Dario Vanni Opera


Sample Songs

Vesti La Guibba
Amor Ti Vieta
Che Gelida Manina
Spirto Gentil

Buy CD

The Great Operatic Arias, Volume 1


Grand Opera was essentially the Hollywood movie musical of the 18th and 19th centuries. It was the literal, live-motion soundstage where all drama, romance, comedy, and the irony of human nature played out for all the world to see. It’s early staging, the content of the libretto, costuming, and use of props and lighting were essentially primitive early on, but soon evolved as the music of Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Wagner, and Puccini increasingly demanded a less histrionic performance and more “real life” characterization and interpretation. It was still an escape and an idle past-time for the rich, but, by the time opera had gotten to the reality-play-with-music of Madame Butterfly in the latter part of the 19th century, for example, not only had the music and drama evolved for mass audiences, but all aspects of a production in the major opera houses took on a new proficient quality. Today opera is the movies as we witness the Metropolitan Opera simulcasts projected in thousands of theatres throughout the world simultaneously. Yet, all said, grand opera still relies on one major factor: the individual vocal performance.

Opera is the Rolls-Royce of vocal music. Properly executed, it represents the epitome of what is attainable with the phenomenon called the human singing voice. So many qualities must go into the recipe to make a great operatic singer that I have always marveled it happens at all. Genetic inheritance, physical health and stamina, mental discipline, extra-ordinary emotional capacity to feel and express, perhaps even metaphysical or spiritual awareness that one’s music is, perhaps, not only a physical-emotional experience, but a healing one for some.

The singing voice of Dario Vanni is blessed with all of the above. Tenors have often been called a male anomaly because the contemporary tenor not only sings considerably higher than the average male, but powerfully as well. Therefore, as this album most amply demonstrates, those qualities ring brilliantly clear in the execution of Vanni’s tone, color, and technical ability. Add to this the spectrum of emotional range in the twelve tracks included herein and you will find the consummate tenor. Anyone who has taken a listening journey to the past to hear Caruso, Gigli, Tagliavini, Bjoerling, Valleti, or even early DiStefano, Del Monaco, or Corelli, will immediately understand the mantle of great singing inherited by Dario Vanni. As I mentioned earlier in the prefaces, the true acoustic voice is at work here. And there is something else: a resonance in the instrument with overtones that truly seem to defy normal time and space relationships or, at the very least, an adequate method of description by this humble music critic-at-large. I would say one simply must feel the layers of that resonance penetrate physically, mentally, and emotionally in order to obtain full benefit.

Interestingly, Vanni’s voice by birth seems to have been a strong lyric tenor. But something in the Garcia technique seems to have transformed the voice into a much more dramatically capable spinto sound. One would have to compare Pavarotti against Domingo to hear the differences. Whereas the Spanish Domingo comes from the darker baritone colors, (as did Del Monaco and Corelli) the Italian begins with a lighter more lyric sound and covers the higher notes with that sound that has more “ping” and darker colors than, let’s say, a much lighter lyric tenor such as a Valetti or McCormack. The “king of ping” (that solid ringing sound in the upper register of the strongly punched-out tone) may well have been Mario Lanza (1921-1959), one of the most gifted tenors of the second half of the 20th century, but a man drawn to excesses, who never realized his true artistic potential. Nevertheless, this was a voice that started from a lyric execution with a marvelous open throat and “pushed” the sound into far more dramatic caverns. Vanni’s voice, in the final analysis, seems to harken much more from the golden age of great acoustic singing, where the microphone simply amplified the original sound rather than enhanced it. In this “blast from the past,” we hear a lot of the Manuel Garcia 19th century school, those techniques of Bonci, Lauri-Volpi, Caruso, Zanatello, Antonio Cortiz, and Gigli. These original acoustic sounds may sound new to the contemporary operatic listener. Gigli was one of the few who recorded both acoustically and electrically, Martinelli being another that comes to mind.

But, for my money and a new listening experience, I urge you to listen carefully, again and again, to the Dario Vanni voice, originally recorded on analog reel-to-reel equipment. I think you’ll discover some wonderful new sonic-event horizons. After all, who sings like this today? A voice like this comes perhaps once in a century—the likes of which may never be again in our digital world of electronic dependence. Viva Vanni!

