Great interpreter of "Werther"

Giacinto Prandelli, together with Giovanni Malipiero, Ferruccio Tagliavini, Cesare Valletti, Gianni Poggi, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Mario Del Monaco and Mirto Picchi, belongs to that group of tenors who, having debuted in the forties, made an impression both in Italy and abroad. They dominated the period during and after the war. Each one pursued a more or less glorious career, but all high level. Their rise accompanied the more or less golden decline of the glorious generation – Gigli, Schipa, Pertile and Lauri Volpi, to name but the greatest. They attracted attention while the international scene was animated by the presence of Bjorling, Dermota, Gedda, Kozlovsky, Nelepp, Patzak, Pears, Peerce, Shock and Tucker. In this context, Prandelli, who was born in Lumezzane in the province of Brescia in 1914, trained with Edmondo Grandini and achieved his first success in Busseto in 1938 participating in a concert of music by Verdi. In 1942 he went to the RAI in Rome, then the EIAR, for Wally with Rosetta Pampanini and Carlo Tagliabue. This was followed by Rome’s Opera, and the Teatro Lirico in 1944, where he performed with La Scala company, which had been evacuated. He was later to take part in the concert to mark the reopening of the Milan theatre, singing – under the direction of Toscanini – in Beethoven’s 9th symphony. After that he graced the stages of Italy, large and small. Meanwhile he was making a name for himself abroad as well: in England with his debut at Covent Garden, and then at the Met in America in the role of Alfred. In 1954 he sang in San Francisco as Massenet’s Des Grieux, and in Chicago as Rodolfo alongside Rosanna Carteri as Mimì. In 1957 he returned to London to sing in Verdi’s Requiem at the Royal Festival Hall to commemorate Guido Cantelli. His last appearance dates back to 1970, when he took the role of Paolo in Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini at the Teatro Grande in Brescia.

Prandelli’s voice is that of a tenor with a soft, round tone who is extremely at ease in operatic roles, particularly where there is no lack of intense and passionate phrasing. Capably manoeuvred, it produces very correct singing, always able to tackle the difficult parts of the score, even when the tessitura is arduous, such as in Ernesto’s romanza Cercherò lontana terra. Nor does he have much trouble with the acutes, which, unless exceptionally high (this is not called for, however), are always up to standard. On the contrary, it is Donizetti who offers us the opportunity to witness the excellence of his method, which allows him to produce phrasing with perfect chiaroscuros, alternating ringing tones that render Ernesto’s heroic surges with other more languid ones, highlighting the character’s torment and suffering. Nor does there lack on the word cancellar the heroic feat (worthy of past times) of extending the puntatura that concludes the piece. His propensity for chiaroscuro (one example may be the indulgence in mixed resonance, half-way between falsetto and mezza voce) reveals that Prandelli’s models are essentially two, Schipa and Gigli, of whom, with Tagliavini, he can thus be considered a descendant. The result of this is that in some ways his singing appears ancient compared to the style he adopted in the seventies. Nevertheless, it is true that his execution of certain pieces included in this recital is still of great interest today. They provide proof of the excellence of the Italian school of the first half of the century, under whose dictates Our Tenor trained; they reinforce his high professionalism, his superiority to many of the great names of our day and to those extravagant philological experiments, true imitation of a tenor’s voice, heard on certain stages today; they force us to reconsider the fifties, so criticised and scorned, yet in reality so rich in voices, maybe not on a par with those of Rubini or Duprez, yet certainly able to arouse deep emotions in the listener. Above all they reinforce the art of a tenor who risks being forgotten, although in terms of vocal quality he surpasses almost all modern performers.

The personality of the interpreter remains to be discussed. It is undoubtedly difficult to assess it well by listening to a series of arias, but Prandelli’s singing clearly reveals an impetus that animates Fernando’s lament, inflames Des Grieux’s peroration, emboldens Rodolfo’s ardent declaration. But the fact that there is something more than mere impetus is confirmed by the three extracts selected from Massenet’s Werther. Here, despite phrasing at times too precise to embellish the flow with soft nuances, there emerges a singer capable of conferring on the famous lover a dramatic dimension worthy of interest. It follows that Prandelli could not be omitted from an ideal anthology of great interpreters of this opera; quite the contrary, he should by right be considered one of the best Werthers of the time, after Schipa and before Kraus, alongside Valletti.

(from Il mito dell’opera, ed. Bongiovanni, Bologna 1975)

Giancarlo Landini