Il mese del tenore verdiano XII: FLORENCIO CONSTANTINO (1869-1919)

„Questa o quella“ (Rigoletto)

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Born Florencio Constantineau in Bilbao he made his debut in Bréton’s La Dolores at the Teatro Solis in Montevideo and after further studies and engagements in Europe a turning point in his career was an engagement to the Teatro Real Madrid in 1899. From then on he was one of the best paid singers and sang only with the biggest names. In 1908, the artist joined Hammerstein’s Manhattan Opera. Constantino was a notoriously „difficult“ singer. Broken contracts, long law-suits, earned and lost fortunes. He built his own opera house which was a failure and cost him a 250 million dollars. The famous bass Giovanni Gravina lost his right eye after a swordplay with Constantino – another 50.000 dollars. From there his career went steadily downhill.  In 1918 he was sued for having ruined the Boston premiere of Moore’s Louis XIV by forgetting his words and drinking cognac between the acts. He died impoverished in the streets of Mexico City in 1919.

Constantino sang (and especially recorded) almost everything from Edgardo and Faust to Canio, Wagner and Otello. His calling card, however, was the Duke. Together with Edgardo, Faust, Des Grieux (Massenet) and Fernando (Favorita) and Alfredo – it was one of his calling cards and this was the repertoire which really suited his voice best. He has a charming voice and he is an expert singer. Yet he is a strangely inconsistent singer. Many of  his over 200 recordings recordings are not up to the standard he could reach in others. But when he was good – he was excellent. It is an attractive voice with a certain „bite“ and a quick but regular vibrato. As a singer he has grace, an bewitching mezza voce and an impeccable legato. The „Questa o quella“ here is being tossed off with just the right nonchalance and elegance, although some phrases are not fully developed and he as an annoying tendency to cutt off notes and phrases too early. But he beautifully lingers pensively on „degli amanti le smanie“ adding then a very tasteful laugh. Among other excerpts from „Rigoletto“, he also recorded a highly seductive and finely sung „E il sol dell´anima“ with Bronskaya. A great duke with the required vocal flexibility and elegance.

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