Sensational Male Italian Opera Singers Who Sang in Lviv
Italian male opera singers blissfully uphold the tradition of Italian songs by Italian opera composers to audiences. Undoubtedly, it is the tenor voice that has made Italian opera spectacular.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Italian opera singers were very fashionable. While on a European tour, in addition to performing, some of these Italian singers would provide opera voice lessons and encourage the local aspiring opera singer to learn to sing opera by continuing their opera singing lessons in Italy. Today, famous opera singers reach out to young opera singers and provide vocal lessons.
In Lviv Ukraine, Italian operas and popular opera songs by classical singers were a feature prior to World War II and reemerged after Ukraine declared independence.
A Legend Among Male Italian Opera Singers – Mattia Battistini
Mattia Battistini (1856 – 1928)
Perhaps, the most famous of the Italian opera singers, in fact, a legend, who has honoured Lviv (Leopolis) with his voice, was the legendary baritone – Mattia Battistini (1856 – 1928)
Mattia Battistini was born in Rome on February 27, 1856. His mother was a descendant of Roman nobility and his father a medical practitioner, director of the Hospitale dello Spirito Santo in Rome and colonel in the Pope’s Civilian Guard unit (later amalgamated into the Vatican Guard).
As a young man, Battistini at age:
14 – studied at the Bandinelli Jesuit School in Rome
17 – volunteered for the army
19 – began university studies (law or medicine – the experts can’t agree)
22 – made his opera debut at the Teatro Argentina in Rome.
The Italian opera singer Battistini had a career that spanned almost 50 years. He:
performed in all the capitals of Europe
traveled to perform in South and North America
graced the salons of the imperial families of Romanov Russia and Edwardian England.
Mattia Battistini devoted much of his to time travel. Long distance land trips in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were either by horse-and-buggy or by train. According to various sources, when on tour, Battistini would travel in a private coach, which could be attached to a scheduled rail service. The special car was a personal quirk. However, since the Italian opera singer traveled with large trunks filled with costumes that he needed for his various opera roles, it was also a necessity.
Jacques Chuilon in his book Mattia Battistini: King of Baritones and Baritone of Kings (published in English tranlation in 2009) records that Battistini left a legacy of over 100 costumes made for him for his various roles as an opera singer. Included among them is a costume for the role of Escamillo in the opera Carmen, “with a scarlet cape on which there are genuine traces of blood from a real bull” (p.68). It was gifted to Battistini by his friend, the matador (bullfighter), Luis Mazzantini (1856 – 1926).
Battistini was personally acquainted with most of the great opera composers of his time.
Italian opera music composer Ruggiero Leoncavallo (1857 – 1919) allowed ‘divo’ (as the composer referred to the singer) to sing both the Prologue and the role of Silvio in the opera Pagliacci. At the time and throughout the composer’s life, no other opera singer was permitted to appear in both parts in a single performance.
The French opera composer, Jules Massenet (1842 – 1919), personally transposed the lead role of Werther in his opera Werther from a tenor to a baritone so Battistini could perform it in St. Petersburg in 1902.
Mattio Battistini spent the second part of the 1907 – 1908 season and the entire 1908 – 1909 opera season at the Lviv Opera. Records show that during this time he performed the roles of:
Renato in Un ballo in maschera by G. Verdi
Figaro in Il barbiere di Siviglia by G. Rossini
Giorgio Germont in La traviata by G. Verdi.
In a period, when mass recordings were not the norm, Battistini managed to make over 100 opera recordings. Unfortunately, no recordings of his performances in Lviv remain.
Francesco Malapena was born in Naples in 1972 and is a member of the popular opera ensemble The Great Italian Tenors.
The above video clip is from an opera concert that took place at the Lviv Opera House on October 3, 2013. Italian opera singer Francesco Malapena, a tenor, performs La donna è mobile (“The Woman is Fickle”) from Act 3 of the opera Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901), conducted by Myron Yusypovych.
A Ukrainian Tenor Among Great Italian Opera Singers – Alexander Filippi
Alexander Myshuha Myszuga Filippi
No one would ever unknowingly associate the famous male Italian opera singer Alexander Filippi (1853 – 1922) with Ukraine. And yet, this was the stage name of Oleksandr Myshuha (a.k.a. Aleksandr Myszuga) born in Novyj Vytkiv in the Radekhiv region of Ukraine.
Alexander Filippi’s operatic rise was not easy. He was born in a small village, the youngest of five children and his parents were neither wealthy, nor musicians. Nevertheless, Filippi at age:
14 – entered the Ukrainian Catholic Cantor School in Lviv
24 – began his musical studies with Walery Wysocki at the Lviv Conservatory
27 – made his operatic debut in Lviv
30 – made his operatic debut in Italy.
Oleksandr Myshuha took the Italian stage name of Alexander Filippi. The choice of name was not a coincidence. It was as a dedication to this father, Pylyp (Fylyp). Filippi used this name during his performances in Italy.
