him
always many satisfactions; I think that all his recordings and above all the
hundreds of reviews can witness this.
His voice was a gift from God. He already perceived that at an early age and he
therefore was not much in favor of being guided by singing-teachers who could
impose vocal emission techniques not suitable or not natural for him and that
could have maybe damaged his voice. Also because of his character which was a
bit rebellious, my father always personally decided which teacher to follow or
which singing technique to apply; first of all he preferred to listen several
times to records of his favorite singers (who he considered his models) like
Gigili, Caruso, Fleta, Jan Kiepura, Tito Schipa etc. and then to give audiences,
receive advice and possibly follow lessons from teachers whom he praised and who
he thought were suitable for his voice.
He received singing lessons and advice from the following singing teachers:
- Maestro and Tenor Salvatore
Pollicino of Palermo, with whom he had been
studying since the age of 18
for several years to prepare himself for leading
tenor roles in various lyric
- Maestro Alfredo Polverosi at the
EIAR (RAI), with whom he studied
perfection of phonetics in
order to sing in Radio programs, after having won
an important singing
- Maestro Tenore Raffaele Punzo of
Naples, who had been the personal
secretary of Enrico Caruso
and who himself owed a metallic and very
powerful voice as well;
- Maestro and Tenor Giovanni
- the famous and legendary Maestro
Enrico Rosati, who at that time lived in
New York and who had been
the singing teacher of Beniamino Gigli and
Mario Lanza (who was his
last pupil) !
All these extraordinary teachers certainly gave precious advice to my father but
he received also advice and important indications from Beniamino Gigli, who kept
an eye on him and who continued corresponding with him. Needless to say,
Beniamino Gigli was his idol! I won’t continue to tell the various studies of
my father, who during his whole life tried to learn more about the art of
belcanto and often said: “The art of singing is infinite, you will never stop
learning” but I can add more, that towards the end of his career, he also gave
singing lessons to young candidate opera singers who wanted advice or judgments
from him. The first thing that he said to his pupils was: “First of all, study
and understand very well the text that you actually are singing, enter into the
part and discover which feeling each word or phrase must have. When you are
dealing with a sad or melancholic phrase you must express exactly this feeling,
when there is joy, express cheer and so on. You must use the colors, just like
an art painter does with his palette of colors. Use the voice as if it is a
brush and when you sing a romance or aria, try to paint with your voice a
painting full of colors and with as
many shades as possible”. And this is exactly what my father always tried
to apply to his own singing and I think this was one of the reasons for his
success. He always attached much importance to the correct interpretation and
clear diction of the text and said: “Listen how Gigli, Jan Kiepura, Miguel
Fleta, Di Stefano and Mario Lanza interpreted !”. For these tenors he had a
particular admiration and when he met Giuseppe di Stefano (a Sicilian too) for
the first time in Mexico in 1957, they immediately became friends for life!
Through him, in 1973, he had the honor to personally meet the divine Maria
Callas and to be invited to her residence in Paris.
About Mario Lanza he said that no tenor ever has been able to sing and to
interpret in such an excellent way like he did. “If a tenor had to imitate
Lanza with the same energy and power he performed, then he would end up killing
himself or damaging his voice! My father was very much impressed by Lanza when
in New York he saw the movie “The Great Caruso” for the first time and
confided me that he was a bit depressed afterwards in wanting to continue his
career as a tenor.
It seems incredible, but my father has sung and recorded operatic repertoire
till the age of 82 years !!! (as evidence there is the CD: ‘Romanze Vol.4’
recorded in 2002). Although he didn’t have the diaphragmatic power and
respiratory capacity anymore like when he was young, his voice had remained
intact and for this reason he wanted to continue to record. To have known how to
maintain such a good voice till that age proves his great passion, his love and
desire to continue to sing opera.... always.
He further had that way of knowing exactly how to communicate with people, so
gallant, charismatic and pleasing that all people who met him remained
enchanted and fascinated by his way of being (that alas nowadays seems to belong
to another world or era because it’s not common use anymore...) He used to
express himself with much conviction, passion, cheer or other state of mind that
those who were listening rejoiced and wanted to hear more and more... In brief,
also by simply telling short personal stories or anecdotes he always knew how to
entertain a large group of persons or friends. And I think that that is one of
the most important qualities that an artist must have first of all, i.e. to know
how to communicate and to transmit emotions and feelings from the depth of his
soul... Also this is an inborn quality as well that hardly can be learned…
it’s part of your own character. Then, as I told before, there was in him that
great sensibility for which he could easily empathize with the problems of
others. He was easily touched, upon hearing of difficult situations, and in those
moments his eyes filled with tears... His fragility and vulnerability often
caused him embarrassment, especially in front of people with whom he didn’t have
much confidence, but I think that this is the most beautiful thing a man can
express... In any case this great sensibility of his, that I consider a quality
which has certainly allowed him the privilege of entering as best as possible into the various
operatic roles and in all the romances and classical songs that he has
interpreted as a lyric singer, allowing him to transmit always the most
profound emotions and feelings to the audience.
My dearest Dad, you don’t know the great void that you left me...
I sense that along with you, an important era went away… You taught me so many
things... I will never forget them ! Fortunately there are the recordings of
your voice and of your singing that give me some consolation and ensure that
you will always remain alive for me, for all the people who have admired you,
esteemed and loved you, and for all those who in the future will still have the
possibility to listen to and to appreciate your voice for the first time.
I also have loved and still love you and I always will love you very, very much
till eternity… I will carry you in my heart wherever I go !
Citing the beautiful words that a great female admirer of my father wrote
to me shortly after his death and that apply exactly to me as well:
”A part of me is gone with him,
but a part of him will always remain with me !”
Farewell my dearest Dad, I miss you very much,
I hope one day I can be reunited with you !
With my greatest love and devotion,
Your son Michelangelo Jr.