Claudia Muzio: a life devoted to art II

Her first season in Chicago began in December with Aida, Il Trovatore, I Pagliacci and Tosca. In February, 1923, she performed Aida for the second time at the Palais Garnier in Paris and from March to April she sang at the Casino de Monte-Carlo. She returned to Buenos Aires in May and opened the season in Aida with Aureliano Pertile. Tenor Miguel Fleta, baritone Carlo Galeffi and Pertile were her main partners. The following months she worked in Sao Paulo and Río de Janeiro, returning to Chicago in November to begin with Andrea Chènier. She was very tired. On the second night she fainted at the end of the third act and had to be revived to appear before the applause of the audience, held between the tenor and the baritone. Music critic Farnsworth Wright wrote in Musical America: 

“I could not sleep last night. I lived over and over again Muzio’s dramatic work in the climax of the third act, and it took so powerful a hold on my mind that sleep was out of the question.”

Wright asked her if it wasn’t dangerous to take one’s roles as deeply to heart as she did, and Claudia replied:

“I suppose it is. It may be very foolish for me to enter so thoroughly into a role, but I can’t do otherwise, for that is the way I was trained. If I do not feel the emotions of the character I am portraying, how then can I expect my public to feel them?”

Chicago was enraptured by the soprano. In the Musical Courier, the critic wrote:

“Muzio is one of the greatest living actress-singers that has ever graced the stage of the Auditorium, or any other operatic platform, for that matter. Her Madeleine de Coigny was a masterly creation, and in the third act Muzio awakened in the audience such enthusiasm as has never before been witnessed. Without mannerisms that would detract from her unique performance, this meritorious artist held the stage as only a Duse or a Bernhardt could have done had the opera been presented as a drama. […] Many were moved to tears by the extraordinary beauty of her tones and the pathetic manner in which she portrayed the part, which ran the gamut from tenderness to passion, culminating in a burst of hysterical laughter which took the audience by surprise, and transported it in one second from the commonplace to the sublime. […] For the quality of her work from every standpoint, there are only words of praise to be written, and the commendation given here seems pale in comparison with the vivid color with which she portrayed the role. It was an unique performance of an artist whose note of pathos thrilled, and who belongs to that category of singers known as ‘giants.’ Muzio will be a big factor at the Auditorium.”

Her first Traviata that season also received excellent reviews, and one critic wrote: “The laughter and sobs tremble on her notes and are drawn from the profoundest depths of herself, thus giving them a persuasive force which is irresistible.” A review by Herman Devries appeared that January in Chicago American:

“Until last Saturday we believed that we had found a fitting adjective rightfully to describe Claudia Muzio —we had always named her La Divine Muzio. But after her sensational performance of Violetta in “La Traviata” we are at a loss to choose words adequate for the expression of our admiration and for that of the public which gave La Muzio one of the most “emotional” ovations we have ever witnessed in the Auditorium Theater. Shouts of “Brava”, inarticulate cries, stamping of feet, waving of programs, young men raising their hands in the Fascist sign of allegiance, smart women of social standing tearing corsage bouquets from their gowns to throw them upon the stage at Muzio’s feet, the orchestra standing to join in the riot, recalls that seemingly would never end, this was a fitting apotheosis of the glory that is Claudia Muzio, one of the most remarkable young artists of our time. We have lavished praise upon Muzio for her Aida, for her Madeleine de Coigny, for her Santuzza and all the other roles of this season, but nothing more marvelous than her singing and acting of Violetta has been offered to us. From her entrance in the first act, to her last breath-taking scene, her creation of Violetta was a thing of exquisite beauty, beauty of voice that gave each phrase new and poignant meaning and loveliness, acting such as only the greatest tragediennes of the lyric stage have accomplished. We had never heard such ravishing pianissimo and mezzo-voce effects nor such an opulence of variety in the matchless shading and expression with which Muzio interpreted this music. The “Ah, fors’è lui,” generally accepted as a “coloratura” aria, was sung with perfect taste and musical finish, the runs limpid and clear, a fine piece of vocalism even without the interpolated final high E flat which Verdi did not seem to find necessary and which is used by coloraturas to gain the easy applause that always reward the phenomenal. Violetta is not essentially a coloratura role, for after the few roulades of the first act the music demands a tone of firm, solid quality, able to reflect emotion and to sustain the exigencies and difficulties of the score. Next year will include four coloraturas, but there need be no rivalry among them for permission to sing and to triumph in the role of Violetta, for La Muzio has surpassed them.”

