As I sat in my expensive ($7.50) orchestra
seat,on the afternoon of Nov.11,1951,awaiting the rise of the curtain at the
very first opera of my life, I wondered what the scenery of Aida would look
like, and what possible thrills I might experience. I recall very little from
that day, but I will never forget the very first "live opera star" who came
forward upon the stage with gleaming white teeth, in a short tunic.His name
was Mario del Monaco,who was born on July 27, 1915, and who left us rather
too early, having suffered so terribly from kidney disease, ending with a
heart attack. Mario proved to be one of the three dramatic tenors of that
great era of the 50's and 60's whose performances,along with those of Richard
Tucker and Franco Corelli, have never been equalled in my mind.
Del Monaco's voice has been described (by me) as a "bronze column
of tone," with equal volume from low to high, with the kind of
"force-of-nature resonance" that was awesome in live performance. One of the
unusual elements in regard to Del Monaco is that the flaws are very obvious
on recordings, but they tended to "filter out" in live performance,speaking
of the period through 1960. (He never returned to the Met after that season,
perhaps not willing to share with the great Franco!). Del Monaco sounds
rather unfocused and even "strangulato' on the passaggio and that was his
worst problem, especially as observed in the Tokyo tour performances
on video. We also know that after his auto accident,the middle voice became
totally "white' perhaps in his effort to compensate for whatever problems the
accident caused, although the top voice remained solid through his last
concert of 1976.
That aside, Mario del Monaco has given us some of the most thrilling
performances in memory, as his brilliant tones rang through the world's opera
houses. he never faked it, and even tried to sing softly,difficult as it was
with that enormous voice. He manages a beautiful high B flat pianissimo with
Zinka on a Met Aida, and
in the last scene of Ernani, he attempts a piano on the word "beato,"
although it tends to sound more like "beatUU" since it lies in that most
difficult spot for him.
How could I forget the way he walked across the stage at the end of
the Aida Nile Scene,holding that "Io resto a te" forever, and the brilliance
of the section in act three Ernani beginning with "Or di patria e
genitore..." I will also never forget at the Callas Norma debut in 1956, how
the very low-lying phrase "No,si vil non sono" in act four was so resonant,
it almost sounded like he was sitting next to me in the balcony. One friend
who supered in the otellos told me that when he knelt in front of Del Monaco
at the act three "Anima mia, ti malediiiiico" the sound practically deafened
Yes,Mario was loud and often accused of shouting, and the later
tapes are embarrassing (that "Cowboy" song is a total camp).One entrance in a
Fedora act two has members of the audience actually exclaiming, " Ma no!!"
and he probably should have stopped singing after the accident, but for
almost 20 years we had among us one of the greatest dramatic tenor voices of
the century, and surely he joins Callas and Di Stefano as examples of
incredible singers who did not fare too well at the end, but like these
legends,we must celebrate his many great achievements.
I am so fortunate that since that first appearance of this "mouth of
white teeth' in 1951, I was able to attend so many great Del Monaco
performances in Aidas,Otellos,Ernanis,Pagliaccis,Carmens, Andrea Cheniers
(LORD,how he sang that role..even one night with frozen appendix!),Samsons,
and a Trovatore. May we bless the memory of the great Mario del Monaco,as we
await (en vano) anyone to even remotely resemble what he accomplished!
as ever Charlie