Giovanni Martinelli (22 October 1885 – 2 February 1969) was a celebrated Italian operatic tenor. He was particularly associated with the Italian lyric-dramatic repertory, although he performed French operatic roles to great acclaim as well. Martinelli was one of the most famous tenors of the 20th century, enjoying a long career at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and appearing at other major international theatres.
Biography and career 
After service as a clarinetist in a military band, he studied with Giuseppe Mandolini in Milan, and made his professional debut at the Teatro Dal Verme, as Ernani in 1910. The role of Dick Johnson in La fanciulla del West became his passport role, he sang it for his debut in Rome (under Toscanini), Brescia, Naples, Genoa, all in 1911, as well as in Monte Carlo and La Scala, in 1912. Cavaradossi in Tosca, was his debut role at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in London, and for his first American engagement in Philadelphia, in 1913. On 25 April 1913 he portrayed Pantagruel in the world premiere of Jules Massenet's Panurge at the Théâtre de la Gaîté in Paris.
Martinelli's New York Metropolitan Opera debut took place on November 20, 1913, as Rodolfo in La Bohème, where the young tenor's easy high C and pure, silvery tone attracted favorable attention. He remained a Met mainstay for 32 seasons, with 926 performances of 36 roles. He appeared most often as Radames in Aida, Otello, Manrico in Il trovatore, Don Alvaro in La forza del destino, Calaf in Turandot, and Dick Johnson in La fanciulla del West, but also as Arnold in Guglielmo Tell, Eleazar in La Juive, Enzo in La Gioconda, Don Jose in Carmen, Vasco de Gama in L'Africaine, Canio in Pagliacci, Pollione in Norma.
Martinelli also sang in Boston, San Francisco and Chicago, often trying out new roles before singing them at the Met.
Outside the United States, Martinelli appeared in Paris and Buenos Aires during his prime; but, oddly enough, his native Italy did not hear him at his peak. In 1937, he returned to London to sing at Covent Garden in highly acclaimed performances of Otello, and as Calaf opposite the exceptionally powerful English dramatic soprano Eva Turner. He retired from the stage in 1950, although he gave one final performance at the age of 82 as the Emperor Altoum, in Turandot, in Seattle. After retiring from the stage he taught singing in New York. One of his pupils was tenor Jack Harrold.
Martinelli was essentially a spinto tenor of steely brilliance, commanding a strong high C. His rigorously-controlled technique gave him exceptional breath control although it did not prohibit some occasional tightness and squeezing out of notes, particularly during the later phase of his career. His interpretive style was generally restrained and noble, but he was capable of delivering passionate histrionic outbursts where appropriate in such melodramatic roles as Canio and Eleazar.
As his voice matured during the early 1920s, some music commentators in New York regarded him as being Enrico Caruso's successor in dramatic parts, even though the timbre of their voices were markedly different. (Caruso's tone was much richer and warmer than Martinelli's.) Martinelli's forward, vibrant projection and broad phrasing found their supreme expression in Verdi's operas, ranging from Ernani to Otello. In lyrical or light-hearted music, however, his voice production could be too forceful and stiff.
In private life, Martinelli was said to be something of a playboy, possessing a charming personality, a wealth of memorable anecdotes, and an impressive head of hair that grew silver with age. He was married to Adele Previtali (d. January 16, 1980) from August 7, 1913 until his death. They had three children, Bettina (born 1915), Antonio (born 1917), and Giovanna (born 1926). He died on February 2, 1969 in New York City.
Martinelli made a large number of commercial recordings by the acoustic and electrical processes which are available on CDs issued by various companies. Some feature other great Met singers of Martinelli's day, including the sopranos Frances Alda and Rosa Ponselle, contralto Louise Homer, baritones Giuseppe De Luca and Lawrence Tibbett, and the bass Ezio Pinza.
Transcription recordings were made of some of his live performances, including a 1935 concert of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis with Arturo Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (which also featured Elisabeth Rethberg, Marion Telva, and Ezio Pinza (broadcast by CBS), a 1939 performance of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra by the Metropolitan Opera, also with Rethberg and Pinza (broadcast by NBC), and various Otellos from the 1930s onwards—including a 1941 version with Lawrence Tibbett, Stella Roman, and Alessio de Paolis, under Ettore Panizza. Some of these trancriptions have been issued on LP and CD.
On August 6, 1926, Martinelli appeared in a Vitaphone short film, singing "Vesti la giubba" from I Pagliacci, one of eight short films shown before the Warner Brothers feature film Don Juan starring John Barrymore.
- D. Hamilton, ed. (1987). The Metropolitan Opera Encyclopedia: A Complete Guide to the World of Opera. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-61732-X.
- Roland Mancini and Jean-Jacques Rouveroux, (orig. H. Rosenthal and J. Warrack, French edition), Guide de l’opéra, Les indispensables de la musique (Fayard, 1995). ISBN 2-213-59567-4
- Harold Rosenthal and John Warrack, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera, second edition, (Oxford University Press, London, 1980).
- J. B. Steane, The Grand Tradition (Duckworth, London, 1974).
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Giovanni Martinelli (tenor)|
- Official website (Italian) (English version to follow)
- History of the Tenor - Sound Clips and Narration
- Giovanni Martinelli at IMDB
- Giovanni Martinelli at Find a Grave