Baccaloni joined the choir of the Sistine Chapel when he was seven, but when his voice broke at fifteen he turned from music to architecture, graduating from Rome’s Academy of Fine Arts. After hearing him sing privately however, in 1920 the baritone Giuseppe Kaschmann invited Baccaloni to study with him and two years later he made his début at the Teatro Adriano in Rome as Dr Bartolo/Il barbiere di Siviglia. During the next four years Baccaloni sang in Italy’s numerous smaller opera houses. Toscanini heard him in Louise at Bologna in 1926 and invited him to sing at La Scala, Milan, where he made his début in Pizzetti’s Debora e Jaele (1926). It was Toscanini, too, who urged Baccaloni, given his fine voice, musicality and comic skills, to concentrate upon the buffo rôles rather than the full bass repertoire which he had sung until 1930. Baccaloni now took up such parts as Dr Dulcamara/L’elisir d’amore, Leporello/Don Giovanni and the title rôles of Don Pasquale and Falstaff; and so successful was he that in 1934 he was made a Knight of the Crown of Italy. Until 1940 he remained as an important principal at La Scala, where he also took part in several first performances, including Giordano’s Il re (1929) and Wolf-Ferrari’s Il campiello (1936) and La dama boba (1939).
In a career that was also active abroad Baccaloni appeared at Covent Garden as Varlaam/Boris Godunov opposite Chaliapin and as Timur/Turandot in the1928–1929 season. He made his American début in 1930 in Chicago as Fra Melitone/La forza del destino with Muzio, and in the same year also sang at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires, for the first time. He returned to England regularly between 1936 and 1939 to sing at the Glyndebourne Festival, where his Leporello, Don Alfonso/Così fan tutte, Dr Bartolo/Le nozze di Figaro, Don Pasquale and Osmin/Die Entführung aus dem Serail were greatly admired. From 1938 onwards he sang at San Francisco, performing Falstaff, Leporello, Melitone and Pasquale to considerable acclaim; and repeated his Osmin at the Salzburg Festival in 1939. Baccaloni made his highly successful début at the Metropolitan Opera in 1940 as Dr Bartolo/Figaro and remained with this company until 1962, singing fifteen rôles in 297 performances, including the title rôle in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. Towards the end of his career he appeared in several films, including Merry Andrew (1958) and Fanny (1962).
Salvatore Baccaloni was considered to be the outstanding buffo bass of his generation. He possessed a rich bass voice, excellent diction and innate musicality, combining these with an infectiously comic stage presence. He participated in several of the complete opera recordings made by Columbia and HMV in Milan during the 1930s and sang Leporello in the historic HMV recording of the Glyndebourne production of Don Giovanni conducted by Fritz Busch. He may also be heard in several ‘off-air’ recordings from the Metropolitan Opera.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers).