21 Apr Journeying with Titta Ruffo: The Principality of Monaco.
Here we are at the second appointment of the column “On the road with Titta Ruffo” whose intent is to explore, and try to take you along, the most significant moments or episodes of our Ruffo’s career. All articles source from the book La mia parabola and the vast archive material in our possession. As per the title, today we are in the Principality of Monaco and more precisely at the Opéra, also known by everyone as the Grand Théâtre de Monte Carlo.
Titta Ruffo was first engaged by impresario Raoul Gunsbourg on behalf of the Grand Theatré of Monte Carlo for the 1907 spring season. The agreement provides for performances of Un ballo in maschera, Don Pasquale and Il barbiere di Siviglia (the last two will both have 2 performances) and two concerts with an engagement fee of 1,500 francs per performance. A few words must now be said about the Romanian Raoul Gunsbourg, who was a theatre director, impresario, composer and writer. In 1892, on the recommendation of Tsar Alexander III of Russia, Gunsbourg was invited by Princess Alice, wife of Albert I Prince of Monaco, to serve as director of the renowned theatre. Gunsbourg transformed the Opéra de Monte-Carlo into a world-class cultural centre: he was the person responsible for the first staging of Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust, at that time considered more of an oratorio than an opera, which debuted in his theatre on 18 February 1893. His strong ties with Russia also allowed him to discover a large number of singers who could thus be introduced and launched on the European stage. We can say, therefore, that his foresight and work made him one of the most singular personalities in the world of opera, and that he was able to hold the artistic direction of the theatre for almost sixty years, undoubtedly a surviving ‘sovereign’ of the belle époque.
We would now like to show you the theatre programme for the performance of Il barbiere di Siviglia on 27 March 1907. This was the last of three performances of the opera and would also close our Ruffo’s first visit to the Principality; he would return there uninterruptedly for all the spring seasons until 1912. We find a troupe of actors acclaimed, both by the press of the time and by various critics and essayists, as a brilliant triumph of charming performances and exquisite gaiety.
«Ruffo as Figaro was perfection, Chaliapin showed his talent in playing the role of Don Basilio, Pini-Corsi won unanimous affection as Bartolo, while Storchio, following his already enviable success, offered a more than captivating Rosina, arousing enthusiasm for the virtuosity of his ‘Una voce poco fa’. Pomé conducted with his usual authority and Gunsbourg was once again to be praised for “un Barbiere” that was truly “di qualità”» [from Monte Carlo Opera 1879-1909 by T.J. Walsh, Gill and Macmillan, 1975].
We cannot, of course, fail to admire the beautiful drawing that decorates the libretto on its last page and which undoubtedly makes it one of the most original pieces in the Archive. The author of this vivid image is none other than the famous publicist and painter Jules Chéret while the printing of the programme was entrusted to the prestigious typography Maison Devambez in Paris.
Remaining in the field of figurative arts, let us now turn to this light and graceful caricature representing, in profile, the Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin and dedicated to his friend Titta Ruffo. The drawing is realised by the singer himself, who we remember was a true multifaceted artist as his talents, in addition to singing, ranged from painting to sculpture to cinema. The date is 28 March 1908, that is, during the days in which they were performing in Monaco in Il barbiere di Siviglia, an opera in which they had had the opportunity to create a fantastic synergy, having already trodden that same stage together exactly one year earlier and then again at the Königliches Opernhaus in Berlin, also in 1907. This is what Titta Ruffo replied in 1928 to a journalist from the Hungarian newspaper Pesti Naplò: «In another interview he was asked about “the greatest artists” with whom he sang. “The greatest artists? I know famous artists but there is only one best artist: Chaliapin. He is the greatest, unique, brilliant talent. A genius! Chaliapin, only him! I have no judgement about other artists» [from Titta Ruffo: an anthology by A. Farkas, Greenwood Press, 1984].
Let’s close with the costume, which reproduces a 19th-century style of dress, in which the artist made his debut in the role of Dottor Malatesta in Gaetano Donizetti’s Don Pasquale on 16 February 1907; guess where? At the Grand Theatré in Monte Carlo, of course. A part that the great baritone played only twice more throughout his career, and more precisely during his tour of South America in 1911: at the Teatro Lyrico in Rio de Janeiro and then at the Teatro Municipal in São Paulo. The costume is on permanent display at the museum of the Teatro Verdi in Pisa, while the image is taken from the book Titta Ruffo, i costumi teatrali, Pacini ed.
Are you curious to know, or do you not remember exactly, when and where our Ruffo went on stage to sing in a particular opera? Then the page below is just the thing for you!