These where the days when May Higgins, Claudia’s future secretary and close friend, joined the Claudia Muzio Fan Club in Chicago, the female gang that attended every performance and recital the soprano gave in the city. One day, May came across Claudia and her mother outside the theater: “I told her how much I enjoyed her music. She said, ‘Why didn’t you ever come back to see me?’ and I said, ‘I didn’t know it was allowed.’” Thereafter, and for several years, May was backstage every night.

After Chicago, Claudia sailed to Paris for her third Aida at the Palais Garnier and went to Monaco for a month, before sailing to Buenos Aires to take part in a season that included Gilda Dalla Rizza, Gabriella Besanzoni, Miguel Fleta, María Zamboni, Tancredi Pasero and Giulio Crimi. After singing in Rio de Janeiro, she arrived in San Francisco in September to sing for the first time at the Civic Auditorium with Schipa, de Luca and Gigli in Tosca, Aida and Traviata. Her portrayal of Floria was praised by the critic of the San Francisco Examiner:

“… having studied the great French woman’s representation on many occasions, I can vouch for the fact that Muzio’s study of the Roman prima donna is a development of the Bernhardt picture. Like Bernhardt, Muzio speaks through all her members and every pose is inspired by a state of mind. In the sheer sensuous charm of the scene with Mario in the church Muzio made me think of D’Annunzio’s description of Gemma Bellincioni in Fuoco. Here is the same resplendent and conquering youth… The character of Muzio sings in her voice, which is at all times a mirror of what is going on in the mind.”1

In November she was back in Chicago until January, 1925, working with Tito Schipa in La Traviata and Feodor Chaliapin in Mefistofele. In March she reprised her Aida in the Palais Garnier and July found her in Buenos Aires, until Septmeber, reunited with Tullio Serafin in Falstaff. That season of great artists at the Colón included Ninon Vallin, Adamo Didur, Giuseppe De Luca, Ezio Pinza, Isidoro Fagoaga, Bruna Castagna, Frances Alda, Beniamino Gigli and Francesco Merli. Her greatest triumph was in Traviata. One critic wrote:

“She is statuesquely perfect, exquisitely elegant, …from every point of view, the modem ideal of an incarnation of Violetta.[…] to the moving appeal of her glance and the natural charm of her gesture she adds the beauty of melody which flows from a throat of gold… One could write a hymn of triumph for this interpretation…”

From October until December, Claudia sang in San Francisco and Chicago. The Chicago Civic Opera Company began its tour in January 1926 and she sang in Boston, Baltimore, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chattanooga, Birmingham, Memphis and Miami. 

Toscanini asked her to come to Milan in April, and she appeared at La Scala for the first time since 1913 singing in Traviata and Il Trovatore. It was a test of sorts: the Italians wanted to form their own opinion about the soprano who had triumphed in America. Her Violetta caused an uproar in the audience and she was called a “singer-genius” in the Corriere della Sera. The critic of Il Sole wrote:

“We remembered Claudia Muzio’s exceptional beauty of voice and gifts of temperament before she won for herself solid renown and substantial wealth in America. We have looked forward to her return, and now we can affirm that no damage has befallen her beyond the ocean, but that, on the contrary, her original gifts now bear the hallmark of perfection. Traviata sung by Muzio represents exquisite musical enjoyment, and it will long remain in the mind.”

And on her Trovatore, the following week:

“Muzio triumphed with Leonora as she had with Violetta; her magnificent voice, full and even in timbre, soared with masterly assurance from the highest register to the lowest, always rich and resonant, the mezzo voce a thing to treasure, the dramatic feeling deep and sincere. Her regal figure and highly distinguished deportment made this a perfect, a faultless Leonora.”

Toscanini prepared the eagerly awaited premiere of Turandot with two casts: Rosa Raisa and Miguel Fleta and Claudia and Lauri-Volpi. He finally chose Raisa and Fleta, and Claudia and Lauri-Volpi starred in the premiere in Buenos Aires at the Colón two months later, under Gino Marinuzzi in the completed version by Alfano. 

