September 8, 2007


They sing of love, betrayal, and death far from home. No wonder tenors die young: I don’t think it matters if you confuse the singer with the song. Their ruined lives are in the script (Howard Jacobson, 08 September 2007, Independent)

"It feels so strange here sometimes," the great Swedish tenor Jussi Bjorling complained after a performance, pointing to his chest. "It feels as if my heart were standing still." A few weeks later, it did. Bjorling was 49. Not a bad age for a lyric tenor.

Caruso only made it to 48. "Doro, I can't get my breath," he told his wife, and that was that. The world wept. He'd been weepy himself for some time. Great tenors are meant to be weepy. He'd been weepy in Sorrento, looking across the bay to Naples, then weepy in Naples looking across the bay to Sorrento.

I do the same when I visit Naples or Sorrento, and I'm not a Neapolitan. Nor am I a great tenor, though it's my deepest regret that I am not, for there is no more wonderful thing to be – even if it means you don't live long. I've always believed I have the temperament for it. Being weepy when I visit Sorrento, for example. Or falling into moods of deep depression as Bjorling did. Or eating 30 breakfasts at a sitting like Mario Lanza. It's only in the voice department that I don't quite cut the mustard. (Tactless of me: Lanza could get through three jars of mustard at a sitting, too.)

Doro, as Caruso called her, was Dorothy Park Benjamin, an American woman he'd met in New York. When Caruso asked for her hand in marriage her father told him he objected to Caruso on three grounds – difference in age, difference in nationality, but "principally because of your artistic temperament". A potential father-in-law said the same about me once. He'd caught me reading D H Lawrence whom he confused with T E Lawrence and supposed me to be a pain-seeking homosexual Arabist. He had the details wrong but he was right in principle. Men with artistic temperaments don't make good husbands.

...they'd at least be baritones.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 8, 2007 7:02 AM

I was born too late to hear Pavarotti in his prime. He already sounded like he was gargling ravioli by then. Lanza, who I've only heard from his recordings, is the tenor I cleave to. He sings like an angel. Search youtube for his work and you'll be astounded.

Here's a sample:

Posted by: Pete at September 8, 2007 9:59 PM