Clarkspur Emden, music critic-at-large

The Arias in this Album

1. Amor Ti Vieta from Fedora (Umberto Giordano)

Loris’ aria is written in the white key of C major and it is up to the voice to color this magnificent aria (that lasts less than two minutes). If ever an aria soared, climbing higher and higher until it climaxes on a fortissimo high–A—this is it! When it finally comes down to end on its tonic note, it is still emotionally shattering in Vanni’s recording.

What’s curious about this recording is that the singer begins elusively soft and we think this just yet another light-lyric delivery of the aria. But then, on the 11th bar, the silvery glow of the voice begins its ascent to the “la tua pupilla e sprime,” adding a knock-you-out power to the climactic A. Long after it’s over, it still rings in the ears, something has touched us.

2. E la solita storia from L’Arlesiana (Francesco Cilea)

One of this exquisite tenor’s showcase pieces, with its haunting serenade to the blissful shepherd boy decrying life’s disappointments, seems deceptively easy to sing. Yet, it is one of the most difficult in all the repertoire. Vanni honors the pp lentamente markings of the composer and, beginning with the main melody section (assai sostenuto), builds up to the first A-natural with some power, but restraint. He’s letting us know there is more power to come, a kind of letting go that is still pent up inside of Cilea’s character, Federico. By the time the “La pace tolta e solo a me!” arrives, the singer is in full-bore drive and smashes into the second high A with tremendous crescendo. Interestingly, Vanni again honors the composer by not giving way to the temptation of going for the unwritten high-B (he certainly had it—witness his Nessun Dorma or the incredible high-B-out-of-nowhere in his astounding rendition of Santa Lucia Luntana), but, instead, turns the high-G into something especially heart-breaking as he resolves the E-minor ending.

3. Ah, si, ben mio from Il Trovatore (Giuseppe Verdi)

“You are mine!” sings Manrico in this romantic powerhouse of an aria. Vanni begins the aria with extra-ordinarily darkness in tone for him, as if he were a very high-baritone having some fun. But there is no doubt there is a tenor in the driver’s seat when he soars up to the first high A-flat. When Verdi decides to leave F-minor-A-flat and ventures into D-flat, tenderness enters Vanni’s delivery of the lovely main melody and he clearly colors the measures with emotional intensity. The effortless high B-flat at the (unwritten, but traditional) “precederti” tells us Manrico is in control of all he surveys. A curiously pensive cadenza section at the end fits perfectly into his decision to not go to the second high B-flat (also unwritten but traditionally sung), but, instead, to end “that thy prayer will bless my dying hour” with an F and down to the ending note and chord of D-flat, only slightly expanded dynamically. This leaves, to my mind, a totally satisfying interpretation as believable as one can aspire to in the land of opera scenarios and stories.

4. Spirto Gentil from La Favorita (G. Donizetti)

How many tenors can hit a high-D above high-C easily? This is an excellent time to share with the listeners and fans of Dario Vanni that none of his recordings were ever intended for commercial exposure. They were ways in which he learned his material, by recording them and listening to them. Yes, it is true, many people suggested that his exceptional talent and delivery be made into LPs or cassette tapes, but he was too busy singing to worry about that. Several conductors held midnight sessions for him to record with full orchestra, hoping he might take advantage of commercial opportunity. He never did.

A case in point is this unbelievable recording of Donizetti’s Romanza. Lasting less than three minutes, Vanni not only records the main body of this aria with knowledge and conviction, but manages an effortless high-D in the process! Another curiosity: the instrumentation is a veritable potpourri of acoustic and electronic instruments! It must have been an experiment. When I asked Dario Vanni about this, he responded that “we simply went with what we had at the time, instrumental colors to fill in the sounds we wanted to hint at.” Well, I’ll let you be the judge. Sans the verse, the tenor brings beauty, conviction, and power to a too-seldom heard operatic song. But the high-D—wow!

5. Che gelida Manina from La Boheme (G. Puccini)

If ever there was a home turf for the Vanni voice, Puccini’s masterwork about young bohemians is it. After a short orchestral introduction from the score, Vanni begins the affettuoso “che gelida manina, se la lasciriscaldar…” with soft, lyric affection indeed, a melting sotto voce sound. Again, we are fooled by the almost imperceptible build up to the “e qui la luna” to the A-flat. Then we know we’re in for a treat, for the conductor flows with Vanni to the powerful “chi son!” (‘who am I?’) high B-flat. This is one of those notes that, once more, not only thrills because it seems already “there” before he even hits it, but because its resonance takes us somewhere else, another level up.