From Milan she went straight back to Argentina to open the season in May with Pertile in the South American premiere of Nerone by Arrigo Boito. After Andrea Chénier, Il Trovatore and Cavalleria Rusticana, she debuted in the role of the Princess Turandot. Lauri-Volpi, her Calaf, described her characterization as “ironical, enigmatic and reserved.” Later in that season she reprised the role, but she never sang it again. After singing Tosca with Lauri-Volpi and Tita Ruffo, Claudia participated in the world premiere of the Argentinian composer Constantino Gaito’s opera Ollantay sung in Italian. She finished her work that season singing in Aida and La Traviata. The choreographer for this last three stagings was none other than Bronislava Nijinska.

Muzio was back in the United States, after some weeks of work in Rio, and sang in Manon Lescaut, Aida, La Bohème, Tosca and Il Trovatore in San Francisco within the space of nine days, ending with Traviata in Los Angeles. The Chicago season opened with her in Aida on November 8, followed by Il Trovatore and the North American premiere of Umberto Giordano’s La cena delle beffe. 1926 ended with Traviata and Bohème and the new year brought Cavalleria and Aida. In May, 1927, she was back in La Scala to star in Andrea Chénier and Tosca, the latter directed by Toscanini. 

Another season in Buenos Aires began in May and she debuted in a most important role: Norma in Bellini’s great opera. Her partners were Lauri-Volpi and Ebe Stignani, the conductor was Marinuzzi. The season lasted until August and Claudia added Elsa in Lohengrin (with Pasero, Fleta and Galeffi) and La Wally to her usual repertoire. Ending the South American season in Rio and Sao Paulo, she was back in USA in October and appeared in two concerts in San Francisco that were preceded by an interview in the Chronicle:

“True, I know all the operas so well I believe I could sing every part… but there is something in recital work —perhaps it is that your audience is nearer to you and not under the spell of scenery and a great orchestra— that makes you en rapport with them; in other words you scent their reaction and it gives you an answering thrill. When I am singing I like to single out some particular person in the audience, preferably a very young one, because their enthusiasm and emotions are mirrored on their faces; then I sing to that one.”

That November, Claudia arrived in Chicago to sing in Traviata with Tito Schipa. The performance was broadcasted by the National Broadcasting Company and was heard by two million residentes of the United States. On December she also made her solo recital broadcast debut on radio station WEAF, which was replicated by the NBC Radio Network nationwide. Sadly, the soprano had to leave the company tour because her mother, and constant companion, was gravely ill. She asked to be exempted from the next season in Chicago, as she wanted to stay in Italy for her mother to recover.

They settled in Rome, and Claudia made her debut at the Teatro Reale dell’Opera in April, singing Violetta, Tosca and Santuzza with Lauri-Volpi and Schipa. The Romans were thrilled by the new prima donna and started calling her “La Divina Claudia.” Remembering those days of performance, Lauri Volpi wrote in his book L’Equivoco

“On stage she was a soul, a mind that sang and said with that unique voice, made of tears and sighs, of restrained interior inebriation.”

She returned to Buenos Aires in May, where she sang, for the first time, both Nedda and Santuzza in the same evening. Though she didn’t know it at the time, Claudia bid her farewell to South America singing in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Santiago de Chile. She wouldn’t come back in the next four years.

Around this time, May Higgins, her Chicago friend, made a trip to Europe and got in touch with Claudia. She headed to Rome hoping to meet her, only to find that Claudia had sent to her hotel room a huge bouquet of roses. The two friends had a great time in Rome and May extended her stay. Claudia sang Norma, Violetta, Tosca, Santuzza, Maddalena, Aida and Leonora (La Forza del Destino) in Rome. When the time came for May to return, Claudia asked her to stay on as her secretary. She would have to take care of travel arrangements and insurance, book hotels, care for her more than ninety trunks of luggage (her costumes and jewelry were very valuable, she preferred to wear real jewels and May had to be very aware of their value and precise location) as well as a myriad other responsibilities. May went back to the USA to see her parents and resign from her job and Claudia departed to sing in Milan, Florence and Zurich.

On October 1, 1929, Claudia arrived in the port of New York and May procured permission to go aboard to begin her secretarial duties. From that moment, May kept an account of her life with Claudia, in the form of letters to the Claudia Muzio Fan Club. On November, the soprano sang Violetta in Chicago. Critic Herman Devries was in awe:

“When Claudia Muzio first came to Chicago, I used to call her Muzio… then it became la Muzio… then La Divina Muzio. Today I have to start all over and call her Muzio, the sublime. Why do I rave like this? I, who have visited so many opera houses in my long career as singer and editor? May I give a few reasons? Imagine a soprano organ so exquisite in quality that from uppermost to lowest tone it is an even scale of luscious, melting beauty. Then figure out for yourself what perfect singing is like… for not only has Muzio a marvellous vocal instrument .. she has besides a consummate vocal art. And no voice is of value unless it is the medium of sincere art.”

