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Fernando de Lucia first caused a sensation as a singer during his military service at Caserta. He went on to study music at the Naples Conservatory, initially focusing upon the bassoon and double-bass before moving to voice as a pupil of Vincenzo Lombardi and Beniamino Carelli. He made his debut in 1885 at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples as Gounod’s Faust; and after engagements in Bologna and Florence sang in Linda di Chamounix, L’elisir d’amore and Fra Diavolo in Madrid during 1887. He was subsequently engaged to sing Alfredo / La traviata at the Drury Lane Theatre, London (1887), but made little impact. At the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires he appeared in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette and in La sonnambula during the 1889–1890 season, and in 1890 sang Don José / Carmen in Naples.

Paradoxically de Lucia’s breakthrough occurred in a completely new repertoire, that of verismo, when he sang Fritz opposite Emma Calvé in the world premiere of Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz in Rome during October 1891. He went on to capitalise on the mania for this new operatic style, taking part in several later Mascagni premieres: I Rantzau (Florence, 1892 with Battistini), Silvana (Milan, 1895) and Iris (Rome, 1898). In addition he sang Canio / Pagliacci at Naples (1893) and participated in the premieres of Mugnone’s Vita Bretone (Naples, 1905) and Giordano’s Marcella (Milan, 1907).

During the 1893–1894 season de Lucia appeared at the Metropolitan Opera, New York singing Canio, the Duke / Rigoletto and Don Ottavio / Don Giovanni, but with limited success. By contrast between 1893 and 1900 he was a most welcome guest at Covent Garden, London, singing amongst many roles Canio and Fritz (1893); Turiddù / Cavalleria rusticana and Canio together; Faust; the Duke / Rigoletto (1894); Fra Diavolo (1895); Cavaradossi / Tosca and Don José (1900). The Musical Times found that his performance in Tosca was highly effective and that his character exactly suited that of Cavaradossi. He made his last London appearance in 1905 at the Waldorf Theatre in a company that also included Bonci, Ancona and Pini-Corsi.

At La Scala, Milan de Lucia appeared regularly between 1895 and 1899 (singing Cavaradossi and Count Almaviva / Il barbiere di Siviglia there in 1896); again in 1905; and finally in 1916 as Rodolfo / La Bohème. During 1907 he sang Almaviva at the Monte Carlo Opera. In 1910 he took up a professorship at the Naples Conservatory, where he taught for many years. De Lucia’s pupils included Maria Nemeth, Gianna Pederzini, Enzo de Muro Lomanto, Melchiorre Luise and Georges Thill. He made his farewell operatic appearance in 1917 at the San Carlo, Naples as Fritz, and sang in public for the last time (Scarlatti’s Pietà, Signore) at the funeral of his esteemed colleague, Enrico Caruso, in Naples during 1921.

De Lucia’s singing was characterized by a refined and slightly fluttery tone, used with great taste and delicacy, in which phrasing and nuance, of which he was a master, were of central importance. Because his voice was not powerful, on stage his great dramatic skills were critical in projecting character and drama. He was a remarkable interpreter of both bel canto composers such as Bellini and Donizetti, and those of the verismo school. Between 1902 and 1922 he recorded approximately 400 78rpm sides, an amazing number for the period, for the Gramophone (1902–1909), Fonotipia (1910) and Phonotype labels (1917–1922) – the latter was a Neapolitan label for which de Lucia recorded extensively. Because recording speeds at the time often varied and de Lucia himself frequently transposed what he sang as his upper range was not extensive, reproduction of these discs in later formats has often been compromised. But when done accurately, transfers of de Lucia’s recordings give the listener an aural glimpse into a lost world of operatic singing of the highest quality.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).

Role: Classical Artist 
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