It is a real pleasure —and distinct honor—for me to welcome the return today of our very distinguished guest writer, Mr. Gioacchino Fiurezi Maragioglio, Italian industrialist from Naples, opera critic and historian. Mr. Fiurezi Maragioglio was an intimate friend of the great Italian tenor Giacomo Lauri Volpi, and is a life-time subscriber to the Teatro San Carlo, one of the world's historically great opera houses. Mr. Fiurezi Maragioglio's knowledge of Italian opera and opera singers —past and present—is simply vast, and I do not believe that there is anyone among my acquaintances whose knowledge exceeds his own, and there are precious few who could match it. I know that I certainly could not. It is a rare pleasure to be able to feature this piece on the Italian tenor Amadeo Zambon.
Given the current judgement of many critics, it would be easy to believe we live in an era without the large and powerful voices of the past, and in a time of unsure and unaware artists. While such a comment would be an inaccurate and inappropriate one, it is nevertheless refreshing to visit a world where such a statement would have been unthinkable.
Amadeo Zambon represents just such a singer. The generation that included Gianfranco Cècchele, Nicola Martinucci, Lando Bartolini, Mario di Felici and Mario Malagnini kept alive the flame that had been nurtured by a previous generation that included such giants as Francesco Merli, Aureliano Pertile and Galliano Masini, not to mention post-war stars such as Mario del Monaco and Franco Corelli.
Lirico-spinto, drammatico spinto, drammatico, robusto, di forza; these are the categories of tenor of which we speak — big voices, sure technique and style. Style? Yes, style in the sense that there is no further proof of innate style than an absolute commitment to the way one sings! This is the case with Amadeo Zambon: he was possessed of a blooming and luminous tenor, with strong high notes. It was voice that he understood how to use. Though small at close distance, the voice was laden with such clarion overtones and squillo that it could fill even spaces such as the Arena di Verona while at the same time permitting the use of diminuendo and other dynamic effects.
His career is a testament to correct vocal production and firm knowledge of one’s vocal abilities; a trademark of the aforementioned generation. Thus, it is no surprise that Zambon maintained his presence on the stage across three decades, always in abundant vocal health. Notwithstanding a certain resemblance to Mario del Monaco, we can safely say that the glorious sound that he poured forth, especially in regard to tone and timbre, were his and his alone.
It seems appropriate then to begin our introduction to Zambon at an earlier moment in his career. The following recording of Celeste Aïda comes from 1969, at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino:
The golden voice and secure high B-flats are a joy to listen to, and of course were produced without the benefit of a lengthy recitative to warm the voice. One need not be concerned by the ending: the forte approach was approved by Verdi, should it fit the tenor’s vocal ability better than the written morendo, which the master certainly did NOT wish to be sung in falsetto! In any case, the progression in the orchestra and the mood of the music lend themselves as easily to exultation as they do to trance. What cannot be debated however, is that this is a mighty voice, utilised with complete commitment by the singer. There would be nothing so unpleasant as a tenor who attempted the stentorian ending but could not sustain it!
Proceeding to a more lyric mode, let us look his recording of the Flower Song, from Prato, in 1976:
The richness and fluidity of the timbre are amply displayed, and Zambon displays an elegant diminuendo as well as firm legato. The power of his voice is equalled by the restraint with which he uses it, and the legato is never disturbed solely for the sake of a trumpet blast. Of course, we do not delude ourselves: we listen not to Don José, but Don Giuseppe: and taken for what it is, rather than what it is not, we must all agree it is a very pleasing interpretation. Some may listen and simply remark, “this is not how one such as Thill would sing it,” and true though this may be, we must invariably consider that an artist of Thill’s calibre would certainly respect Zambon in a way that would not be accorded to a mere provincial bellower.
Continuing in the chronology of the career, we take ourselves to 1980, Bari. The opera, Turandot, and the aria, Non piangere Liù.
Once again, the tonal quality immediately commands attention. It is clear and produced without any hint of strain or force, again possessing power and restraint in equal measures. Zambon displays once again his innate sense of style, with the broad shaping of dynamics and a masterful and very lively rendering of the aria that reminds us that once upon a time, singers learned their roles not note by note or word by word, but breath by breath from the great ones, so they that too might become great. Of course, one cannot but take the ringing high A interpolated toward the end of the ensemble following the aria per se, and the masterful technique that permits it!
On this theme, I would feel culpable not to highlight another example of this stupendous acute that recalls Lauri-Volpi and Filippeschi in the firmness of production and levity of tone. The phrase, again from Turandot, non non, principessa altera, ti voglio tutt’ ardente d’amor:
Glorious notes, sung with tonal integrity and absolute reliability — the two excerpts represent not merely a very good night for the tenor, but instead what was a common occurrence.
Now, moving later in the career, but without the slightest hint of decline, is this performance of Manon Lescaut, the moving aria Pazzo son, from 1984.
In the style of Gigli, with the sobs, interpolated cries and second high B, it would be difficult to argue that Zambon here displays good taste. It would be equally difficult to argue that his interpretation is displeasing — the spontaneity is overwhelming, and just like Gigli, the sobbing does nothing to impede the forward progress of the music. Further, the high note retains its primary importance, while the voice is always capable of the demands made of it. The nuance of phrasing and diction is not lost in search of further decibels, but utilised to further the aria’s impact.
In a word, Zambon is authentic. An authentic tenor, with an authentic sense of style that betrays no artifice, no superficial style foisted upon it. In operatic singing, style for style’s sake alone is surely the quickest path to artistic oblivion, while authenticity in the voice and the kind of commitment so amply displayed by Zambon are the harbingers of a long and successful career. Such a career, of Radamès, des Grieux, Calàf, Giuseppe, Chénier, Pollione and many other taxing roles, sustained over a period of more than thirty years, is the sign of an authentic tenor; both in the physicality of vocal production, and in the mental attitude of the singer — an aspect that must never be underestimated.