MARIO DEL MONACO
Mario del Monaco was born into an affluent middle-class family. After spending some time in Libya, where his father, a state official, had been posted, the family settled in Pesaro. At the age of thirteen Mario started to play the violin, but his real passion was for singing and he began lessons with Maestro Raffaelli, who recognisd his unique vocal potential. He then moved to Arturo Melocchi, who prepared him for a vocal scholarship offered by the Rome Opera which he won. At the audition he met the soprano Rina Filippini, to whom he became engaged shortly afterwards.
After a short estrangement from Melocchi, which was repaired by his fiancée, del Monaco was ready to make his debut as Turiddù / Cavalleria rusticana at the Teatro Rossini, Pesaro in 1939. Enlisted as a soldier in the Italian army, he auditioned for the Teatro Puccini in Milan and was invited to sing Pinkerton / Madam Butterfly on 31 December 1940. During the following year he married Rina and sang Cavaradossi / Tosca opposite Maria Caniglia at the Teatro Regio, Parma, followed by the world premiere there of Nino Rota’s opera Ariodante in 1942.
As soon as World War II was over, del Monaco’s career began to develop rapidly. In December 1945 he made his debut at La Scala, Milan, again as Pinkerton, opposite Iris Adami Corradetti. The following year he caused a sensation at the Verona Arena with his singing of Radamès / Aida, and sang the title role of Andrea Chénier at Trieste. His international reputation was launched in 1946 when he appeared with the San Carlo Company of Naples at the Royal Opera House, London as Cavaradossi, Rodolfo / La Bohème and Canio / Pagliacci. During 1950 he made his debuts at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires (singing the title role in Otello there for the first time) and at the San Francisco Opera. His debut at the Metropolitan Opera came in 1951 as Des Grieux / Manon Lescaut and until 1959 del Monaco was a key presence at the Met, where he sang a total of 102 performances of sixteen roles including Otello, Radamès, Canio, Cavaradossi, Andrea Chénier, Don Alvaro / La forza del destino, Manrico / Il trovatore, Enzo / La Gioconda, Don José / Carmen, Samson / Samson et Dalila and the title role in Ernani. Many of these performances have been preserved through recordings of the Met’s Saturday afternoon matinées.
Among del Monaco’s major appearances at La Scala, Milan, were Hagenbach / La Wally (1953), Pollione / Norma (1955), Paolo / Francesco da Rimini (1959) and Enée / Les Troyens (1960). During the 1960s he largely confined his career to Italy, although his appearance at Covent Garden as Otello in 1962 with Georg Solti conducting made a major impression. Loris / Fedora became a favourite role; and more unusual later appearances included multi-lingual performances at the Bolshoi Opera in 1960 and Siegmund / Die Walküre in 1966 at Stuttgart.
During 1963 del Monaco was involved in a serious car accident. This triggered chronic nephritis, which required constant dialysis and ultimately led to his untimely death. He gave his last performances during 1974 at Naples, Palermo and Torre del Lago, and formally retired in 1975. He sang Otello, the role for which he is probably best remembered, 218 times in total, and was buried in his costume for this part.
Del Monaco used an unorthodox method of vocal production, learnt from Melocchi, which involved manipulation of the larynx. This gave his upper and middle ranges great power, but also left him unable to sing softly and flexibly later in his career. His powerful voice and forceful personality gave his stage appearances great excitement, as may be heard in numerous live recordings. During the 1950s and 1960s he was the Decca Record Company’s principal dramatic tenor, and for this company he recorded many complete operas, often opposite Renata Tebaldi, including Otello twice. His character has been well described by his wife Rina: ‘By nature, he was very aggressive and indeed, his pushy personality did come through vividly on stage… For the theatre he sacrificed everything, youth, sex, pleasures, everything. When he gave up the theatre, he began to die.’
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).