UNA VOCE DIMENTICATA, la vita e le opera del tenore Federico Gambarelli by Aurora Cantini

ISBN 978-88-6417-101
Centro Studi Valle Imagna, 2018, 109 pp

Federico Gambarelli was born near Bergamo into a family of humble origin, his father was a butcher and at age 10 Federico began to work as a shoemaker. When he was twelve, he entered in the choir of the chapel of Santa Cecilia and was then sent to Rome where he became part of the Sistine Chapel Choir. One evening he was invited to perform in a private home. There was a provision that prevented the choir to perform in the evening outside the school, especially for a fee. Gambarelli was suspended, and his sullen and rebellious character pushed him to abandon his vocation and devote himself fully to the art of operatic performing. He probably made his debut in 1881 at the Teatro Sociale di Asola as Ernani.

A career quickly followed and he knew how to transform himself into the most different characters, now Otello, then Manrico or Rhadamès. Gambarelli had no less than 47 roles in his repertoire and could easily switch from dramatic roles to “light” opera. Hardly anyone knows that one of the first singers of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci was “his own big tenor from Bergamo.” Legend has it he drove the crowds crazy with his first Canio.
Giacomo Puccini apparently praised him for his interpretations. The young, lyric singer from the Bergamo valley was quickly hired by some of the greatest theaters in the world. Those were the times when he received a very high fee. With that income he bought land and real estate, including the palace in Selvino called Il Castello.

He crossed the Italian border, traveled on international journeys (Malta, Warsaw, Moscow, Cordoba, Buenos Aires, Havana..) until a dramatic event would change his life while travelling to Mexico. In 1890 he miraculously survived a shipwreck according to him thanks to the prayer to the statue of the Madonna of "Guadalupe" (in Italian "Fiume di Luce") that he had brought with him.

Gambarelli then felt a fiery and tireless dedication to the Madonna in his heart. It was so deep and inexhaustible that it led him to create a church in which the Sacred Image could be placed : The Madonna of Guadalupe.
This total devotion revealed a never-dormant desire, even though he lived between tearing conflicts of spirit, that of the priestly calling.

In 1895 he retired from the scene at the age of 40. He decided to resume the vocation interrupted in the Seminar of Bergamo. In 1898 he was ordained a priest with the name of father Federico Maria della Croce.
Gambarelli died on June 5, 1922. Of his many successes nothing remains as no recordings of his singing  were ever made.

This book saves the tenor from total oblivion. Author Aurora Cantini has illustrated her fine narrative with interesting and rare photographs.

Rudi van den Bulck, November 2018