Then, Claudia sang in Il Trovatore, in the first opera broadcast from the new Chicago Lyric Opera stage. That season she added Otello and La Forza del Destino to her repertoire in the theatre. In March they were back in Italy and May Higgins wrote a letter addressed to the fan club, on April 19, 1930, from the Grand Hotel in Milan:

“… when we arrived in Rome, she became very ill, and was in bed for two weeks before the doctor would allow her to sing. He said it was nervous exhaustion. You can imagine how worried I have been about her. The strange thing is that no matter how ill she may be, her voice never suffers. Her four performances of Traviata in Rome were triumphs. She is slowly improving, thank goodness, and I hope that the rest she is planning on taking during the month of May will leave here completely well again. […] From Rome, we went down to Naples, where Claudia sang four more performances of Traviata, all to packed and wildly enthusiastic houses. I’m getting quite accustomed to having an extra chair placed right at the orchestra railing for me […] She is immensely popular over here, and makes a hit no matter where or what she sings. Her name is billed in letters a foot high all over Naples. They tried to increase the number of her performances, but it was not possible for her to remain there, as she was due in Milano at La Scala. […] The train was crowded, and somehow the passengers learned that Claudia was on the train, and many of them, especially the male contingent, kept walking up and down the aisle of the car past our compartment. Of course, I really couldn’t blame them for that —our Claudia is well worth looking at. Arrived in Milano about ten o’clock and came to the Grand Hotel. It is quite a coincidence that we have the apartment that Verdi, the composer of Traviata, occupied for several years. There is a life-size portrait of him in the salon. Claudia often looks at it, and says “I wonder if you know how much work you made for me!”. She opened at La Scala Wednesday in Traviata. The theatre was sold out days before the performance, which was a beautiful one, as usual. Claudia has not sung here for some time, and the entire population of Milano seemed to be trying to squeeze into the theatre to hear her. It was like a dream for me to be hearing her sing here at La Scala, which as you all know is one of the world’s most famous opera houses. This, by the way, is the sixteenth Traviata I have heard this season.”

Despite the pressure of the economic crisis caused sparked by the Wall Street crash, Claudia could not travel to South America because her mother was very ill and she wouldn’t leave her behind. They took some time to rest and set up at the resort of Riolo Terme where Claudia was given a popular serenade. On August 14, 1930, May wrote: 

“The other morning, about one o’clock, we were awakened by strains of Loreley being played under our windows. Looking out, we saw several hundred people, and the orchestra which has been playing on the Piazza every evening for the past month. It is composed of players from some of the best orchestras in Europe, and they are marvellous musicians. They had learned that Loreley was Claudia’s favorite music, so they decided to serenade her. The music, played softly, was perfectly beautiful, and there wasn’t one word spoken by the crowd. When they had finished, the crowd melted away as quietly as they had come. It was an odd and touching tribute.”

On September, the party set off for New York and were given an unforgettable sendoff by the villagers:

“We left Riolo Bagni Monday morning, Sept. 1 —and such a send-off our Claudia received; the kind you read about. Have already told you how everyone in the town worships her, and I don’t believe, judging from the crowd in front of the hotel, that there was one inhabitant missing —from the highest dignitary to the lowliest peasant. Someone had mentioned one day that no-one could ever see her clearly when she went by in her car, so, to please them all, she had the car-top put down that morning. Flowers began to arrive before we were up, and on each side of the drive there was a line of little girls all with small bunches of flower, which they threw as the car went by. There was another line-up of children at the edge of the town with more flowers, and by the time we got under way, we looked like the auto that follows the hearse! Poor Claudia was in tears —the affection of these people is very touching.”

Before the beginning of the season, Claudia gave a series of recitals favorably reviewed:

“A catalog of her vocal virtues would make a nice table of contents for a textbook of singing. Breathing, enunciation, tonal rectitude; these are axiomatic with her. She phrases with intelligence; loses herself in the rhythmic pattern. But beyond these details the greatest of all beauties is in her songs: the fitness of vocal texture and expression to the textual meanings. Almost… she could merely speak her songs, abandoning the melodies altogether, and carry to her auditors the thrill of passionate truth.”

