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«Porgere la voce»: Ettore Bastianini, Tuscan Son

Updated: Jul 6, 2021

One of the great post-war ambassadors of il nobile porgere is the great Sienese baritone Ettore Bastianini (1922-1967). Modern listeners, now over half-a-century removed from his active years, are encouraged to discover afresh his unique timbral depth – perhaps a vestige from his origins as a basso – complemented by diction unambiguous in both sound and sense. Here portraying two husbands finally realizing the fragility of their respective marriages, Bastianini tempers his character's emanations of despair and wrath with his trademark grandeur of line. Even after a long succession of voices attempting the same repertoire, il grande Ettore remains a felicitous representative of the Italian vocal character classification «baritono 'grand seigneur'». Lordly even in his agonies, never does he stoop to the trigger-happy noises à la Yosemite Sam such as heard on the American provincial circuit.

Puccini: Il tabarro (Michele)

«Come è difficile esser felici!»

Sinfonieorchester des Norddeutschen Rundfunks

c. Mario Cordone

Giorgetta: Nora de Rosa

1953 June 21, Hamburg radio

(Although some sources list the recording year as 1955,

Charles A. Hooey's chronology places it in 1953.)

Il tabarro did not figure heavily in Bastianini's repertoire and therefore we are lucky that two of his performances survive on recording (the current one from Hamburg 1953 and another from Firenze 1955). Here is the opera's great duet, a painful dialogue-at-cross-purposes between Michele, whose apparent stoicism masks an aching desire to rekindle his marriage's waning affection, and his wife Giorgetta, half his age but already world-weary («Che vuoi? s'invecchia!» What do you expect? People get older!).

A sequence of questions never answered and statements which fall on deaf ears, it is paced expertly by Mario Cordone. Giorgetta is Nora de Rosa, strong of tone and sure of text throughout her range, with a flicker vibrato that gains intensity as she reaches the top. Il grande Ettore phrases with poignant gravitas, uttering every syllable in his singular open-throated timbre, each sound succeeding the one before. By refusing to rough up the vocal line for demonstrative purposes – eschewing any temptation to (mis)portray the character as a sadistic curmudgeon – he lays bare Michele's true tragedy: that this man of authority holds no command in the realm of the heart.

Mascagni: Cavalleria rusticana (Alfio)

«Oh! il Signore vi manda, compar Alfio!»

c. Nino Bonavolontà

(some sources mistakenly credit Luciano Bettarini, Bastianini's voice teacher)

Santuzza: Antonietta Stella

1963 RAI

(Part of a Mascagni centennial program broadcast in 1963 October.)

Two frequent colleagues sharing a common vocal attitude establish the moment's drama upon first attack. Unhesitatingly Antonietta Stella addresses Bastianini with all the urgency Santuzza would address Alfio, throwing herself and her listeners into the scene in media res. Bastianini responds in kind, sounding Alfio's monomaniacal phrases in a noble roar.

Having added Santuzza to her repertoire the previous year, Stella is fearless in her articulation of word, pitch, and rhythm. Mascagni's habit of setting important declarations in tricky parts of the voice, a source of exasperation for other interpreters, is a source of revelry for her. The final «e vostra moglie lui rapiva a me!», set in the lower-to-middle register «join point» right above middle C, is beautifully absent the typical honking in and out of chest resonance, and the high climax «Turiddu mi tolse, mi tolse l'onore», riding through the passaggio to high B-flat, is fully declaimed without the textual subterfuge to which lesser artists resort!

This recording captures Bastianini within the first year of his diagnosis of throat cancer (1962 November), a condition he kept private and which was publicly revealed only upon news of his passing. Fortunately, his recorded legacy serves as ample testament to one of Tuscany's vocal glories.

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