Giacomo Lauri-Volpi (actual surname simply Volpi) was orphaned, together with the rest of his large family, when he was eleven years old. In Rome he studied law at La Sapienza University as well as singing at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia with the baritone Antonio Cotogni.
At the outbreak of World War I he enrolled in the Italian army, reaching the rank of captain by its close and being awarded the War Cross, Italy’s highest medal for military courage. Meanwhile he continued his vocal studies in Milan with Enrico Rosati and while still a member of the army made his debut under the name of Giacomo Rubini in 1919 at Viterbo as Arturo / I puritani. The following year he appeared under the name of Giacomo Lauri-Volpi at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome as des Grieux / Manon (Massenet) with success, followed by performances in Florence and Genoa.
So great was the impact of Lauri-Volpi’s singing that his reputation spread rapidly throughout Italy and beyond. During 1920 he appeared at Valencia and Saragossa; the following year he sang the Duke, Arturo, Rodolfo / La Bohème, Cavaradossi / Tosca and Fernando / La favorita at Madrid; and in 1922 made his debut at La Scala, Milan as the Duke opposite Toti dal Monte and Carlo Galeffi, with Toscanini conducting. Also that year he appeared at Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Buenos Aires in a repertoire that included the Duke, des Grieux, Fernando, Cavaradossi, Rodolfo, Pinkerton / Madama Butterfly and Alfredo / La traviata.
From 1923 to 1933 Lauri-Volpi sang regularly at the Metropolitan Opera, New York. He made his debut as the Duke, while later notable appearances included Pedro in Vittadini’s Anima allegra (US premiere 1923); Calaf / Turandot (US premiere 1926) opposite Maria Jeritza; Licinio / La vestale (1926) and Pollione / Norma (1927) both opposite Rosa Ponselle; Rodolfo in the first American performances of Verdi’s Luisa Miller (1929) and Arnold / Guillaume Tell (1931). Other roles at the Met included Rodolfo, Alfredo, Cavaradossi, Count Almaviva / Il barbiere di Siviglia, Turiddù / Cavalleria rusticana, Pinkerton, Edgardo / Lucia di Lammermoor and Alim / Le Roi de Lahore (1924); the title roles in Andrea Chénier (1924), Montemezzi’s Giovanni Gallurese (1925) and Gounod’s Faust; Radamès / Aida, Vasco de Gama / L’Africaine and Enzo / La Gioconda (all 1926); Manrico / Il trovatore (1927) and Canio / Pagliacci (1928). While in the USA Lauri-Volpi also sang in Chicago at the Ravinia Festival (1923–1924) and with the San Francisco Opera (1929). He parted company with the Met, as did several other Italian singers, when fees were reduced as a consequence of the economic Depression.
At the Royal Opera House, London Lauri-Volpi made his debut as Chénier in 1925, returning in 1936 as the Duke. Other European appearances included the Paris Opera (1929–1930, 1935, 1948), the Vienna State Opera (1929, 1934, 1936) and the Verona Arena (1928, 1933, 1949) where he sang Raoul / Les Huguenots (1933). His principal base however was La Scala, where in 1929 he sang Arnold in the centenary performances of Guillaume Tell and took part the same year in the company’s famous tour to Berlin under Toscanini.
In 1935 Lauri-Volpi settled in Spain, henceforth appearing mainly in Italy and Spain. During 1942 he added the title role of Otello to his repertoire, giving seven performances only at La Scala and the San Carlo, Naples. A man of firm views, he leaned to the extreme right during the Fascist era but continued to sing throughout Europe and Italy after World War II, although by this time his voice was beginning to show its age. He made his formal stage farewell in 1959, as Manrico at the Rome Opera, but was still able to take part in a gala concert at Barcelona in 1972. He also wrote several books.
Lauri-Volpi’s voice was unusual in that he could tackle parts in the lyric, dramatic and heroic repertoires with distinction, giving to each richness of timbre, elegant phrasing and notable control of dynamics. It is possible however that the length of his career and his later recordings may have damaged his overall reputation. The bass Nazzareno de Angelis, after hearing him sing in Il trovatore at La Scala in 1933, sent him a telegram which stated: ‘…your Manrico, which is matchless, puts together drama, passion, phrasing and bel canto.’
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).
Role: Classical Artist