Arriving in Chicago with four days to rest and rehearse, she began singing in La Forza del Destino and ended in March with Cavalleria on tour. On March 7, 1931, May wrote:

“The tour so far has been wonderful. The first stop was Boston, where Claudia always loves to sing, and this time her delighted audiences heard her Bohème, Trovatore, Traviata and Otello. Since leaving Boston, Claudia has sung Cavalleria in Pittsburgh, Cavalleria in Memphis —and in Tulsa Cavalleria and Pagliacci. How I have wanted to hear her Nedda! No wonder that Caruso would have no other artist sing with him in Pagliacci. I can fully understand why. She was the loveliest and most charming Nedda I have ever seen or heard. I was terribly sorry, of course, that Miss Burke, who was to sing it, broke her arm, but Claudia was glad to be able to step in and save the day, even though it meant additional work. To see her tragic Santuzza, then her lovely Nedda, at one performance was a joy I will not soon forget and, judging by the papers the next day, everyone else felt the same way. The double thrill was repeated in San Antonio and in Los Angeles, where Claudia also sang Traviata.”

And on March 14:

“Dear Gang: 

There’s time for one more note before we start on our homeward trip, and I know you won’t mind if I make it a short one. A little news is better than none. Claudia’s Traviata in Seattle added to her long list of triumphs. It really seems that every Traviata outshines the previous one. She is truly a marvel! She was very tired after the performance, and awoke the following day with a severe cold which caused us some anxious moments. She was due to sing Cavalleria also in Seattle, and we feared for a time that she would be unable to go on. As you all know, however, Claudia has never disappointed an audience in her entire career —a record which I feel sure is held only by her. Over all protests, she insisted on singing —and this amazing person never sang a better Cavalleria! She seemed to sing herself out of the cold, for, the next day, there was hardly a trace of it.”

Claudia took a much needed holiday and travelled through Italy. The party finally settled in Riolo and and, on July 16, May wrote: 

“To keep a promise she had made the Riolites last year, Claudia sang at Mass on Sunday morning —Gounod’s Ave Maria and the ‘Virgin of the Angels’ from Forza del Destino. And it was a big day for Riolo! The population increased miraculously overnight. They had to take all the seats out of the church to make room for the crowd, and then they were packed in like sardines. These people are so demonstrative that Claudia was in a panic for fear they would applaud in the church, so the priest told the congregation before Mass that the Signora was singing as a prayer to the Virgin, and not as an exhibition, and told them the way to please her best was to remain quiet. You could hear a pin drop when she began, and Oh girls, I wish you would have heard her! Her voice was more beautiful than ever that morning. It sounded like an angel’s. I heard more than one suppressed “brava” when she finished, and everyone’s eyes were wet. You surely would have been thrilled too, could you have heard her. She tried to outstay the crowd, but they were good waiters, and when she finally left the church, you should have heard the “bravas” —that was another thrill. The children threw flowers along the path, and many of the people were at the hotel with more flowers. When we reached the hotel, she had to go out on the balcony to acknowledge the applause. It surely was a great fiesta, but Claudia isn’t like most artists, who love to be on exhibition. She appreciates the adoration and applause of these people, but would rather hide than face them.”

Claudia began her last season in Chicago in November 1931. The Chicago Civic Opera Company collapsed under the pressure of the economic crisis and it was not until after World War II that the city could sustain a local opera company again. Her engagements run until February 1932 and she triumphed both in opera as in concert, as attested by this review in the Atlanta Journal, on December 15, 1931:

“MUZIO CHARMS AUDIENCE AT ATLANTA CONCERT 

[…] one can compare her art of delivery with the beauty and repose of lovely sculpture in cream marble, or with the grace of a Botticelli. She used her voice with unfailing taste, and, with profound song mastery, she carried her audience along paths of beauty down which they glimpsed the promised land. There were encores enough to make another program, for the artist was magnificently lavish.”

On February 7, 1932, May wrote from Boston:

“She has given two perfectly glorious performances [one of Tosca and one of La Traviata], and everyone who comes to see her bemoans the fact that she is not singing again. Geraldine Farrar was at both operas. She sent Claudia an immense bouquet of roses and came backstage in raptures over her performances. She seems to be a very dear person. […] Claudia has been besieged with invitations to luncheons, teas and dinners, which, of course, having more work to do, she has not accepted. The Bostonians have surely taken her to their hearts —the town is hers!”