According to some sources, the famous Italian opera music composer Ruggiero Leoncavallo (1856 – 1919) heard Alexander Filippi perform the tenor role of Canio during the September 20, 1892 season opening in Milan. Following the performance, the composer wrote a dedication to the opera singer in his Pagliacci piano score:
”In Milan, during the season opening, I listened to Signor Filippi in the role of Canio and I was incredibly pleased with his exact interpretation and magical artistic singing.” Ruggiero Leoncavallo, 1892
For 7 seasons from 1883 to 1891 at the Teatr Wielki in Warsaw Poland, Alexander Filippi performed under the Polish version of his Ukrainian name. In Poland, he is known as the Polish opera singer – Alexander Myszuga.
During his tenure at the Lviv Opera during the 1883 – 1884 season, Filippi performed under his Ukrainian name – Oleksandr Myshuha (Олександр Мишуга).
An Italian Opera Singer Who Decided to Make Lviv His Home
Residence of Augusto Dianni (1873-1938)
Very little is known about the Italian opera singer Augusto Dianni born in Rome in 1873 and died in Lviv on August 8, 1938.
At the time of writing, we don't where Augusto Dianni is buried. But, we do know that in Lviv he resided at 1 Asnyka Street. Today, the street is called Bohomoltsia and is located walking distance to the Musical Academy and the Lviv Opera House.
We know that during the 1903 – 1918 opera seasons, Augusto Dianni performed at the Lviv Opera House as:
Don José in Carmen by G.Bizet
Maria Cavaradossi in Tosca by G.Puccini
Canio in Pagliacci by R.Leoncavallo
Alfredo Germont in La traviata by G.Verdi
Count Almavira in Il barbiere di Siviglia by G.Rossini.
During the 1907 – 1908 opera season at the Lviv Opera House, A.Dianni appeared in the role of Count Almavira in Il barbiere di Siviglia together with another male Italian opera singer, the baritone Mattio Battistini, who perfomed the role of Figaro. Additionally, there are claims that during this same opera season, A.Dianni performed in the operas Tosca and Carmen together with the Italian opera diva Gemma Bellincioni.
From the information that is available, A.Dianni came to Lviv as part of a group of travelling Italian opera singers and decided to stay. He performed as lead tenor at the Lviv Opera House for 15 years. Afterwards, for the next 20 years until his death, Dianni taught at the Musical Academy (then known as the Galician Music Society).
Augusto Dianni remains a male Italian opera singer yet to be researched.
Why Would Italian Opera Singers Want to Sing at the Lviv Opera?
Why Lviv? Lviv Opera House Today
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Lviv (then called Lemberg) was part of the Habsburg Empire (1772 – 1918). Lemberg was considered the Empire’s eastern most capital, second to Budapest and Prague. This tradition was continued during the period of Polish administration (1918 – 1939) with Lviv (then called Lwow) maintaining its status as a cultural capital.
Unfortunately, during the Soviet period, the status of Lviv changed dramatically. Lviv and the surrounding areas were a hotbed of anti-Soviet partisan uprisings. Additionally, Lviv was geographically 70km from the western border of the USSR. As a result, the city was not only neglected, but a concerted effort was made to relegate it to a provincial town.
Today, the old center of Lviv is once again filled with people. As you walk the cobbled pavement, multiple languages can be heard. Music – opera, popular, rock, jazz… is heard everywhere.
I remember when I first visited Lviv in the spring of 1990 as a young doctoral student from Canada. The outside facades of the old buildings were crumbling. Stores were empty. The inefficient transit system was dirty. Whatever few restaurants and coffee houses there were, shut down by 8:00pm. The citizens of Lviv would tell me stories of the past days of their city’s splendor. Indeed, growing up in Canada’s Ukrainian community, I had heard of the glories of Lviv. At the time, it was difficult (actually, impossible) to envisage a colourful, bright and culturally sophisticated city.
How things have changed! Today, the city of Lviv is an incredible model of European culture (architecture, music, art, cuisine, festivals…). It is a beacon for the undying Ukrainian spirit, a center for ideas and change – a wonderful place to live or visit.
Oksana A. Wynnyckyj-Yusypovych
Today, once again, Italian opera singers and Italian popular singers include Lviv and the Lviv Opera House in their touring plans:
winner of the Eurovision Song Contest in 1990, Italian pop-singer Toto Cutugno (b.1943) performed at the Lviv Opera House on November 15, 2016
Italian operatic tenor, Alessandro Safina (b.1963) performed at the Lviv Opera House on March 5, 2016
Italian opera singer and member of The Great Italian Tenors, Francesco Malapena (b.1972) performed at the Lviv Opera House on October 3, 2013 with Myron Yusypovych conducting
child prodigy, Italian opera and popular singer Robertino Loretti (b.1948) performed at the Lviv Opera House on February 11, 2011.