By the time the “talor dal mio” of the fabulous main melody rings out, there is no stopping Vanni’s passionate rendition of this warhorse. He breathes new life and youth into the aria’s climactic texture as the high-C soars up to its mark. I cannot remember a more passionate nor intimate portrayal of Rudolfo than this memorable performance.

6. M’appari tutta amor from Marta (F. De Flotow)

Many of the 19th century German operatic composers were great melodists. The lineage goes way back to Bach and before, through to Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Bruckner, and Mahler, to name a few. Interestingly, each of these men longed to be recognized as operatic composers as well as symphonic. How this aria (Ach, so fromm!) became an Italian staple is still unclear, but, suffice it to say, it is one of the most demanding on the operatic tenor’s must-do list. The last half rides at or above the tessitura for the tenor and hits high A-flat, A, and a riveting B-flat before ending.

The best thing I can say about this performance is: to hear it! There is a curious mixture of French horn, strings, and piano backing Vanni, but, somehow, it fits. Again, the tenor fools us with a beautiful mezza di voce beginning, but, by the second verse, “bella si che il mio cor” the true gold and silver of the voice begin to be heard. The high-A flat is hit Caruso-like in its girth, yet the remaining high notes shimmer with ever increasing dynamic intensity until the last astounding notes. I must confess it is probably the most satisfying lyrico-spinto recording of this aria I have ever heard. And that’s saying a lot!

7. Ombra mai fu from Xerxes (F. Handel)

I want to bow my head when I hear this music; Vanni’s sterling performance puts me into an instant state of reverence, whether I’m religious or not. Never—I repeat, never—have I heard Oooo! vowels like these. These notes represent the epitome of what I was saying earlier about a transcending resonance unheard of—at least in the last half of the 20th century—and surely not today.

This is the mature voice we hear, (he was forty-four at the recording session) filled with lyric warmth and burnished gold. The low Ds are dark and warm, the sliding first ascent to the high-G, gorgeous and full, plus, the dramatically celestial benefit or first-class organ and orchestra. Handel’s well known Largo sustains its passages throughout in the original key of G major as Vanni negotiates the high-G leaps with graceful ease, never histrionic, but devout in his artistic faithfulness to the music. I do believe this recording to be a high-water mark in the annals of vocal recorded sound. Listen, and stand in awe!

8. La Fleur que tu m’avais jetee from Carmen (G. Bizet)

Once you’ve resigned to Vanni’s brand of Italian-French pronunciation, you will hear a smooth, glistening performance of Don Jose’s ardent Flower Song. A wonderful vocal line of perfect dynamics complement Bizet’s indications of con amore as the singer steels himself for what lies ahead. Glottis-punched high A-flats punctuate the anticipation of the piece d’ resistance: a high B-flat to end all B-flats! One has no clue as the voice glides up the entire octave effortlessly to a fourth-dimensional ff! Never mind the score is written pp. There is a cry inside the note and it hurtles us out of this world to some other dimension. What digital playback system truly captures these sounds?! The “Carmen, I love you!” is fervent, but not over-sung as this amazing piece comes to an end.

9. Angus Dei (G. Bizet)

Although not officially from an opera (the B Minor Mass), there is no greater operatic challenge than this beautiful and inspiring composition. Choosing to sing it in the original high-F key, Vanni is a consummate interpreter for this music, molding and carving it out of the stone of religious antiquity. Somewhere between Caruso and Gigli, we find Vanni in perfect voice and in the prime of his vocal prowess. I dislike comparisons, but the Manuel Garcia school of vocal technique seems to have blessed all three of these singers and the resulting sound rings to the rafters. The crescendo really begins on the F note as Vanni ascends to the qui tollis on high As and then blows us away with the peccata mundi—the high B-flat is on an Oooo! vowel again! (This happens in his astounding recording of O Paradiso! on The Great Operatic Arias, V.2) Just when we think its safe to go back into the water of calm, the singer slams us with the ending retenuto molto by squaring the emotional power into Donna pacem with incredible drama. Somewhere between the most beautiful church and Heaven’s portals, this musical performance stands as a devotional powerhouse.