Back in Italy, May wrote on May 8, 1932, from the Hotel Majestic in Rome:

“One would think that during our entry into Rome, Claudia’s car had passed over and pressed some sort of an electric buzzer to announce her arrival, for the poor child hardly had her hat off before the telephone started, and she hasn’t had time to take a full breath since. She opened with Bohème on April 6th. The house was packed, and her appearance was greeted with a storm of applause. This is unusual here, as they rarely applaud when the artists enter the stage.They did that night, though, and there was plenty. […] Claudia closed the season on last Sunday night with Tosca —and what a Tosca! The house was packed to the roof, as usual, breathless while Claudia sang —but you should have heard the outburst when she finished. After her Vissi d’arte, I thought they would shout themselves hoarse. […] After the opera, Claudia had a wild time getting through the crowd. The street was so jammed with people that no cars could pass, and you could hear their shout of “Viva la Muzio” and “Nostra Claudia” (Our Claudia) blocks away. People in the nearby hotels came to their windows to see what the demonstration was. […] Claudia also sang Saturday night —her last Bohème of the season. Claudia had never sung Bohème in Rome before this season, but she had to sing it six times during the month, and one saw many of the same people at every performance. The tenor who sang with her, Dino Borgioli, has a lovely voice, and Claudia enjoys singing with him. […] Had a very pleasant experience on one of the nights that Claudia sang Bohème. Had just been seated when who walked in and sat a half-dozen rows ahead of me but John McCormack! After the first act, I went back to tell Claudia that he was in the house, so she sent me out to bring him back to her dressing room. […] when I spoke to him, he said in the friendliest voice “Well, God love you, how did you know me?” Just as though there is an Irishman in America who doesn’t know McCormack. Claudia was so happy to see him (it seems that her father was very fond of him) and, judging from the great hug he gave her, he was just as pleased. Said he could not resist coming to the opera when he heard that she was singing. He is here on a visit to the Pope, who has conferred an important new title upon him —that of Papal Count.”

Claudia had an engagement in Florence, and then set off for a well deserved vacation. May wrote from Riolo in September:

“[…] Just before we went to Riolo from Rome, Claudia sang several performances of Tosca in Florence –of course, with her usual success. The first night she sang, fifteen men carried her flowers out to the stage after the second act. The audiences were most enthusiastic, and the usual mob surrounded her automobile after each performance. […] After Florence came our two-week visit to Riolo. They told us of how, on the nights when Claudia had sung in Florence, they had their own performance in Riolo. All of the people who owned radios put them close to their opened windows, and all the less fortunate gathered in the Piazza to hear. Their admiration for and devotion to Claudia is really amazing in this day and age. We always regret leaving these people, as Claudia has grown to know and love them so well.”

The soprano had prepared a wonderful gift for the villagers:

“… the Tosca to which I am listening at this moment —in company with half a thousand of the contadini from the nearby farms who have stopped at the foot of the hill below the hotel to listen. It is needless to say that the singer is our Claudia, and she is going over the music from Tosca in preparation for a concert which she has promised the people of Riolo next Thursday evening. She will be assisted by Mr Dino Borgioli, who will make his debut in America with her next fall in San Francisco; also by Mr Formichi of Chicago Opera fame. We are expecting a gala night, and this town seethes with excitement. While many of the people came to Rome and to Florence to hear Claudia, they have been waiting for three years to hear her sing in their own Riolo. Everything else but the business of the concert is at a standstill.”

“The concert was a huge success, and it certainly put Riolo on the map. The theatre was, of course, not nearly large enough, so the Piazza (or public square) was converted into an open-air theatre. A stage was built at one end, and the entire square filled with seats. Early in the afternoon, the crowds began to pour in. All cars had to be parked at the edge of the town, as the three or four streets were jammed. They ran special trains from the main line at Castel Bolognese, and everyone who had anything on wheels used it to get there. The Hotel Italia was a bee-hive. The day before the concert, Mr and Mrs Formichi and party arrived, then Dino and Patricia Borgioli; then came Mimi Zuccari, who drove all the way from Padua. It was a beautiful night, and when the moon arose behind the ancient Castle beside the stage, it looked like a scene from Trovatore. The crowd was enthusiastic, and would willingly have listened all night. You should have heard them shout after Claudia’s Columbetta and Girometta. They knew her in opera, of course, but said that they did not dream that after all the tragedies of the opera stage she could do humorous things so beautifully. Borgioli and Formichi sang beautifully, too, and all three received gold medals from the grateful Riolese.”

