Hipólito Lázaro - Celeste Aïda (Columbia, 1916)

Yes, it’s an encore of encore week! Dead Tenors’ Society is showcasing a collection of previously featured vocalists in recordings never before heard on this channel.

Hipólito Lázaro (1887-1974) was born into a family of humble means in Barcelona. Unlike so many other tenors, Lázaro did not display vocal talents from an early age. It was not until he was in his teens that the young man discovered that he enjoyed singing. Encouraged by his friends and neighbors, Lázaro undertook a couple of local zarzuela performances at the age of eighteen. The budding tenor also began studying voice and sang in assorted amateur productions in his hometown over the course of the next few years. Following his return to Barcelona from military service, he made his operatic debut there as Fernando in La Favorita in 1910. Amazingly, Lázaro sang a total of seven operas in Barcelona and Valencia during his debut season. The roles were not necessarily those associated with a fledgling tenor…Radames in Aïda, Manrico in Il Trovatore, Vasco in L’Africaine, Don José in Carmen…but Lázaro somehow made it through the season. Realizing that he needed further studies to firm up his technique, he moved to Milan where he spent a year working under maestro Enrico Colli. His technique now perfected, Lázaro began taking Italy by storm with appearances in Milan, Ferrara, Rome, Genoa, Livorno and other major opera centers. The tenor caught the attention of Pietro Mascagni, who championed his career. Mascagni entrusted Lázaro with creating the role of Ugo in the world premiere of his new opera Parisina at La Scala in 1913 and conducted many of the tenor’s performances of his operas Iris, Isabeau and Cavalleria Rusticana.

Lázaro journeyed to the Americas for the first time in June of 1914 for La Fanciulla del West in Buenos Aires followed by Cavalleria Rusticana in Rio de Janeiro in July. In August of that year, he made his first foray into Wagner as Tannhäuser (also in Rio) before returning to Europe that fall. In April of 1915, Lázaro created the lead in the world premiere of Romani’s opera Fedra at the Costanzi in Rome and took his first bow at the Metropolitan in New York in January of 1918 as the Duke in Rigoletto. During his three seasons at the MET, he sang forty-four performances of nine operas, including I Puritani, Lucia di Lammermoor, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, La Bohème and Aïda. Why Lázaro never managed to get a foothold in New York is something of a mystery. From the time of his debut, he was tremendously popular with both public and critics. Reviewers praised his “exceptionally rich voice” and his “simply electrifying” high notes. Also frequently mentioned were the feverish reactions of the New York audience to this young tenor. “There is a lot to like about him at first glance”, stated renowned critic W. J. Henderson. “There will be second and third glances, it was evident from last night's reception.” Alas, Lázaro was not destined to receive many more glances from New York audiences. After a Sunday Night Concert in April of 1920, he was finished at the MET.

Back in Italy, Lázaro created the title role in Mascagni’s Il Piccolo Marat at the Costanzi in Rome on May 2, 1921 and created the role of Giannetto in the world premiere of Giordano’s La Cena delle Beffe at La Scala in 1924. He continued to showcase his repertoire of over twenty roles in North and South America as well as Europe throughout the 1920s. By the early 1930s, Lázaro was devoting more of his stage time to such zarzuelas as La Dolores, Doña Francisquita, Marina, La Tempestad and created the lead in Joan Gaig’s El Estudiante de Salamanca in 1935. Lázaro began to curtail his stage activities at the beginning of WWII and gave his final performance in Havana in 1950. He devoted much of his time to coaching young singers and passed away in Barcelona in 1974 in his 87th year.

With the exception of a handful of discs made in London for the Gramophone Company in 1911, Lázaro’s entire recorded output was made for Columbia between 1916 and 1931. In this recording, Lázaro sings "Celeste Aïda" from Act I of Verdi's Aïda. This was recorded in New York for Columbia Records on May 1, 1916.

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