10. Where’er You Walk from Semele (G.F. Handel)

Vanni once told me, “If you want to hear my true natal voice in a natural range and setting, the aria from Semele is it.” I gathered from this quote that the singer was speaking from “what if?” he had not the prodigious technique he has or the deepening of tone quality and range by way of increasingly challenging material. Yet both this track and the Agnus Dei were recorded the same day! How can this be?

Certainly this deceptively “easy” aria requires flexibility and even tone color as well as emotional conviction, considering that the English lyrics are rather staid and “proper”. But it’s how Vanni approaches the music that makes the difference. Instead of plowing through the aria as an oratorio singer, he simply is himself and whatever technique leaks through, so be it. His phrasing is clear, clean, smooth, and truly legato in the truest sense. The wonderful open Italianate throat rings clear from top to bottom here, giving one the feeling of a flawlessly wrought tapestry. Written in the B-flat key, the upper mid-range Fs come across effortlessly as do the low F notes. His phrasing and delicate handling of “cool gales shall fan the glade” do respectful justice to Handel’s words and music. The impact of “where’er you walk,” on the top register, makes the Eh-vowel squared inside and rounded outside at the same moment, a technical marvel. One wonders, what if Vanni had recorded those wondrous warhorses of the same composer’s Messiah?

11. E lucevan le estelle from Tosca (G. Puccini)

Here we find the perfect Cavaradossi: young, ardent, passionate, fate-bound, and resigned. The melting opening bars are a specialty of the Vanni mezza di voce. (He does the same in the other Tosca Act I aria, Recondita armonia, to be savored on The Great Operatic Arias V.2). At times, he almost sacrifices perfection of voice for dramatic interpretation. But not really. Vanni is the singer’s singer, well aware of how far he can go without sacrificing vocal line or musical propriety. Entering the main aria, “o dolci bacio langui de carezze,” we are melted again by the pathos in the voice and man. Fairly quickly, he builds up to the first high-A, but, instead of a full out ff or diminished pp, this Cavaradossi glides to a marvelous controlled chest voice and then descends to prepare for the riveting last bars. Crying out his “fugita,” the singer effortlessly ascends the final A; we can almost see him singing behind those prison bars against the starry night sky. The emotional energy is organic and, after an untraditional glissando on “la veeeeeeta…!,” the actor in Vanni sobs as he turns away from the starry sky to face the darkness of the prison cell—and death.

12. Vesti la guibba from Pagliacci (Leoncavallo)

“If Caruso were alive today….” I could hear someone say. Probably every measure of this tour de force from Vanni’s glorious voice was modeled after Caruso’s version. It’s uncanny. Had the early 20th century tenor recorded electrically, (electronic recordings began in earnest around 1925—Caruso died in 1921) would he have sounded something like what we hear in the grooves of this disc?

There is an interesting phenomenon at work here in this interpretation: the voice seems wrapped so tight, yet not; it is fluid with portandos and glissandos where they’re supposed to be. The “Caruso bite” pervades the beginning measures, “Recitar! Mentre preso dal delirio!” Even up to the expanding high-A and the insanity-driven laugh, this recording is modeled after you-know-who. If one must compare (and I must in this recording), I must ask, was Vanni thinking, “how close can I get to an electric Caruso?” It’s like saying, perhaps, how close can I get to pounding out a Hamlet and writing like Shakespeare? That argument might hold up until the first four measures of the adagio arioso. His “Vesti la guibba, e la facia in farina” has a Vanni warmth to it that belies his predecessor. Both Vanni and Caruso have a smoldering, burnished gold throughout and both men were obviously in their primes. For me, what always separates the sheep from the goats in this aria is the F-sharp run on the Ah vowel up to the “Ridi, Pagliaccio!” Vanni does not disappoint: the F-sharp is covered and open at the same time—how can this be? He sweeps up to the high-G with a non-histrionic ease and bangs out the two high-As without ever losing his legato phrasing. His eeeee-vowel is always magnificent and the sob in the final measures (“Ridi del duol, che te avvelena, il cor!”) depart only from the score (and Caruso’s recording) with a descending slide on the eeeee-vowel, just as we heard in the Tosca aria. This…is the true acoustic singer in action and I, for one, am grateful for this anthology. “What grateful legacy shall I leave thee?” asks Shakespeare. C.E.

13. BONUS SELECTION: Canta pe’ me (De Curtis-Bovio)

If you’ve enjoyed The Great Operatic Arias , Volume 1, you might also equally enjoy Dario Vanni’s The Great Neapolitan Songs, V.1.