In October, Claudia was in Los Angeles for one performance of La Traviata and another of Il Trovatore. May unveils the main purpose of her trip:

“A week later, we left for San Francisco, where Claudia was to open the new War Memorial Opera House. This, really, was the object of her seven-thousand-mile trip, which one might say ended in a blare of trumpets. She was welcomed at the Station by Mr Wallace Alexander, President of the Opera Company, Mayor Rossi, the Chief of Police, and six strapping motor-cycle ‘cops.’ The Mayor escorted her to the hotel in his private car, preceded by the motor-cycles, turning a quiet morning into a bedlam. […] The opening of the gorgeous new War Memorial Opera House on October 15th is theatrical history. Claudia’s Tosca, which you all know so well, was another added to her list of triumphs. The beautiful theatre was packed, even the standing room having been sold for weeks; in fact, the seats for the entire season of ten performances had been sold before the opening night. These are real opera-loving people for you! […] Her other operas were Trovatore, Pagliacci, Cavalleria and Traviata, and it is hard to tell which they liked best. The night she sang Pagliacci, a large reception was given for her after the performance by the Italian consul. For safety’s sake, she did not remove her white wig, and, in the lovely white dress she wore, she was stunning. Her eyes were like black pools. She looked as though she had just stepped out of some romantic old story book. Shortly before the end of our stay, Mayor Rossi informed her that she was to be made an Honorary Citizen of the City of San Francisco, an honor which had been conferred on only one other Artiste —Tetrazzini. The Certificate of Citizenship was presented to her by Mayor Rossi on the stage of the Opera House, and with it a huge key of flowers. The theatre was crowded for the event, and Claudia, in her own sweet way, told the people she was too overcome to speak —but she would sing for them instead! This, of course, brought a roar of approval, so she sang several of her concert songs. Mr Merola, the Director of the new Opera, and one to whom great credit is due for the organisation of the Opera Company, very kindly played for her. It turned out to be a real party, and everyone, on the stage and in the audience, enjoyed themselves immensely.”

The year ended on a high note for Claudia. She returned to New York after an absence of more than ten years and she seemed to need some time alone. May wrote on December 1, 1932:

“Claudia was scheduled to give a concert in New York the following Tuesday, so there was nothing else to do but run away quickly. We arrived in New York Monday evening, and as the concert was to be the following morning at eleven o’clock at the Waldorf Astoria, Claudia decided that it would be better to stay there that night, especially since she had to rehearse with the orchestra that evening. Believe that it was the first time in her life that she has ever been free from the ties of home and family —and to stay at the Waldorf alone was a real ‘lark’ for her. The rest of the family, including myself, settled at the St Moritz. The concert, which was one of Mr Diaz’s Morning Musicales, was a decided success. […] Claudia had not sung in New York since she left the Metropolitan, so, of course, her first concert created intense interest. […] Invitations for dinners, teas, etc., began to pour in, but you all know Claudia! She went to one luncheon, but finished with that. She had to begin work almost the minute she arrives in Italy, so she couldn’t take any chances. On December 6th, 1932, we will sail on our ‘second home,’ the Saturnia.”


Recordings

Claudia Muzio
Tacea la notte placida
Il Trovatore
Giuseppe Verdi
Recorded in 1920.

Claudia Muzio
D’amor sull’ali rosee
Il Trovatore
Giuseppe Verdi
Recorded in 1920.

Claudia Muzio
Sei forse l’angelo fedele
Eugene Onegin
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Recorded in 1920.

Claudia Muzio
Ebben? Ne andro lontana
La Wally
Alfredo Catalani
Recorded in 1920.

Claudia Muzio
Mia piccirella
Salvator Rosa
Carlos Gomes
Recorded in 1920.

Claudia Muzio
Qual fiamma avea nel guardo!
I Pagliacci
Ruggiero Leoncavallo
Recorded in 1920.

Claudia Muzio, Mario Laurenti
Nedda! Silvio! A quest’ora
I Pagliacci
Ruggiero Leoncavallo
Recorded in 1921.

Claudia Muzio
Io son l’umile ancella
Adriana Lecouvreur
Francesco Cilea
Recorded in 1921.

Claudia Muzio
Dove son?
Loreley
Alfredo Catalani
Recorded in 1921.

Claudia Muzio
Eternamente
R. Gayler, organ, A. Spalding, violin.
Angelo Mascheroni
Recorded in 1921.

Claudia Muzio
Nocturne in E flat major, Op. 9/2
Fryderyc Chopin
Recorded in 1921.

Claudia Muzio
Sì, mi chiamano Mimì
La Bohème
Giacomo Puccini
Recorded in 1921.

Claudia Muzio
Che me ne faccio del vostro castello
Madame Sans-Gêne
Umberto Giordano
Recorded in 1922.

Claudia Muzio
Sorgi o padre
Bianca e Fernando
Vincenzo Bellini
Recorded in 1922.

Claudia Muzio
Figlio del sol
L’Africana
Giacomo Meyerbeer
Recorded in 1922.

Claudia Muzio
Lascia ch’io pianga
Rinaldo
Georg Friedrich Händel​
Recorded in 1922.

Claudia Muzio
O madre dal cielo
I Lombardi alla prima crociata
Giuseppe Verdi
Recorded in 1922.

Claudia Muzio
O del mio amato ben
Stefano Donaudy
Recorded in 1922.

Claudia Muzio
Odorano le rose
Composer unknown
Recorded in 1922.

Claudia Muzio
La separazione
Gioachino Rossini
Recorded in 1923.

Claudia Muzio
Mal d’amore
Arturo Buzzi-Peccia
Recorded in 1923.

Claudia Muzio
Spiagge amate
Paride ed Elena
Christoph Willibald Gluck
Recorded in 1923.

Claudia Muzio
Son pochi fiori
L’amico Fritz
Pietro Mascagni
Recorded in 1923.

Claudia Muzio
Mercè, dilette amiche
I vespri siciliani
Giuseppe Verdi
Recorded in 1924.

Claudia Muzio
Je dis que rien ne m’epouvante
Carmen
Georges Bizet
Recorded in 1924.

Claudia Muzio
Elle a fui la tourterelle
Les Contes d’Hoffmann
Jacques Offenbach
Recorded in 1924.

Claudia Muzio
A kiss in the dark
Orange Blossoms
Victor Herbert
Recorded in 1924.

Claudia Muzio
Shepherd’s love
W.A. Monahan
Recorded in 1924.

Claudia Muzio
Guardami!
Alessandro Guagni-Benvenuti 
Recorded in 1924.

Claudia Muzio
Torna, amore
Composer unknown
Recorded in 1924.

Claudia Muzio
Se tu m’ami
Alessandro Parisotti
Recorded in 1925.

Muzio, Borgioli, Gandolfi, Merola.
Tosca, Atto primo
Giacomo Puccini
Recorded on October 15, 1932, by an unknown listener of the broadcast of the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House opening night.


1  Muzio was known as The Duse of Opera or The Duse of Song. An anecdote published years later in the Italian press recalls that legendary actress Eleonora Duse wanted to see the soprano in Tosca and judge the singer’s art for herself. At the end of the performance, she went back to Muzio’s dressing room to congratulate her. She gave her her portrait and told her: “Così si canta in Paradiso!


Read the third part.


Sources

  • Claudia Muzio (1889-1936), Her Life and Career, Laurence Jenkins, Wellington, 2003.
  • Claudia Muzio, La única, Eduardo Arnosi, Buenos Aires,1986.
  • Following A Star, Letters Home from May Higgins, found on the archived version of the website of Mike Richter, accessed on March 2020. 
  • The last prima donnas, Lanfranco Rasponi, New York, 1982.
  • More legendary voices, Nigel Douglas, New York, 1995.
  • Claudia Muzio, nel 70° anniversario della morte, Giuseppe Marchetti, Rome, 2006.
  • archives.metoperafamily.org
  • operas-colon.com.ar
  • adp.library.ucsb.edu
  • The Teatro Solís: 150 years of Opera, Concert, and Ballet in Montevideo, Susana Salgado, Middletown, 2003.
  • Claudia Muzio L’Unica, facebook page, accessed on March 2020. 
  • Voci parallele, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, Milan, 1960. 
  • Rosa Ponselle: a centenary biography, James A. Drake, Oregon, 1997.
  • A working friendship: the correspondence between Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, New York, 1974.
  • Toscanini, Harvey Sachs, London, 1978.
  • Traveling with Claudia Muzio, An Account Drawn from May Higgins’s Letters, 1929-1935, Ronald L. Davis, The Opera Quarterly, Volume 10, Issue 2, 1993.
  • Soprano Dame Eva Turner, A Conversation with Bruce Duffie, found in bruceduffie.com, accessed on March 2020.